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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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.