In the days following Theresa May’s announcement of a snap election her Conservative party hit the 50% polling mark and Labour sunk to new lows. The early days of this campaign suggests that the Conservatives are heading for a large majority and so far it seems there is little that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party can do to stop it. Therefore the most interesting aspect of this election campaign could end up being the extent of the Liberal Democrat revival.
Only two busy political years ago the Lib Dems suffered a nightmare election night as their presence in Parliament was cut from over 50 to just 8 MPs. It seems almost unthinkable that in such a short period of time the party could be on the verge a big upturn in fortunes. Can the party prevent the Conservatives a landslide victory and are the Lib Dems the only party able to steal blue seats?
Liberals Looking Up
The Liberal Democrats have seemingly been the main beneficiaries of two major political events. The first being Brexit and the party becoming the main political home for Remainers who still see Brexit as the key issue for this election and secondly a split in the Labour Party following the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn. The party now has over 100,000 members, almost a record number, and it is regularly winning council elections in both Leave and Remain areas from a range of rival parties.
The feel good factor surrounding the party was boosted as Sarah Olney won the seat of Richmond Park from former-now-returned Conservative Zac Goldsmith with a huge 21.5% swing in vote share. However many of these victories have been a result of intense, single focused political campaigning and a mid-term vote against the status quo, it still remains to be seen whether during a general election when hundreds of seats and constituencies are in play how effective the Liberal Democrat machine could be.
Another positive sign for the Liberals can be seen in funding. In the last quarter of 2016 the party raised more in donations than the current opposition party and in the days following the snap election announcement the party was flooded by donations totalling over £1.6million. While this will no doubt help fuel their push for seats and their campaigning capabilities, it will still be incredibly difficult to focus the energy and resources in the right places when so many seats and such an increased media focus falls on the party. Could there be a ceiling to the scale of the so called Lib Dem fight back?
It does seem that the Conservatives are concerned about a possible revival from Tim Farron’s party as rumoured internal Tory Party polling showed the party capable of taking back most of the seats lost to the Conservatives in 2015. This is echoed by the more than 35 former Conservative council seats won by the Liberal Democrats since their near wipeout election of 2015.
Democrats Displaying Over-Confidence?
While Tim Farron and his party are hoping that the electorate will realign themselves along the lines of the 2016 referendum vote, it is possible that the scale of any realignment has been overestimated. Although Brexit is the biggest issue with the electorate, the amount of people switching of votes does not appear to be on a large scale judging by recent data analysis by YouGov.
Another aspect which does not play in to the Lib Dem revival narrative is the regular polling updates which do not show the type of upswing that matches the rhetoric from leader Tim Farron. Although the party has risen above UKIP in to third place in polling from a much lower base, the party’s fortunes have only improved by around 2.5% since 2015 according to an average of polls. The debate around the accuracy of such polls will only be answered once results have come in on June 9th.
The other big question mark is whether the Lib Dem vote will hold up as the Conservatives and, to an extent, Labour receive an incumbent boost in the final week of campaigning. As has been the case in most elections the governing party have received a boost in their vote share as undecided voters make their minds up to stick with the status quo. In the Lib Dems case this boost may also apply to Labour as left leaning undecided voters may stick with the larger, historically more prominent party.
With all these factors in mind the Lib Dem revival could be a major story on election night or could alternatively prove to be merely a handful of extra seats. One thing is true though, the Liberal Democrats are the only party seemingly capable of taking a number of seats away from Conservatives, the SNP can only take one, Labour seem on the defensive but the Lib Dems look and sound ambitious. The comeback kids or an overstated trend, the electorate will decide on Thursday June 8th.