Monday, 9 May 2011
Lib Dems Elections Disaster
Last Thursday was a voting extravaganza for the people of Britain, with national elections in Scotland and Wales and local elections in much of England (except here in London) and the nationwide referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) voting system for General Elections.
Scotland sprang the biggest shock, electing a majority Scottish National Party (SNP) government in the Scottish Parliament, under an election with a proportional element, designed to specifically stop a majority government being elected. It was a personal triumph for Alex Salmond the SNP leader, who is far too crafty for Labour’s second division politicians in Scotland. A referendum will now be held on Scottish independence but if it were to be held tomorrow, it would undoubtedly be defeated. But Salmond is too skilful a politician to fall into that trap, and the vote will not be held for at least two years, by which the time the full horror of an English Tory government will be apparent, and with the election boundaries changed in the Tories favour, the Scots may conclude that they will be better going it alone. It will be interesting to watch how this situation develops.
In Wales, Labour did pretty well at the expense of Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems but fell just one seat short of an overall majority on the Welsh Assembly. The Green party failed unfortunately to land a first Assembly Member that was hoped for.
Local elections in England went surprisingly well for the Tories, gaining councils and seats, when they were expected to take losses because of the austerity programme introduced at national level. Their gains though were almost entirely in the south of England, and they didn’t have much to defend in the north. The Green party continued its modest progress with a net gain of 14 councillors and the Greens are now the largest party on Brighton and Hove council.
But the big story in England (and Wales and Scotland too) was the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. The scale of their losses is truly staggering. They lost almost 700 councillors which is over a third of the seats they were defending. They will take some comfort from gaining 15% of the vote in England, but it has to be remembered this was on a low turnout, so they would be highly unlikely to get this high a share in a General Election.
All of this was compounded by the decisive loss of the AV referendum (by a 2 to 1 majority) which the Lib Dem leadership had hoped would be seen as vindication of their entering of the coalition government with the Tories. The decision to go into coalition now looks to be a terrible error of political judgement and they have been well and truly stitched up by the Conservatives, useful as whipping boys for unpopular policies, but utterly without influence over the government’s direction.
Of course the Lib Dems will try to assert themselves more within the government now, but why should the Tories allow them any influence when they are so unpopular with the voters? They are destined for wipe out at the next General Election and who can say that they don’t deserve it?
The only way that I can see for them making any kind of recovery is if they ditch Nick Clegg as leader, and with a new leader (Charlie Kennedy, perhaps) bring down the coalition over differences in policy. Then they might be able to reduce their losses and even lay the groundwork for a coalition with Labour post election. The alternative will be a slow, painful death, with the reversion of thirty years of incremental gains and a return to the political wilderness.
Photo from The Guardian