Black Friday for Lib Dems: it’s worse than we thought

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2011

When I quickly penned this morning’s results round-up, I thought I’d struck a more or less appropriately pessimistic tone; that the results were undeniably grim for the party, but we’d have to wait for the rest of the day to see if there was something of a north/south divide.

Well, I’ve waited, and I think we can now more or less officially say: these results are a disaster for the Lib Dems, worse than most of us had feared they could be.

In Scotland, the party has been reduced from 16 MSPs to just five. In Wales, we clung onto five of our six AMs. But in England it wasn’t just Labour’s northern, urban former-heartlands that rejected the party — most of us had been braced for that — it was also the English district, unitary and metropolitan councils across the country.

At the time of writing, the Lib Dems (according to the BBC) have made a net loss of 625 seats. If you look down the ALDC website list of results, showing net changes in all councils, it’s depressing.

You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of councils where the party has made a net gain of seats; in almost all others, the party has made losses, including some quite devastating ones. There have been double-digit losses of councillors in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East Riding, Kingston-upon-Hull, Windsor & Maidenhead, Chelmsford, Chesterfield, and North Norfolk.

And, to cap it all, even the AV vote — which most of us had quietly resigned ourselves to losing — seems now to be facing a trouncing beyond even the more pessimistic pollsters’ imaginations. With half the results now declared (at time of writing), it appears to be settling at a 69%/31% defeat for the ‘Yes’ camp.

We knew when we entererd the Coalition, there would be tough days ahead. But it’s easy to say these things, quite another to live through them. For a party that has grown used to having its own heartland vote in the ‘celtic fringes’ of Scotland and Wales, and enjoying favourable local election results in many parts of England, today’s reverses are bitingly painful.

The pain is accentuated by knowing there’s no simple get-out-of-jail card. Our latest survey shows party members still overwhelmingly back the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition; to back out of it now would be highly unlikely to help the party, either in the short- or long-term. Those few who reckon replacing Nick Clegg would somehow be the answer are, I think, utterly deluded.

There is no quick fix. There may be no fix at all. All we can do is re-commit ourselves — at all levels in the party — to working harder still to deliver Lib Dem policies in government, and communicate them effectively. The rest is up to the voters.