When the Liberal Democrats elected Tim Farron, the party’s former president and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, the story pretty much died out the next day.
Sure, the media hounded him for a bit on not committing to whether he thought gay sex was a sin, but all in all the Liberal Democrats have faded from both online and print media.
‘It’s fair enough’ I hear you say, ‘they’ve only got 8 seats’. Well yes, sure. There is that. But that’s what the Lib Dems want. They need time to heal and would probably prefer us all to forget them and focus our attention on mocking Labour and their leadership election. They want to come back fresh faced and flock to the scene when we least expect to see them.
Why? Because that’s what Lib Dems do. And when they’re organised and away from any actual responsibility of public office, they’re bloody good at wooing over middle of the road voters.
If any of you have ever had the job of taking on an incumbent Lib Dem, or had a serious Lib Dem challenger then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
This is a political party comprised of well-versed political outsiders that aren’t afraid to say what they want to get elected. All they’ve ever really known is political life from the fringes.
When people didn’t vote Lib Dem in May, it wasn’t because people hated them, but because people just couldn’t work out what on earth it was that they stood for. They were the guys that people voted for to stick a finger up at the government- unlike a protest vote for UKIP, voting Lib Dem didn’t come with a barrage of abuse or guilt. The ability of the Lib Dems to mix mainstream disappointment with a meaningless yet effective local campaign of angry looking activists pictured pointing at potholes, is what helped them build a winning formula.
If Farron is able to shake off the media fixation into his private views and retreat to the hills, he may just be able to save the Lib Dems from total wipe out. Remember, they’ve got 1,809 local councillors left. Taking into account their bashing in May, this number isn’t so horrific when you consider the multiple elections that have taken place in the last 5 years. These are Lib Dems that very much have their feet on the ground. They, alongside their 8 MP’s, were able to cling on to their seats against all odds. Why? Because they had established themselves as local champions.
This is what Farron and the Lib Dems want to return to. How do we prevent this from happening?
Well, firstly we don’t dismiss them. With UKIP almost completely out of sight, there’s room for an effective protest party, in England anyway.
Secondly, we focus efforts on campaigning in areas where the Liberal Democrats still have a local hold (if not the parliamentary seat). That’s places across the South West, Bath, Colchester, Westmoreland and Eastleigh. By effectively combatting local resurgence, we not only hit their limited resources but prevent them from coming close to gaining ground in 2020.
Thirdly and most importantly, we too must talk about the issues that the Liberal Democrats paste all over their leaflets. That’s potholes, dog mess, dodgy parking and other local gripes that get everyone talking, regardless of political persuasion. Obviously, lots of Tory councillors are excellent at this, but this is a time to identify those that are not so that they may fight off any potential Lib Dem rivals over the coming years.
With this approach and a helpful Lib Dem leader that identifies more with the left, we can well and truly prevent the Liberal Democrats from causing us problems in 2020.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher is the Contributing Editor for Conservative Way Forward.
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