Twenty years ago, Margaret Thatcher made a speech to the Conservative Party Conference and said that the LibDems were like a dead parrot. They had ceased to be. They have met their maker. Well, she may have been slightly ahead of her time.
Today, we learn that LibDem support has collapsed. Only 54% of their 2010 voters intend to vote for them next time. 51% of LibDem voters want a Labour government next time. These figures come from a poll and research carried out by Lord Ashcroft, which have been published in today's Sunday Telegraph. Three thousand people were surveyed and eight focus groups were held.
I have long wondered what strategy the LibDems could adopt to get themselves out of this mess. I guess Nick Clegg is playing a long game and is trusting the public to give the LibDems the credit in 2015 for the success of the coalition. If indeed it does turn out to be a success. And it's a big 'if'. I hadn't expected the LibDems to crumble or split so quickly, I must admit.
It seems that the LibDems may soon be struggling for their very existence. And it may well be David Cameron who comes to their rescue and offers some sort of electoral pact. I genuinely think that is now a very real prospect, and for many Tories it will happen over their dead bodies. Meanwhile, the Labour Party is sitting back and lapping it up. Ed Miliband is criticised as a "do nothing" leader. But you have to say, if others are digging a hole quickly, what's the point of picking up another shovel to help them?
Download Lord Ashcroft's report HERE and read the Telegraph story HERE.
Clegg had no choice but to join in a coalition with the Conservatives - had he failed to do so, you would have mocked him for fleeing the opportunity to actually implement some of the policies he had been advocating.
Nobody needed to do a poll to know that this would (and has) cost him the support of various factions within his party.
But given that a) the non-committed voters have largely welcomed the coalition and b) that the next General Election may be four and a half years away, it seems a little fanciful to predict the demise of the Lib Dems whatever this poll may say.
The idea is more indicative of sour grapes from the Tory right.
When you remember that the LibDems are made up of a merger of the Liberals and the Social Democrats, why is it such a surprise that half of them might disagree with the other half?
Like all parties, they are themselves a coalition, albeit it one of two distinct halves rather than the two larger parties which contain many micro-coalitions in a general alliance.
I doubt the LibDems will collapse though - as the one thing they should be learning is that being the junior partner in a coalition government gives them vastly more political power than being members of the "awkward squad" within a larger political party.
No politician will give up that advantage willingly.
For example, I highly doubt a collection of liberal minded politicians within a potentially more right-wing Conservative party would have as much influence as an independent party within a Con-Dem coalition.
Likewise, a collection of centrist politicians within a left-leaning Ed Miliband lead Labour Party will have less influence than being independent and in coalition with Labour.
Likewise, those who hate both Tories and Labour need somewhere to vent their frustrations - and the LibDems have done well to act as a moderate alternative to the extremist parties that lurk on the sidelines.
The collapse of the LibDems would neuter the political influence as they are absorbed into the larger parties, and could lead to stronger "protest vote" support for the fringe extremists.
6 months into a 5 year parliament, polls mean nothing.
As @IanVisits says - the Lib Dems are really two parties, and we can do business with only one of them.
Of course it also has a collection a political hobbiests from the "non-reality based community" who will never be happy with anything except complainain, campaigning and pointing at holes in the road whilst pretending to be outraged.
I think that there's a possibility that the parliamentary party will split before 2015 (and the 21 or so who voted against the tuition fee increase would seem to be the likely splitters). The interesting issue is whether the Clegg loyalists would have enough power to retain the Lib Dem title, money and support of party members, or whether the party in the country go with the splitters, leaving Clegg and his loyalists to decide if they join the Tories or form a new group - Liberal Conservatives or some such.
A roughly even split is probably the worst nightmare for Clegg and Cameron: battles and the courts involved in settling the Lib Dem divorce (which probably would not be settled this side of the next GE), and the possibility that the Parliamentary arithmetic meaning that Cameron cannot be sure of getting through key legislation.
Whilet they could well survive the next 4 1/2 years, here are a few thoughts:
1) We've absorbed many Liberal splinter groups before; the Liberal Unionists, the Peelites (I think), many Liberals in the early 20th century (Churchill was one). This isn't anything new. This is something very old.
2) Clegg had no choice; given the one realistic opportunity his party had had for 80 years, no-one would have forgiven him for refusing.
3) I doubt that absorption would wipe out their influence; Churchill became PM, for one!
4) There is not particular reason why loss of the LDs would lead to massive resurgences of extremists; in the mid-20th century, 90% of the country voted Tory or Labour, and with the FPTP system, fracturing of extremism would lead to lack of representation.
