There’s been lots of press surrounding the investigation of the Conservative Party by the Electoral Commission, and not without good reason. In the Commission’s entire history, it has never launched formal proceedings against a political party before. As it stands, there are twenty four constituency results currently under investigation. So what does this mean for the Liberal Democrats, are we likely to see any positive developments for this, and are the Young Liberals in any position to influence the outcome of any by-elections?
Firstly, we must take an honest and critical look at our performances in these seats. The 24 constituencies under investigation are: Amber Valley, Broxtowe, Bury North, Cannock Chase, Cheltenham, Chippenham, Dudley South, Erewash, Kingston, Lincoln, Morecambe and Lunesdale, North Cornwall, Northampton North, Nuneaton, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Pudsey, Sherwood, South Thanet, Sutton and Cheam, Thornbury and Yate, Torbay, Weaver Vale, Wells, and Yeovil. Of these, nine are seats that we held until 2015, and we came second in each of these seats that year. As for the rest, they are, for the moment, unwinnable. We came fourth or fifth in many, and finished in last place in about half of them. Many of them were Conservative holds – doubling tiny minorities and seeing off Labour in the most marginal of seats. So they may well change hands in a by-election, but it’s incredibly unlikely that they’d switch to us.
The nine seats that we held up until last year are: Cheltenham, Chippenham, Kingston and Surbiton, North Cornwall, Sutton and Cheam, Thornbury and Yate, Torbay, Wells, and Yeovil. They’re mostly in the West Country, and some are seats we held for decades, others for only a single term of office. But it’s important to bear in mind the scale of the defeats last year – the lowest swing against the Liberal Democrats in any of these seats was 11.2% (Wells), and the highest was 22.6% (Yeovil). We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ll simply bounce back in a by-election and send another crop of MPs off to Westminster.
I’ve taken the liberty of collecting some of the information into a chart, and doing some rudimentary number crunching. The attached chart shows the nine seats, arranged in reverse order of how large a swing we’d need in order to win them back, going on last year’s number. I have worked out the average swing against the Lib Dems in these nine seats, plus the average swing we’d need to hit in order to win them back. These averages are based on the nine seats, not our national average of -15.1, though my figure of -15.3 is similar.
What we can see is that there are three seats which had lower-than-average swings against them, and which would require a lower-than-average swing to take back: Thornbury and Yate, Torbay, and Sutton and Cheam. Kingston and Surbiton had an exactly average swing in 2015, but would require a significantly lower-than-average swing to win back, and so I believe it, too, should be a target. Chippenham would require the highest swing, with 9.1%. This goes to show just how marginal these seats are – none of them would require a ten point swing, and the average swing against in them last year was -15.3%. They are all winnable seats, though given the frantic nature of any ensuing by-elections, we may need to target some resources at the expense of some of the less winnable constituencies.
Sutton and Cheam and Kingston and Surbiton are both in London, an area in which the Liberal Democrats are well-organised and motivated. Torbay and Thornbury and Yate are farther afield, in Devon and Gloucestershire respectively, though the latter isn’t far from Bristol, so perhaps a YL contingent could visit and campaign there during or immediately after Activate. We should be doing our part to build on the successes in England of this May’s elections, and should any by-elections occur, we should go into them with hope and optimism. We have the potential to take back nine seats, drastically increasing the number of MPs we have, and showing the Conservative Party that we may be down, but we are certainly not out. It is an exciting time to be a liberal, and we have a chance to go into a set of by-elections that are incredibly favourable to us, and immediately after an unprecedented recovery in the local elections. We won’t have another chance like this before 2020.