Paul Walter has helpfully reproduced the Guardian's list of Lib Dem target seats for the next election. It's interesting providing you take into account a number of caveats:
- If the coalition's plans come to fruition before the next election, the current 650 seat will be scaled back to a much lower number. The Tories proposed a 10% cut - down to 585. The Lib Dems wanted a more radical cut to 500 MPs. Both of these - or something in between - would require complete boundary changes and so the figures in the table would be merely the basis of calculations.
- The list - although it will be taken as gospel by the papers - is merely the starting point. Individual seats will have had different circumstances which led to a slightly better or worse result than that which might have been gained under 'regular' circumstances. A campaigning chance missed, a dodgy attack leaflet, a section of the population denied the right to vote... all of these might have made a difference to the scores on the doors, if not to the outcome of the contest.
- Similarly, the list merely shows the percentage difference between the winner and the Lib Dem candidate. No account is taken of the third party performance or that of minor party candidates. These make a huge difference in Cowley Street's decision as to which seats to go for next time. If the winner got more than 50% of the vote or if there is a very low vote to be squeezed then the chances of targeting will be significantly lessened. On the other hand, if there is more than 15% to be squeezed and the Lib Dems are clear in second then the decision to target will be a lot easier. And, of course, if the Lib Dems are currently third then it is a lot harder to persuade voters that it is us who are best placed to defeat the incumbent.
All of that said, the list demonstrates very clearly that there are a huge number of seats which, with a strong candidate in place early and campaigning effectively, can be gained by the Lib Dems in May 2015.