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Why are Lib Dems failing to capture the 48%?

by Nick Kent | 18.05.2017

The first chapter of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is about Britain and the EU. That sense of priorities is a vivid demonstration of the party’s commitment to Europe. But it is also a reminder that the Brexit vote of June 2016 was a body blow for a party whose European identity has been central to its post-war identity. Shell-shocked by their near wipe-out in 2015 and horrified by the referendum result, they seized on this snap election as an opportunity to rebuild.  

Yet despite powerfully articulating the concerns of those who voted Remain, the 48% have not rallied to the Lib Dem’s standard. The party is stuck at or below 10% in the opinion polls.

The manifesto’s core argument is that people voted to leave the EU in 2016 but not for what “out” would look like. The Lib Dems want an agreement with the EU that keeps Britain in the single market and the customs union, one that protects the rights of individuals, that retains free movement and which maintains environmental standards and research.

In fact, the list of things they want to keep after Brexit sounds very much like the EU we have now. So it is not surprising that they offer not just a firm commitment to a referendum on the outcome of the negotiations but say they will campaign for Remain in this vote too.

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This is the most solidly pro-European statement of the three main parties. It contrasts sharply with Labour’s failure to differentiate itself significantly from the Tories on most aspects of Brexit. It stands in opposition to the kind of hard Brexit to which Theresa May’s Conservatives are now committed. It offers hope to Remainers of a second referendum. And yet the message doesn’t seem to have much traction.

The crucial element missing in the Lib Dems’ election campaign is the sense that they can make a difference. This is a legacy of the coalition. Supporters often felt betrayed by the coalition and historically strong areas for the party like the West Country voted Brexit. They lost support amongst young people because of tuition fees and have never regained it.

There was a belief that the Lib Dems could revive by becoming the voice of those who voted Remain. But it seems that over half of the 48% now believe that it is the government’s job to implement the referendum decision, leaving just 22% of voters who are “hard Remainers” – a far smaller pool for the Lib Dems to fish in.

Without national newspaper backing and with only a small share of broadcasting time, the party is struggling to rally even the strongest of Remainers. It is not too late for them to regain momentum but they need more than just a well-written manifesto. They need to generate a sense that voting for them can make a difference.  With the Tories so far ahead in the polls, and Jeremy Corbyn energised by the campaigning he so enjoys, that is a hard task.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

10 Responses to “Why are Lib Dems failing to capture the 48%?”

  • So, it’s a bit of a Catch-22 then? People won’t vote for the LibDems because they don’t think it will make a difference, and they can’t make a difference unless people vote for them.

    I’ll be voting for them – it might not make a difference, but at least I’ll know I voted for the future I wanted.

    • I will also be voting Lib Dems as the only party (bar the Greens) who want to keep the UK as part of the EU.
      As Barry says, a bit of a catch-22 situation as they need support to actually make a difference but people do not want to support the because they do not think they will get the support they need to make a difference!
      Hopefully enough like-minded individuals do the same and stop the Tories having an outright majority in the commons and give the UK the chance to at the very least have a 2nd referendum.

  • The Lib Dems can and will make a difference, but only if Theresa May does not get a majority. Coalitions have been ruled out, so the only way for May or Corbyn to get things done is by compromise. Give the Lib Dems a mandate to hold the next government to a referendum on the Brexit deal, as the strong opposition this country needs:

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/voting-liberal-democrats

  • The Lib Dems have my vote. I’m one of the 48% and my French wife is one of the 3 million EU expats. Thank you Lib Dems for fighting for the tens of thousands of families like mine!

  • I’m voting Lib Dem and so are a lot of people I speak to. The biaised media don’t seem to be reporting what I’m seeing.

  • A Government with a slim majority, or no overall majority at all, can achieve far fewer of its aims than a Government with a huge majority. So of course the Lib Dems can make a difference! I will certainly be voting for them.

  • Why are people not challenging/criticising this YouGov poll? It asked people to choose one of three options: ‘I support leaving the EU and the government should ensure that Britain does leave the EU’ (Hard Leavers); ‘I did not support Britain leaving the EU but now the government has a duty to take us out’ (Re-Leavers); and ‘I did not support Britain leaving the EU and the government should seek to ignore the result of the referendum or seek to overturn it’ (Hard Remainers). So the Remain option was presented as ignoring the referendum and ‘going against democracy’ rather than being presented as offering the option of a second vote –
    including choice to stay in – on an actual exit deal.

    If the survey have offered three balanced options, more options, or just asked whether people supported leaving or staying in I doubt we would have had this supposed drop to 22% for Remain.

    • @ Nick Hill –

      You can’t see the wood for the trees mate.

      The polling questions asked by one company won’t lead to the Lib Dems being humiliated yet again in 2017.

      They are promising a second referendum, and forcefully so. The reality is that this is an increasingly unpopular policy and many of those who voted Remain now accept the referendum result and that we are leaving the EU. People want someone credible to deliver that.

      They might have kept some hardcore Remainers dreams alive – but like everyone else, the Lib Dems eventually let everyone down…

  • Nick Hill is correct. It is surely inconceivable that more than half those who voted “remain” last June are now content to let Mrs May’s government go ahead with an iron-hard brexit, with us outside the single market and ECJ. It would be interesting to know how many of them (and of those who DID vote brexit) would respond positively to the option of a vote on the terms negotiated by the gov’t.