The Liberal Democrat Party Conference was hosted in a wonderfully sunny Bournemouth this year and Lansons were there to gauge the mood of a party facing a very different future after the General Election in May.
The message that the party wanted their members and the media to take away from the conference was that the Liberal Democrats remain a serious and relevant party that can appeal to the electorate whilst supporting those “without a voice”. It seemed #LibDemFightback was everywhere you looked in Bournemouth, and with 22,000 new members coming from a diverse background, there was a sense of hope for the party. This was surprising to some, as a rise in support came after the election that saw the party’s list of MPs fall dramatically from 56 to eight in a single night.
Finding an effective ‘message’ for the Liberal Democrats in the next five years is the vital next step for the party.
The Conservatives, though, will want to finish the job that they started and ensure that they maintain their dominance in England and turn the remaining few yellow seats left blue. The highly effective vote ‘Liberal Democrat and get Labour/SNP’ worked much better than expected. The strategists in Conservative HQ wouldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams that the campaign would be so effective that previous Liberal heartlands, such as the South West, now have no Liberal Democrat MPs.
The Labour Party will also be targeting Liberal Democrat voters from the left of the political spectrum as they push for a return to power. Labour will most likely continue to push the message that the Liberal Democrats are ‘Conservative-lite’ and that they are the only true left wing party in the UK. Younger voters, who still feel a sense of betrayal over tuition feess, will be heavily targeted.
So, the Liberal Democrats should expect to face pressure from both sides of the political spectrum on their targeted voters in the upcoming few years.
In its fightback for power and influence, the party is putting the housing crisis at the forefront of its agenda, with Tim Farron naming it as his “number one” priority in his leader’s speech. Infrastructure issues dominated debates and fringe events too. . In particular, Vince Cable was highly concerned with the current situation, saying that the country’s ‘’position in housing is unbelievably bad’’ and warned that it was a potential ‘’disaster area’’. The former Business Secretary also warned that the economy is “still on life support”, and he felt concern over the rise in household debt.
The strength of this message will be tested in the upcoming weeks as it will be a hot topic at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences, but at least the Liberal Democrats can say they got there first.
One of the most interesting things from the conference was the demographic of new members that had joined. The average age of the 22,000 new joiners was 35 and seemed to be dominated by young professionals, civil servants and small business owners – many of whom had voted Labour or Conservative all their lives. This diversity encouraged a sense of hope at the conference, tinged with the knowledge that the next five to ten years will be hard work as they try and re-establish the support of the public that found the party wanting in May.