Over the course of the past year I’ve returned several times to the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, reporting among other things on their strange death, their dicey dozen, their disappearing deposits and, most recently, their six species.
Now, on the eve of the election, only 11 seats of the 57 the party won in 2010 I would consider to be truly safe.
Vince Cable in Twickenham, Tim Farron in Westmorland & Lonsdale, David Laws in Yeovil, Ed Davey in Kingston & Surbiton, Norman Lamb in Norfolk North and Norman Baker in Lewes are six of the 11, and arguably the most high profile. To them might fall the responsibility of rebuilding the skeleton of the party in the wake of a really bad result on 7 May.
The five other seats I’d judge to be pretty safe are Bath, Colchester, Hazel Grove, Leeds North West and Thornbury & Yate.
As for the rest, who knows. It could be a near-wipeout; it could be a light skirmish.
All 11 seats in Scotland are vulnerable to the SNP: Argyll & Bute; Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk; Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross; Dunbartonshire East; Edinburgh West; Fife North East; Gordon; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey; Orkney & Shetland; Ross, Skye & Lochaber; and West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine. Remarkably, some forecasts suggest the Lib Dems could lose every single one of these constituencies. I personally doubt that will happen, but I can’t say with conviction how many – or how few – MPs will survive.
In England and Wales, 13 seats are vulnerable to Labour: Bermondsey & Old Southwark; Birmingham Yardley; Bradford East; Brent Central; Bristol West; Burnley; Cambridge; Cardiff Central; Hornsey & Wood Green; Manchester Withington; Norwich South; Redcar; and Sheffield Hallam. Most of these will change hands, of that I am sure. Were Simon Hughes in Bermondsey & Old Southwark and Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam to be defeated, it would be a sensation.
A total of 21 seats are notionally at risk from the Conservatives. Here I am less certain of what will happen, though a fair bet would be to say around half of these will be gained by the Tories: Berwick-upon-Tweed; Brecon & Radnorshire; Carshalton & Wallington; Cheadle; Cheltenham; Chippenham; Cornwall North; Devon North; Dorset Mid & Poole North; Eastbourne; Eastleigh; Portsmouth South; St Austell & Newquay; St Ives; Solihull; Somerton & Frome; Southport; Sutton & Cheam; Taunton Deane; Torbay; and Wells.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough for the party, a fourth challenger has latterly appeared on the scene: Plaid Cymru, who are in with a chance of gaining Ceredigion.
Were the SNP to perform a clean sweep in Scotland, if Plaid gains Ceredigion, Labour takes Cardiff Central and the Tories win Brecon & Radnorshire, the Lib Dems will have been reduced to an England-only party – and one that might also have been kicked out of its south-west heartland. From Shetland to St Ives, the party will have been driven from power.
Somehow I can’t quite believe things will be that bad. Yet I can’t categorically rule it out either. And perhaps that in itself is judgment enough.