As I posted yesterday, the recent local elections were bad for the Liberal Democrats, the party for whom I am an activist. But if there’s any cheer to be had, it comes from looking at the behaviour of the other parties.
Labour have reason to be cheerful, but the results contain a trap. Their party has lurched to the left, going back on Tony Blair’s legacy. They want more spending, and more taxes to pay for them. This is a good line for motivating activists, many incandescent over the Coalition’s cuts, which they consider to be unnecessary and ideologically motivated. This is great for getting the turnout up in local elections. But it’s not enough for them to win in 2015 – and the weakness was evident in their failure to capture the mayoralty in an essentially Labour London. Liberal Democrats must hope that they keep reading their Polly Toynbee and let their anger trump their strategic sense.
But what is even more remarkable is the response of the Tories, to judge from the weekend’s press and backbenchers popping up on the radio. It echoes my advice yesterday to the Lib Dems in London yesterday – to shore up their core vote. They think the party will fail because it isn’t right wing enough, and that they should go back to being “the Nasty Party” to fit the nation’s sour mood. This is sheer panic, and befits the party’s other nickname: “the Stupid Party”.
They do have a problem, and one that I predicted over a year ago before the referendum on the Alternative Vote. There is a resurgent UK Independence Party (UKIP) chipping away at their core vote, while the Lib Dems find it easier to convince soft Tories to vote for them than soft Labour voters – and so they are going after them. That is why they should have supported a Yes vote in the referendum last year – or at least not fought too hard for a No vote. The more they go after the UKIP vote, the easier the Lib Dems wll find it to pick their centrist supporters off; the more they shore up the centre, the easier it is for UKIP to continue their progress.
But the correct answer to this problem is “don’t panic”. They should endure a few difficulties in local council elections and the Euro elections in 2014 – because the real prize they are aiming for is outright victory in the General Election in 2015. In this election they should have no difficulty in crushing UKIP, by painting the real enemy as Labour and the Lib Dems. They will then use Labour’s lurch to the left to scare Lib Dem inclined voters into supporting them too, while reassuring them that they are quite nice and liberal really. It’s the latter task that is by far the trickiest, so they shouldn’t jeopardise it by lurching to the right.
David Cameron knows this perfectly well, and his continued leadership represents the party’s best chance of outright victory in 2015. But if the right openly rebels, the party will both make itself look divided, and retoxify the Tory brand. The rebels should shut up and wait for 2015 – much as the Labour left did before 1997, and indeed 2001, before that party lurched to the left with its big spending expansion of government in the 2000s.
Labour lurching to the left. The Tories to the right. This makes life a lot easier for us beleaguered Lib Dems. Please let it continue.