Are we witnessing a Lib Dem revival?

New ICM poll puts the party on 18 per cent, their highest rating since September.

A

Latest poll (ICM/Guardian): Labour majority of 20 seats (uniform swing)

It's just one poll, but the latest monthly ICM/Guardian survey will cheer the Lib Dems up this morning. It puts Nick Clegg's party up 3 points to 18 per cent, their highest rating in any survey since September.

ICM has persistently shown higher Liberal Democrat ratings than other pollsters, although it's notable that the Lib Dems' share of the vote has also increased in recent YouGov surveys.

At one point it looked as if Chris Huhne's prediction that support for his party would fall to 5 per cent would come true (a YouGov poll published on 7 January put the Lib Dems on just 7 per cent) but six of the last eight YouGov polls have put them on 10 per cent and today's has them on 11 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

A

Labour majority of 76 (uniform swing)

To be sure, this remains a disastrously low poll rating: a drop of 14 points since the election and of 24 points since "Cleggmania". But it's still worth asking the question: is the worst over for the Lib Dems? Some of the anger over tuition fees has dissipated and, as payments are made retrospectively, the party won't necessarily suffer when fees of £9,000 arrive in 2012.

It's also possible that some Lib Dems have returned to the fold as the anti-cuts backlash has begun to reduce Conservative support. As I noted last week, the Tories' "human shields" are no longer protecting them from public discontent.

It remains safe to assume that the Lib Dems will lose both votes and seats at the next election: the fees bill was Clegg's Iraq moment, a profound breach of trust for which the party will pay dearly. But for the first time in months, Lib Dem supporters have some grounds for optimism.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.