We're Still Here: The Lib Dems' Invisibility Problem
Last election saw the implosion of a whole political party. Yet no one was surprised. From Cornwall to Carlisle, the electoral routing of the Liberal Democrats had become so clear and prepared-for that by election day, it was a foregone conclusion. It was relatively unmourned, too. Even amongst its former supporters, it had morphed from the mature, level-headed third-player holding the big guys to account, to an unprincipled crony willing to exchange policies for job titles. It entered the Conservative-Liberal coalition having won 23% of votes in 2010, and was rewarded with 7.9% of the vote in 2015. Which is, as it’s known in the polling industry, known as a drubbing. The kind of drubbing that follows a 15% swing to other parties.
Since then, though, the party has tried hard to fight back. Picking a few battles and going full-throttle at them was a strategy intended to get the Lib Dems quickly punching above their weight, unlike their larger, less agile competitors. With its new leader, Tim Farron, who eschewed – or was denied - a government role in the last administration, optimism was in the fore.
But there was another question.
Despite its former status as kingmaker, would the media ever actually want to be interested in diverting attention to a party who won less than 8% of votes in the last election? With the emergence of UKIP, the SNP, and the Greens, it was no longer the alternative party. It was an alternative party. And it is this problem which has plagued the Liberal Democrats since the election. They’re invisible. So invisible, in fact, that it has become challenging to even find polling evidence for its leader’s popularity. Back in April, YouGov polled how well Tim Farron was doing in his job as leader of the Liberal Democrats. While 11% in total voted either ‘very well’ or ‘fairly well’, and 31% voted either ‘fairly badly’ or ‘very badly’, an astonishing 58% of respondents simply didn’t know. The ‘don’t know’ figures for David Cameron – then Prime Minister – and Jeremy Corbyn stood at 6% and 18%, respectively. If the Lib Dems want to stay a serious political force – and perhaps even make up some ground – this analysis ought to be worrying indeed. If most people don’t have an opinion about Tim Farron, all of the positives he brings to the role are redundant. Indeed, this probably explains why, in a July YouGov poll asking which is the best party for a certain issue, the Lib Dems consistently get no more than 4% – 7%.