From one dicey dozen to another.
Here’s a list of the 12 Liberal Democrat MPs who currently have the smallest majorities in parliament, and who are therefore the easiest (on paper) to beat at next year’s general election:
I don’t buy the suggestion that Nick Clegg could lose his seat next year. Party leaders never lose their seats in general elections. The same goes for Vince Cable. Why would traditional Lib Dem supporters, behaving rationally*, get rid of one of the most traditionally “Lib Dem” members of parliament?
No, when the cull comes, it’ll be in the marginals, where both Tory and Labour are eyeing some rich pickings.
Of the above list, five are seats Labour would take on a swing of 2% or less (Norwich South, Bradford East, Brent Central, Burnley and Manchester Withington); the rest would fall to the Tories on a similar shift of opinion.
Were you to press me to a prediction, I’d say Burt, Brooke, Munt and Gilbert will all be defeated. The Tories will snap up those seats with ease. Similarly Wright and Ward may as well pack their bags now. Sarah Teather already has done. All three seats will fall to Labour.
The one person I’d suggest most likely to hang on is Paul Burstow in Sutton and Cheam. In last week’s local elections the Lib Dems retained control of Sutton council with ease, emerging with a stout majority of 36. Burstow has been an MP since 1997, and his roots are in the SDP wing of the party. Being an ex-government minister will also help; he is no longer immediately associated with the coalition and won’t be as constrained as some of his colleagues to speak his mind over the next 11 months.
But even if Burstow survives, there’ll be other Lib Dems with larger majorities than he who could well go down. Jo Swinson is one example; she’s got a majority of 2,184 in Dunbartonshire East, where Labour is out to grab back one of its many Scottish strongholds.
If the Liberal Democrats want to explore the real extent of the potential carnage at the 2015 general election, they should invest in polling in some of the seats listed above, and leave the likes of Clegg and Cable to look after themselves.
*Which is part of the problem. If the party took a more rational approach to its predicament, it would see that a complete wipeout is not on the cards.