Our starters for 2008 – how did we do? (Part II)

by Stephen Tall on December 29, 2008

A year ago, Lib Dem Voice posed 10 questions, the answers to which we believed might shape the Lib Dem year – time to revisit them, wethinks. To read Part I dealing with Qs 1-5, click here.

6. Will Nicol Stephen’s leadership of the Scottish Lib Dems continue to bounce back?

No, it didn’t, though this was in large part due to Nicol’s decision to resign the party leadership at the beginning of July, in order to put “the health and wellbeing” of his family first. The Scottish party has had a tough time, playing third fiddle to the Labour-SNP duel which dominates north of the border, but Nicol had proved to be the only party leader frequently able to put Alex Salmond on-the-spot at First Minister’s Questions.

Tavish Scott is the new man at the helm of the Scottish Lib Dems: he explained here on LDV why he wanted to be leader, and, shortly after his election, confirmed who among his colleagues would form Team Scott.

They have an uphill struggle. In July, in the Glasgow East by-election, the SNP were the beneficiaries of the nadir of Gordon Brown’s electoral misfortunes, and the Lib Dems lost most of their votes compared with the 2005 general election. In November, in the Glenrothes by-election, Labour stubbornly dug in, seemingly the beneficiaries of the financial storms, seeing off the SNP threat, while the Lib Dems lost our deposit.

7. Who will emerge as leader of the Welsh Lib Dems when Mike German stands down?

Mike German’s long-trailed decision to stand down as leader of the Welsh party finaly came to pass this last December, and he reflected on his decade in the role here on LDV. The members of the Welsh Lib Dems chose Kirsty Williams as the party’s first female leader – she explained here on LDV why she wanted to be leader, and unveiled Team Kirsty here.

8. Will the Lib Dems’ consistently poll at or above 20%?

There’s only one thing I can predict with 100% certainty: any attempt to analyse the polls here on LDV is bound to provoke, in roughly equal measure, those who believe they show the Lib Dems about to be consigned to the outer margins of British politics, and those who believe the polls show all is pretty much tickety-boo.

In one sense, ‘the facts’ are easily stated. The BBC’s end-of-year poll round-up shows that the Lib Dems were averaging 18-19% in the first half of 2008; between July and October this fell a point, to 17%; with further 1% drops in both November and December. Over the course of the year, therefore, our support appears to have dropped from 18% to 15%, with the Lib Dems seemingly failing to capitalise either from Labour’s huge unpopularity (March-September), nor from the British economy’s financial problems long-predicted by Vince the Soothsayer.

But, and there are any number of heavily-caveatted buts I could insert here, the Lib Dem share of the vote fluctuates according to pollsters’ methodology well beyond any statistical margin-of-error. As Mark Pack has noted here on LDV, YouGov tends to be least friendly to the party; ICM consistently shows the party with the highest ratings.

Secondly, the polls are only one measure of a party’s performance – Lib Dem popularity dropped (fractionally) between 1992 and 1997, yet the party doubled its number of MPs. Against this must be weighed the fact that the next election will not be a repeat of 1997: the Tories will pose more of a threat to the Lib Dems in 2010 (or 2009?) than they have for more than a decade.

Which leads me on to my thirdly: national swings are made up of many regional swings, which themselves will be bucked by many exceptions. In May’s local elections, we saw the recurrence of a trend: that Lib Dem results against Tories were much better in those areas where there is real Lib Dem strength, for instance, Eastleigh, Cheltenham, Winchester and Colchester. Believe the polls, and Chris Huhne’s seat is a gonner. I wonder how many Lib Dems (or Tories) actually believe Chris will be unseated? In short, even if Lib Dem ratings fall below the 22% the party achieved in 2005, that’s not sufficient reason to believe the party won’t maintain (or even increase) its current tally of MPs.

(Not that I’m saying we should be satisfied with even 22% of the vote, mind).

9. Who will succeed Simon Hughes as Lib Dem President?

Though I’m sure there were many folk who, even a year ago, would have reckoned Baroness (Ros) Scott was in with a good chance, I’m not sure anyone would have predicted the scale of her victory – no need for second preferences to be counted, with Ros scoring a stunning 72% of the vote to Lembit Opik’s 22% and Chandila Fernando’s 6%. (Though LDV’s members’ surveys gave a good indication of the eventual result). Ros set out her reasons for wanting to be elected party president here on LDV; while Lembit offered a very gracious concession speech which showed how much he still has to offer the party after what has been a turbulent year for him.

10. Who will be crowned Lib Dem Blogger of the Year 2008?

In one of the least surprising outcomes of this year’s Blog of the Year awards, the fragrant Alix Mortimer of The People’s Republic of Mortimer (and often of this parish) was crowned Queen of the Lib Dem Blogosphere, a worthy successor to Quaequam Blog!’s James Graham. Both Alix and James have been regularly called upon by The Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog to put forward their liberal views; while Blog of the Year ‘bridesmaid’, that multi-talented Liberal Englander Jonathan Calder (who is also an occasional CiF contributor), has carved out a niche at the New Statesman with the excellent Calder’s Comfort Farm.

The essential Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator listed 168 active blogs at the start of 2008; we finish the year with 176 blogs. Some have disappeared, or at least gone into abeyance; others have been started afresh or re-invigorated. All are welcome at the blogging party. And what of Lib Dem Voice itself? Well, in the final month of 2007 we welcomed over 15,000 ‘absolute unique’ readers; in the final month of 2008, we’ll have been read by over 20,000 of you. Maybe see you back here in 2009…?