With the Lib Dem conference going on at the moment, it only makes sense to post a book review about one of the more recent works on the party in question.
Neither Left Nor Right? The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate by Andrew Russell and Edward Fieldhouse
It’s a simple fact that third-party politics tend to be overlooked in a two-party system. The only time anyone really pays attention to a third party is when something happens to draw attention to it — and most of the time, that comes down to either a scandal or a really surprising election result. Finding solid political research and analysis about a third party that doesn’t focus on the scandals or the election surprises isn’t easy. And that, in essence, is the reason for Andrew Russell and Edward Fieldhouse’s book Neither Left Nor Right? The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate.
The book looks at voting patterns and party organisations to determine who votes for the Liberal Democrats and how these voting patterns have changed over the course of past elections. It looks at the various forms of the Liberal Party, including the Social Democractic Party and the SDP/Liberal Alliance of the 1980s. It also compares and contrasts the Liberal Democrats with the Labour and Conservative parties, exploring several key questions. Who votes for the Liberal Democrats, and why? How does the party leadership affect voting patterns? (The book was written and printed before the whole leadership kerfluffle with Charles Kennedy, so the information on that front is really only valid up through the Kennedy leadership.) How do the Liberal Democrats have to adapt their tactics in different constituencies, in a way that neither Labour nor the Tories really have to consider? And what is the importance of the grassroots organisation on a party that — as the authors state nearly ad nauseam in their analysis — tends to believe that for something to be real, it has to be local?
The analysis in Neither Left Nor Right? appears to be good but fairly basic; the authors don’t really make any conclusions that seem to me to be glaringly mistaken or out of step with what I’d already felt to be true about the Lib Dems and their political workings. There were more than a handful of good, succinct pen-portraits of grassroots campaigns and the influences that work on the political situation in different areas of the country. The book on the whole is a bit repetitive, but would likely appeal to those interested in political sociology and the workings of third-party politics in a traditionally two-party system. But there was one particular thing about the book that really annoyed me. Perhaps it’s just the copyeditor in me showing through (though since it’s what I’m doing for a living at the moment, I probably shouldn’t be so surprised when it does), but my edition of the book was very poorly edited. Grammatical inconsistencies, punctuation problems, actual misspellings of fairly simple words…I actually had to put it down once or twice because I was all but reaching for my red and blue pencils. Some editor clearly was asleep (quite possibly catatonic) on the job, and that always makes me wonder about the quality of the information itself.
If this book runs into future editions, I’d like to go back through and look at it again. At the moment, though, the mistakes are distracting enough to make me save this book only for the infrequent times when I need to look at primarily statistical data.