James Forsyth

The Lib Dems are the winners of conference season (and they haven’t even held theirs yet)

The Lib Dems are the winners of conference season (and they haven't even held theirs yet)
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[/audioplayer]Normally, the last party conference season before an election clarifies matters. But, so far, this one has not. Instead, it has merely compounded the factors  that make the next election so difficult to call.

The reason why people are reluctant to predict a Labour majority despite its current poll lead and the structural factors in its favour, is that it trails on the economy and leadership by margins that would usually be considered terminal. Its conference didn’t address these problems successfully. Indeed, with Ed Miliband forgetting the section on the deficit it has compounded them.

But the Tories are plagued by a split on the right that makes it very hard to see how they can win outright. Conference season, with the Reckless defection, has seen this become even more visible and once Ukip get an MP, which they are bound to do in Clacton, they’ll have ready access to publicity until polling day.

The upshot of all this is that even before they have held their own gathering, the Liberal Democrats are the winners of conference season. Despite their dire national poll rating, they will probably have more than 30 seats after the next election. This will, probably, be enough to leave them holding the balance of power again.