Our first stop is to meet Cath Laddis, a farmer’s wife, who says she will
vote Lib Dem because she is pleased with Tim Farron, the local MP, who unseated
Tim Collins at the last election. ‘Tim [Farron] spent 45 minutes playing
football with my kids,’ she says. ‘Most politicians would kick a ball and be
So, Mrs Laddis intends to vote LibDem on the basis that the MP played football with her son for 45 minutes. This is exactly what I was up against in North Norfolk. Norman Lamb played an awful lots of games of football! Seriously, people are increasingly casting their votes not on a politician's views or political record, they're casting their votes on whether the politician empathises with them or seems a nice person. The LibDems are past masters at this.
The lesson we Conservatives have got to learn is never to lose a seat to them in the first place, because if the LibDem MP is seen as a nice guy/girl, spends their entire first term dealing with local constituency issues they will be almost impossible to remove. If you look at where we have unseated LibDem MPs after losing an election to them it's normally because they haven't done what Norman Lamb did and Tim Farron is obviously doing - Jackie Ballard and Sue Doughty are two examples who spring to mind.
This is why I think those who are expecting the LibDems to lose a lot of seats next time need to rethink their views. They're not just going to be plucked off trees. However, I do think the Conservatives can win seats back off them, and the national political situation is obviously very different now to what it was in 2005. No one seriously thought Michael Howard was going to win, so it was easy for LibDem/Con floaters to register a protest again. This time will be different. The message that the only way to get rid of Labour is to vote Conservative will register far more powerfully, and Ming Campbell's failure to inspire or galvanise his own party in the way that Charles Kennedy did will count against the LibDems.
So if Conservative candidates in LibDem seats can truly play the local card and be all round nice guys, they may suceed where candidates like me so miserably failed last time. My advice to any local Conservative Association in a LibDem held seat or facing a LibDem threat is to select a truly local candidate. Having done that, it's then up to the national party to do their bit.