Report: Lib Dem gains would “cut the electoral mountain” faced by Labour

Starmer needs strong Lib Dems to take Tories' majority away.

If the Liberal Democrats do well at the next election, it would make it easier to deny the Conservatives another majority, a new report has found.

In the vast majority of seats the Lib Dems could win, the Tories are their main challenger rather than Labour, the report found.

The report by UK in a Changing Europe found that a 5% swing to the Lib Dems would likely see them win 13 seats from the Tories and just one each from Labour and the SNP.

A 10% uniform swing would see the Tories lose a further 13 seats while Labour would lose just one more. The working Tory majority is currently 87.

“If the Liberal Democrats continue their current demographic and geographic trajectory, then the Labour Party would be set to benefit. Modest Lib Dem gains would cut the electoral mountain faced by Keir Starmer,” the report said.

As voting in the Liberal Democrat leadership election begins, the report said the party is split between two strategies for winning Tory seats.

One part of the party argues further consolidating the anti-Tory vote is the way to win Tory seats. For example, in Wimbledon, the combined Labour-Lib Dem vote was 32,000 while the Tory vote was 21,000. If the Lib Dems can win over Labour voters then, this argument goes, they can win the seat.

Another part of the party argues that winning over Tory voters is the way to win Tory seats. The report says this second camp “may well have a point” because, in the 11 seats where the Lib Dems came closest to winning in 2019, the average Labour vote is just 7.8%.

The report does not say so but the former camp is more associated with Layla Moran who has said she wants the party to be “even more radical than Labour”. The latter camp is more associated with Ed Davey, who was a minister in the Coalition government.

The interests of the Liberal Democrats and Labour have become increasingly entwined because the number of Lib Dem and Labour marginals declined rapidly in the Coalition years and has not increased since.

The Liberal Democrat vote has particularly declined in the Midlands and the North of England – in places like Leeds, Manchester, Burnley, Bradford and Birmingham – where their 2010 seats are now mainly safe Labour ones.

Since 2010, the Liberal Democrat have also lost ground in the South-West which, the report says, was the closest thing the party had to a “heartland” but where it now has no MPs.

Although the party retained a healthy 18% vote share across the South-West region, it’s vote was too evenly spread for this to translate into any seats except in Bath. It came a relatively close second in St. Ives and parts of Somerset.

The report said the party’s new heartland is what it calls the ‘Yellow Halo’ in the South – parts of London, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and Cambridge. This region provides all but one of the party’s English MPs and most of their target seats.

These seats are characterised by a high percentage of graduates, which the report says are the party’s new core voters.

Commenting on the 2019 election, the report says that that it was “more positive than it first appears”.

The result seems so bad because the party’s expectations were so high. It polled 20% a few months before the election and its leader Jo Swinson billed herself as a potential Prime Minister. In the end, it returned one fewer MP than in 2017 and Swinson herself lost her seat.

But, the report points out, while the party actually won less seats, it got closer to winning more. In 2017, it got more than 30% of the vote in just 28 seats. In 2019, this figure increased to 50. At the next election therefore, a small improvement in its vote share could easily see it double its number of MPs.

Despite these positives though, the report warns that “long term paralysis looks a distinct possibility”.

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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