Plunging membership but local successes for LibDems in 2021

THE LIBERAL Democrats, unlike the Conservatives, are finishing 2021 off with smiles on their faces.

Despite being almost wiped out in Scotland at the Holyrood elections in May, their new Scottish leader and a series of successful by-election wins has reversed their fortunes throughout this year.

Electing a new deputy leader in Wendy Chamberlain MP, the no-nonsense, straight talking chief whip, will only add to the party’s strengths as it heads triumphantly into 2022.

HeraldScotland: Alex Cole-Hamilton and Wendy ChamberlainAlex Cole-Hamilton and Wendy Chamberlain

At the Scottish Parliament elections in May, the Liberal Democrats were relegated to fifth place, behind the Scottish Greens, for the first time since the formation of the Scottish parliament.

Since 1999, the party has decreased from 17 seats at Holyrood to just four this year.

This has brought its own problems, with a reduction in parliamentary funding and fewer chances to question Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions every week.

Just ten weeks after the May poll, party leader Willie Rennie announced he was stepping down from his top position to make way for a “fresh face”.

READ MORE: Willie Rennie quits as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader

Mr Rennie was one of Scotland’s longest serving political leaders, having held the role for the last 11 years.

Announcing his decision, he said his party had brought important issues to the fore such as mental health provision, and warned: “Scotland deserves a strong progressive alternative to the twin nationalisms represented by the SNP and Conservatives.”

HeraldScotland: Willie RennieWillie Rennie

Alex Cole-Hamilton was the only candidate to stand for leadership, and won the position in August this year.

The party announced in December that MP for North East Fife Wendy Chamberlain would become its deputy leader, having been elected unopposed.

Ms Chamberlain, although relatively new to elected politics, has secured a number of victories for her party in Westminster and played a vital part in challenging the conservative party when MPs attempted to change the rules on discipline to save Owen Paterson.

After securing the emergency debate on the shambolic vote, she accused the Conservatives of trying to “silence” MPs and called their rule-change attempts as a “farce”.

The biggest success for the Liberal Democrats, albeit not in Scotland, has come in the form of by-election wins.

The party is known for its powerful local campaigning, and does particularly well with fewer seats to contend than at General Election times.

In June, the party took the long-held Conservative seat of Chesham and Amersham after the death of veteran MP Dame Cheryl Gillan.

HeraldScotland: Ed Davey destroys a 'blue wall' after the Chesham and Amersham by-election Ed Davey destroys a ‘blue wall’ after the Chesham and Amersham by-election

Despite senior Tories campaigning across the constituency, and Boris Johnson visiting himself prior to the vote, Sarah Green secured 21,517 votes, leaving the Conservative Peter Fleet trailing with 13,489.

To celebrate, UK party leader Ed Davey staged a photo opportunity with a large ‘blue wall’, knocking it down with an orange mallet before waiting photographers.

He later said his party were the “main threat” to the Conservatives’ blue wall seats in the North of England, not the Labour party.

On the day Ms Green first entered parliament, Sir Ed said: “It’s a historic day for Liberal Democrats. We showed that Boris Johnson could be beaten and I think we’ve put the smile back on people’s faces.”

He also declared that “British politics is now changed” as a result of their by-election win.

READ MORE: ‘You tried to overturn a two year probe in two hours’: MPs react after Owen Paterson u-turn

The victory, however, concerned some younger LibDem members and documents show the party’s membership umbers have fallen by 27% in the last year.

Some activists said Chesham and Amersham had been fought on the basis of “nimby-ism” and it was putting off younger people.

Despite the criticism, the party secured another even more spectacular victory in winning the Conservatives’ seat of North Shropshire in a by-election earlier this month.

Their staggering defeat of the Tories, who had held the seat for the past 200 years, saw the party almost beat the record for the biggest by-election swing against a government in 40 years.

New MP Helen Morgan demolished the Conservatives’ 23,000 majority to gain her own 6000 vote majority on December 17.

True to form, the party celebrated again with a boastful photo opportunity.

Former leader Tim Farron joined Ms Morgan in front of a hoard of campaigners, holding a giant balloon which read “Boris Bubble”.

Ms Morgan then triumphantly popped the blue orb to applause and cheers from activists.

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