Why the Lib Dems can be encouraged by the local elections

By Bobby Dean

I tweeted yesterday 10 councils in England for the Lib Dems to look out for. These councils all had decent Lib Dem bases but were fighting different parties in different settings and I felt that together they could build a good picture of how well the Lib Dems actually did, beyond the inevitable net losses nationally that were to be expected mid-term for a party of Government.

There’s no hiding from the losses made nationwide, this is not good news, but the story of the night does not appear to be one of a Lib Dem wipeout like last year and in fact they held strong and made gains in lots of places that really count for the minority coalition partner. It seems that where the Lib Dems have strong, organised campaign teams they reap the rewards of hard work – which is strong motivation for activists to get out there and continue to pound the pavements. The nation is starting to listen to the Lib Dems again, and where they get their message out, they are winning voters back.

Without further adieu, here’s the round-up from those ten councils I tweeted about:

Cambridge

The Lib Dems had a fight on their hands in Cambridge as they squared up head to head with Labour. With fourteen seats up for election and Labour flying high above the Lib Dems nationally, this was a potential disaster story for the Lib Dems. The strong campaign team, backed by parliamentarian Julian Huppert, held out though. Despite four losses and slipping into no overall control, the Lib Dems are likely to maintain minority control of the council and averted a catastrophic swing to Labour.

New composition: Lib Dems 21 (-4); Labour 19 (+4); Conservatives 1 (+1); Others 1 (-1)

Cheltenham

The Lib Dems are strong in Cheltenham but with half of the seats up for election, speculation was rife that the Conservatives could inflict real damage on their coalition partners. If the Conservatives pulled through and gained the council it would have been the starkest example of a bad night for the Lib Dems, but they didn’t and in fact this was one of the success stories of the night for the Lib Dems. The Conservatives actually fell back two whilst the Lib Dems gained. Strongest indicator yet that hard working local campaign teams get their just rewards.

New composition: Lib Dems 26 (+1); Conservatives 10 (-2); Others 1 (+1)

Colchester

A traditional Lib Dem stronghold, with the beloved and barmy Sir Bob Russell flying the parliamentary flag for the Lib Dems here. With the Conservatives just two seats behind, there was a real risk that the Tories could embarrass their coalition partners. Again a strong campaign team ensured that this wasn’t the case. BBC News are reporting a Lib Dem gain, which is very nice of them but untrue as I have it on good ground that the Lib Dems held all their seats firmly but made no gains. Very honorable and a rainbow coalition will continue here, excluding all but the Conservatives.

New Composition: Lib Dems 26 (0); Conservatives 21 (-1); Labour 8 (+1); Others 3 (0)

Derby

Traditionally a three-way fight, last time around Labour crept into the lead as the largest party with 22 seats but were outweighed by a Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition (on 16 and 12 respectively). Given the national outlook, anything other than the gains necessary to form a majority for Labour would have been disappointing. They got what the needed, taking three seats from Lib Dems. Disappointing, but not unrecoverable and it was hardly ever a bastion of Lib Dem support.

New composition: Labour 28 (+6); Conservative 14 (-2); Lib Dems 9 (-3); Other 0 (-1)

Exeter

The Lib Dems aren’t particularly strong here but it is traditionally a three way contest and went into the election with an all-party administration so was worth keeping an eye on. Labour were looking to take full control themselves and did just that by taking four seats off the Lib Dems and one off the Liberal Party (whoever they are!). Not a great result.

New composition: Labour 24 (+5); Conservatives 11 (0); Lib Dems 5 (-4); Other 0 (-1)

Portsmouth

The Lib Dems were in control but the Conservatives smelt blood and needed just four gains to steal control. I know personally that the Lib Dems worked their socks off here everyday to hold on, with Liberal Youth Chair Tom Wood pounding the doorsteps as hard as anyone else. The hard work paid off, the Lib Dems bucked national polling and not only held firm but made gains.

New composition: Lib Dems 26 (+3); Conservatives 12 (-5); Labour 4 (+2)

Stockport

A vulnerable minority Lib Dem administration. Although they were the largest party by a reasonable margin, both Labour and Conservatives had a fair chunk of seats each and any gains by either would cast doubt over whether the Lib Dems could maintain a grip on the council. As it turns out the Lib Dems lost just one seat, but importantly Labour made four gains. Barring the rare occurrence of a Labour / Conservative coalition the Lib Dems should hold on to the council, just.

New composition: Lib Dem 28 (-1); Labour 21 (+4); Conservative 10 (-2); Others 4 (-1)

Winchester

A real Conservative-Lib Dem battleground and heading into the election with 27 seats each meant that blood would be spilled here between the national coalition partners. The Conservatives should have felt comfortable taking control given the national polling and they did, just. A net gain of two seats from the 19 up for election was just enough to edge them into control. A step back but not a dramatic fall and it is not impossible to foresee the Lib Dems winning control in the near future.

New composition: Conservatives 29 (+2); Lib Dems 25 (-2); Labour 2 (+1); Others 1 (-1)

Both Burnley and Milton Keynes are not expected to declare until this afternoon. I’ll update this post then. As a heads up, Burnley is a minority Lib Dem administration fighting Labour whilst Milton Keynes is a minority Conservative administration where the Lib Dems are the main opposition.

Bobby Dean is the Communications Officer of Liberal Youth Follow him @Bobby_Dean

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3 thoughts on “Why the Lib Dems can be encouraged by the local elections

  1. This blog is simply ‘spin’. It also shows why the electorate continue to punish the Lib Dems for what are in effect coalition policies. The electorate see Lib Dem MP’s speaking inside and outside house against government policies and then voting them through.It is difficult now for many to see what it is the Lib Dems actually believe in. Possibly the real problem for Lib Dems now is Nick Clegg. Not so many now ‘agree with Nick’.

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