Lib Dems in first place in new poll

New poll puts Lib Dems up 12 points to 32 per cent, ahead of the Tories.

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Latest poll (BPIX/Mail on Sunday) Labour 53 seats short of a majority.

There are no fewer than five new polls out tonight, all of which show a dramatic rise in support for the Lib Dems and two of which put Nick Clegg's party in the lead.

The latest BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday puts the Lib Dems up 12 points to 32 per cent, the Tories down seven to 31 per cent and Labour down three to 28 per cent. Not since the 1980s and the height of of the SDP-Liberal Alliance has a poll put the third party out in front.

But if repeated at the election on a uniform swing, Labour would emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament. The vagaries of the first-past-the-post system mean that Gordon Brown would be left 53 seats short of a majority.

Elsewhere, a OnePoll survey for the People puts the Lib Dems on 33 per cent, with the Tories on 27 per cent and Labour on 23 per cent. While the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories unchanged on 33 per cent, Labour up two to 30 per cent and the Lib Dems down one to 29 per cent. On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Labour 39 seats short of a majority. ComRes and ICM also have new polls out tonight, both showing a surge in Lib Dem support since the leaders' debate.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Labour 47 seats short.

It's fair to say that none of the parties expected to be in this position just 18 days before the election and all are having to rapidly re-evaluate their strategies.

Labour has responded to the Lib Dems' poll bounce by repeatedly highlighting the similarities between the two parties. In part, this is a last-ditch bid to win over Clegg but it's also an attempt to persuade floating voters that there's no need to vote Lib Dem: Labour is offering just the same.

So far the party has largely welcomed the surge in Lib Dem support. It leaves David Cameron fighting a war on two fronts and makes it unlikely that the Tories will win the 23 Lib Dem seats they need to secure a majority of one. But should the Lib Dems start to make advances in Labour's northern heartlands, such tolerance will soon fade.

Meanwhile, the Tories and the conservative blogosphere have gone on the attack, warning again of the dangers of a hung parliament and painting Clegg as an undemocratic Europhile.

Whether or not the Lib Dem bounce continues into next week, the surge in support for the party has been the most remarkable feature of the campaign so far. Clegg has every chance of repeating his initial success in Thursday's foreign affairs debate, an area where the Lib Dems, the only one of the three parties to oppose the Iraq war, are strong.

Cameron's decision to agree to the leaders' debates, at a time when he had most to lose, may come to be seen as a gigantic strategic blunder.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The first godless US election

America’s evangelical right has chosen Donald Trump, who hardly even pays lip service to having faith.

There has never been an openly non-Christian president of the United States. There has never been an openly atheist senator. God, seemingly, is a rock-solid prerequisite for American political life.

Or it was, until this year.

Early in the 2016 primaries, preacher and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator Rick Santorum – both darlings of the evangelical far right – fell by the wayside. So did Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the son of a preacher.

Ted Cruz, once the Republican race had thinned, tried to present himself as the last godly man, but was roundly beaten – even among evangelicals – by Donald Trump, a man whose lip service to religion was so cursory as to verge on satire.

Trump may have claimed in a televised debate that “nobody reads the Bible more than me”, but he demurred when pressed to name even a verse he liked. His pronouncements show a lack of any knowledge or interest in faith and its tenets; he once called a communion wafer his “little cracker”.

The boorish Trump is a man at whose megalomaniacal pronouncements any half-hearted glance reveals a belief in, if any god at all, only the one he sees in a mirror. The national exercise in cognitive dissonance required for America’s religious rightwingers to convince themselves that he’s a candidate with whom they have anything in common is truly staggering.

But evangelicals don’t seem troubled. In the March primary in Florida, Trump carried 49 per cent of the evangelical vote. He won Mississippi, a state where fully three-quarters of Republican primary voters are white evangelicals.

In the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders became the first Jewish candidate ever to win a presidential primary – though he has barely once spoken about his faith – and Hillary Clinton has spoken about god on the campaign trail only occasionally, without receiving much media play. In fact, when the question of faith came up at one Democratic debate there was a backlash against CNN for even asking.

The truth is that Christian faith as a requisite for political power has drooped into a kind of virtue-signalling: the “Jesus Is My Homeboy” bumper-sticker; the crucifix tattoo; the meme on social media about footprints in the sand. It is about identity politics, tribal politics, me-and-mine versus you-and-yours politics, but it hasn’t really been about faith for a while.

What the hell happened?

Partly, there was a demographic shift. “Unaffiliated” is by far the fastest-growing religious category in the US, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, which also showed that the total proportion of Americans who define as Christian dropped almost 9 percentage points between 2007 and 2014.

There is no doubt that America is still a fairly devout nation compared with the UK, but the political mythos that developed around its Christianity is a relatively late invention. The words “under god” were only implanted into the pledge of allegiance – between the words “one nation” and “indivisible” – in 1954, by President Eisenhower.

The ascendance of the political power of the Christian right in America happened in 1979, when a televangelist called Jerry Falwell founded a pressure group called Moral Majority.

Moral Majority’s support for Ronald Reagan was widely credited for his victory in the 1980 election, which in turn secured for them a position at the top table of Republican politics. For three decades, the Christian right was the single most important voting bloc in America.

But its power has been waning for a decade, and there are greater priorities in the American national psyche now.

Trump’s greatest asset throughout the primary was what makes his religiosity or lack thereof immaterial: his authenticity. His lack of a filter, his ability to wriggle free from gaffes which would have felled any other candidate with a simple shrug. This is what not just religious voters, but all of the Republican voting base were waiting for: someone who isn’t pandering, who hasn’t focus-grouped what they want to hear.

They don’t care that he may or may not truly share their belief in god. Almost all voters in this election cycle – including evangelicals, polling suggests – prioritise the economy over values anyway.

On top of that, the Christian right is facing the beginnings of an insurgency from within its own ranks; a paradigm shift in conservatism. A new culture war is beginning, fought by the alt-right, a movement whelped on anarchic message boards like 4chan, whose philosophical instincts lean towards the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist, and to whom the antique bloviation of Christian morality politics means nothing.

Trump doesn’t pander, an approach only made possible by social media, which amplifies his voice six millionfold while simultaneously circumventing the old establishment constructs – like the media – which had previously acted as gatekeepers to power.

The Christian right – now personified in Jerry Falwell Jr and Liberty University, which Falwell senior founded in the Seventies – found itself another of those constructs. They were forced to choose: jump on board the Trump Train or be left behind.

They chose Trump.

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.