Elections 2004: ANALYSIS: Liberal Democrats Sensed an Open Goal but Hit the Crossbar
Sean O'Grady, The Independent (London, England)
"LIBERAL DEMOCRATS celebrate gains as Labour suffers severe setback" is the title of the "analysis" e-mailed to me at 6.20am yesterday morning by the party's chief executive and elections guru Lord (Chris) Rennard. That may have been taking "political activism" too far, but it was a characteristically clever piece of spin; Labour has indeed suffered a severe setback but there is no balancing adjective to describe the Liberal Democrats' gains.
The word that is missing is "modest". Of course, gains of council seats in three figures are pleasing. The projected Lib Dem national vote share too looks quite respectable - 30 per cent, the same as the party scored last year and up on the previous two years by a couple of points. The fact that almost one in three voters is prepared to back the party, albeit in the special circumstances of the local elections, is an achievement. Local strength can convert into parliamentary success, although it is a haphazard, inconsistent and glacially slow process. One day, the turnaround in a former Labour stronghold such as Newcastle may result in a Liberal Democrat MP in the city. Labour, like the Tories before them, disdain local politics at their peril.
All that is for the distant future. The immediate prospect is a general election in which the Liberal Democrats are challenged in their own strongholds in the South.
The plain and deeply uncomfortable fact for Cowley Street is that, while the Lib Dems have been holding their own nationally and making gains in the North, whichever way you cut it, a Conservative projected vote share of 38 per cent, their best for years, represents a swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Tories. That means trouble for Liberal Democrat incumbent MPs and wannabe MPs. The low-hanging fruits that once looked ready to drop into their laps under the ineffective Tory leadership of Iain Duncan Smith are moving out of reach. …