Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I see that Jo A has womanfully collated a list of fretful blogging reactions to our London results thus saving me a lot of gloomy scrolling. I hope opposition bloggers are watching this. The London results are dire for the Lib Dems, and we are all saying so – is it at all possible that you might give us an incy-wincy break and believe us when we also say the the country-wide results were really rather good?

Fairly bloody, ain’t it – 11% of the assembly vote, less than 10% of the mayoral vote. No spinning that one. But I fall somewhere between the two positions being demonstrated on the LDV thread - self-critical despair on the one hand and ultra-philosophical acceptance of the roundabout of political life on the other.

It is pretty dire, but there is an explanation, and it’s not simply that Brian got squeezed by two media giants, although that’s part of it. Paul Walter points out that as a liberal party we can hardly start questioning the electorate for turning out in high numbers – up to 50% in some boroughs – with the “wrong” kind of votes. That’s what Labour does when voters don’t show due appreciation of its Glorious Wisdom. As far as that goes I agree. But I do have an inkling about which bits of the electorate constituted that very high turnout across London, and how that might have affected our vote share.

On Thursday I directed someone to the polling station and asked them how they were going to vote (keeping my clipboard well out of sight, of course). “Oh Ken, I think,” she said. Well, that was a waste of time, wasn’t it. But it wasn’t until several hours afterwards that I realised what she meant by this – she didn’t really have much notion that any other elections were happening at all. Once she got in there, on being presented with not one bit of paper, but three, she probably filled in the others as well (and, I like to think, gave us a shout on the Assembly in thanks for the terribly nice and helpful woman who directed her to the polling station).

Normally, London Assembly elections are associated with the mayoral election – they don’t take place in its media-mighty shadow, like they did this time. Most people reading the London Metro of a morning could be forgiven for thinking that a mayoral election was the only thing happening on 1 May in the whole country, let alone London. So as far as they were concerned, they were voting for a London mayor only. And Brian was so obviously on the squeeze that many of the 12-14% or so of polled Londoners who said they would give him first preference stayed at home on 1st May. With the result that our Assembly vote share went down as well, because many of the people who wanted to give Brian first preference would probably have voted Lib Dem on the Assembly ballot papers too.

Anecdotal, yes, but it accounts for our low figures without excusing them (we didn’t work hard enough to get people out to vote, presumably), and also explains why the Green vote share remained contrastingly buoyant, and in the mayoral results crept up one point from the steady 2% held throughout the contest. The Green voters never expected their candidate to be a mayoral front-runner. They voted on 1 May to (continue to) prove a point, not in the hope of challenging the top two.

It strikes me that we’re in a sort of puberty stage of political parties (no, really, stay with me). We’re too big and successful now to be regarded as the plucky little underdog, and attract the grumpy protest vote. That role now belongs to the Greens. People don’t see us as anti-establishment any more, purely by dint of our size and vote share, and the fact that they’ve decided to see our leader as an establishment leader who doesn’t “live up” to establishment standards, rather than the oddball anti-establishment leader he actually is, good teeth and an enthusiasm for hiking and tennis notwithstanding. Our size and popularity attracts the other parties’ fear, hence all the ludicrous unfairness and name-calling on the Beeb and throughout the media.

But, while we’re now definitely in the secondary school playground, we’re not strong enough to challenge the big boys, who bully us in the apparent hope that we’ll dwindle and lose heart. We’re in a peculiarly hellish sort of limbo, neither one thing or the other. Presumably the only thing to do when confronted with a set of results like this is to stick with it, not let the bastards grind us down and keep applying the clearasil. No, I have no idea how that translates into an actual strategy, wot am I, Lawd Rennard?

I wanted to be Vince Cable really, but I got into it after a while. At times I even caught myself attempting the accent. Other than my impersonation of a gingery Scotsman, today’s run-through at the Beeb alongside Iain Dale and Luke Akehurst (a pair of total pussycats! Can’t imagine what all the fuss is about) for the election programme was chiefly remarkable for three things:

First, THE TABLE! THE TABLE! THE BIG RED ROUND GLASS TABLE THEY HAVE ON NEWSNIGHT AND STUFF, I SAT AT IT, YEEEEAH! It’s got all smears and scratches on it. The floor’s a bit grubby as well.

Second was David Dimbleby pretending for interview purposes not to know that Lib Dem tax policy involves cutting the basic rate and raising the personal allowance, bless his specs. I always thought the media really were wilfully ignorant about us, but apparently they just pretend to be and frame their whole line of questioning accordingly. That’s all right then.

Thirdly, and despite number two, we’re going to look good on tv. That’s because our party talking head, as you will have gathered, is Charles Kennedy (I don’t impersonate him for the fun of it, you know, and certainly never in my own time). The Tories have George Osbourne. Labour has Tessa Jowell. And never has the phrase “enough said” been more apposite than it is now about to appear, fitted like a silencer onto the end of this paragraph. Enough said.

But more important than any of that was the incidental revelation of the meedja’s expectations for us. I gather, from reading between the (great big thick) lines, that if the Lib Dems attract much less than 30% of the vote tomorrow there will be cause for much pundit headshakery over the future of Nick Clegg (who, you know, once did it with some ladies too!)

Now, given that Lib Dem commenters themselves over at LDV are generally predicting in the range 22-26% (i.e., a modest to good advance on where we are in the polls), one can’t help feeling there’s a degree of, ah, nobbling going on here. The Tories, of course, need to advance 2-3% on their current polling position to look like serious election winners (arithmetically if not intellectually). Essentially the Beeb’s position tomorrow, so it appeared to me from today, will be that anything less than an advance of 10% on where the Lib Dems are in the polls can merrily be interpreted as abject failure. Good to know where you stand, I suppose.

Yeah, well, their leader did Do It With Ladies…

Maniacally bitter humour notwithstanding, may I remind you that YOUR REPUBLIC NEEDS YOU tomorrow night, loyal citizens! results! early indicators! rumours! shocks! tears! laughter! speculation! bar charts! wild guesses! songs! poems! prose contributions! photographs of amusingly shaped vegetables that look like Boris and Ken! - all are considered for publication. Email me, facebook me (details right) or comment below or at LDV. For now, Good Night And Good Luck.


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