Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' annual spring conference in March. (Photo: Getty)
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Are things really looking that bad for the Lib Dems?

According to the FT, 72% of people who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 would no longer do so. But no one’s panicking yet.

So, according to the FT, 72% of voters who put their crosses next to a Lib Dem candidate’s name in the 2010 General Election wouldn’t vote for us now.

Fourteen months from a general election, I’d be the first to admit this is not ideal.

It’s not quite as bad as it seems; after all, the same survey reveals that a fifth of people who voted Labour last time – something of a nadir in polling terms for the party in recent general elections – wouldn’t vote for them now either. Way to go, Ed and the team.

But it’s not good. So why aren’t folk throwing themselves off the roof of Great George Street at this news?

Well, first of all we know a lot of those who supported us in 2010 voted tactically, and tactical voting comes back to bite you in the arse if you end up in coalition government. All those people who voted Lib Dem under the misapprehension we were a slightly more radical offshoot of the Labour Party and a vote for us would keep the Tories out are feeling fairly cheesed off. That ain’t changing.

But it’s no surprise. And actually, in terms of seats, losing those votes may not be the electoral disaster it at first seems. There’s a reason just 16 of the 106 top Labour targets are Lib Dem seats (and some of those seem optimistic – Bermondsey and Old Southwark for example). It’s because Labour think they stand more chance of picking up seats in Tory territory.

That’s largely because of the hidden effect of incumbency, which enormously favours Lib Dems MPs; especially those who didn’t vote against party policy on issues such as raising tuition fees for example. (All those Lib dems MPs who voted for it were voting against party policy as opposed to coalition policy; it was still party policy to abolish fees altogether, immediately, until last autumn when the policy was nuanced somewhat.) Eight of the Labour targets seats contained Lib Dem MPs who were tuition fees rebels, going some way to neutralising Labour’s favourite weapon of attack in those constituencies. And let’s not forget more Lib Dem backbenchers rebelled on fees than say, Labour backbenchers rebelled on the welfare cap.

Indeed, seat by seat analysis (like the one carried out by Iain Dale) suggests even now we’re likely to get a return on 30-35 seats as things stand in a general election. Which frankly, we’d probably take at the moment. And that’s before you factor in the 21 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters who at the moment are “don’t knows”, who we can attempt to inveigle back into the fold.

So is it good nearly three-quarters of voters who wanted us in government in 2010 now wouldn’t vote for us? Lord no. But no one’s panicking in Great George Street.

Not yet, anyway.

Whether they should be panicking? Well that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.