Somerset Liberal Democrats attending their party’s annual conference (17-21 September) must face up to some tough tests , says the local Labour Party. Their part in the Conservative-led coalition government, the forthcoming Somerset unitary authority and their party’s lack of a clear role are all threats to their future, says Yeovil Labour spokesperson Terry Ledlie.
The tactical voting “con trick” has been exposed
“In the 1980s, many local people were encouraged to vote Lib-Dem to “get the Tories out”. Lord Ashdown made Yeovil a ‘safe’ Liberal Democrat seat for a while by capitalising on the unpopularity of Tory leaders Thatcher and Major. The line that the Lib-Dems were an alternative to the Labour Party was badly damaged when they joined the coalition government (2010-2015), which led to the Lib-Dems abandoning most of its election promises, including a key pledge on tuition fees. In Yeovil, their position was further undermined by the exposure of Lib-Dem MP David Laws as a serious expenses cheat. The net result has been that Yeovil has now elected a Conservative MP three times in a row. Clearly tactical voting no longer works, yet the local Lib-Dems continue to promote this line. This increasingly looks like a “con trick” says Labour’s Terry Ledlie.
Unitary authority means ”all bets are off”
Somerset currently has a Conservative-controlled County Councill. The District Councils, which will be abolished in 2023, have been a mixture of Lib-Dem and “hung” councils with no overall control.
The Lib-Dems did fairly well when the districts last went the polls, as the election took place in the middle of Theresa May’s Brexit crisis.
Nobody can predict how the elections for the new authority will go, but it seems likely that the Lib-Dems will lose some seats.
Labour is expected to benefit from putting forward some of its very capable District Councillors, bolstering the ranks of their experienced Labour County Councillors.
The Lib-Dems have held South Somerset District Council for some time. This has been as lynch-pin for the local party, but their key power base will no longer exist after next year.
Labour’s Terry Ledlie says, “ the new local authority must deliver better leadership for local people. We shall see whether the Lib-Dems will be able to rise to this challenge. A new council means that all bets are off.”
The Lib-Dems have lost their way
Terry continued “Until 2010 the Lib-Dems were able to pose as a surrogate Labour Party in the south of England and a surrogate Conservative Party in the north. As long as they remained in opposition these two faces were never seen together. The Coalition put the Lib-Dems firmly in the Conservative camp. This reduced their support in the south, while many northern supporters simply switched allegiance to the real Conservative Party. The net result was the party has declined from 59 MPs in 2010 to just 11 MPS now. While part of the Lib-Dem’s problem is that fewer people trust them, an even bigger issue is that they do not have a clear narrative of what their party stands for. They badly need a new big idea.”
Beating apathy in Yeovil
Labour spokesperson Terry Ledlie concluded “ While I was out talking to local people during the recent Yeovil Council by-election, I was struck by the lack of Lib-Dem posters. I asked several former Liberal Democrat stalwarts what had happened and was told “I wouldn’t vote for the Tories but I won’t vote for the Lib-Dems either any more. With the turnout in that by-election at just 13%, it is clear that political apathy is rife. Many local people are looking for better leadership. We have not quite won them over to Labour yet but I hope that our constant work around the constituency will turn heads, and that our annual party conference later this month will provide another reason to change from Lib-Dem to Labour.”