Are we witnessing a Lib Dem revival?

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


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


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.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.