This May, the Liberal Democrats recorded their worst ever election result since their formation in 1988. It’s odd to think that little over 5 years ago, just after the first debate in the run up to the 2010 election, this was the party which was neck and neck with Labour when it came to the popular vote. Quite clearly the effects of being in power with a party unapologetic about spending cuts are starting to show. The latest polls puts them on 6%, a far cry from the party’s old successes.
I feel it is apt right now to mention how Nick Clegg once famously declared:
If the Liberal Democrats are to be seen as a credible party once more, it must make sure that doesn’t remain a party of few fixed principles. What I found particularly striking was how little we know about the Lib Dems and what they actually stand for. Party policy on Trident has yet to have been chalked up and while they have pledged to build an ambitious 300,000 houses a year, it has yet to explain clearly to the public how that will come about.
For me, it was their saying in the run-up to the election, “We’ll give the Tories a heart and Labour a brain” that made me realise that this was a party marketing itself simply as a mediating force; rather than talking about their own party it appeared that they wanted to focus on the shortcomings of others.
On a more positive note, I suppose Tim Farron offers a break from a lot of what the Lib Dems have been criticised for not standing up against. He voted against both the bedroom tax and tuition fees- the latter of which so infamously tarnished the party’s image as one which can keep its promises. Nick Clegg, who has led his party to into this oblivion is now suddenly calling branding his party as ‘comeback kids’. On what grounds he argues this, I don’t know. But it’s certainly a lot less bleak than what many others are saying.
Interestingly enough, Tim Farron recently remarked that there were people he was talking to:
Who have been members of the Labour party for as long as I’ve been a member of mine who feel that they don’t recognise their party any more and feel deeply distressed.
While I don’t disagree that further down the line there could a swing in his favour from Labour, I think Farron might be swallowing his words, as just only a Liberal Democrat councillor has defected to the Corbyn-led Labour party. The Lib Dems can, and I think will capitalise on Labour undergoing an identity shift but this exchange of members might not simply be one way traffic. With around 15,000 members having joined the party since May there is at least some consolation but that is not an excuse for complacency either.
On balance, one could say with quite some certainty that the Liberal Democrats will improve upon their most recent and dismal performance at this election, but it would also be premature to think that they’ll return to their former glory any time soon. It’s early days, and with the EU referendum coming up, they have been presented with a rare opportunity to make clear their views on the issue of our role in Europe. If they argue passionately and properly on the pro-EU platform which they are currently on, it could win them a lot more supporters.
For a party which has the same number of seats as the DUP and polls beneath UKIP, they are a political force that remains in the limelight. Only time will tell if they can make use of that.