The Guardian on the Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on December 28, 2006

Today’s Grauniad editorial, ‘Liberal Democrats: In search of adventure’, is a critical but generally fair analysis of the party after its annus horribilis, noting that:

  • Poll ratings are dipping from low 20s to high teens;
  • Ming has not found yet a defining issue to make his own, as Paddy Ashdown did with Bosnia or Charles Kennedy did with Iraq;
  • The party is not yet daring to be radical enough on key issues, such as Afghanistan or Trident; and
  • The next year will be critical to Ming’s standing as leader.

Some of this is merely the ephemera of here-today-bored-tomorrow journalism. Until Tony Blair finally resigns, and Gordon Brown’s had six months as Prime Minister, it is silly trying to read anything much into opinion polls showing movements within the margin of error. Speculation is fun; but it is no more than speculation (and often not much fun).

What we can confidently assert is that the ‘Cameron effect’ is nowhere near as potent as the ‘Blair effect’ was in the mid-1990s.

In the year before Tony Blair became Labour leader (August 1994), the Lib Dems’ average ICM poll rating was 25%. In the year after, it was 17%, a drop of 8%. Perhaps fortunately for Paddy Ashdown, polling was still under a dark cloud following the debacle of the 1992 general election, and the 365x24x7 rolling news agenda was not as hyper-intense as it is today.

In the year before Mr Cameron became Tory leader (December 2005), the Lib Dems averaged an ICM rating of 21%. In the year since, the party has also averaged 21%.

That does not mean the Lib Dems should confidently dismiss Mr Cameron, or complacently assume he will implode. But, equally, the media might attempt to add just a little context and perspective before writing up any one poll as a triumph for the Tory leader or a disaster for the Lib Dems.

It’s certainly the case that Ming did not get off to a flying start as leader. A couple of early faltering performances in the House of Commons, and local election results which fell short of expectations (even if those expectations were perhaps too high) allowed an easy caricature to take root of a decent man who is now past it.

That’s unfortunate and, in many ways, unfair. But such is politics. The real test of Ming’s leadership will be for him to overcome that perception, for the party’s sake as well as his own.

And though the Grauniad identifies two issues on which the Lib Dems should stake out some distinctive ground – Trident and Afghanistan – the editorial is notably vague in offering policy prescriptions. Which is fair enough: there aren’t easy answers to either. And it smacks a little of sophistry for the Lib Dems to be accused by the Grauniad of political opportunism, and then to urge the party to determine our policies according to the level of “public disquiet” felt about Mr Blair’s defence and foreign policies.

This is rather typical of the Grauniad’s wish to see the Lib Dems act as its (and Labour’s) political conscience – but never, of course, to support the party because we “lack credibility”. A case of having your Christmas cake, and eating it.

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Good post – and I especially like the last paragraph. The “be bold” theme was bothering me too.

by Peter Pigeon on December 28, 2006 at 3:49 pm. Reply #

Wonder how anybody could consider Miss frosty knickers Sarah Teather sexy?

by Susanne on December 28, 2006 at 5:34 pm. Reply #

Well, despite all of your prevarication and obfuscation, the fact remains that the LibDems have crashed in the opinion polls. Honestly, you all have sunk worse than Labour? At this rate, you’ll have handed Cornwall back to us Tories, without any fight at all! You’re entering the realm of 30 seats now M’lad…

by Cllr Green on December 29, 2006 at 11:13 am. Reply #

I hope you feel better for having got that off your chest.

Merry Christmas.

by Stephen Tall on December 29, 2006 at 11:47 am. Reply #

Good Post.

Let us face it Ming is the problem.He looks as though he is just of the set for “THE DADDY RETURNS”.

Yes it looks as though we could lose Cornwall to the Tories.At least all the seats are likely to be lost except the Truro seat, where the Conservatives have to our advantage picked the wrong Candidate in Sarah Newton.The Conservatives are not happy with her pathetic and weak performance to date and are split in half.
Holiday Homes and second homes which she and her father have in the area are going to be a millstone around her neck.We Liberal Democrats are making great play on this policy issue.
She is showing poor chemistry and empathy with the locals and her disasterous political track record in Wimbledon is repeating itself in Truro.
We are also hearing news of another major sacking of a senior Tory which is going to cause even further dismay for them when it hits the Press.This bickering is helping us considerably,which the Tory Newton seems to have no control over.

by Truro Liberal Democrat Activist on December 29, 2006 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

The Tory problems in Cornwall have emanated from a former Tory PPC Ashley Crossley whose disasterous past and his current day ghost still linger around all of Cornwall.
The Conservatives PPC Sarah Newton was alledgedly selected by the same group of people who supported Crossley- the Taliban Cornish Tories.There are even strong rumours that her selection was fixed locally by the Crossley Supporters and her influential Family and Friends.The greater more powerful Tories have walked away from this group of renegades and are not giving Newton support.
There are strong underlying feelings that she is the wrong Candidate, but Senior Tories are putting on a stiff upper lip and making do with a bad job.Stiff upper lips do not go down well in this neck of the woods.
All this is good news for us Liberal Democrats in the Truro Constituency.

by TRURO LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ASSOCIATION MEMBER on December 29, 2006 at 12:23 pm. Reply #

Yes, Mr. Tall, I feel much MUCH better being able to say that. It’s been quite a long time since we of the Blue Torch have had any ability to challenge yee of the Yellow Duck.
And a happy new year to you!!!

by Cllr Green on December 30, 2006 at 3:14 am. Reply #

(i suppose we’re the Blue Tree now, but somehow, it’s just not as impressive)

by Cllr Green on December 30, 2006 at 3:15 am. Reply #

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