This article first appeared in I News
The Lib Dems can’t credibly claim to be the alternative government-in-waiting, so they need to work with Labour too
The North Shropshire by-election result is undoubtedly remarkable, with the Lib Dems coming back from a staggering 29,000 votes behind in 2019. The record-breaking swing is on a par with their 1993 victories in Newbury and Christchurch, the last time the party gained two seats in a year from the Conservatives. I was the candidate’s aide on both these by-elections.
Like Christchurch, North Shropshire is not a natural hotbed of liberalism. The Lib Dem victory – as it was in Christchurch – is a scream of protest against the current government, not an endorsement of liberal values. The Lib Dems should avoid over-interpreting what this might mean for any future general election. Even in 1997, a breakthrough year for the Lib Dems, they could not hold Christchurch and they are highly unlikely to hold North Shropshire in the next general election.
But the Lib Dems, their opponents and potential allies should also not under-interpret the result either, because it reveals more about the electorate’s long term thinking than Conservative spin doctors would have us believe.
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