A delay announced by the local Lewes Liberal-Democrats in announcing their candidate for the widely expected general election suggests that a big name defector from another party may be parachuted in.
There are a number of former Conservative and (to a lesser extent) Labour MP’s looking for a winnable seat. Normally the Lib-Dem candidate is selected by the local party from a list of people who have gone through the party’s candidate induction process. But the fact that the notice of the delay has come from their regional office suggests that something else would be afoot.
A current for another constituency MP would almost certainly be to the right of former MP Norman Baker and former candidate Kelly-Marie Blundell. This would suggest that the party has abandoned the idea of wooing Labour and Green supporters and is instead aiming at Conservatives unhappy with the idea of a hard Brexit.
But would such a strategy work?
What do past voting figures tell us?
Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand
Voting figures in the 2010 general election
Lib-Dem 26 thousand
Conservative 18 thousand
Labour 3 thousand
Ukip 2 thousand
Green 1 thousand
It is widely believed that there was substantial tactical voting by voters who might otherwise have voted Green or Labour
In 2015 sitting Lib-Dem MP Norman Baker lost his seat.
Here are the voting figures
Conservatives 19 thousand
Lib-Dems 18 thousand
Ukip 5 thousand
Labour 5 thousand
Greens 3 thousand
The Conservative vote hardly increased compared with the previous election, but the Lib-Dem vote fell by 16%, probably because the Lib-Dems had entered into a coalition with the Conservatives.
Both Greens and Labour campaigned actively in this election.
It looks like the missing Lib- Dem voters abstained or voted Labour or Green.
In 2017 the Greens stood down to give the Lib-Dems a clear run, but Kelly-Marie Blundell was unable to win the seat for them. Ukip also stood down. Here is the voting:
Conservatives 27 thousand
Lib-Dems 21 thousand
Labour 6 thousand
Labour did not campaign in this election. They only stood a candidate because Labour rules require each constituency to stand a candidate. This is expected to be the case in any election this year.
Despite the lack of a Labour campaign 6 thousand people felt they could not vote for the Lib-Dems and voted Labour instead.
Meanwhile in the referendum in 2016, 31 thousand had voted to remain in the EU and 29 thousand had voted to leave.
In the 2019 local election the Greens got more votes than the Lib-Dems but more significant may be the Euro election result of this same year. In Lewes the voting went
Brexit party 10 thousand
Lib-Dems 9 thousand
Greens 7 thousand
Conservatives 3 thousand
Labour 2 thousand
Change UK 1 thousand
Ukip 1 thousand
There were other candidates, but they got a negligible amount of votes.
Unlike in general elections, there was no need to vote tactically because of the voting system.
HOW DO WE INTERPRET THIS?
- About 50 thousand people tend to vote in general elections in Lewes, so if you can get 25 thousand votes you are home. (60 thousand voted in the referendum and 32 thousand in the euro elections)
- In the Euro elections 34% of people voted for a hard brexit party, 53% voted for solid remain parties, 9% voted for the Conservatives, who at the time were advocating a soft brexit and and 6% voted Labour. The people who voted hard Brexit are not likely to vote Green or Lib-Dem under any circumstances. Some people who voted Conservative did so because they would support the Conservatives under any circumstances and some because they though a soft brexit was the best choice.
- Between 4 and 8 thousand people are prepared to vote Labour or Green in a general election even if this means that the Conservatives get in.
- Although Green votes in general elections have been low, in 2019 their voting figures are not dissimilar to the Lib-Dems. If the Lib-Dems decided to return the favour by standing down in favour of the Greens , the Greens would have a chance of winning. They don’t have the baggage of going into the coalition, but some may consider them too left wing.
- If the Greens don’t stand, it looks like some of their vote will go to Labour and some to the Lib-Dems. We don’t know what will happen if the Lib-Dems don’t stand, but their voters are unlikely to vote for the Conservatives or Brexit party. Some might abstain, thinking the Greens too left wing. Many Labour voters may be more likely to vote tactically for the Greens than the Lib-Dems.
The Lib-Dems’ dilemma
It looks like the Liberal Democrats have a number of choices
- Not to stand and to back the Greens
- To select a candidate with no “baggage” as an MP- probably someone local who knows the area, in the hope that they can attract both remain Conservative votes AND Labour/Green supporters.
- To select a national figure with a strong environmental and social record in an attempt to attract mainly Green/Labour supporters (The Eye is not clear who this might be)
- To select someone with a national record who stands on the right in the hope of attracting remain Conservatives.
The Eye thinks that there may be fewer remain Conservatives in the area than some may think. They are likely to be included in the 9% who voted Conservative in the euro elections. Perhaps half of this vote is from people who will always vote Conservative- so maybe 5% of the voting electorate are remain Conservatives- a figure of around 2,500 based on the number of people who usually vote in general elections.
Of course, if the Lib-Dems could persuade these voters to vote for them it would reduce the number of Conservative votes, so a voter who switches from Conservative to Lib-Dem is worth twice the vote of someone who shifts from Green or Labour to Lib-Dem. But notice that even if the Conservative vote went down in by 2,500 compared with 2017 and the Lib-Dem vote went up by 2,500 the Conservatives would still win.
So the Lib-Dems would need to attract some of the people who normally vote Labour or Green. There seems to be a hard core of around 4 thousand who would never vote for them, based on the 2010 voting figures, but the Lib Dems would have to try to attract almost all of the 4 thousand other people who voted Green or Labour in 2015. They are unlikely to be able to do this if they select someone like, for example Anna Soubery. Labour is not allowed to stand down so will select a candidate. The Greens stood down last time but were so fed up by the way they were treated by the Lib-Dems that they vowed not to do it again. Any re-think is not going to be encouraged by someone they see as a right wing candidate.
It looks like the best option for the Lib-Dems is B or possibly A.
None of this takes account of the intervention of the Brexit Pary or Ukip, but the 2017 results suggest that the Conservatives in their current state are likely to hoover up the votes of these parties whether they stand or not. For the Conservatives in Lewes, it looks like the harder Brexit they advocate, the better their chances. Opponents may wish to publicise the fact that she once said that if she had her referendum vote again she would vote remain.