If wider Government policy struggles to get a look in in the world dominated by ‘will they, won’t they’ Brexit, so too do the once relevant Liberal Democrats. You would be forgiven for failing to notice last week’s news about plans to internally reorganise and significantly cut staff from the Lib Dem’s London HQ. Leader Vince Cable said there was no “black hole” in the party’s finances but that they had to “live within their means”. The re-org will see the cut of one in four staff at its central London offices and, according to Cable, will enable the party to “focus more on campaigns”.
Whilst a renewed focus on campaigning, one of the things the Lib Dems have historically done best, might be wise in a changing political era dominated by social media driven activism, the move is nonetheless painfully symbolic of the party’s wider decline since the 2015 General Election. Despite a boost in membership in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum result, the party has failed to capitalise on the opportunity afforded by being the one and only unequivocally pro-EU national party. Whilst the 2017 election saw an increase in their MPs from 8 to 12, their overall vote share fell, with many blaming stale leadership and a lack of inspiring vision for what modern, progressive liberalism means in today’s Britain.
The Lib Dems have always struggled to raise as much cash as Labour or the Tories, who have both been able to rely on union and business donations. But the reduction of central resources could hamper the party’s chances even further if a snap election is called following Brexit next year. It all depends on how those resources are redeployed. It the party can re-energise and mobile its base through local party activism, and rebuild a liberal movement from the ground up, then maybe it can regain the ground it once held on the national stage.