The Liberal Democrats in Portsmouth – Past, Present and Future

Matthew Winnington, Eastney and Craneswater Liberal Democrat Portsmouth City Councillor, reflects on his party’s showing in the general election and looks forward to next year’s local polls.

The general and local elections in Portsmouth this year were in some ways a microcosm of what happened nationwide both in parliamentary seats where the Lib Dems were strong and in seats where we were not. In other ways, though, there were major differences between the Lib Dems’ showing nationally and locally.

The similarities first. As in every Lib Dem held seat, our vote went down considerably in Portsmouth South in the general election and was roughly on par with what happened in other Lib Dem held seats across the country where we had no incumbent defending the seat. Another similarity was that the Conservative vote hardly changed while the Labour and UKIP vote spiked, the latter pretty much because of tactical unwind for Labour and the emergence of a party that really appealed to “none of the above” electors who had previously voted Lib Dem.

It really became apparent when the results came in across the country and the subsequent reasons people gave as to why they voted as they did, that for our previous tactical voters the die was cast years ago and for our Lib Dem/Tory switch voters the rhetoric from the Conservatives about the danger of Labour and the SNP running the economy and messing up the recovery really resonated.

For me a key difference is the very nature of the low vote share that won Portsmouth South for the Conservatives (the seventh lowest of any seat in the country) and the fact that four other parties were within 30% of the winner. I’m not sure either that there was any other city where the consequences of Labour’s general election campaign were so starkly shown in two seats within that city.

Labour’s vote fell by 4% in Portsmouth North, the seat which was the focus of their campaign in South East Hampshire but rose by 6% in Portsmouth South which, like neighbouring areas, had a limited campaign and was largely attributable to people voting Labour rather than the Lib Dems mainly because of our being in coalition with the Conservatives. Labour’s performance in Portsmouth North was repeated nationwide in similar seats versus the Conservatives, though our result in which we saved our deposit was unusual in that kind of seat.

As far as the local elections went, the pattern was pretty similar to nationwide – we outperformed our general election vote across the city and actually outpolled the Conservatives in Portsmouth South on local election votes, making up more than 5200 votes when compared to the general election. As with most other Lib Dem seats who had local elections on the same day, we did lose seats but often narrowly. Indeed the gains from the Lib Dems in Charles Dickens for Labour and the Conservatives in Nelson were as much a surprise to the parties who won as they were to us.

There were also one or two other surprises, not necessarily from the Lib Dems’ point of view, across the city, not least the Labour failure to win any seats in Portsmouth North and UKIP’s failure to win any seats at all. It was absolutely clear however that the general election’s impact on the local elections in the city and the country this year was extreme, and from a Lib Dem point of view, it was worse than usual.

Looking forward to the local elections next year for the Lib Dems, clearly we will be looking to win as many council seats as possible and our priority, as always, is to stand up and serve the residents of the city in the best way we can. That is a big challenge, but with many more members and more activists than ever before I believe we can overcome anything thrown at us and succeed. We are a grass roots party and that is the way we are rebuilding in Portsmouth and nationwide.

An earlier version of this article first appeared on GovFaces.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.