I don’t often get to write a blog about the Liberal Democrats. It’s not because they’re irrelevant, far from it, they’re just not very relevant at the moment. Local elections however are the bread and butter of the Party – grassroots campaigning, dodgy bar charts and an army of volunteers (not all wearing socks and sandals).
Many called the local elections the first test for Sir Keir Starmer as Leader of the Labour Party, but it was also the first test for Sir Ed Davey, who was elected leader of the Lib Dems in August 2020. Overall, it was an average set of results for Davey, gaining one Council and seven Councillors, but a less than average result when you consider the weakness of the Labour Party and the opportunity that should have presented the Party. The Green Party has capitalised from Labour’s demise most compared to other smaller parties, winning 88 Councillors, but the Party still only has 151 Councillors overall compared to the Lib Dems’ 586.
So where does the not-so-relevant Party go from here? Speaking after the election, Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems Daisy Cooper claimed the Conservative “Blue Wall” in the south is starting to crumble and the Party is now focused on these traditionally blue parliamentary seats. After taking control of St Albans City and District Council and denying the Conservatives control of Cambridgeshire County Council and Tunbridge Wells, Daisy boldly stated “From Cheltenham to Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire to Woking, nowhere is safe for the Tories in their Blue Wall. The age of no-go areas for the Liberal Democrats in traditionally Tory southern cities towns and villages is over.”
If crumbling the “Blue Wall” in the south, hoovering up pro-EU southerners and targeting young professionals moving to the home counties is now the Lib Dems’ strategy, then the Party concedes it does not want to win elections going forward. The next General Election won’t be won in Remainer seats in the south, but in former Labour heartlands, the Red Wall and beyond.
The Lib Dems’ strategy therefore appears to be getting small wins, which isn’t overly ambitious (compared to Jo Swinson wanting to be Prime Minister) but does align with Davey’s politics. Davey was a contributor to the Orange Book in 2004, which offered liberal policy solutions whilst stressing the role of choice and competition. ‘Orange Bookers’ are considered to the ‘right’ of the Party’s thinking compared to those who identified with centre-left beliefs. The “Blue Wall” voters are therefore likely to align with Davey’s politics and is a natural strategy for him to take, but again, will only provide the Party with small wins.
Although the strategy may not be overly ambitious, their options are limited. Labour is likely going to shift its focus on Brexit-voting towns in the north of England to challenge the Conservatives meaning the Lib Dems will be the largest pro-EU Party in British politics, but strategically, it’s an unenviable position to be in. There is still a long way to go for the Party to become relevant again, but I’m sure they will take small wins for now.
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