Shortly after the coalition was formed, Chris Huhne predicted that support for the Lib Dems would plummett to 5 per cent, while support for the Tories would fall to 25 per cent. The Conservatives have fared far better than he expected, usually polling well above that level, but his own party’s fate has been just as prophesied.
After regularly scoring as low as six per cent in recent surveys (behind the Greens), the Lib Dems have today hit the new nadir of 5 per cent: the lowest figure from any pollster since May 2010. The figure came from TNS, which also gave Labour a seven point lead over the Tories (35-28). Ukip are on 19 per cent, with the Greens on 7 per cent.
By this stage of the parliament many Lib Dems expected their party to be recovering. As part of the government, the hope was that they would benefit from the return of economic growth and the large fall in unemployment. Yet far from gaining ground, they are still losing it. Some rare consolation was provided by ICM earlier this week, which had them at the giddy heights of 14 per cent (largely owing to methodological differences: ICM reallocate 50 per cent of Lib Dem “don’t knows” to the party). But their average rating remains just 9 per cent.
Owing to the benefits of incumbency and their MPs’ local reputations, the Lib Dems still hope to retain at least 30 of their 56 seats at the election. In private, they are resigned to the loss of most of their Labour-facing constituencies, such as Burnley, Manchester Withington, Redcar, Brent Central, Bradford East and Norwich South. But they remain confident of holding the majority of the far greater number of Conservative-facing seats (which account for 37 of their 56). Lord Ashcroft’s most recent marginals poll found them on course to retain nine of the 11 surveyed.
But outside of their fortresses, they face the prospect of collapse and hundreds of lost deposits. It will take years of rebuilding before the Lib Dems are a truly national party again.