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

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower