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Monday, May 17, 2010

Whither the protest vote now

This morning's Times has a intriquing piece discussing how the Liberal Democrats are going to campaign in by-elections now they are in government:

Over recent decades the party’s strategy has been built on offering themselves as the alternative to whichever of the two “old” parties is strongest locally, and encouraging tactical voting accordingly.

This has produced some striking successes. Parliamentary by-election gains have not always proved enduring, but the oxygen of publicity has been invaluable. In 1994, the victory over the Tories in Eastleigh — which Chris Huhne retained with an increased majority this month — confirmed that the skids were under John Major’s government. Sarah Teather’s victory against Labour in Brent East in 2003 reinforced public opposition to the Iraq war and temporarily propelled the Lib Dems to equality with their rivals in the polls.

Historically the Lib Dems have done better in such contests against unpopular Tory rather than Labour governments. Labour voters react to adversity by staying at home; Tories are more likely to cast a protest, but without going the whole hog and supporting the traditional enemy.

With the Lib Dems now in government, they can no longer pose as the natural home for mid-term malcontents. Worse they may even be forgotten.

By-elections in this parliament are unlikely to see voters flooding their way: opportunities instead being opened up to parties such as the Greens, the British National party and UKIP which, with the exception of Caroline Lucas’s result in Brighton Pavilion, were squeezed 10 days ago by the televised debates and the focus on the three main players.

The article goes on to discuss the impact of being in government on the Liberal Democrats' council base and our grass roots. Nobody said it would be easy.

However, we have had some experience of being in government and the impact that can have on our community represention both in Wales and Scotland. We have also run and defended our control of many Councils.

The Liberal Democrats have had to adapt and change our tactics before and we will do so again. Promoting our achievements and defending a record is a different ball game to being in opposition at any level. Still it does give pause for thought and the issue will no doubt occupy much time in the months ahead.
What better campaign theme after 5 years of reasonably good government than "Vote for the party that can make a coalition work: Vote Lib Dem"
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