Monday, 23 April 2012

Might the Lib Dems cease to exist?

With the news last week that the Liberal Democrats had briefly fallen behind the UK Independence Party in the polls, one was set thinking: might the party just cease to exist? Rapid and near-fatal electoral decline has happened before of course, between the First World War and the consequent 1918 election, and the party's rout in the 1924 contest.

Well, it's possible. It's unlikely, actually, as the Liberal Democrats are doing better in council seat by-elections than the polls suggest. Lib Dems do better in areas where the party has MPs, perhaps a straw in the wind as to how they'll do 'on the defense', as Americans say, in 2015. Other politicians - notably Margaret Thatcher in 1990 - have declared the party to be 'dead', only to be bitten by the same beak they have satirised in the past (above).

Even so, the party does face losing many seats due to the seat distribution that will hurt them most of all - especially if they're relying on just such incumbency effects to protect them from the chill winds of coalition. And with the Conservatives still the likeliest in my view to be the biggest party in a smaller Commons, they might thereafter be faced with the doleful prospect of soldiering on in a loveless marriage that they care for less and less, an adjunct to a government that's long since passed their own Lib Dem sell-by date. It'll be hard to avoid a party split in such circumstances.

Their best solution? To pull out in 2014, force the Conservatives to govern for a year or so on their own without the ability to call a snap poll, and mount some fierce opposition to a minority Conservative government. Otherwise, they're in real, real trouble.

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