Our starters for 2010 – how did we do? (Part II)

by Stephen Tall on January 1, 2011

A year ago, Lib Dem Voice posed 10 questions, the answers to which we believed might shape the Lib Dem year – time to revisit them, wethinks. You can read Part I of our round-up here.

6. Will any of the party’s senior figures – within or without the Lib Dem shadow cabinet – take an official position offered by whoever forms the next government?

When I posed this question I rather had in mind Gordon Brown’s GOAT appointments — such as Lib Dem MP-turned-peer Lord (Matthew) Taylor’s housing review, or Baroness (Shirley) Williams’ advice on nuclear proliferation. What I certainly didn’t expect — who did? — was that Nick Clegg would end the year as Deputy Prime Minister, one of five Lib Dem cabinet ministers, with a further 15 Lib Dem government ministers.

7. Will the party’s December 2010 poll ratings exceed the 19% recorded this year?

Erm, no. Though at the height of ‘Cleggmania’ the Lib Dems were consistently scoring above 30%, the general election saw the party poll 23%, only a notch up on 2005. The party’s decision to enter into a coalition has divided opinion, with many former Lib Dem supporters finding the prospect of sharing power with the Conservatives anathema.

There has been a steady decline in the party’s ratings since May, with ICM — the pollster with the most consistent track record — showing the Lib Dems down at 13% in December 2010. YouGov, whose sheer volume of polls — they accounted for 15 of the 19 December polls — means they are most frequently reported in the media, have tended to be least kind to the Lib Dems outside of election time, and are currently showing us in single digits, aound 8-9%. The hope is this is as low as we will go, though the Coalition’s cuts have yet to start biting.

Though the next general election is supposed to be over four years away — and therefore polls asking how the public would vote if a general election were held tomorrow are utterly hypothetical — this will be of scant consolation to the thousands of Lib Dem councillors and MSP/AM/GLAMs facing re-election in the next couple of years.

For a fair-minded analysis of the Lib Dems’ poll ratings, try Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report blog-post here.

8. Will the Lib Dems maintain or even better their position in Scotland (12 MPs) and in Wales (4 MPs)?

In Scotland, the party made no gains at the general election, though Mike Crockart safely succeeded John Barrett; and, very sadly, we lost Willie Rennie’s by-election gain in Gordon Brown’s backyard of Dunfermline and West Fife. In Wales, we lost one of the party’s previously safest seats — Montgomeryshire — ascribed to the ‘Lembit effect’, though successfully boosted Mark Williams’ wafer-thin majority in Ceredigion to over 8,000.

All eyes, though, will be on the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections in May. In Scotland, the latest Holyrood opinion poll (compared with the 2007 result) showed the Lib Dems at 11% (16%) in the constituency vote and 9% (11%) in the regional vote.

However, it is in Wales that the polls are showing the Lib Dems worst hit since the general election, with the latest Assembly poll (compared with the 2007 result) showing the party at 6% (15%) in the constituency vote and 5% (12%) in the regional vote. If this were to come to pass, the Lib Dems could be reduced from six AMs to only two.

9. What role will Ros Scott play in the inevitable post-general election inquest? Will she live up to her campaign pledge to be the voice of the membership, and be re-elected President of the Liberal Democrats unopposed; or will she face a challenge? And will the party’s membership increase in the next year?

The overwhelming support among Lib Dem members for the Coalition Agreement reached with the Conservatives — something which no-one would have predicted a year ago — reduced the critical need for the Party President to act as a buffer between the membership and the leadership in May. However, with the Lib Dems now suffering in the polls as the realities of Coalition begin to hit home the role of President has never been as important as it is now.

Ros Scott suprised many in September by announcing her decision not to seek re-election as President, though she was all-but assured a second term (probably without a contest), with her ratings among members, according to Lib Dem Voice’s regular surveys of leading party figures, showing her consistently well-regarded.

So why did Ros stand down? Her own answer was customarily elegant: she felt the party needed a President who was “a strong media performer and tough campaigner”, and that others were better placed than her to fulfil that role. Liberator Magazine speculated the real reason was Ros’s private discontent that Nick Clegg was refusing to give her the access to him she felt she needed to do the job effectively.

Whatever the reason, the result was a contest which pitched current MP Tim Farron against ex-MP Susan Kramer, with Tim narrowly edging out Susan.

As for the party membership figures, well for the first time in many a year they increased substantially. 65,861 ballot papers were issued to paid-up members in the Party President contest; this compared with 58,768 members in December 2009 — an increase of over 10%. Not that this was a surprise to those of us inside the party, who’d seen for ourselves the influx of keen new members during the past year, and especially since the general election.

Will we retain all these members, both new joiners and old stalwarts? It seems unlikely. The recent tuition fees debacle prompted some resignations, and it would be an optimist who believed the next year won’t see further difficulties for the Lib Dems now we’re a party of government.

10. Who will be crowned Lib Dem Blogger of the Year in 2010? Will the number and reach of Lib Dem blogs grow as a direct result of the general election? And will the internet prove decisive in any constituency election race, thanks to either brilliant campaigning or an embarrassing gaffe?

At the fifth attempt, Richard Flowers’ most excellent Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant trumped a strong short-list for Lib Dem Voice Blog of the Year. Ryan Cullen’s marvellous Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator continues to form the hub of the party’s blogging action, with the Voice regularly welcoming new additions, and highlighting some of the best of Lib Dem blogging through the Golden Dozen.

One of the great additions to online Lib Dem life in the past year has been the emergence of Simon McGrath’s Vote Clegg, Get Clegg Facebook page. Simon made his personal Lib Dem awards this week — if you’re on Facebook you can read it here — including Reading West’s Daisy Benson as Grassroots Campaigner of the Year, and Sarah Teather as MP of the Year.

I gave my take on the state of the Lib Dem blogosphere here — and as I concluded then:

For the moment, Lib Dems are generally phlegmatic: we knew the potential for unpopularity when we signed up to the Coalition, and can hardly bail out now. But if that situation is sustained, and is reflected in actual elections at the Scottish, Welsh and English local elections next year – and especially if the referendum on the alternative vote is lost – the Lib Dem blogosphere may be the place where members’ discontent manifests itself most publicly.

Yet we can also expect it to be the place which – through its striking devotion to liberalism, diversity, debate, fun and irreverence – will continue day in and day out to remind Lib Dems exactly why it is they joined the party in the first place, and to encourage floating voters wherever they are to test the waters.