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Five reasons why the Lib Dems won't collapse in 2015

February 2, 2013 5:16 PM
By Tim Wigmore in The Telegraph
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Older Lib Dem members joke that the newer breed doesn't know the meaning of a crisis. To a party that received zero per cent in a poll just after its formation, current opinion polls shouldn't be too alarming.

Cleggmania may be long dead - yet the Lib Dems could still retain 40 MPs in 2015. This means that we could have another hung Parliament and coalition government. Here's why.

1) Boundaries staying the same

Lib Dems professed outrage when the Conservatives torpedoed House of Lords reform. But its failure already seems insignificant compared to the benefits of fighting on existing constituency boundaries.

The party has always relied on local campaigning, and the popularity of their incumbent MPs: these factors will protect them in 2015, even as their national vote share is depressed. New boundaries - effectively placing every MP in the position of challenger - would have been disastrous for the Lib Dems.

2) Lib Dems are happier fighting Tories

The Rose Garden marriage will give way to a broken home in 2015. The Tories are second in 38 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats, and half of their target seats are Lib Dem-held.

Yet fighting Conservative challenges will be preferable to fighting Labour ones. When the Lib Dems were pursuing their policy of "ownership" of all coalition policies, it was hard to envisage Labour supporters in Lib Dem-Tory marginals giving the Lib Dems their vote again.

The differentiation strategy is better suited to this aim. The Lib Dems' electoral pitch is clear: presenting themselves as having governed in the national interests while reining in the Conservatives' "Tea Party tendency". Lib Dems are already preparing a list of "loony" Tory ideas that they have vetoed in government to show the electorate in 2015. The ultimate aim - and what will go far in determining how many seats the Lib Dems retain in 2015 - is to convince Labour supporters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems once again.

3) Ukip's rise

Ukip's surge has embarrassed the Lib Dems, pushing them into fourth place in polls, even after David Cameron's promise of a referendum on Britain's EU membership. While there is little policy overlap between the two parties, Ukip threaten to steal the anti-politicians' "bastards" vote in 2015, previously dominated by the Lib Dems.

But in 2015, Ukip's rise will help the Lib Dems. Ukip's appeal is primarily to disaffected Tory voters - so, given that the main challenge in Lib Dem seats is from the Conservatives, this could allow Lib Dem MPs to win re-election even if their own vote falls. Fears of Ukip could move Tory challengers away from the centre, which might also benefit the Lib Dems

4) Ruthlessness

A perception exists that the Lib Dems are soft. This ignores their ruthlessness in the recent past, deposing Charles Kennedy and Sir Ming Campbell within 22 months. Lib Dems' self-preservation instincts could result in Vince Cable becoming leader just before the next election.

Cable's sanctimony may irk, but - unlike Tim Farron, another potential future leader - he is a name that resonates with the public. Polling data suggests the party would boost its support significantly were he the leader.

He would be a particular asset in Lib Dem-Tory marginal seats. Labour supporters who voted Lib Dem in 2010 would likely abandon a Clegg-led party; Cable's leadership would make them much more attractive.

5) Campaigning strengths

All parties talk longingly of recreating Barack Obama's election-winning 'ground game'. None will succeed, but Lib Dems arguably have the most modern electioneering resources.

The Lib Dems have the the Voter Activation Network - the most sophisticated voter technology of any UK party, and one used by the Obama campaign. This currently resembles a Ferrari without fuel but it should enable the Lib Dems to target campaign resources much more efficiently than in 2010.

Ryan Coetzee, the new Lib Dem strategy director, is also a shrewd appointment. In South Africa, he pioneered online campaigning and helped the Democratic Alliance reach out beyond the party's core voters: both qualities will be needed for the Lib Dems' self-preservation.

Whatever their current troubles, David Laws's case for voting Lib Dem - "We don't have confidence that Labour is serious on economic policy, or that the Conservatives have a strong enough policy commitment to creating a fairer society" - may prove surprisingly resonant in 2015. The 2010s could be the decade when the Lib Dems are the only constant in government.