One of the main reasons why it is Labour, not the Conservatives, that has the best chance of winning a majority at the next election is the scale of the Lib Dem defection to Ed Miliband’s party. Unlike in the 1980s, when the left vote was split between Labour and the SDP, the left is now largely united around Labour. One in five of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 transferred their support to Labour in the months following the formation of coalition and there is no sign of them returning. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour on 41 per cent, the Tories on 32 per cent and the Lib Dems on just 8 per cent.
It was the decision to support the tuition fees increase that was Clegg’s Iraq moment, a profound breach of trust for which his party will pay dearly. Challenged on the subject on this morning’s Today programme, Clegg replied that since the Lib Dems didn’t win the election [“I lead a party with eight per cent of MPs”] he was unable to keep his promise to vote against any increase. “If you want the Liberal Democrat manifesto in full, vote for Liberal Democrats in larger numbers. It didn’t happen,” he said.
This is disingenuous. Clegg’s pledge was not conditional on his party forming a government, rather it was a commitment that all Lib Dem MPs returned by the electorate would vote against any fees increase. The NUS pledge, signed by every Liberal Democrat MP, read:
I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.
So long as Clegg continues to obscure this point, there is little prospect of him winning back the lost Lib Dems.