by RAY FLEMING
THE immediate post-election attention has understandably been on Labour, and the question of how long Mr Blair can remain in No 10 Downing Street, and on the Conservatives and who should succeeed Mr Howard following his decision to quit in the near future. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have good reason to be satisfied with what they achieved in the election. The 62 seats they won on Thursday represent the greatest number they have had in the House of Commons since 1923. If there is any disappointment that still more were not won, there is also justifiable satisfaction that the constituencies in which the party was successful are spread across the country and no longer confined, as was once the case, to the Celtic fringe and West Country. There are now Liberal Democrat MPs in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton. The spread is across urban, inner city, suburban and rural constituences in all parts of Britain. This is the basis of the claim, made by Charles Kennedy on Friday, that his party is now a “national, credible, political alternative” in what has become a true three-party situation. None the less, if the Liberal Democrats are to be a potent force in a 2009 election they will have to use the available time to very good purpose. One of the reasons for their steady growth over recent elections has been the sensible, though contested, decision to concentrate resources on winnable seats rather than on an across-the-board campaign. That approach will not work for a party which wants to take on Labour and Conservatives as an equal. Mr Kennedy, whose unassertive style clearly works well in personal contacts with the electorate will also have to do more to project himself as a national figure through the media, especially TV. With the party now in second place to Labour in a large number of seats, the prospect of a leap forward at the next election is entirely reasonable.