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15 December 2016

Lib Dem support hits a 5-year high – but there will be losers in a 48 per cent fightback

And it won't be Ukip. 

By Julia Rampen

In a speech this week, shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer said parties that try to capitalise on the deep divides exposed by the EU referendum “don’t deserve to govern”. 

But a new Ipsos MORI/Evening Standard poll suggests voters think otherwise. 

The main winners in December are the Lib Dems, who are now polling at a five-year high. In total, 14 per cent of those surveyed said their topline voting intention was the Lib Dems – a 4 percentage point increase from last month.

While a wounded Labour has searched for an answer to the questions thrown up by Brexit, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has been adamant that he will speak for the 48 per cent who voted Remain. He has pledged to vote against the Article 50 deal unless there is a second referendum. 

After toppling Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond by-election and enjoying a surge in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, it’ll be EU starred socks and sandals all round this Christmas. The last time the Lib Dems enjoyed this kind of support, in August 2011, was in the early days of the Coalition. 

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The other winner is Ukip. It seems the election of a new leader, Paul Nuttall, has helped its chances, with a 2 percentage point increase in support from last week. It is now polling at 9 per cent. 

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While the mainstream political parties dominate, both saw support slip in September. At a time when the Conservative government is softening its tone on Brexit, its support dropped by 2 percentage points. Nevertheless, Theresa May will still have a relatively peaceful Christmas – the party is still capturing 40 per cent of intended votes. 

By contrast, Labour’s polling has hit the bleak midwinter. The party still captures 29 per cent of the vote, but support has slipped 4 percentage points. 

So can the Lib Dems succeed electorally on the wave of a 48 per cent fightback? And if so, which mainstream party should be most worried? The past two by-elections would suggest the Tories need to be on guard. In fact, constituencies as ripe to fall as Richmond are few and far between. But that does not mean the party cannot cause a lot of trouble. 

In particular, its continued surge of support suggests a shift towards a Leave-Remain political axis. This should alarm Labour, because it was precisely this kind of shift that decimated it in Scotland

Indeed, the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale took to these pages to warn that waiting for politics to “settle down” is vastly dangerous. Those Labour candidates who lost their deposits in Richmond and Sleaford would no doubt agree.