While no party came out of this month’s local elections as a clear ‘winner’, perhaps the closest anyone came was the Liberal Democrats. Going into election day the Lib Dems controlled one council in London – Sutton. Coming out of it they controlled three, winning back Richmond and Kingston. Across the country the Party gained 75 councillors, a bigger rise in percentage terms than anybody else.
But is this a sign of a genuine Lib Dem resurgence, or was it just a good night caused by some good local campaigning? The Lib Dems have been down this road before; the aftermath of the EU referendum was supposed to trigger a grand Lib Dem revival. There were promising signs in certain areas then too, such as a successful by-election in Richmond Park. But come the General Election last year, the Party was only a slight increase in MPs, and a decrease in overall vote share.
The most profound and worrying statistic for the Lib Dems is this. Prior to the 2010 General Election the Party’s poll numbers ranged from around 17% all the way up to around 32%. After the Coalition took power and subsequent debacles over things like tuition fees unfolded, support collapsed to 8%. It has stayed there, give or take a couple points, ever since. Lib Dems may feel like they have been on a journey since the Coalition began. They have been through three leaders, two General Elections, have gone from Government to opposition and have entirely reshaped their agenda over Brexit. But in the eyes of the public this has been the journey from around 8% to around 8%. The brand remains damaged.
Politics is an unpredictable beast, now more than ever, and no one should rule the Party out of a revival with any certainty. Perhaps when centrism and moderation comes back in, and populism goes back out, the tides will turn. But for now, despite a few good results here and there, the Lib Dem resurgence we keep being promised is yet to materialise.