Lib Dems hit new poll low of 10 per cent

Support for party plummets to lowest level in 13 years.

One Liberal Democrat cabinet minister recently predicted that the spending cuts would see support for his party fall to 5 per cent. Things aren't that bad yet, but the latest daily YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on just 10 per cent -- their lowest rating since September 1997 (an ICM poll at the time had Labour on 60, the Tories on 24 and the Lib Dems on 10).

Lib Dem ministers will shrug and declare, "There's only one poll that counts, and that's on election day," but the party's terrible ratings are beginning to sap morale among activists. For the Conservatives, the long-term fear is that the severe decline in Lib Dem popularity will pull the coalition apart as the party's MPs, fearful of losing their seats, begin to rebel to maintain their distinctiveness.

Poll

Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour 5 seats short of a majority.

Meanwhile, a look at the sub-questions (the full data sets are here) suggests that the coalition is struggling to win the "fairness" debate. Forty-seven per cent of voters believe the public spending cuts are "unfair", while 36 per cent believe the opposite, describing them as "fair". Forty-four per cent (the largest group) believe the coalition is cutting too fast, although 60 per cent agree that the cuts were "unavoidable".

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament: Labour 12 seats short

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, 48 per cent of voters blame the last Labour government for the cuts, with just 18 per cent blaming the coalition. As Jonathan Freedland argued this week, Labour must offer a much better explanation of the deficit if it is to be taken seriously again.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.