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Have the Lib Dems set themselves an impossible target?

December 28th, 2004

    Charles Kennedy’s Catch-22

At their conference in Bournemouth in September the Lib Dems made great play of the fact that their goal was to replace the Tories as the party of opposition and they are still repeating the line, even today, which looks set to become a big plank of their General Election campaign.

Given the current dynamic of the Tories remaining static and the big switch being between Labour and the LDs then the party is likely to end the election being even further behind the Tories in terms of the number of MPs than they are at the moment. The more successful Charles Kennedy’s party is in securing Labour votes the better things will be for the Tories.

    If you want to define a goal in relation to another party then at least choose one that’s on the decline. Michael Howard’s party might not be moving forward but they are not moving back either.

In our article last week we argued that the mathematics of the coming election mean that if the Tories remain on their 32.7% share of last time then the party picks up four times as many seats as the Lib Dems for each percentage point of vote share that switches from Labour. This is not about reverse tactical voting but the simple operation of the uniform national swing using Martin Baxter’s calculator to the last General Election result.

    Last time the LDs got 52 MPs to the Tory tally of 165 – 113 seats behind. It is very hard seeing how that margin will reduce making the LDs “replacing the Tories” rhetoric” look very sick indeed. The party goal will look even further away after the election than it does at the moment.

The LDs might be able to present their relative improvment on the Tories in terms of votes, which is almost certain to happen, as a great success. But the heart of the problem is the first-past-the-post electoral system and how vote changes affect each seat.

In the coming months the Lib Dems need to refine their rhetoric so it is clear they are talking about votes and not seats otherwise the outcome could look like a big failure.

Latest Lib Dem General Election seat spreads from Spreadfair – the spreadbetting exchange. 68-71.5 seats.

Mike Smithson






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