Not only did Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon lose several hundred councillors in Thursday’s local elections, but they also shed many previously well established party figures. There were also signs of disunity, as the realisation took hold that theirs was the one party whose vote was both soft, and vanishing.
In Newcastle on Tyne, it wasn’t just the cuts that brought Labour back into power on the City Council: there will still be £44 million of reductions in this year’s budget. The defeated Lib Dem leader conceded that “Conservative is a dirty word” in the city. It wasn’t the only part of the country to be thus affected.
On Merseyside, Liverpool City Council’s former leader Mike Storey – whose successor Warren Bradley had his own little local difficulty recently – found that his experience counted for nothing, as he lost to a Labour opponent just 18 years old. It then got worse: sitting Lib Dem councillor Sharon Green, who is thought to be close to Bradley, quit the party and will serve out her term as an independent.
And Paul Clein, defeated after 19 years’ service, suggested that the remaining Lib Dems’ best chance of survival was to break with the national party and form their own. Liverpool, like Newcastle on Tyne, does not reward those who are Tories, or in bed with them. The Lib Dems have now lost 41 seats there in the past eight years, with just 22 to their credit.
Over in Wirral, it wasn’t any better: the Lib Dems’ leader there, Simon Holbrook, lost his seat to Labour. Across the Pennines, the story was the same: Labour took Hull, where Lib Dem leader Carl Minns also lost his own seat. Gary Long, Lib Dem leader in Nottingham, followed suit. And in Sheffield – where Nick Clegg sits for the Hallam constituency, and the Tories do not feature on the council – Labour also took control.
Surveying the wreckage, some Lib Dems may be asking the obvious question: can it get any worse next year in London? And what will stop a meltdown in the next General Election? Those questions will not be asked within the Tory Party – after all, they are the ones who always emerge from coalitions stronger than before.It’s not as if Clegg and his party weren’t warned.