The question is not whether the Lib Dems will lose, but how badly they will perform

Support for the Lib Dems is barely half the level of four years ago, and the party seems bound to suffer serious losses

Share
Related Topics

One big question hangs over Thursday's local council elections that take place in most of England outside London: just how badly will the Liberal Democrats do?

The party has long been master of the art of fighting local elections. It regularly manages to persuade voters to lend it their support locally even though they refuse to back the party in a general election.

Estimates of the Liberal Democrats' "projected national share" at each year's annual round of local elections are often some five points or so above their current standing in the national polls.

But the party's national standing is now dire. Its current rating in The Independent's latest poll of polls is only 11 points, nine points down on four years ago, when the seats being fought over this Thursday were last contested.

Defending more than 1,800 seats, the party seems bound to suffer serious losses unless it can persuade many more people to forget their doubts about the national party and give it their local vote. A greater willingness by third-placed Tory voters to make a tactical switch to the party might help.

But the party's fear must be that discontent with its role in the Coalition means that many of those who hitherto have backed the party locally will now no longer be willing to do so.

Some of the party's most prized possessions are at stake: control of Bristol, Hull and Newcastle could all be lost if the tide matches that in the national polls. Overall, the party could lose control of half the 22 councils it is defending.

Such an outcome might well prove a greater source of discontent within the party than defeat for the Yes side in the AV referendum.

If the Liberal Democrats face next week's elections with trepidation, Labour activists are hopeful. Four years ago the party was down at 30 per cent in the national polls, as Tony Blair eked out the final weeks of his premiership. But Labour's support stands now at 39 per cent.

The results on Thursday present Ed Miliband with his first major opportunity to demonstrate he can deliver votes in the ballot box.

Labour will certainly crow, if as expected, it gains control of Sheffield where Nick Clegg is an MP. But this and other possible gains in the North, such as Bolton, Oldham and perhaps even Leeds, will make less impressive headlines than gains further south, and especially gains made at the expense of the Tories.

However, the party is so weak in much of the South that such prospects look rather thin. But if outside chances of gains in Tory-controlled Gravesham and Thanet were realised, the party would reckon to have given David Cameron a bloody nose.

Meanwhile, with his party standing just one point lower in the polls than four years ago, the Tory leader will hope the losses his party suffers to Labour are compensated by gains from the Liberal Democrats. Not that that will make sustaining the Coalition any easier.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn