Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats

Mark Pack, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, looks at the Lib Dems' performance in last night's local elections and contrasts it with the party's showing in previous elections.

Mark Pack is the co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice

The year 1993 is turning out to be the benchmark for the Liberal Democrat performance in Thursday’s elections. Though no-one (including myself) was talking of 1993 before Thursday, two numbers both point to that year.

First, it looks as if the proportion of local councillors who are Liberal Democrat will be back to 1993 levels once the final results are in today. Second, the April ICM poll put the party on 15 per cent – the same figure as in April 1993, also one year on from a general election. The equivalent Aprils in other parliaments since then all saw higher ratings for the party – 16%, 18% and 21%.


There is one other sign of 1993 in the air: Paddy Ashdown, party leader in 1993, is now one of the party’s most prominent media front men.

Unlike some ex-party leaders, such as Ted Heath, he has not slunk away into bitterness nor unlike others, such as Tony Blair, has he slipped away into silence on domestic policies. Instead, like the old soldier that he is, he is still plugging away in the studios, serving a new commander. But it will take more than just his media appearances to put the party on the road back to some of its more recent highs.

So how bad is returning to 1993 levels of popularity for the party? There are only subjective answers to that question – many of which I suspect in part depend on the age of the person answering it.

For those who joined the Liberal Democrats in the last 18 months, and may not yet even have been in school in 1993, that may well seem a long time away and a big step back; for those who have seen the party’s ups and downs in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, 1993 looks rather better – and nothing like as bad as the dog days of having a party leader on trial for conspiracy to murder (late 1970s) or the fiasco of the fallout from the Liberal/SDP merger (late 1980s).

Moreover, as the graph above shows, whilst the 2011 results (projected in the graph, so the final point on the graph may move slightly once all the results are in) certainly show a strong dip, the peak of the Liberal Democrat local government strength was a decade and a half ago. The long years of regular progress had long since ended.

So 2011 offers two electoral challenges for the Liberal Democrats: the immediate one about being in government but along the longer run one about a static, or slightly declining, local government base for a long time.

A shorter version of this post first appeared on the MHP Communications blog

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13 Responses to “Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats”

  1. Mark Pack

    Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats http://bit.ly/jbjPYj < Now with added graph from me

  2. John Brooks

    RT @markpack Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats http://bit.ly/jbjPYj < Now with added graph from me

  3. Ian

    .@markpack has made a graph – % of councillors who are LibDem since 1973 http://bit.ly/lYY2Rg //it's like 1993 all over again!

  4. David Talbot

    Scale of Lib Dem losses in perspective; they are now back to the level of councillors they had in 1992 http://is.gd/7wwxQl #vote2011

  5. David Talbot

    Scale of Lib Dem losses in perspective; they are now back to the level of councillors they had in 1992 http://is.gd/7wwxQl #vote2011

  6. It’s back to 1993 for the Liberal Democrats | Mark Pack

    […] shorter version of this post first appeared on the MHP Communications blog and a longer version on Left Foot Forward. Share this:EmailPrint If you liked this post, these may also interest you:Health set to be the big […]

  7. Daniel Pitt

    Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats: http://bit.ly/kdkwGH #ConDemNation

  8. nonny mouse

    Where is the equivalent graph for Labour councillors? Doesn’t that show a different story – how Labour have failed to return to their glory days of the 1990s.

    Where is the graph for Labour’s Scottish parliament seats?

    I think that if you put both graphs side by side then Clegg comes out looking a lot better than Miliband.

  9. Tim Holyoake

    RT @markpack: Vote 2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the Liberal Democrats http://bit.ly/jbjPYj < Now with added graph from me

  10. Anon E Mouse

    nonny mouse – You are correct and currently Ed Miliband is the least popular of the three party leaders.

    Today was a disaster for Labour and all this smoke screen of an article does is allow the activists to continue to languish in delusional beliefs whilst they wait to lose at the general election which is a certainty if Labour’s dire poll standing is correct…

  11. David Boothroyd

    Comparing numbers of councillors can be deceptive – one councillor in Birmingham represents 20,000 votes, while one councillor in West Somerset represents 1,000. Some are unitary, some are two tier. Although it excludes Scotland and halves the numbers for Wales, the best measure of local government strength is the Local Government Association’s annual formula calculation for its distribution of power. The situation in the past year (2010-11) has been C 45.7%, Lab 27.2%, L Dem 19.8%, Ind/other 7.2%. The new calculation will be along shortly.

  12. Gareth Jones

    http://tinyurl.com/3upndl7 #Vote2011: Back to the mid-nineties for the #Libdems

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