A full-scale comeback is a way off—but the coalition years are slowly being forgottenby John Curtice / February 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Unlike the Richmond by-election last year, this week’s parliamentary by-elections in Copeland and Stoke Central are not expected to bring the Liberal Democrats any particular joy. The former is widely regarded as a battle between Labour and the Conservatives, the latter between Labour and UKIP. The party’s ambition is probably limited to saving its deposit in both seats, not something it managed to do in either case at the 2015 general election.
Yet ever since last summer, local government by-elections—of which there is at least one on most Thursdays—have been recording gains by the Liberal Democrats on a regular basis. Since last year’s European Union referendum the party has gained as many as 31 council seats, and lost just three (of which two were to Independents).
Local government by-elections are, of course, notable for low turnouts, while their interpretation can be bedevilled by the intervention of withdrawal of one or more parties, or individual candidates. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat performance has been patchy. Even during the last six weeks the party has seen its vote increase, in some cases quite spectacularly, in six wards, while in four others it has slipped back a little. However, the overall direction of travel is clear. Across all wards last fought in 2015 or 2016, where the party fought both the by-election and the regular poll, its vote has increased by 14 points since September.