The short answer is no; and that comes from a card-carrying committed Liberal Democrat who has ‘enjoyed’ candidacy for a London Borough, the Greater London Assembly and Parliament. The Lib Dems are the perpetual nearly-man (or women) of politics. However, in London electoral terms, they’re not even the nearly person – not any more. With just 116 Councillors in London (and 44 of these in Sutton), they certainly don’t have strength in depth, but rather two or three limited pockets of undeniable strength in the face of adversity.
The traditional campaign of valiant opposition, whether against the Conservatives or Labour, was fundamentally undermined by the Coalition years. Woeful performance in 2014 (and the loss of more than 50% of their London Councillors), will not be easily reversed. They are polling at 11%, which irrespective of the likely collapse of the UKIP vote, is unchanged from 2014. There are many authorities in which a Lib Dem wipeout is certainly on the cards – a scenario many would have thought impossible just eight years ago. Ealing, Redbridge and Hackney are all under threat from a Labour Party with comprehensive majorities. On a lighter note, Sutton could well be joined by Kingston as Lib Dem controlled, despite energetic Conservative campaigns, however, Richmond may represent a ‘bridge too far’ along the Thames.
A concerted campaign under the Remain banner, as champions of the second referendum, simply doesn’t seem to be resonating above and beyond the big guns of the two main parties – irrespective of EU nationals and their right to vote in local elections – and in light of Brexit, this is, of course, their last chance to vote in those elections! Under the combined auspices of Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn, Labour are likely to better their rather excellent 2014 result; Conservative campaign leadership in London is unclear at best, yet Vince Cable and Caroline Pidgeon still struggle to gain traction – despite earnest efforts and traditional commitment to pavement pounding.
Outside of London, the Lib Dem banner is starting to unfurl and will be seen above town halls with something of a resurgence taking place – a steady flurry of by-election gains in local authorities around the country since Jan 2018 bodes relatively well – Chichester, Dacorum, Teignbridge, Warrington and West Berkshire have all seen Lib Dems triumph. Again though, it is pockets of strength, wards where work has been carried out ‘all year round’ where the Lib Dems will score well next week. There are indications that Hull (previously Lib Dem controlled from 2007-2011), South Cambridgeshire (remain vote) and better-known strongholds in Cheltenham and Portsmouth will see strong results. Another solid hold ought to be the handover of Mayoralty in Watford where Peter Taylor takes the mantle. No doubt performance will be stronger against Conservative opponents; in some authorities, they could be Kingmakers, in others, they may just seize sufficient seats to take control and lead the pack.
Within the 32 London boroughs, however, that flag remains limp, we predict that they will not grace 150 councillors and are likely to face four further years in the political wilderness. However, activists will not be perturbed, progress will be made, incremental steps will be taken – sights are already set on 2022 and further critical gains – the Lib Dem game is truly a long one.