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Looking for our core vote – does it really matter?

September 30, 2015 4:16 PM
By Cllr John Marriott - Lincolnshire County Council , Sleaford and North Hykeham

John MarriottChesterfield's former Lib Dem MP, Paul Holmes, has recently posted an article on Lib Dem Voice entitled 'Core vote: A dangerous mirage?' which produced a considerable number of comments, including a couple of my own. His conclusion, if I am correct in my interpretation, is that, if we spend all our time obsessing about our 'core vote' we will win precious little and I have to agree. However, as most parties have a core vote, on which they can depend come hell or high water, it is still interesting to speculate what ours might be.

Using the electoral system is a bad way of judging a core vote. It would be far better to look at opinion polls, devalued as they have been by recent events. However, in the recent general election, they were right in every case expect for the fact that they did not predict the late swing to the Tories, engendered more out of fear of Labour in bed with the SNP, which occurred both in the general election and, to some extent, in the local elections as well.

So, in my humble opinion, the core vote goes something like this: Conservative around 30%, Labour around 25%, UKIP around 12%, Lib Dem around 8% and Green around 5%. The rest is up for grabs, which is how majorities are made and why both Tory and Labour all but ignore so called 'safe' seats and concentrate on the 'marginal's', as the Tories did this time in the West Country, which damaged us so much.

Liberalism means many different things depending in which country you reside. In Russia, the Liberal Democrat Party, led by the volatile Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is neither Liberal nor Democratic. In Australia, the Liberal part of the coalition that currently forms the Federal Government is more like a Conservative Party. In Canada, the Liberal Party, which suffered a severe defeat in the Federal Elections of 2011, whilst enjoying power for a good proportion of the 20th century, has over the years lost a great deal of the liberal elements upon which it was founded in the 19th century.

The Free Democrats in Germany (FDP), a party which 'experts' often call 'pro business', has enjoyed repeated success after WW2 when it was formed out of the old Centre Party, in that it often became the coalition partner of both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, especially before the Green Party took off, and yet its support rarely reached double figures in terms of percentage. Half the members of the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) are elected by FPTP and half on PR from party lists. Since 1990 the FDP has only managed to get one MP directly elected and normally relies on the list to get its proportion of MPs. Indeed, in 2013, for the first time in its history, its support failed to reach the 5% required for representation and it got no MPs at all in the Bundestag, something that has happened to it on several occasions in regional parliamentary elections down the years.

It would be fair to say that, as far as Europe is concerned, Liberalism is more associated with the right than with the left. In the USA the term 'Liberal' is more associated with socialism mainly because Republicans and Democrats share more or less the same capitalist beliefs; in fact the more right wing republicans often use it as a term of abuse.

So, whichever way you look at it, liberals appear always to be in the minority. However, that doesn't mean we have no role to play. Lord Healey once said that the 'Liberal Party' existed to produce ideas which the two main parties could espouse and call their own and I think he had a point, certainly at the time when over 90% of the electorate voted Conservative or Labour. However times have changed; but, unfortunately the electoral system hasn't kept up.

So how do we 'win' with the system we have? The answer would appear to be to go for the 25% or so who might be prepared to 'lend' us their vote in any given election, especially if the election is local and the candidate appears electable and works hard. How often have I heard on the doorstep: "I'll vote for you locally; but not nationally."? That has been our problem. We often appear to enjoy the campaigning more than the winning and then, when we are elected, we fail to make a sufficient impression to get re elected. In short, we rarely look at the bigger picture. We often assume that, when we have had success at local level, this can be immediately extrapolated into success at national level. Now that we have actually shared power at Westminster, we can no longer paint ourselves exclusively as the party of protest. Very different factors are in play when a voter decides on whom he or she wants to be Prime Minister, which all parties ignore at their peril. Are you listening, Messrs Corbyn and Farron?

Cllr John Marriott