Saturday 1 December 2012

Goodbye protesters

Let’s keep a sense of proportion. UKIP has not won any by-elections; it has not even come close.

Anyone who has been around the Liberal Democrats for more than a few years will be well aware that even winning by-elections, not just doing respectably, is no guarantee of future general election success or even of holding the seats concerned.

What has been lost is the Liberal Democrats’ role as the natural repository of the protest vote. This was not a pointless or ignoble role – at times of voter discontent, voters expressed this by voting Liberal Democrat rather than for cranks or extremists, and the party acted as a sort of safety valve.

But since one cannot logically make a protest by voting for a party that is in government, protesters must look elsewhere, and an assortment of UKIP, the Greens, Respect, the BNP and various independents is sweeping up this vote. I’m not convinced this vote will stay with any of them for very long, since it never stayed long with the Liberal Democrats. Baths and open plugholes.

What the loss of the protest vote does show is that the Liberal Democrat core vote is alarmingly small. OK, no by-election during this parliament, apart from the peculiarity of Oldham East, has been in a constituency where the party might have done well but, even so, it ought to have done better than it did.

And since a party in government cannot chase protest votes, it must chase voters committed to what it stands for. At least the loss of the opportunity to exploit passing grievances in the belief that ‘we can win everywhere’ may force the party to do what it should have done years ago, and find and cultivate a core vote.


  1. I absolutely agree and made a similar comment on the Liberal Democrat Voice article about the by-elections. The lack of core vote is frightening and does suggest that the Party has lacked definition.

    In my view the party needs to be clearer about its name and assert that it stands for (socially) liberal values - including civil and human rights - and representative democracy - including wholesale electoral reform at Westminster and in Local Government. Support for the EU and international cooperation, controls on multinationals and protection of the environment should be understood as a natural application of our stance on liberal and democratic values.

    Martin Bennett

  2. I don't think the protest vote can be dismissed as something not electorally important, and now that the Lib Dems are in power people may turn away from the party altogether. Take Nick Clegg's seat of Sheffield Hallam - what if the student protest vote against him swings the vote? Labour and Conservatives can afford much more to ignore the protest vote; the Lib Dems who have often thrived on it cannot

  3. May I remind all commenters about our comments policy (see right-hand column). Please use your real, full name.

    If you have registered with Google using only your first name or a pseudonym, please include your full name at the end of your comment.

    The first commenter has done the correct thing; he is registered as "MartinRDB" but concluded his comment with his full name.

    The second commenter is registered as "overherejess" and only with a bit of detective work is it possible to establish that she is in fact Jessica Bolton. Since her comment is courteous and to the point, I have been lenient and not deleted it.


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