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?