Vince Cable and his party have a serious visibility problem. To make a comeback they must take opportunities where they come and avoid embarrassing unforced errorsby Matt Singh / July 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
It seems difficult to believe, but just eight years ago, the 2010 general election campaign featured no fewer than six published polls putting the Liberal Democrats in the lead, and 27 polls putting them on at least 30 per cent of the vote in Great Britain. Even after Cleggmania faded and the polls turned out to have been a bit optimistic, the party still took its highest ever share of the popular vote (including the party’s predecessors, its highest since 1983). And yet within six months, the party was polling in single figures. For the most part, it has stayed there ever since, prompting perennial questions about the likelihood and timing of a recovery. When I last wrote for Prospect about about the Lib Dems, things looked much brighter for them. It was during the period following the party’s spectacular gain at the Richmond Park by-election, and at that stage there was no indication that a general election was imminent. The 2017 election even looked at first as though it was going to be a huge break for the Lib Dems. In the event it turned out to be, at best, a missed opportunity, with only a handful of seat gains and a vote share slightly lower even than the disaster of 2015. In fact, the snap election was arguably a negative for the party. Though the concept of “momentum” politics is usually a mirage, the Lib Dems had been enjoying improved poll ratings and a more favourable narrative. The 2017 campaign then intervened, with the Labour surge winning votes from just about everywhere.
“Asked what the Lib Dems stood for, only a third said they knew”
The campaign itself didn’t go to plan, with Tim Farron’s media round—intended to make the case for the party’s anti-Brexit platform—becoming dominated by questions about his views on homosexuality. Aside from being a distraction, those views were a particular problem among the intended audience, as staunch Remainers are often also staunch social liberals. Aside from the election, the obvious explanation for the tepid recovery in Lib Dem fortunes is the political baggage of the coalition years. That’s undoubtedly true for many voters—YouGov polling in September last year showed that a majority of hard Remainers thought the Lib Dems were wrong to go into coalition with the Conservatives and that…