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The Lib Dems now have a “yellow halo” of support in London and the south-east, a study has found – despite the party’s underwhelming result at the last election.
It comes as voting is set to begin on Thursday in the party’s leadership contest between Ed Davey and Layla Moran.
According to the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, the party has new electoral strength in parts of capital, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and Cambridgeshire.
In these areas Jo Swinson did better in 2019 than Nick Clegg in 2010.
The party’s core support is also now among graduates. The research showed almost all the party’s seats and future target seats have more graduates than the UK median.
But Davey and Moran have been warned “there remains no such thing as a Lib Dem safe seat”.
The pair are also told there is a “real possibility” they could lose their own seats if they are elected leader, just as Swinson did in December last year.
And the boost in Lib Dem support in the south-east has been matched by a decline in its traditional south-western heartland. In 2010 the party won 15 seats in the region; now it only holds one.
“It is a job that brings with it a genuine opportunity to grow the party once again – if, that is, they make the right strategic calls,” the “Where next for the Liberal Democrats?” report said.
Swinson began the December 2019 campaign with the claim she could become prime minister. But in the end the party only returned 11 MPs.
Yet the report argued the result actually represented a partial recovery for the Lib Dems.
In 2010, there were nearly 140 seats where the party got over 30% of the vote. By 2017 that had fallen to 28.
But at the last election, the party rebounded to 50 seats where it either won or came within realistic touching distance.
The 91 seats in which the party is now in second place is a significantly higher figure than the 66 in which it finished second in 2015, and higher still than the 38 in which it was the runner-up in 2017.
Davey and Moran should also not be worried about “cosying up” up to Keir Starmer, according to the study, because there are just nine seats where the two parties were competing with each other for first place in 2019.
The party is advised that instead its main opponent at general elections is the Conservative Party.
In 23 of the 29 seats that the Lib Dems could “reasonably claim to be well positioned to win, they are the main challenger to the Tories, with every other party a distant third”.