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.


(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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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.