London. Oh.

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?


  1. Thanks for linking to me – although I have no idea why creating a bumper linkfest in a blog post is ‘womanfully’.

    It was nice to hear what other bloggers thought as the blogosphere has been a bit desolate with tumbleweed gently blowing across for the last two months.

    Sorry if any irritation caused – I think it’s good that the opposition see how angry we are…

  2. Does this mean we’re covered in spots and lie to our mates about imaginary girlfriends?

    One additional anecdotal point with regards to voters (bless their cotton socks…) not understanding the system – even after the election, after they’ve all voted, they’re still (in my experience) only mentioning the Mayor. They must have seen the other papers, presumably voted on them, but only us geeks are mentioning the GLA bit.

  3. I completely concur on the teenager analogy, and I’ve been saying something similar for some time: to progress, we need to move beyond an anti-establishment vote, but we need to hold on to that as we become more established.

  4. Good analogy – i think it’s something that is reflected in the programatic debate within the party which tends to boil down to ‘should we tack to the left and pick up diassffected Labour votes or the right to pick up Tory votes’ . So, like any teenager we are a bit confused about our identity. Programatically I think we can straddle both horses and that is the best way to move forward.

  5. I like the teenager analogy too.

    I think that one of the mistakes that London Lib Dems made was campaigning for the GLA with the targeting strategy that they use in parliamentary elections; this only works with FPTP. In an area where there is a proportional system (of a kind), you need to /at least/ leaflet ALL your potential voters. Lots of Londoners (some that I know personally) got nothing whatsoever through their doors from the Lib Dems; the entirety of London, huge as it is, was the target area, and should have been treated as such.

  6. At least you didn’t accuse me of ‘soliciting for dates’ on your blog like before I suppose…or say I was like Bridget Jones…:@)

  7. I think it is stretching credulity and taking false comfort to assume, in an election where turnout went up by 10% from the last poll, that somehow, uniquely, it was potential Paddick-first-preferences who stayed at home. What possible grounds are there for assuming this? It’s hardly the case that either Hughes or Kramer were either so charismatic or so likely to win the previous contests that Lib Dem voters suddenly thought “I’d love to go out and vote LD but nah, this time I’ll sit on my hands”. Is it? Really? (Though picking a candidate who doesn’t vote Left List 2nd preference and doesn’t come over as both boring & pompous might help). Isn’t it ever so slightly more likely that they voted for another candidate? Do admit!

    Self-delusion will not help the party learn from the debacle.

    As for targetting, yes the whole of the city is the target, but I have to say as a resident of South West, I didn’t particularly receive more campaigning material from the Lib Dems than anyone else and I’d say I got more from both Tories and Greens.

  8. I think we should be very careful before throwing away the targeting strategy.

    For a start we don’t have the organisation to deliver a leaflet to every household across London. We have deliverers in our stronger areas – mainly local helpers who wouldn’t move anywhere else – and few in weaker areas.

    On top of that even if we persuade a few more people to support us in weaker areas we wouldn’t know who there were or be able to turn them out.

    There are, I’m sure, a whole host of reasons why we didn’t do as well as we could have done, but targeting our efforts at our known voters wasn’t one of them.

  9. It’s fairly obvious why the Lib Dems vote share fell across Olde London Town.

    Tories and Labour worked like stink to get their vote out! Lib Dems didn’t.

    Hey presto turnout went up aided enormously by the Ken and Boris talent show.

    I see that Paddick got more absolute first preferences than Kramer in 2000 but ended up with a smaller percentage of the vote.

  10. “I see that Paddick got more absolute first preferences than Kramer”

    Thank you; a point I should have made in support of my argument but am grateful to you for.

  11. The only literature I got in the London mayoral election was one piece each from the Tories, UKIP and BNP. Nothing from Labour, despite living in a marginal Labour-Tory constituency.

  12. Hm, odd. I assume there is some wordpress-related reason why everyone has turned into a geometric pattern?

    @DavidB, I’m not sure I’m particularly delusional – I started out by saying the results were rubbish, and they are. But there’s only so much hand-wringing one can do before it becomes more useful to start thinking about possible contributory factors.

    “to assume that…it was potential Paddick-first-preferences who stayed at home.”

    Well, to turn that on its head, it is *more* likely that Paddick first-preffers stayed at home than Ken and Boris first-preffers, isn’t it? If anyone was going to stay at home, it was the supporters of the known distant third. And I don’t derive any particular comfort from that, you may be sure – I bow to the wisdom of the Dear Leader there.

    Re: London and targetting, maybe the scope of the targetting needs to be rethought. It’s possible our ultra-localist strategy just doesn’t work that well in London. I suspect that many Londoners (particularly the large younger, peripatetic population who are from elsewhere originally) identify with London and don’t really care about the London Borough of Wherever. I’ve lived in four boroughs in eight years, and TBH it can be hard to care in more than an abstract moral way about a local hospital or school closure if you never/rarely have cause to use its services and you don’t need the borough for anything else either. To a lot of people it’s just a name on a bin.

  13. Hm, odd. I assume there is some wordpress-related reason why everyone has turned into a geometric pattern?

    This would appear to be the case. I noticed it on a few other blogs and thought that it was an odd coincidence; obviously it’s more than that.

    Hmm. Let’s see what pattern I am!

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