The defection of Edward McMillan-Scott from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in March 2010 gave headline writers what they were long craving: a Lib Dem group of MEPs that totalled 12, making it open season for alliterative variations on the word “dozen”. As you can see, I have been unable to resist.
But far from being dapper, doleful or even dodgy, those 12 are now definitely deserving of the label “dicey”. Some might go so far as to say desperate.
For it is not a question of if the Lib Dems will lose seats in the European elections on 22 May – it is more a matter of how many.
If the polls are wrong, the party may find it repeats its haul of 2009. But if the polls are even a little bit right, the number of Lib Dems in the EU parliament may become, at the very best, a fearless four or five.
Here’s my assessment of what could happen:
East Midlands (5 seats)
2009 result: Con 2, Lab 1, Ukip 1, Lib 1
The Lib Dem is Bill Newton-Dunn, a former Tory who became an MEP in 1999 but defected a year later. I think he’ll struggle to hold on, with his seat going to either Labour or Ukip. LOSS.
East of England (7)
2009 result: Con 3, Ukip 2, Lib 1, Lab 1
Andrew Duff has been the Lib Dem MEP here since 1999. I fear his long stint in Brussels is about to come to an end, with Ukip picking up his seat in what, for them, is their strongest region in the UK. LOSS.
2009 result: Con 3, Lab 2, Lib 1, Green 1, Ukip 1
Lib Dem MEP since 1999, Sarah Ludford should hold on. I reckon it’ll be the Tories who lose a seat here, with either Labour or the Greens being the beneficiary. HOLD.
NE England (3)
2009 result: Lab 1, Con 1, Lib 1
Fiona Hall has been a Lib Dem MEP since 2004. I can’t see her surviving in a region that is now utterly dominated by Labour at a local level, and with so many Labour councils holding elections on the same day to boot. She’ll be defeated, with the seat ending up either with Labour or Ukip. LOSS.
NW England (8)
2009 result: Con 3, Lab 2, Ukip 1, Lib 1, BNP 1
The same fate awaits Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP since 1999, and for the same reasons. LOSS.
Northern Ireland (3)
2009 result: Sinn Fein 1, Unionists 1, DUP 1
No change likely here.
2009 result: SNP 2, Lab 2, Con 1, Lib 1
George Lyon has been the Lib Dem MEP here since 2004. I suspect his career is about to come to an end, with his seat falling to either the SNP or Labour. LOSS.
SE England (10)
2009 result: Con 4, Ukip 2, Lib 2, Green 1, Lab 1
A bit of hope for the Lib Dems. They should keep one of their two seats, meaning Catherine Bearder gets to continue her stint as MEP that she began in 2009. HOLD.
SW England (6)
2009 result: Con 3, Ukip 2, Lib 1
I suspect they may cling on here as well. Sir Graham Watson is a veteran, having sat as the Lib Dem MP for this region for 20 years. HOLD.
2009 result: Con 1, Labour 1, Plaid 1, UKIP 1
Nothing for the Lib Dems here. I’ve already wondered whether Plaid may lose its seat.
West Midlands (7)
2009 result: Con 3, Ukip 2, Lab 1, Lib 1
Phil Bennion, Lib Dem MEP since 2012 (succeeding Liz Lynne) probably won’t survive here. The Lib Dem vote will be squeezed by Labour and Ukip, one of whom will end up with the extra seat. LOSS.
2009 result: Con 2, Lab 1, Ukip 1, Lib 2 (one ex-Con), BDP 1
It’ll be tough for the Lib Dems to keep both their seats – especially as one is the aforementioned Edward McMillan-Scott, who was elected in 2009 as a Tory. Their other MEP, Rebecca Taylor, isn’t even standing this time. I suspect this region could end up with two each for the Tories, Labour and Ukip. LOSS.
All of which means that the dicey dozen could well be about to become the threadbare three, with only London, the south-east and south-west boasting a Lib Dem MEP.
Not a good outcome either for the party or for the pro-Europe cause.
Still, given a choice between a tricky trio and a walloping wipeout, I’m sure Nick Clegg would settle for the former.