The electorate, egged on by the BBC, have chosen to believe there is no crisis, that money grows on trees, and that what we need now is more investment - where from never gets asked, let alone answered. The LibDems were the embodiment of this cloud-cuckoo land, they could pretend anything and a fraction of the electorate would follow them.
Now, Labour have shamelessly taken on the mantle of denial, of supporting causes for which there is no money because they spent it all. And the inverted snobs of the 1960s, having adopted the persona of Marx's proletariat, chime in. The BBC shows sympathy for their cultural children as they trash London in blind rage at the setting sun of socialism, while fawning to the failed prophets Toynbee, Benn, Chomsky and Galloway.
All this denial will do is make the final reality check that much more painful, as peak oil, the debt mountain, the energy train wreck, the stolen pensions and the disaster that is comprehensive education all come home to roost - with the Third Jihad and global warming ready to clobber us as we pick ourselves up. It's more than the LibDems that are in trouble, it's the entire political project of the last century.
The Tories should offer an electoral pact to UKIP for the 2015election and campaign on an honest truth ticket. The country can't afford to keep borrowing for Libdem conscience salvers. I'm sick of things I voted for abandoned "because we're in a coalition"/ This Coalition is merely the tyrrany of the professional politicians who want a guaranteed 5 years of unaccountability.
And the Tories may cease to be.
How is the membership these days?
How was it 30 years ago?
I think Ianvisits (the second comment) says all thta needs to be said. The LDs have always been a coalition and anyone who has had dealings with them will know that in every town/county/region they are completely different!
I would say that most Lib Dems have been far stronger than I would have thought before the Coalition, to vote for what is right/ best for the country in the face of a tsunami of ctiticism.
A re-alignment then? Tory wets (the majority) join with the Social Democrat half of the LibDem and Labour. Traditional conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals join with UKIP. Mmm that might work.
Ashcroft has a vested interest in this poll and I am always very suspicious of polls commissioned by a partial observer.
There is a significant 'liberal' tendency in the country and Clegg and the LDs need to mine it. If they are incompetent politicians they will fail. But that tendency is not 20-25% of the electorate. They cannot be two parties in one.
Ian Visits and Span Owls are right and Brian is uselessly wrong. A pact with dopy disingenuous loony tunes like UKIP? Ha - then we would see the conservative vote stripping away. What crap talk.
Meanwhile LibDem activists should realise that they WANTED coalition govt. So they have got what they wished for - time to grow up i think.
The collapse in the LibDem polling is explained by (a) loss of the anti-Iraq war/anti-Labour left wing protest vote and (b) the former SDP members frustrated with the Coalition policies who are happy with the Milliband version of Newish Labour (yes he may have tacked more to the left than Blair, but nowhere near the Labour party that the SDP departed).
My guess is that they probably achieve somewhere around 10% in the next election - pretty much in line with where the FDP in Germany (a similarly socially/economically liberal party) has consistently delivered.
I would anticipate that, while there may not be a formal electoral pact, the Conservatives will help out their junior partners, but with a focus on the the Orange Book Liberals. It would be interesting to see an analysis of the LibDem MPS on a right-to-left spectrum and who their main challenge is in the constituency. I could see the Tories targeting the likes of Cable and Huhne while allowing Laws and Clegg an easier run (perhaps the South-West might turn blue again?).
In this case, you could see a continuation of the coalition after the next election, albeit with the LibDems in a CDU-CSU type relationship rather than CDU-FDP (unless Labour can excise the streak of authoritarianism in their bloodline).
Anyone on the Tory right who objects to this kind of relationship is just a fool. It would be very helpful to have a independent, liberal minded party to help drive the freedom agenda.
dopy disingenuous loony tunes like UKIP?
As opposed to the duplicitous, cowardly, lying neo-socialist Tory and LimpDem leadership you mean?
UKIP ran a good race in the EU elections and the EU is fast becoming more of an issue so I wish them well in the next GE. My money is on May 2012 if not before.
Personally I have more faith in Britain to make the right choices at the polls in a few years time. Britain is not a nation of stupid people, collectively as a nation with a very smart people and when the coalitions plans results which they will, the coalition will be stronger.
Osborne asked the nation "not to again put your trust in the party that crashed the car". I personally don't feel Britain has the lack of intelligence to make that mistake when it comes down to proper election polls.
John Major who is btw seriously out of his shell these days, said on the Andrew Marr show today "today's snap shot of the polls will seem so long ago when the next election comes". He is right and the polls will get worse for the coalition but be prepared for a huge come back when the economy recovers. The coalition parties will come good at the other end.
