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Ben Chu: Reasons for Liberal Democrats to be cheerful

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Sunday, 9 May 2010 at 11:25 am

 

 Cheer up!

 


The evaporation of the surge on polling day has left many of the party's supporters downhearted. And if the Liberal Democrats do a deal with the Tories, as is surely likely, there will be further dejection.

But I would suggest there are also reasons for liberals - both big l and small l - to be moderately pleased at the result of this election.

1) Defeat for the anti-liberal press. They went into full on scare-mongering mode about the Liberal Democrats and the perils of a hung parliament. They fell in strongly behind the Tories. They put their credibility on the line. And now, with this result, that credibility lies in tatters. So does their influence. Politicians have courted the right wing media vote so assiduously these past two decades because they believe these newspapers influence voters. Less influence over voters should lead to less influence for these bastions of illiberalism. (Incidentally, the Telegraph leader on Saturday claimed that the Libs "lost votes". Er, no their number of votes nationwide increased by 846,064. The Times leader on the same day claimed that the Libs' share of the vote has "fallen back to 21 per cent". No, it rose by 1 per cent on 2005 to 23 per cent. It's one thing for the Tory press to talk down Lib support before the votes are cast. Trying to do it after polling day is embarrassingly desperate).

2) The swingometer is an unreliable guide. The Libs lost Montgomeryshire (majority 7,173) but held on in Eastleigh (majority 568) and Somerton and Frome (majority 812). The Tories took Kingswood (Lab majority 7,873) but failed to take Bolton North East (Lab majority 4,103). There was even a mild swing to Labour in Scotland. As our pollster John Curtice has noted, the Ashcroft strategy of ploughing money into top marginals doesn't seem to have had much effect. The average swing to the Tories in the exit poll was right. But the story was considerable regional and local variation. If that variation is here to stay, the Lib Dems, as the least well-resourced of the three large parties and the canniest local fighters could well benefit.

3) This will be a shackled Tory government. There might not be electoral reform, but with the Lib Dems in a position of influence, there will be no crude gerrymandering now (see the fears of our political editor, Andy Grice, here). There will be no stunts on repatriating powers from Europe. The Thatcherite Tory right know this, which explains their own despondency at this result.

4) Clegg is, at this moment, the most important politician in Britain. A few years ago David Cameron was asked to tell a political joke. His response? "Nick Clegg". Well now the joke is on Cameron. He's sitting across the negotiating table from Mr Clegg discussing the division of power. I agree with those who argue that this is a monent of great potential danger for the Liberal Democrats. But it is also a monent of great potential opportunity. After all, politics is about power. And now the Liberal Democrats have some. If they act wisely, why shouldn't they end up with still more?

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