The Lib Dem conference is over. Could next year’s be an all-male affair?
Lord Ashcroft’s polling of marginal seats suggests the party are set to lose all of their female MPs.
This is partly a consequence of having so few in the first place. Despite being a supposed beacon of moderate liberalism and social rights, the party is represented by just seven women – out of 57 MPs.
That could fall to one by next year. Ashcroft’s polls only provide data for six of the party’s seven female MPs, but, if we list them in order of how large their winning margins were in 2010, it seems likely that Jo Swinson (the only one for whom we have no data), is under great threat too.
She is defending her seat from Labour, who are threatening Lib Dems in seats where they won majorities of up to 15 per cent in 2010 (such as Cambridge); Swinson won her seat by less than 5 per cent. Despite being tipped for cabinet office, she will have to retain her seat against the national momentum.
If all these MPs do lose their seats, the Lib Dems will have to rely on their new female candidates winning new seats, or holding onto ones where incumbents are retiring. They have a small hope of doing the former – the only new seat it seems they might win is Watford, where they are competing with both major parties. Aschroft polls’ put them behind both in June and September; they currently trail Labour by 4 and the Tories by 2.
But their best hopes lie with their three female PPCs, in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Gordon and Hazel Grove. All three seats are losing long-serving and ennobled incumbents, and Julie Pörksen, Christine Jardine and Lisa Smart are trying to replace them. Pörksen is 3 points behind the Tories in Berwick, according to Ashcroft’s latest marginal polls (late September), while we have no data for Jardine or Smart.
The former will face a tough battle from Labour, despite inheriting a 16 per cent majority over them, but the latter is perhaps the party’s best hope. The Lib Dems won Hazel Grove on a very similar majority in 2010, but over the Conservatives, which makes the seat relatively safe.
Even if Smart does prevail, Britain’s long-standing third party is set to fill the House benches – and next year’s conference – with just a single female MP.