There’s no chance of the coalition’s tuition fees bill being defeated in the Commons this afternoon, but Nick Clegg’s big day hasn’t got off to a good start. The latest YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on just 8 per cent, their lowest level of support in any survey since 1990.
As ever, one should add the caveat that this could be an outlier, but it will certainly concentrate MPs’ minds ahead of the vote. Several have majorities smaller than the number of students and prospective students in their constituencies. If repeated at an election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would reduce Clegg’s party to a rump of just ten seats.
Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 2
It’s the sense that the Lib Dems played fast and loose with the voters, rather than the decision to raise tuition fees itself, that is proving truly toxic for the party. The memory of Clegg’s more-pious-than-thou act is still fresh enough for voters to be outraged by his policy reversal. As the FT‘s Alex Barker noted recently, the Lib Dem leader missed multiple opportunities to avoid this fate.
New Statesman poll of polls
Hung parliament, Labour 9 seats short
The Lib Dems must have known that their manifesto promise to phase out tuition fees would not survive a hung parliament. Indeed, there was every possibility that they would be forced to raise them. But still they chose to sign a specific (and highly publicised) NUS pledge for crude electoral purposes.
Clegg’s subsequent decision to take “full ownership” of the coalition programme (perhaps his greatest mistake) meant that abstention was no longer a credible option. And, don’t forget, a mass abstention would still have broken the election pledge to vote against any increase in fees.
The dizzying range of justifications since offered for the party’s U-turn (the Greek crisis, the state of the public finances, the coalition agreement, the “progressive” nature of the new policy) has only further antagonised voters. The Lib Dems have alieanted swaths of their natural supporters. As things stand, there’s little to suggest they’ll win them back.