Although the battlefield is ideal, the circumstances are not.
The longterm theory of political success for the Liberal Democrats has been a three-step process: first, they take a ward. They they take the council. Then they win the parliamentary constituency. There are quite a lot of places up this time around where the magic has never quite come off – Three Rivers and Watford which are as close as the party gets to safe seats at a local election level, yet the party has never held the parliamentary seat and doesn’t look likely to do so any time soon, Mole Valley where a recent history of Liberal Democrat gains at a council level has not turned them into a force at a parliamentary level – and some places – Cornwall being the most obvious – where the party’s continued viability at a local government level has not stopped the electoral gains of the Ashdown and Kennedy leaderships being completely eroded at a parliamentary level. And then there’s St Albans, where the local Liberal Democrats have had some local success but have done even better at a parliamentary level.
It also the location of some of their near-misses in the 2019 general, where the party came out of nowhere to a series of close second-places in areas it had no local government base to speak of. They would, in normal times, seek to make gains in those areas. The absolute must-wins are the handful of places that were both 2019 near-misses and places they have made gains in local government: particularly the various Cambridgeshire county councils.
As far as first electoral tests go, the 2021 battleground could not be better set up for Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ leader. These are councils last fought in 2012 and 2016, 2013 and 2017. With the exception of 2016’s partial and limited recovery, these were disastrous elections for the Liberal Democrats (and given that the party lost 336 councillors in 2012 and gained just 45 in 2016, a disaster they have barely recovered from). They lost 166 councillors across the 2013 and 2017 local elections. Although in some places they were totally wiped out, in areas where they maintain a reduced presence, it is easier to come back from ‘not very much’ to ‘quite a lot’ very quickly, as their 2018 recoveries in the likes of Haringey, Richmond, Stockport, and innumerable county councils shows.
But while the battlefield is ideal, the political circumstances are near-disastrous. The blunt truth is that most Liberal Democrat gains in local elections are not the result of a particular affection for liberalism in those areas, but due to local discontent with the incumbent council. (You can make a sophisticated and I think broadly correct argument that objecting to concentrations of power, poorly wielded, is a core liberal value: but that this results in electoral success for the Liberal Democrats is coincidental, rather than the presence of a bad Conservative or Labour administration in an area where the …read more
Source:: New Statesman
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