Ouch! The Lib Dems lost a lot of local council seats last Thursday. And last night we lost our West Midlands Euro MP Phil Bennion, who gained just 44% of the vote he won in 2009.
I’m sorry to see Phil go, he has worked hard for his patch including for us here in Shropshire.
The Lib Dems were all but wiped in the European elections. Our vote share halved to a miserable 6.9% and we came fifth behind the Greens.
There was no local election in Shropshire and most of the wards elected last Thursday were in urban areas. So this result tells us much more about how the major towns and cities vote and less about deeply rural areas like Ludlow.
The Lib Dems are past masters at localism. Many of us are elected because of our local stance and because we work hard for the community. But we are never able to completely decouple local elections from national trends. Many hard working councillors were ejected on Thursday, unable to stem the national trend: 307 Lib Dem councillors lost their seats, leaving us with just 427.
Lib Dem networks are buzzing with talk of an attempt to remove Nick Clegg as leader. He’s done a lot of good work. Like all leaders he has made mistakes, including backing the bedroom tax and reneging our party’s promise on tuition fees. But the main issue is that although he has engaged with supporters and opponents through TV debates and his LBC talk-in, he has failed to listen to the broader electorate.
The official message within the Lib Dems is its “steady as we go.” We’ve had patronising emails: “Where we have strong and established campaigns, we’re seeing some very good results.” That’s nonsense and insulting. Some of our hardest working councillors lost their seats on Thursday.
We are sticking our heads in the sand if we believe that this May’s disaster won’t be converted into huge losses at the general election.
We need to show more compassion for the plight of ordinary people than we have of late. We need to make it clear that contributing positively to Europe doesn’t mean going along with growing political and social integration. We need once again to champion localism. We should stop privatising the NHS…
The Liberal Democrat party needs to be refreshed and that can only be done by changing its leader. Nick Clegg is brave and passionate, but that does not mean he is the best person to lead us into an election. Changing a leader is not bloodletting, just a pragmatic response to a growing electoral disaster.
There is still time to turn us from a party that expects a miserable cull of our 57 MPs in the 2015 election to one that wants to win most of the seats back.