The Lib Dem conference is almost over, and already we have seen some major attacks on the Tories. What hopes does the party have next May?
Things are heating up and tensions are mounting high in the coalition. It is clear that the Liberal Democrats are placing themselves at odds with the Conservatives, in an attempt to do well next May.
But what are the party's chances? Are they really facing electoral annihaliation?
On one hand, yes the party is drawing with the Greens in a lot of polls, and is only getting about 6%-10% of the vote, depending on which poll one looks at. But in truth, the reality is that the party will not be wiped off the political map. The real situation is far more complicated than that. The reasons as to why the Lib Dems will not fair as bad as often predicted are as follows:
1) Tuition fees. The controversy about the vote at the start of the coalition will not be forgotten in a long time, especially for the multiple Liberal Democrat councillors, assembly members and MSPs who lost their seats as the country blamed the party.
However, it is often forgotten that the party did not completely vote in favour of raising the cap to £9000. Out of the 57 Lib Dem MPs, 28 voted for the measure, whilst 21 voted against it. A further eight abstained, showing that less than 50% of the party's representatives in the House Of Commons voted for the increase.
It has often been said, that thanks to success in the Eastleigh by-election, the Lib Dems will fight 2015 as if it was a battle of 57 by-elections, which means that local MPs who voted against the measure are likely to stress that they did not participate in the action that has changed the public's perception of the party.
It is likely many Lib Dem MPs will remain, if the public recalls that not everyone in the party voted to raise the limit to £9000. For example, the Edinburgh West MP, Mike Crockart, initially held the position of Parliamentary Private Secratary to Michael Moore, but resigned from the post to vote against the raising of tuition fees.
Additionally, Lib Dem MPs who have been champions in their constituency, and are well-liked by their constituents, are likely to do better than others.
2) 57 by-elections. As said previously, the legacy of Eastleigh, which felt like a three horse race between the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and UKIP was won by Nick Clegg's party. Simply put, if the Liberal Democrats can win in a by-election, which are traditionally lost by the governing party(/ies), then it is likely that the party will not do as bad as predicted in 2015.
Percieving the election as 57 by-elections could be beneficial for the party as it would also allow MPs to fight strongly on local issues.
3) Local clusters. Liberal Democrat support has been widespread and diluted across the country, in a similar way to the current situation with UKIP. What the party has done over the years is to build electoral strongholds in pockets across the nation. Whilst the party may lose support in areas where it doesn't hold seats, in the places its support is strongest there is a good chance the Lib Dems will continue to do well.
4) 'Stronger economy, fairer society'. The words are a message that have appeared throughout the Lib Dem conference, and over the last few years. Nick Clegg's committment to the coaltion is that he can bring the two major parties closer to the centre ground. Speaking about the recovery, the party leader has often said that the party is committed to making it a 'fair' recovery, diluting Conservative policy down.
As for Labour if the party got into bed with Ed Miliband's then Nick Clegg has said that whilst Labour would be fairer than the Tories, the Lib Dems would have to keep them on track economically.
One of the first things thought of about Labour is that they are reckless when it comes to spending, whilst for the Conservatives, it is that they are, to many, a 'nasty party' and have made unfair decisions on the poorest in our society. Combine this with the Lib Dems, wanting to anchor the country in 'the centre ground' then this message might get through to people.
Even Labour must admit that the Con-Lib coalition has been preferable to a Tory majority.
To conclude, the Liberal Democrats will not gain seats, unless in a rare case of UKIP splitting the Tory vote and Labour voters voting Lib Dem tactically. The party will not gain a share of the vote.
However, the Liberal Democrats will not be wiped out. The party will retain a decent chunk of its seats and see its vote share fall.
The party - along with UKIP, if they do really well next year - could hold the balance of power once more. And even if they do not - even if they retain seats, but UKIP make a breakthrough in Westminster, then Liberal Democrats can take comfort in the end of the two party system, which could lead to 'electoral reform' in the form of proportional represenation.
The Liberal Democrats' long wanted 'holy grail'.
The party will keep going.