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

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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