It’s official: the Liberal Democrats are back in the game. We’ve had a brilliant month, gaining more than 700 councillors at the local elections and taking 20 per cent of the vote at the EU elections. That gave us 16 MEPs – our best ever result in a European election - and our highest share of the vote at a national election since 2010. Since then, we’ve surged to first place in the latest YouGov opinion poll.
Many of us who have been campaigning hard to make it happen won’t have been surprised. People undoubtedly responded to our unashamedly liberal, unashamedly internationalist, pro-European message. But there was something else too: neither of the main two parties had anything relevant to say. Why would you vote for a Tory party that has one policy, Brexit, but has failed to deliver it? Equally, why would you vote for a Labour party that has completely ducked the issue?
On the doorstep and on the streets, people are more and more happy to see us. “I’ll never vote Conservative again, not after what they’ve done on Europe,” said one former Conservative supporter. He was furious with the party he’d voted for all his life for what he described as their ‘recklessness in government’. It was also notable that many people we spoke to on EU elections polling day stated past allegiance to Labour. “I’m appalled by Corbyn’s stance on the EU,” said one.
On the other hand, we Liberal Democrats stuck to our long-held pro-European views, even when we have been ridiculed and shouted down by the two main parties.
But as the party’s candidate in Cheltenham I know we won’t be getting carried away. Our task is to continue to find solutions to the everyday problems that the Tories have been ignoring due to their Brexit distractions. Issues like the crisis in healthcare, where Liberal Democrats would pay for the improvements needed with a 1p tax rise ringfenced for the NHS and care services. Issues like the crisis in education funding. Campaigners tell us that despite government claims to the contrary, 85 per cent of Cheltenham’s schools are worse off now than they were when the Liberal Democrats left government in 2015. A national Lib Dem commission led by Layla Moran is looking at how to sort that out. Problems like the housing market, where young people and families continue to get a bad deal due to decades of political failures. In Cheltenham the Liberal Democrat council is investing £100million in homes to put that right.
Huge numbers of people have switched to the Liberal Democrats at the two elections in May. Our hard work locally and nationally will convince them there are very many reasons to stay with us at the next general election.