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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.

Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' annual spring conference in March. (Photo: Getty)
Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' annual spring conference in March. (Photo: Getty)

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.