An intriguing poll was published just before the European Election. In it the Greens had overtaken the Liberal Democrats leaving them in fifth place. At time of writing I don’t know what the real results will be. Polls are just polls and what happens on the ground can be very different. I’d be surprised if the Greens were actually to outpoll the Lib Dems in the real world. A lot of the MEPs defending their seats will have a strong incumbency advantage. And even in these online days organisation on the ground counts for something, and the Lib Dems are better organised and better funded.
But even so, the fact that they could just about conceivably come in fifth is stunning enough in itself. This is a party that can still trace its roots back to Lloyd George, Gladstone and Lord Grey. In fact they go back further than that to the Whigs, the faction who opposed the Catholic James the Second and were instrumental in the Glorious Revolution. They are the official representatives of a very important thread in British history.
Political parties habitually go through moments of crisis and have bad patches when nothing goes right for them. The Conservatives have taken some poundings over the years from the voters. Labour has had splits so wide that they have looked like a tomato in boiling water. Between the wars and in the eighties it has looked like it would never see the inside of Downing Street again.
Even the Greens with their much shorter history have known the way the roller coaster rolls. They have ended up wondering where it all went wrong after polling strongly in Euro elections only for their vote to vanish like morning mist.
But I can’t help thinking the Lib Dems predicament is rather worse. The question that comes to my mind is, what are they actually for? As a third party they never really came up with any ideas that couldn’t just as easily have come from one of the other two. And what actually is a liberal democrat exactly? We are all basically liberals, and we are all in favour of democracy. What does a party that stands for what everyone else also stands for bring to the party exactly?
If the Lib Dems are in fourth place in the popular vote come the election, as I expect they will be, it won’t alter the fact that the Greens offer something distinctive and the Lib Dems don’t. A Green won’t stop being a Green just because their party happens to be less popular than four other parties. In fact if Labour, or the Conservatives or even UKIP found themselves that unpopular then they might not be very happy but it wouldn’t change their members’ beliefs. But for the Lib Dems, it would probably be the end of the story.