Clegg now more popular with Tory voters than with Lib Dems

New poll shows net approval of 66 per cent from Tories but just 46 per cent from Lib Dems.

If Nick Clegg was hoping to avoid claims that he's swerved to the right, the latest Ipsos MORI poll won't do him any favours. The survey shows that the Lib Dem leader is now more popular with Conservative supporters (net score +66) than supporters of his own party (net score +46).

Clearly Clegg's U-turn on spending cuts (remember, Greece changed "everything") delighted those previously put off by such radical ideas as delaying cuts until the economy had recovered fully.

The Lib Dem leader is also getting better write-ups in the right-wing press. Earlier today, the Spectator editor, Fraser Nelson, tweeted:

Powerful piece by Nick Clegg in Times today on welfare reform. Shows political courage and sense of mission. More impressive by the week.

Can you remember the last time a liberal commentator said anything that nice about Clegg?

Meanwhile, the topline figures from the poll show Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 37 per cent (the first time MORI has shown the two parties level since January 2008), with the Lib Dems on 15 per cent.

The YouGov daily tracker has the Tories up 2 to 42 per cent, Labour unchanged on 39 per cent and the Lib Dems unchanged on 12 per cent.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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