WHEN Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson took to their podiums in Brighton and Manchester respectively for conference speeches, both social media and the press commentariat were abuzz with opinion and analysis.
Whether heralding the redemption or damnation of the Labour leader – or emphasising the humour or vacuousness of the Prime Minister’s address – there was no missing the wave of takes on the top two party leaders’ keynote presentations.
Yet the conference of Britain’s historic third party, the Liberal Democrats, came and went before the other two – with barely a mutter from pundits.
Perhaps the most notable moment was when Liberal Democrat members broke down a Blue Wall – in reference to the party’s desire to repeat its win in Chesham & Amersham and take more Tory safe seats in the home counties.
The Liberal Democrats are an easy target for satire. Along with these goofy dramatics, the party’s poll ratings remain poor, and it has failed to make any substantial change in fortunes since the orange apocalypse in 2015.
Their only flicker of a comeback came after they soared to second place in the 2019 UK edition of the European Parliament election, but given that the party was a single-issue anti-Brexit movement in all but name at that point, this can largely be put down to protest vote.
But in spite of the Liberal Democrats’ seeming insignificance at this point, any Labour supporter who wants to see the party in government should be rooting for their comeback.
When the Lib Dems do well, it very often comes at the expense of the Conservatives, not Labour. General elections in which they score well on seat count are ones where the Tories do poorly.
The New Labour years when the Conservatives were floundering in the wilderness are when the Lib Dems had a large amount of success, more than doubling their seat count between 1992 and 1997.
At the same time, Labour took a hammering in 2015 at the same time that the Lib Dem vote collapsed – with both suffering losses to the Tories and the SNP.
But Ed Davey’s strategy to specifically target seats in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’ like Chesham & Amersham – as opposed to Jo Swinson’s hubristic aim at majority government in 2019 – is what Labour should welcome with open arms.
Some of these seats would be out of Labour’s reach. The party endured its worst ever by-election result in Chesham & Amersham, and the home counties will unlikely ever by fertile ground for mass Labour gains.
However, Liberal Democrat wins across the region could prove a key tool in chipping away at the Conservative majority in the Commons.
Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s own seat of Esher & Walton is one in danger of falling to the Lib Dems – and came within just a few points of doing so at the last general election.
Recent YouGov polling suggests that Chesham & Amersham may not be an isolated incident, with support for the Conservatives among remain voting constituencies in the south of England with high levels of university graduates.
Many of these seats would be ripe for Labour’s taking – but others are simply unassailable. The need for a formal progressive alliance is a matter for debate and dispute, but whether this materialises or not, Lib Dem gains would be needed as piece of the puzzle to remove the Tories from power.
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