The way Ken Clarke is running riot, and given Sham Cam's propensity for the u-turn, I would have thought the tories might just lie themselves out of existence.
I have to admit to being in two minds about the LibDems. Part of me quietly sniggers that they are getting their come-uppance after being "all things to all men" for so long and presenting different faces in different parts of the country.
But speaking as a Tory, they have shown faith in a largely Tory agenda, regardless of the fact that they undoubtedly calculated that it was in their interest to create the coalition back in May. I think we need to respect that fact.
Having said that, there's a big lesson for all politicians about making promises that they know (or ought to know) that they can't realistically keep!
I agree with Elby - polls do mean nothing.
It is now up to the Lib Dems to try and reach the parts of the UK that the Conservatives will never reach.
They must be positive!!!
@trevorsden: Apologies for breaking your monopoly of crap talk.
Those lost UKIP votes in the 2010 election would have enabled the Tories to get a majority without resorting to a coalition. What's wrong with having a referendum that people actually want?
I'm sure the votes of the Tory party will be stripped away when voters realise the massive costs incurred to satisfy the whims of the Libdems' Fantasy Politics, eg the annual £2.9 billion pissed away on Huhne's vanity Cancun trip is the same as will be saved by the increase in tuition fees, for example. What has Huhne done to fill the forthcoming 40% loss of generatin capacity? Nothing but windmills - they were working well during the recent freeze (0.02% of total demand).
Policy wins. Policy wins. That is all they need. They just need to go back to the electorate and say: Here are five things we did in this government that wouldn't have happened without us. Here's what we want to do next. Give us a mandate. Right now they are low in the polls because they are percieved as supporting the Tories. If the Tories give them some policy concessions and let them own a few ideas, they will be fine.
You might wish this Iain, but I think you have got this completely wrong. Sure the Lib Dems have been hurt by the coalition, but then we expected to be. However there is now the real prize on offer- genuine constitutional reform which can eliminate the biggest barrier to Lib Dem success- "you can't win here". I think the coalition is doing OK- I think Labour are way too complacent if they think that all they have to do is wait.
The Lib Dems still ahve some punishment to take, but the outlook for later in the year is much stronger- as more Liberal policies come through and the British people understand the scale of Labour's economic mismanagement.
Why Nick Clegg is getting stick is because he went out of his way to talk about a new politics - no broken promises, etc. And what did he do? Promptly broke them. Anyway it was revealed recently that the embryonic negotiating team had, before the election, already decided to dishonour their promise. So they went into the election telling a known lie.
And for those who hid behind the line that "no party won the election outright", then whilst this is true, it is also true that the electorate did not give the coalition agreement (carve up) a mandate either.
The small fry in the populus is being made to bear the cost of the fecklessness of a cosy cartel of bankers and politicians - and it stinks.
By and large I agree with this analysis Iain. The Lib Dems are a predominantly left-of-centre party and it is only to be expected that they would lose more than half of their support by going into a full coalition with the Tories.
It is interesting how fast this idea that Clegg had 'no option' but to join the coalition has taken hold. Richard Manns' claim that this was the Libs' first realistic opportunity of a share in power for 80 years is wrong on a point of historical fact. Edward Heath offered Jeremy Thorpe a coalition in 1974, which he turned down with no lasting detriment to the party, while two years later Jim Callaghan and David Steel actually did form a coalition in all but name.
It was always my view that the Lib Dems should have allowed Cameron to form a minority government, and risked a second general election happening in October. Had they done so, Cameron would probably now be leading a majority government, David and not Ed Miliband would be Labour leader, and the Lib Dems would probably have 15-20 fewer MPs. But they would be in a much stronger position to bounce back in 2015 than they are likely to be in as Dave's fall guys.
* LibDems disintegrate under stream of criticism
* Coalition falls apart
* General Election in 2011
* Hung parliament
* LibDems get better PR deal with Labour
* Labour/LibDem government
@At December 12, 2010 10:50 PM , Blogger Brian said...
Those lost UKIP votes in the 2010 election would have enabled the Tories to get a majority without resorting to a coalition.
Yes, and losing the 41 votes for Labour MPs in a country that already has its own Parliament would have made that an even bigger majority. My local (excellent, model LibDem MP) assures me that the Coalition does indeed intend to deal with the West Lothian question, which is going to further work against Labour.
Not before time - the hypocrisy of Scottish MPs voting for tuition fees knowing that they would not be applied in Scotland was breathtaking - even by Labour standards.
Don't be so naive... All political parties lie and deceive.
(And it's 'deceive' not 'decieve' and 'there' not 'their.)
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