Whilst the next election looks set to be a close run thing between Labour and the Conservatives, both parties at least know that they should have a large base of seats to work with for future elections. Both Labour and the Tories have core votes that far surpass any of the other political parties in the UK.
So, whilst the main media narrative will rightly be on who forms the next government, election night for the Lib Dems will be focused inwards – just how bad is it going to get for them?
Under Nick Clegg in 2010, the Liberal Democrats scored 23% of the vote. For a party that had been consistently marginalised by the two main parties, this should have been seen as a resounding success. As it was, the Lib Dems actually failed to live up to the numbers that they had been polling at prior to the election – which were in the mid twenties to low thirties – and in the end lost seats.
When 2015 comes around however, their 2010 performance could seem like a distant dream in comparison. Anyone who even vaguely follows opinion polling will know that the Lib Dem vote has been slashed to around a third of their 2010 result – not just losing votes to Labour, as would be expected following their entry into the Coalition – but also directly to their coalition partners, as well as the Greens and UKIP.
I’ve looked at this before, as have many people, and it’s obvious that the Lib Dems are leaking votes in all directions. The question I want to ask is what exactly would be a (relative) success for them next year.
You have to look at this in terms of either vote share or seats. It is 100% inevitable that the Lib Dem vote share is going to fall substantially at the next election. I expect them to get into double figures (perhaps only just) but that may end up being entirely irrelevant. The party currently holds 57 seats, and some have predicted that they could fall to as low as 20 seats. I think this is unlikely, but it would be a complete disaster and would also considerably weaken their hand in the situation of another hung parliament.
For Clegg to have any serious ambitions about holding on, I think the Lib Dems need to hold about 40 of their seats. To hold two-thirds of their seats at a time where almost every possible thing that could have gone wrong for the Lib Dems has done, could be spun as some kind of success.
Of course, the party may decide it is time for a new face no matter what the result is, and there is also the possibility that any coalition involving Labour would demand Nick Clegg’s head upon a platter. But with 40 or so seats, the Lib Dems could look to the future with far more optimism than otherwise – the question is, will the popularity of their local MPs, and the tactical votes that they have won in previous elections be enough to see them cling on – or will we see the wipeout that some have predicted, and that all members of the Lib Dems must secretly fear.