As ballots open for the party’s new leader, this short report sets out the political challenges facing the Liberal Democrats and whoever they choose. The main findings of this data-driven analysis of the demographics and geography of the party’s support:
- The 2019 general election represented a partial recovery. In 2010, there were nearly 140 seats where the party got over 30% of the vote. By 2017 that number had fallen to 28. In December 2019, the party rebounded to 50 seats where the party either won or is now within realistic touching distance. Moreover, the 91 seats in which the party is now in second place is significantly higher than in 2015 and 2017.
- The Lib Dems have a new heartland – a ‘yellow halo’ of support in London and the south (especially the south east).
- The Lib Dems have a new core vote – graduates: the party either holds now or is highly competitive in 30% of the 64 seats that are in the ‘top ten’ in terms of the relative number of graduates in the UK.
- The Lib Dems’ main opponents (at general elections) are the Conservatives.
- Lib Dems shouldn’t worry too much about cosying up to Keir Starmer because Labour and the Liberal Democrats have clearly distinct areas of strength.
- There are caveats, though. First, a lot of Lib Dem councillors see Labour as their main rivals in local contests. Second, 15 out of 27 Conservative MPs who it would make sense for the Lib Dems to target were originally Remainers, meaning Lib Dem hopefuls will be trying to unseat relatively moderate Tory incumbents.
- Third, there is no such thing as a Lib Dem safe seat – even for the party’s leader.
The report was written by Professor Tim Bale, Aron Cheung and Dr Alan Wager.Download Where next for the Liberal Democrats?
The views expressed in this research paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.