I don't hold much stock with opinion polls during conference season. The focus on each of the three big parties in turn causes distortions in the responses. I think it will be another week or two before the dust settles and we can see where the three parties stand.
- We are in the worst financial crisis in most people's living memory. The government and the Conservatives did not see it coming. Vince Cable did predict a fair bit of what has happened and was ahead of the curve for much of the crisis. Most importantly he is widely trusted and respected on this issue across the country. Non political people I know say how he "always talks sense" on the economy. The Lib Dems should be reaping huge political rewards for this.
- The government is desperately unpopular. They are tired, clapped out and bereft of ideas. It is clear that the electorate has had enough of them. At the same time, I do not detect any huge groundswell of enthusiasm for the Conservative party. At best what I sense is people feeling that "this lot" have had their chance and blown it, and it's time to give "the other lot" a shot. It definitely does not feel like 1997 when not only were Major's Tories widely despised but Tony Blair was widely admired and there was great enthusiasm for him and the new dawn he appeared to herald. We barely seem to feature in this. Voters appear to be switching in large numbers straight from Labour to the Tories.
- Politics is in crisis. Politicians have never been less trusted. They appear to be a remote political class talking an excluding language that many people cannot really understand. They got themselves into a position through cowardice whereby there was a nudge-nudge culture regarding expenses where many MPs effectively topped up their salaries to what they thought as a "decent level" through administrative sleight of hand and lax rules. There has been an explosion of public anger about this and there is a general feeling that the way MPs are elected is at least partly to blame with 70% of seats being safe and not changing hands leading MPs to be less accountable to their electors. The Lib Dems, although not exactly squeaky clean have been much, much better than Labour or the Tories. There has been no flipping, no London Lib Dem MPs claimed a second home allowance and frankly the infractions committed by our MPs pale almost into insignificance compared to the other big two. On top of this, we are the party who have been arguing for the sort of reform that would have made MPs much, much more accountable for decades. We should be being listened to now as experts in this area and making the political weather regarding the reform agenda. Instead we appear to have ceded the ground to the Conservatives who talk a very good game but are really not offering anything substantial in this area. The existing electoral system favours them too much.