In his Demos pamphlet the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg says:
"It is important to note that Labour has now disappeared completely from huge parts of the country, with the Liberal Democrats controlling the majority of big cities outside London. There are also now a staggering 94 local councils which do not have a single elected member from the Labour Party – and this poses an existential threat to them. It cuts off the chances of a revival because there is nowhere for it to grow."
He is right that Labour's representation in local government has shrunk dramatically. But under his leadership the Lib Dems have also been in decline. This was most stark at this year's County Council elections when they were wiped out of power – losing Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
To look on the bright side his refers to his Party's strength in the cities. Even here though his comments are misleading. I sometimes get criticised for writing too much about London on this site – which I think is a valid complaint. Yet for Clegg to discount London entirely seems rather arbitrary. With seven million people it is larger than several of the next cities combined. Then Clegg conveniently talks about "larger cities" what about smaller cities? Why is he mesmerised by city status anyway? Some towns have more people living in them than some cities.
Anyway, the point is that even on his own terms he has got it wrong. Of the ten largest cities outside London two are led by the Conservatives (Birmingham and Bradford), Labour still have two (Glasgow and Manchester). In one authority, Leeds, control alternates between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Then the Lib Dems have control of three councils (Liverpool, Sheffield and Bristol) and are in coalition with the SNP on Edinburgh City Council and Plaid Cymru on Cardiff City Council. Even if you include the last two that's five out of ten – not a majority.
Let's give Clegg another chance. Perhaps he thought the top ten too narrow a definition of "bigger cities."So let's take the most populated 20 cities outside London. The Conservatives tally goes up another three (Plymouth, Coventry and Wolverhampton), Labour's tally goes up another three (Nottingham, Leicester, Sunderland). There is Belfast – which is under no overall control and has no Lib Dem councillors. There is Stoke-on-Trent which is a multi party coalition. Then we have another two for the Lib Dems (Newcastle and Hull.) This leaves the Lib Dems (even included Edinburgh and Cardiff ) with seven of the 20 largest cities in the UK outside London.
So Clegg's talk of a "majority" is misleading. Odd as one would hope the Lib Dems would always be anxious to avoid producing misleading statements. Clegg thanks the Liberal Democrat policy unit for their help with the pamphlet but says "all opinions, errors and failings" are his responsibility. Indeed.