Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats will no doubt be seeing the recently announced general election as a great opportunity to mobilise the 48% of people who voted to remain in the EU in the referendum and hopefully get back some of the dignity his party lost in 2015. At the moment all polls are suggesting that his party will improve on its 8% share of the votes and the nine MP’s the currently has in the Commons. The question is just how much can they improve? And could they possibly shock everyone and become the main opposition to the Conservatives ahead of a massively divided Labour?
It’s not exactly far-fetched to think the Lib Dems could do very well in the election, maybe better than they have in their history, clearly the odds look positive enough for Vince Cable to come back to the world of politics at the age of 73.
The Lib Dems have taken on the clear position of opposing Brexit and are trying to do everything within their power to frustrate the government’s plans, including demanding a second referendum on the precise points of the exit deal. This stand may not appeal to all 48% of people who voted to remain but this is a good strategy to get a good portion of those voters on their side. At the moment polls indicate that 22% of voters who voted remain are vehemently opposed to the government and believe that the decision ought to be reversed, for those individuals the Liberal Democrats are the only party offering such opposition and I predict a good percentage will be voting yellow in June.
What’s interesting to note as well is that many of those die-hard remainers are Labour defectors who have become disenfranchised with the party thanks to its cautious acceptance of the Brexit result.
To their benefit as well the Liberal Democrats have a well-oiled media and campaigning wing, it’s so good in fact that last week a number of journalists said it was a lot better than Labour’s slow moving press operation. That stark difference between the two parties was shown very clearly in the moments following Theresa May’s announcement of a snap election. A response from Tim Farron was emailed to journalists within minutes and the man himself was being interviewed shortly after that on live TV.
Jeremy Corbyn’s response however was much slower, it took almost 40 minutes for his press team to issue a statement and a little longer than that to get an interview set up and organised. Now that’s not terrible and it’s not particularly slow, but it is bad to have the official opposition party being so drastically out-manoeuvred by a party that was almost eradicated in 2015.
Yet despite all the positives for Lib Dems I think its improvements will be limited. While modern elections are fought out online in social media with a lot of effort and resources being put into this medium by the various parties the greatest asset remains mainstream media coverage. While this is fine for the two major parties who generally receive similar airtime from the primary broadcasters this puts the Lib Dems at a severe disadvantage. Having gained just 8% of the vote in 2015 and with a current 11% in recent polls the party is sadly not an attractive proposition for news organisations to invite.
Some experts are suggesting that the Lib Dems will see a large increase in the south-west of England, though for me that seems unlikely. If the Liberal Democrats are going to fight this election as the anti-Brexit party then the most often Eurosceptic south-west would be an odd place to do so.
Many of the seats that the Lib Dems lost at the last election went on to vote to Leave the EU in the election and will be hard to win back if Tim Farron continues to take the role of the anti-Brexit champion. There are however a number of staunchly Remain seats like Twickenham in London where they may fare much better.
If we look at the Liberal Democrats list of target seats it is clear there’s not as many as Farron would have liked.