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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Growing up in public

Another day, another think piece about the Liberal Democrats. This time from Mary Ann Sieghart in the Independent.

Writing last week in fact Ms. Sieghart suggests that the Liberal Democrats are emerging from the stresses and strains of coalition as a grown-up party of Government. Whether there will be anybody left to vote for us as such has yet to be seen but the author believes that there is hope:

Personally, I prefer the grown-up Lib Dems to their student predecessors. They are now a more serious party, attuned to the complexities of government, and no longer just a populist party of protest. They are genuinely trying to make the Coalition work and have earned the plaudits of their Tory ministerial colleagues. They have also succeeded in casting quite a liberal complexion over the Government and have an influence in the Coalition disproportionate to the number of seats – or even the number of votes – they won at the election.

I am not so sure that I agree with her that the 'people who joined the "Cleggmania" during the election campaign had a hopelessly naïve view of politics.' She is right that many believed the Liberal Democrats could deal with the deficit and scrap tuition fees just by taxing bankers, but those voters lent us their support because they were looking to register a protest not because they wanted a party of government who was going to deliver on an impossible agenda. However, her interpretation of the Ashcroft poll is worth reading:

According to a poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, and published in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, only 54 per cent of voters who supported the Lib Dems this year plan to do so again in 2015. Of course, five years is a very long time in politics, and many of these conceded that they might change their mind between now and then.

It will depend partly on how well or badly Labour is doing. In the Ashcroft poll, an astonishing 90 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters agreed that "Labour seriously lost its way on a number of important policy areas ... and will need to change a lot before people will be ready to vote for them again." And, in a ranking of politicians' performance, they put Clegg a respectable fourth, behind Cameron, Cable and William Hague, while Ed Miliband came 10th and last.

Interestingly, Ashcroft's pollsters also questioned 1,000 people who seriously considered voting Lib Dem in May but didn't do so. The results reflect the private polling that the Lib Dems themselves have done. The main reason why these "considerers" didn't in the end support Clegg's party was that they thought he would never be in government and it would be a wasted vote.

By May 2015, that fear will have vanished. Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will be able to point to all that the Lib Dems have achieved in government, and where their liberal ideals have tempered the Tories' rawer instincts. Already, two-thirds of Ashcroft's "considerers" say the party has shown it is "prepared to take real responsibility, not just oppose from the sidelines", that it is "making an important contribution to the Government of Britain" and that "Nick Clegg is doing a good job as Liberal Democrat leader".

It's striking that twice as many "considerers" as Lib Dem voters say their opinion of the party has changed for the better since the election. And 25 per cent of them say they are now more likely to vote Lib Dem at future general elections than they were before.

This may not be enough to compensate entirely for the outflow of angry students and their supporters. But it's a start. The students may have stomped out and slammed the door on the student party, but there are millions of grown-ups out there who may decide at the next election that the Lib Dems have finally earned their vote.

She concludes that there is another, possibly overlapping, pool of voters to which the party could look: These are people who, perhaps to their surprise, have discovered that they really rather like Coalition Government. They like the way politicians from different parties have managed to find common ground and to govern together without sniping at each other. They like the way coalition has allowed both leaders to ignore the nuttier elements in their own parties. And they fear that a Tory majority government would be too red-blooded; the Lib Dems exert a welcome restraining influence.

Come the next election, they won't be able to vote specifically for another coalition – the ballot paper doesn't offer that option. But the best way to ensure a hung parliament will be to maximise the number of seats the Lib Dems win. This will be a powerful argument for Clegg to deploy in 2015: whether you want a coalition with Labour or the Tories, the easiest way to achieve it is to vote for us.

Like many of these pieces there will be strong views on both sides. That is evident from the comments. Stranger things have happened in politics.
As you say Peter, time will tell and 4 years is a very long time in politics. Generally I'm quite well disposed to the coalition, and with the exception of the fees disgrace, its policies. I have no interest in the views of plaidbots (who spout nothing of worth, and know nothing of concepts such as consistency) or labour toadies (who blew 13 years of govt)so won't assume that our demise is imminent, though there will be setbacks.

I do think though that some LD MPs need to remember now that they are in government and start to grow up along with the party!

Any am about to (try to!!) flee the country, so best wishes for the festive season.
"Lib Dems ... are now a more serious party ... and have earned the plaudits of their Tory ministerial colleagues."

Just a thought, but most of the Tory Ministers (including the PM) have no more experience of government...

... and 'another thing' ... or two ...
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