“Smash the Blue Wall” – the Lib Dems have a clear mission 

The Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference in blustery York was a lesson in preparation, focus and expectation management.  

If you were looking for lots of drama or debate, you were in the wrong place. Always geared more towards activists than the main event in the Autumn, the key message to members over the weekend was stay the course, stick to the plan, don’t get ahead of yourselves, and we can do this. 

Compared to the 2019 campaign, which a review later described as a ‘slow-motion car crash’, the party knows that it is now better organised for electoral success.  

Addressing a rally of activists on Friday evening, former leader Tim Farron had some choice words for Lib Dems who are starting to openly worry about the party’s future, its direction, and its vision: 

“We have no right to contemplate our navels and stroke our chins while we have [this] disgrace of [a] Conservative Party to defeat and expel from office.” 

Leader Ed Davey had the same message for members in his Sunday keynote speech, reminding the hall of the party’s success in 1997 under Paddy Ashdown in similar circumstances. 

When Davey called on activists to knock on five million doors before polling day, he was giving a target that’s more in reach than many may realise. The Lib Dems’ strength is in their ground game and their targeting of local issues. 

It’s no coincidence that the party keeps talking about sewage, or GPs, or the cost of living, or carers. These are issues that their data consistently shows to resonate best with target voters: the local environment, health services and the money in people’s pockets. 

Quiet confidence 

“So what?”, you might ask, given a Labour majority looks inevitable according to current polls. 

The Liberal Democrats know they will never be able to rebuild without a stronger parliamentary party. And they can’t achieve that without ruthless targeting of the seats they need to make that happen. National poll ratings on their own are not a good metric for judging their likely success. 

For all their stunts, and all their stories about sewage, the party is doing what it needs to win seats. 2019 saw a big increase in the vote share, but it was not concentrated enough. 

Crucially, the Lib Dems look on course to replace the SNP as the third-largest party in the Commons, with all the extra funding, speaking slots and airtime that brings. 

And with the Tories likely to turn to the right in opposition, the opportunity for the Lib Dems to cement their place in the shires and take permanent chunks out of the Blue Wall is within their grasp. 

Then the question will become what sort of opposition the Lib Dems are to a Labour Party that will have little money and big issues to grapple with. For Farron on Friday night, the more Liberals elected, the greater the defence against the extremes of left and right in both big parties. Expect that message to return in the future. 

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