Where the Lib Dems are regaining ground
Tory gains in the suburbs, parts of the rural south and the Midlands offer hope for recovery
The Liberal Democrats likely surprised themselves in May 2022 when they won 208 council seats and secured control of 26 councils.
That haul took them to 2,696 councilors – a far cry from the time they fell behind “others” in the category incorporating smaller parties and independents after the coalition.
Notable gains included the new unitary Somerset and Westmoreland & Furness councils and the takeover of Hull City Council.
The latter two are the only party councils north of Leicestershire, however, and inevitably – with a struggling Conservative government in power – the Lib Dems’ gains came mainly from the Tory areas.
“I don’t see them backing down next year unless there are toxic local issues”
LGC election specialist Professor Colin Rallings suggests the following as potential gains for Lib Dem in 2023, opening little new geographical or socio-economic ground: North Devon Council, Teignbridge DC, Harborough DC, West Lindsey DC , South Oxfordshire DC, Guildford BC, Stratford-on-Avon DC and South Gloucestershire and West Berkshire councils.
Professor Rallings says: ‘I don’t see them receding next year unless there are toxic local issues which tend to become apparent closer to time.’
An analysis of the party’s performance in May 2022 by psephology professor John Curtice, first published in the Journal of Liberal History, reinforces this.
He found 2022 “represents the party’s best local electoral performance” since before the coalition.
It was “still well below what the party consistently achieved between 1993 and 2010” and its support tends to be higher in the “remaining” polling areas, making it “wrong to assuming the party has put the whole legacy of Brexit behind it”. , said Professor Curtice.
For example, there has been limited progress in the party’s former South West centre, which, despite historic support from the Liberal Democrats, voted strongly to Leave in 2016.
The Lib Dems have long favored increased powers for local government and their annual conference – canceled after the Queen’s death – is said to have debated a motion on ‘reversing the centralization of power in Whitehall’.
This largely concerned Scotland and Wales, but provided for the possibility of a transfer of legislative powers from the British parliament to councils or groups of councils in England.
Lib Dem parliamentary seats tend to stem either from lucky by-elections or from the strength of local government.
Party leader Sir Ed Davey has boasted of beating the Tories in the ‘blue wall’ and recent local results suggest the suburbs and parts of the rural South and Midlands are where the Lib Dems can expect gains, which fits Sir Ed’s strategy.