The Lib Dems have replaced the Tories as Britain's least favourite party

New polling shows that 49% would not consider voting Lib Dem, compared to 43% who would not consider voting Conservative.

If you glanced at today's Sun you could be forgiven for thinking that UKIP had become not just Eastleigh but Britain's second party. "PM feels heat as UKIP support hits 38 per cent" reads the paper's attention-grabbing headline. But the stat turns out refer to the party's potential level of support, not its current level (12 per cent in today's YouGov poll). Asked whether they would consider voting for UKIP if it had "a realistic chance of actually winning in your local area", 38 per cent say they would, 10 per cent say they would "probably not" and 43 per cent say they would "definitely not". A separate question which asks whether people would consider voting for the party, regardless of its chances of success, found that 36 per cent would and 44 would not. 

The level of "considerers" is viewed by all parties as an important measure of their potential to expand their support, so how do the rest compare? It's Labour that comes out on top, with 46 per cent saying they would consider voting for the party and 35 per cent saying they would not. The party's large pool of potential voters is one reason why some Labour MPs (see Peter Hain's Staggers piece yesterday) are confident their party will be the largest after 2015. 

The Conservatives are in second place, with 40 per cent saying they would consider voting for the party. But worryingly for David Cameron, 43 per cent of all respondents say they would "definitely not" vote for the party. For a large section of the electorate, the Tories remain too toxic to touch. 

But it's the Lib Dems who are now Britain's least favourite party. Only 30 per cent would consider voting for them and 49 per cent would "definitely not". The finding contrasts with an earlier YouGov poll in September 2011 which found that 36 per cent would not consider voting Lib Dem, compared to 42 per cent who would not consider voting Tory. While the Lib Dems are often accused of retoxifying the Conservative brand, the poll reminds us that coalition government has been most toxic for them. 

Here are those figures in full. 

Labour

Actual support: 40%

Potential support: 46%

35% would "definitely not" vote for the party

Conservatives

Actual support: 31%

Potential support: 40%

43% would "definitely not" vote for the party

Liberal Democrats

Actual support: 12%

Potential support: 30%

49% would "definitely not" vote for the party

UKIP

Actual support: 12%

Potential support: 36%

44% would "definitely not" vote for the party

 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg attend a press conference at 10 Downing Street to mark the halfway point of the coalition government on January 7, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era