The Lib Dems hit another poll low

How support for the Lib Dems fell from 34 per cent to 7 per cent in just ten months.

Chris Huhne's prediction that Liberal Democrat support would fall to 5 per cent as a result of the government's austerity measures looks ever more accurate. The latest YouGov survey puts Nick Clegg's party on just 7 per cent, their lowest rating since 1990. If repeated at a general election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would reduce the Lib Dems to a rump of just nine MPs.

As the graph below shows, in less than ten months, Lib Dem support has fallen from a peak of 34 per cent during the height of Cleggmania to 7 per cent.

LD

(All figures from YouGov)

The party's new poll low coincides with an approval rating of -20 for the coalition, the lowest yet recorded. But with the Conservatives on 39 per cent (3 points higher than at the general election), it's Nick Clegg's party that is suffering the greatest damage.

The Lib Dems' decision to abandon three of their key election pledges – opposition to a VAT increase, higher tuition fees and early spending cuts – has, unsurprisingly, alienated millions of those who voted for them at the election.

Simon Hughes's argument in this week's NS that the Lib Dems are now the "constructive progressives" of British politics is not without merit. His party can take much of the credit for measures such as the pupil premium, the abolition of child detention and the repeal of identity cards. Today's announcement by Nick Clegg on libel reform is another example of a progressive policy that the Lib Dems' presence in government is allowing them to introduce.

Clegg's ultimate hope is that his party will share credit with the Conservatives for restoring the British economy to health. But should support for the Lib Dems continue to plummet, an increasingly restive party may decide that's not a gamble worth taking.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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