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Wednesday 22 July 2009

The Liberal Deficit

How is it that a political party performs well at local level, but trails behind its rivals when it comes to parliamentary elections? It happens regularly in Crewe and Nantwich, and it happens to the Lib Dems. But a little analysis shows that there is nothing sinister at work, and yields a basic lesson for Corporal Clegg and his platoon.

Stretching out to the west and north of the station, the redbrick terraces of St John’s ward might be thought to be solid Labour territory. This was the impression given during last year’s by-election campaign. However, of the three councillors returned at the last local election, only one represented Labour: the other two victors were from the Lib Dems. So why doesn’t that translate into success at Westminster?

Ah well. The Lib Dem councillors work hard at keeping their public profiles up: they deliver regular newsletters, keep themselves in the papers, while majoring on local campaigns and issues. We know who they are.

Compare and contrast with the constituency presence. Whatever the shortcomings of incumbent Tory Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy), he is at work somewhere in Crewe and Nantwich every week of the year. Consequently he gets column inches in the papers, and on occasion a mention in the broadcast media.

Labour’s PPC David Williams is also working the constituency, helped by Timpson’s fence sitting over Network Rail’s daft idea to move the station out of town. He also maintains a high profile and therefore achieves good media coverage.

So what of the Lib Dems? Before the by-election, they dumped their PPC – he’s since left the party – in favour of Elizabeth Shenton, an act unlikely to bolster their prospects, as the new candidate had very little time to make herself known. So they came third. Since last year, there has been hardly a sound from the party at constituency level – the silence merely accentuated by the high profile of its councillors.

In fact, a look at the Lib Dems’ own website does not name a PPC for the constituency. So, while Timpson and Williams keep themselves in the spotlight, the party that would “break the mould” is silent.

That’ll be another third place, then.

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