My 5 minutes defending Lib Dem honour against Bus Pass Elvis

by Stephen Tall on March 15, 2014

“We’re interviewing Bus Pass Elvis – the guy who beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election last week – and wondered if you’d be free to come on and talk about whether it means the writing’s on the wall.” That was the enticing invitation from the BBC’s Daily Politics show – how could I refuse? You can see how I got on below.

It was a brief segment, so there were two points I didn’t get to make which I think are important and relevant.

First, what Bus Pass Elvis’s defeat of the Lib Dems in North Clifton ward in Nottingham shows is the extent to which the party’s support has been hit in non-target areas. The party didn’t contest the ward at all in 2011 but when it did in 2007 it attracted 7% of the vote. Seven years on, the Lib Dems got 2%.

This points to a wider issue for the party. In 2010, the Lib Dems came first or second in 299 seats across the country – which means getting on for half the country had either a Lib Dem MP or the Lib Dems were the main challenger. That number is likely to shrink drastically in 2015. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Lib Dems will be wiped out (my own guesstimate remains that the party will retain c.40 seats) but it will limit our capacity to grow and to spring back at the 2020 election.

The second point is this. This week’s by-election results – you can read about them here – were far more positive for the Lib Dems: we took two seats from the Tories, including in Ludlow where Andy Boddington (formerly of this parish) won with a swing of 11%.

But it’s the Canterbury result which is, perhaps, of wider significance. Here the Lib Dems defeated the Tories on a 4% swing, but if you look at the results breakdown the Lib Dem share of the vote declined slightly (from 41% to 37%). However, the Tory vote declined more sharply (from 43% to 32%), with Ukip finishing in third place (on 18%). How many Lib Dem held and target seats, in particular in the west and south-west of England, could see similar results in 2015?

Anyway, here’s my 5 minutes of glory with Lord Biro aka Bus Pass Elvis aka David Bishop:

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.