A couple of contrasting articles published in the past few days caught Owl’s eye:
Tory gloom deepens as Lib Dem poll rating spikes before crucial Tiverton and Honiton by-election
….Tory gloom around losing the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election next week will have deepened after a new poll showed support for the Liberal Democrats spiking.
With nine days to go until voters head to the polls in the Devon constituency, there is a growing expectation that the Conservatives will lose a seat they have held ever since it was created in 1997.
The Lib Dems are eyeing a hat-trick of by-election victories after their recent successes in Amersham and Chesham, and North Shropshire.
Their hopes will have been boosted by a Redfield and Wilton Strategies survey, which revealed the Lib Dems have climbed to 15 per cent support in a poll of national voting intention.
This is two percentage points higher than last week’s poll.
A downbeat Conservative source told MailOnline that punters shouldn’t be betting against bookies, who have installed the Lib Dems as favourites in Tiverton and Honiton.
Meanwhile, a separate poll revealed that more than two in five (43 per cent) of rural Conservative voters – such as those found in the Devon constituency – thought the party took rural communities for granted…
….Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘This Conservative Government simply doesn’t care about rural parts of the country.
‘Conservative MPs and candidates ignore these communities at their peril.
‘There is a growing revolt at a Conservative Party which allows rural health services to be cut to the bone and fails to save people from the cost of living crisis.
‘Rural areas are being hardest hit by this financial crisis as petrol prices spiral and no help is given for those relying on heating oil.’
Are the Lib Dems in danger of being over-hyped (again)? – UK in a changing Europe
Chris Butler ukandeu.ac.uk Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester and a former Campaigns Staffer for the Liberal Democrats between 2007 and 2015. (extract)
The Liberal Democrats’ short betting odds in Tiverton and Honiton seem to be based on two heuristics. Firstly, that the Liberal Democrats are traditionally strong in South West England. Second, that the Lib Dems are proving to be electorally successful in rural areas as evidenced by their sensational by-election victory in North Shropshire last year.
Let’s deal with these two points in turn. Whilst the South West of England was indeed a strong area for the Liberal Democrats between 1997 and 2010, since nailing their flag to the mast over Brexit the basis of Liberal Democrat support has migrated to affluent well-educated areas in the Home Counties.
In Cornwall, where the Liberal Democrats won all six Parliamentary seats in 2005, the party now holds just 13 of 87 seats on the unitary authority and only came second in two of the parliamentary seats in 2019.
Of course, last autumn’s sensational victory in North Shropshire showed that the party did have the potential to win in leave-voting Leave areas and it is this that has primarily led to the expectation of Liberal Democrat victory in Tiverton and Honiton.
The potential for Conservative defeat is aided by the tacit electoral alliance of Labour and the Liberal Democrats acting as a pincer movement on the governing party with the former focusing on Wakefield and the latter on the Devon seat. Issues over payments to farmers and ambulance waiting times provide fruitful issues for the Liberal Democrats to campaign on.
But the party’s success in North Shropshire was also helped by the Conservatives’ complacency. They clearly under-estimated the Liberal Democrats’ potential to win in rural leave-voting areas and lazily selected a ‘lawyer from Birmingham’; a mistake they haven’t repeated this time around….
……..To win in Tiverton and Honiton the Liberal Democrats would require a 22.8% swing, smaller than what they achieved in last year’s by-elections in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire but still a tall order. There is a possibility that if the Liberal Democrats pull off an enormous swing, but one not quite enough to win, this will change the narrative for Boris Johnson, given how much Conservative defeat in Tiverton & Honiton is assumed by commentators……
…..The perennial problem for the Liberal Democrats in trying to gain multiple parliamentary seats at an election is simply one of capacity. Unlike the larger parties, Liberal Democrat parliamentary success relies disproportionately on a strong local ground campaign to overcome problems of credibility.
To encourage tactical and switch voting Liberal Democrats need to convince voters that they can win in their area and they achieve this through a strong poster campaign, personal contact with voters and an emphasis on the local context. This requires boots on the ground and is much more difficult to scale up than the Conservatives’ usual tactic of national direct mail and social media advertising.
Focusing on the local context also means that the party’s most effective messages are covered by the more restrictive constituency spending limits. Whereas parties such as the Conservatives who wish to focus on a national message are able to take advantage of the far more generous national campaign spending limit……