Their victory in the parliamentary by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire on 1 August was preceded by three council seat gains in Daventry and Gloucester, followed up by another win in Worcester the week after. Indeed, the Claines ward in Worcester can be seen as encapsulating the ups and downs of new Leader Jo Swinson’s party ever since local government reorganisation 45 years ago.
Safely Conservative under rather different boundaries for more than a decade after 1973 (and with Labour never a serious contender), it occasionally flirted with the Liberal Democrats and its predecessor parties throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with sitting councillors of both colours usually retaining their seats.
It was the Liberal Democrats, though, who dominated the first elections for the currently configured ward in 2004, and from then until 2012 hung on quite handily until they were punished across the country for their role in the Cameron coalition government. Success in Claines mirrored their increased share of the vote at both the 2005 and 2010 general elections.
This time they bounced back again, turning a deficit of nearly 100 votes in May into a majority of 56 in a ward that appears to have narrowly voted ‘Remain’ in June 2016. Their win coincides with opinion polls showing them breaking the 20 per cent barrier for the first time since 2010 and often challenging Labour for second place. A footnote to the Gloucester results is the first appearance at a local election of the Brexit Party.
It finished fourth in the Podsmead ward and a very distant third in Barnwood but, as in Brecon, the votes it attracted may have had some material impact on the outcome. Both Labour and the Conservatives have been warned about the potential ability of both the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party to rain on their parade. And the news gets even worse for Labour.
The party has lost ground in no fewer than 24 of the 27 council seats it has contested since the May local elections. Hardly a sound basis on which to fight a General Election campaign, should one be forthcoming this autumn.