Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Don't panic!

So in the latest Sun/YouGov poll the Lib Dems are down to 13% (not far off half of what they got in the general election just two and a half months ago) with the Tories on 44% and Labour on 35%. On a uniform national swing this would see the Conservatives with a majority of 36 and, demonstrating yet again the iniquity of the electoral system - the Lib Dems almost wiped out on 15 seats (down 42 on the GE).

I still do not think there is any need to fret about this. Our party has just entered a coalition with a party whom some observers (and indeed party members) think was not its natural choice. The government has ensured it has got a grip of the finances and started to put into effect some of the "difficult decisions" that we so often heard referred to in the abstract prior to the election but which now have to be implemented.

The bad news has come early on, and indeed will likely continue to come for some time and of course the Lib Dems are fully involved in taking these decisions.

I am also unsurprised to see the Conservatives increasing in the polls. There is usually a honeymoon period for a new government and Prime Minister. We even saw this with Gordon Brown in 2007. We have an odd effect at play here though in that one of the coalition partners has gone up whilst the other has gone down. I suspect that this is a reflection of the fact that Conservative minded voters are more inclined towards the cuts that have been announced whereas the Lib Dem base is (understandably) a bit more nervous. I think it is also likely that the public is still adjusting to the facts of life under a coalition.

Now I am of course not ecstatic about the polls. I would prefer it if we were doing much better but this parliament is likely to run for 4 or 5 years. Between elections in previous cycles we have been as low as 11%. Those low points have not been translated into woeful electoral results previously and I am optimistic that it will not happen this time either.

By the time of the next election, either the economy will be back on track and both parties within the government will get credit for this or (less likely I think) things will not have improved much and Labour will have a much stronger claim that they would have done it better. Either way I think that the two parties of government will take their share of the credit or blame. I cannot see this divergence in party fortunes persisting for several years when they are both taking the decisions.

The important thing is for the Lib Dems to talk up their achievements. There were some good things in the budget for example (£1,000 tax threshold rise, capital gains tax rise etc.) that would simply not have been there under a Conservative government. There are plenty of other examples too. We need to make sure that at every opportunity we rebut the "betrayal" narrative that we see from Labour and others and ensure we point out just how much of a positive difference our influence within government has made.

Now is not the time to panic.


Matt Raven said...

You London-centric...


Unfortunately for the LibDems in Wales and Scotland, and indeed many at local level we don't have the luxury of five years for things to improve. Next May we have the Assembly elections, the Welsh powers referendum (in theory) and in 2012 it's Welsh local election time.

Maybe by 2012 things will have changed a bit, or at least have a non-oncoming train related light at the end of the tunnel. However, barring invading the Magical Land of the Leprechauns and stealing their gold (as Labour had apparently planned to avoid cuts or tax rises) things still won't be great in May.

It's going to be hard work. We've got good candidates here though, so we might be OK. We'll certainly be doing all we can. I imagine that anyone in England who fancies a trip to Wales or Scotland to help out would be given a warm welcome!

Mark Thompson said...

Matt - You make a (sort of) fair point, however.... Firstly, I don't even live in London! And if I was being truly London-centric I would have mentioned the Mayoral and Assembly elections in less than 2 years time.

I was trying to just focus on the national picture. There will always be local and devolved elections in between national elections. They should really be fought on the local or devolved issues. Of course in reality this does not happen to a large enough extent but if the Lib Dems spent too much time nationally worrying about these other elections and all the possible permutations of national popularity vs local outcomes then we would likely have never gone into coalition in the first place. Maybe some people think that would have been the right thing to do but I strongly feel that if we had eschewed the opportunity it would have demonstrated that nationally we would never be ready for power.

As it happens the area I live in (Sandhurst in Berkshire) has local elections next May and I will be standing myself. So I am keenly aware of the problem of standing locally whilst the national poll ratings are not great. We will just need to try and focus people's attention on local issues and if/when national issues crop up to do what I suggested in the blogpost and talk up our achievements and influence. Indeed it is a good opportunity for us to do this and perhaps wrest a bit more control of the "betrayal" narrative away from our opponents. I have found that when you talk through the potential options we were faced with after May 6th, people are receptive to the idea that we took the best decision for the country.

Matt Raven said...

You know what I meant :)

Duncan Stott said...

We have indeed been as low as 11% in the past. The party then took action to turn things around - Ming Campbell was dumped.

I'm not saying a leadership coup is what's needed this time, but I do not think we can have a complacent attitude. We can't arrogantly assume voters will naturally come back to us at the next general election.

We need to aggressively defend our record in government. The statement on Lib Dem Voice yesterday is a good start. I'd like to see this boiled down into a medium-length soundbite comprising of a long list of short bullet-points that can be reeled off by our ministers/spokespeople at every opportunity. We must have a forceful counter-spin to Labour's attack that we are simply the Tories' lackeys.

Matt Raven said...

You don't have to live in London to only care about the Westminster government politics. To be honest I know that it doesn't apply to you anyway, so sorry. I just get a bit wound up by how little consideration seems to be given to the other elections when the subject of the glorious five year plan comes up.

Even if we were to campaign solely on devolved issues (and you're right, that is obviously what it should be decided on) the response is still going to be "They've proved that voting for them lets the Tories in" or similar.

There is the potential for us to be almost wiped out in the Assembly. I hope it won't happen but it is possible because of the coalition. Only a small swing is needed to lose some of our AMs.

Having said all that I agree with you about the necessity of the coalition, as I thought you knew already.

Potentially even if it does not go well we could recover in the next election once things have improved of course.

paul barker said...

We have to keep pointing out that all the Pollsters have changed their methodology over the last few weeks. If we want to compare polls now with those before the Election we need to add 2 or 3%. 12% in 2008 would be more like 9 or 10% now.