Liberal Democrat councillors remain pessimistic about their party’s electoral future as voters go to the polls today, after weeks’ of doorstep campaigning revealed voter hostility towards local candidates tarnished by their leaderships’ role in an increasingly unpopular Government.
The Independent spoke to 57 Liberal Democrat councillors from 43 local councils. Sixteen believed that a change of leadership would improve the party’s chances at the next General Election.
More than a quarter believe that their party would do better at the next General Election without Nick Clegg as leader, a survey for The Independent suggests.
A third of respondents remained neutral on the question of Nick Clegg’s leadership, while 19 councillors – nearly 40 per cent – backed the Deputy Prime Minister to lead his party into the next election.
The Liberal Democrats lost 700 councillors in English council elections one year ago and are still polling consistently poorly. One poll result last month placed the party in fourth place behind UKIP.
“The Lib Dems have lost trust nationally,” said one councillor from Conservative-run St Albans District Council. “The national politics pull us down locally. At the next election, we will become our own party again.”
A third of councillors expect the party to do badly or very badly nationally at today’s elections. Grassroots party members have encountered hostility on the doorstep while campaigning in the past few weeks.
“There are strong feelings against the budget and the Conservatives,” said a councillor on Daventry District Council. “I hope we will bounce back by 2015 but it will depend on how closely we are allied or seen to be allied to Conservative policies. There is a feeling on the ground that we have sold out our basic beliefs.”
Many local Liberal Democrat councillors, most of whom won their seats in pre-Coalition years, remain confident that their record as local public servants will see them re-elected. Less than a fifth expect to fare badly in their own area but fear that nationally, voters might treat the election as a referendum on the party leadership’s record in Government.
“The Lib Dems have got to get down to the grassroots and move away from the things they have done in coalition” said one councillor on Conservative-run Trafford Council. “I am unhappy about the increase in tuition fees and unhappy about the VAT rise. [The Westminster party] need to pull themselves together and, if necessary, bring in a new leader to make change.”
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