Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Why the Lib Dems won't be annihilated in 2015

This is one of my series of lunchtime blogposts.

Only a few months ago I was convinced that Nick Clegg would have to be replaced as leader if we were to have any chance of avoiding being slaughtered at the next general election. I also thought such an act would be justly deserved given the way in which he comprehensively mucked up over tuition fees and how damaging his behaviour in government had been to the party - not speaking up for Lib Dem principles, ignoring the membership on issues like the NHS and being seen as a frontman for everything bad that the coalition was doing.

Well, I still don't like Nick Clegg. I still don't think he gets it that the outrage over tuition fees comes not from not delivering on our manifesto policy to abolish fees (which was impossible to deliver in coalition) but from so many of our MPs, himself included, breaking a cast iron, written and signed promise to the electorate to vote against higher fees.

He hasn't yet managed to grasp that his excuses about being in coalition and being forced to compromise on policy simply won't wash with people who, like myself, are angry for an entirely different reason: the matter of integrity and principle.

But, that said, I'm starting to think that much of my assessment of our position as a party and his as leader was, in fact, wrong.

You see, despite going from being ignored by most of the media to being actively attacked on a regular basis by most of the media, our polling numbers have remained relatively constant. If you take the ICM polling figures (which are the gold standard in terms of accuracy when it comes to actual results in elections) then you'll see we're currently at 14%. Now, that's a massive drop from our general election result of 23% but it's not annihiliation.

A lot of us, myself included, naively assumed that being in government would mean we got equal coverage by the media. We don't though - just as an example, Question Time always has a Labourite and a Conservative on the panel but only has a Lib Dem on the panel once in a while - even when the issues being debated are ones which the Lib Dems have something relative to say: such as when QT debated the Iraq War and voting reform.

So, in the absence of being given a fair chance to get our message across, we can probably assume that at least some of the drop in our support is the standard problem we see between elections. For decades our numbers have dropped between elections and just bumped along and then suddenly risen significantly when the election rolled around and the media were forced to give us equal coverage. That means that our polling position probably isn't as weak as it looks.

Now, whilst I used to think we should get rid of him, I think Clegg's position as leader is pretty strong. The fact is that it's very difficult to dislodge a leader and, even if we did it peacefully, we'd then have a new leader going into a general election with no time for the public to get to know him - hardly the best situation to be in. On the other hand, Clegg, no matter what you think of him, is extremely charismatic and likeable in person. And, given that televised leaders debates at the next election are inevitable then it's not impossible that we could see some form of Cleggmania again.Well, Cleggmania is a bit much - in all probability he'll just be able to win back some lost support as long as he puts up a good performance.

And, let's think about those debates. Cameron will still be leader but he'll have a problem in that his credentials of being a modern, compassionate, progressive conservative will be severely damaged due to tories constantly coming up with some of the most unpopular proposals of the coalition government - such as scrapping employment rights for workers or giving tax cuts to the rich. So at best I think Cameron will only be able to put up an adequate performance in the eyes of the public. And Clegg will always claim to have been acting as brakes on the tories in government. Some people won't buy that but some of them will - and that'll be a little bit more support that comes back to us.

Ed Miliband, on the other hand, will have the biggest problem. He isn't exactly renowned for his debating skills and suffers from having a popularity rating as bad as Clegg's. People just don't seem to warm to him - my father is a case in point. My father is a man who I might normally think would be at least open to listening to what the Labour leader had to say but, in practice, just changes channel when he sees Ed Miliband - because he "can't stand his voice".

So, as I said, in those circumstances it's not at all unlikely that Clegg might well be able to put up a performance that wins us back some of the lost support.

Meanwhile, being in government has led to a much more united party and one which is, despite failures in messaging by the leadership, becoming better at getting its point across and which will be boosted in the general election thanks to the same state-of-the-art election software that played a huge part in getting Obama elected.

And the final thing to bear in mind is the vagaries of our voting system. At the last general election we got a million more votes but lost seats. So, in reality, we have something of a buffer in losing support before we start losing large numbers of seats.

It's always considered foolish to make a prediction about general election results this far out, but, with that proviso, I think it's not just plausible but likely that we will hang on to most of our seats and that we should keep Clegg as leader.


  1. I agree with a lot of your analysis and have gone through the same course of faith as you it seems. However our annihilation is ENTIRELY dependent on the state of the economy. If inflation doubles along with unemployment people will not give a damn (it is debatable whether or not they do already) about NHS reform

  2. Yeah, well if the economy goes truly down the pan then it doesn't matter who the government is or what they've done, they'll still get massacred for it.

    Mind you, at least we can shift part of the blame to Labour and the eurozone.

  3. So you believe that out of all the 57 Liberal democrat MPs Nick Clegg, as leader, will win you the most votes come the next GE?

  4. @RedishYellow

    I think so yes. Whilst I think of other MPs who could be better leaders, all else being equal, I don't believe there is any way in which we could change leaders between now and the next GE without suffering more damage to our support than that which keeping Clegg as leader might cause.

  5. I think you underestimate Labour.A lot of people will vote Labour because they think they are the only credible alternative to the Tories.

    Nick Clegg,Danny Alexander etc will be by and large detested by those who are centre left voters.They will not vote LibDem with them in power as they are seen as right of centre politically.

    If Clegg,Alexander et al were given the push by the LibDems.And replaced with a centre left leader your chances would be much greater.The establishment and Land Owners,as big business will always vote Tory for Tax Reasons.

    The Middle Classes often have a conscience,and will vote sometimes for the greater good.Rather than just tax reasons.

    The LibDems cannot expect the protest vote anymore.I see that going to Caroline Lucas and the Greens and possibly a growth for UKIP.

    I like some LibDems.But the Leadership are losers for you now IMHO.

    Perhaps when you become a MP George the LibDems will be in a much better position.

  6. You are probably right but as I am a floating voter I would prefer to see Tim Farron as your leader.

  7. I'd prefer Tim as our leader as well. I'm hoping we'll be able to change leader after the general election.

  8. So what do you think now after the EU debacle? How can any party present a national manifesto at a general election and be called a liar by every viewer and presenter? The truth now is that the LIb Dems now stand for nothing except supine obediance. What do they stand for? They have betrayed their supporters on every single issue. I have no doubt when they lose their seats at the next election the leaders will be offered safe Tory seats and then their betrayal will be complete.

  9. @Anonymous

    "They have betrayed their supporters on every single issue."

    Apart from: climate change, pensions, the poor pupil premium, the income tax threshold, political reform, equal marriage, maternity and paternity leave, infrastructure investment, the high pay commission, banking reform, etc, etc.

  10. Or, to put it another way:



I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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