The LDs almost never fail when they start in 2nd place behind the Tory
In the aftermath of the Chesham by-election Peter Fleet has issued a series of Tweets expressing his bitterness about the outcome and Lib Dem tactics. Fair enough – I tried to run for parliament once and I know how failure affected me.
Fleet would have been less disappointed if he had checked his electoral history before putting himself forward for the by-election. If he had done so he would have found that in contests where the LDs were in second place to the Tories at the previous general election the party has an extraordinary record of success. The only exception to this I can find in recent times is Henley in 2008.
The reason is clear. The party faces an uphill battle to get any attention whatsoever and the electoral system works very much against it. At GE2019 it secured just 1.7% of the Commons seats with just under 12% of the national vote. At that election it increased its vote share by nearly 4% but came out with fewer seats.
The one area it can come to the fore is in Westminster by-elections where it starts in second place against the Tories. These are critical to its future and it has developed powerful campaigning techniques supported by hundreds of activists who are ready to travel hundreds of miles to pound the streets and stuff envelopes.
Initially this is about establishing the party as the challenger by swamping the area with a mass of leaflets and posters. Then it runs excellent GOTV (Get out the Vote) operation both just after postal packs have gone out and then on election day itself.
As a punter I was never in real doubt that I would lose my LD bets.