What are the LibDems thinking?

There has been very little LibDem input in this election so far, and it seems likely to continue that way. The party centrally is not funding local PCC candidates. A few local parties may chance their arms, but even in some of their better areas, like Devon and Cornwall, it seems there will be no formal LibDem candidate.

While there has been a suggestion that running would compromise their ideologically-pure opposition to the idea of elected police chiefs, which Labour candidates have all been able to get past, TopOfTheCops has previously speculated that the real problem is a financial one. No party looks in a great position to fund these elections, still less the one with the least ability to fundraise, but in the absence of anything more enlightening from LibDems themselves, let’s have a look at the impact of the recent electoral research published by the Police Foundation.

What difference does the Lib-Dems standing in the Police and Crime Commissioner election actually make?

In terms of currently expected results, very little. Of the four scenarios envisaged by the Police Foundation, admittedly only two of them feature LibDems as candidates, but it is only in the scenario where they return to the dizzy heights of their 2010 electoral showing where they can muster enough support to win 2 of the 41 positions available – Avon & Somerset, and Dyfed-Powys (though in one scenario the 4 results in Wales cannot be calculated).

That, of course, ignores the fact that things have changed since the 2010 election. Since the focus on “tactical voting” in the 1980s and probably before that, the LibDems have always had a section of their vote that was voting against another party, as well as those that were voting positively for what the LibDems stood for, and as the “against” contingent included both those voting against Conservatives and those voting against Labour, the cleft-stick position of kingmaker meant they would always offend one part of their electorate whatever they did. Unsurprisingly, the LibDem poll rating has suffered since, and while it may pick up with the benefits of being seen to deliver on some of their commitments, it is probably unreasonable to expect that pick-up to happen by November.

Consequently, winning those two posts may not seem like a reasonable prospect, and one can begin to understand the decision not to contest the election, if you think that running is just a very much more expensive way of getting no LibDem Police and Crime Commissioners than not running at all.

So back to the original question. What difference does the LibDems running make? Well, on the more recent opinion polls used by the Police Foundation, it makes no difference to who wins 40 of the 41 seats available. Only Staffordshire changes hands – believed to go to Labour if the LibDems run, and to the Conservatives if they don’t. Supplementary vote in large single-member constituencies doesn’t seem to hand much influence to the LibDems as a party, or to their voters. Ironically, they have more power in a first-past-the-post parliament than under the system used for PCCs.

What a depressing election then for the LibDems. One can understand the decision to keep their limited funds in the bank, and tired feet in slippers rather than sandals this November, perhaps thinking they will do better in other elections if they don’t play in this one. Yet when was it ever about winning for LibDems? Whatever happened to taking part? There is also a debate about crime that will rage without them. Their voice is not being heard. We shall, in a sense, miss them. Is that the point?

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