It has been a torrid time for the Liberal Democrats. Less than 18 months ago they were junior partners in a coalition government that survived, against all the odds, for its full five years. But while the Conservatives were voted back into office at last year’s general election, the Lib Dems were trounced at the ballot box and left with just eight MPs.
In June this year they appeared to hit a new low when their pro-Europe stance was roundly rejected by the British public as the nation voted in favour of Brexit. At that point the party appeared to be sailing towards political obscurity.
But while they lost the argument over Europe, it has provided the Lib Dems with an unexepected boost. As an unashamedly pro-European party, they have attracted new members from disillusioned Remain voters and were buoyed by victory in the recent Mosborough ward by-election in Sheffield where they enjoyed a 19 per cent swing from Labour.
It is a surprising turnaround in the party’s fortunes and leader Tim Farron will want to harness these green shoots of recovery when he takes the platform at the Lib Dem conference later today.
A return to the heady days when they had more than 50 MPs and control of city councils across the North remains a long way off, but with British politics in a profound state of flux, and the Labour Party riven by bitter disagreements, the Lib Dems have emerged as an unlikely beacon of stability.
However, if the party wants to re-establish itself as a serious political force, rather than being seen as little more than a protest vote, it must grasp this opportunity with both hands.