10 key Lib Dem questions for 2011

by Stephen Tall on January 2, 2011

In what is fast becoming a pre-New Year tradition as eagerly anticipated as ‘the biggest ever DFS sale’, Lib Dem Voice is publishing its list of 10 key questions, the answers to which we think might well help shape 2011 for the party. You can read last year’s list here; and our answers to those questions here (Part I) and here (Part II).

Here below, then, are my top 10 questions for the coming year in Lib Demmery:

1. The biggest question of all: will the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition Government last the year?
Plenty have predicted its demise since the moment it was formed, but it’s hard to see why it will fall unless and until one of the two parties thinks they’ve got more to gain by leaving it. I don’t see it happening in the next year. But then I didn’t forsee it being formed either. Perhaps of greater interest and long-term significance will be what, if anything, emerges from Centre Forum’s ‘Coalition 2.0′ discussions.

2. The second biggest question (and closely related to the first): will the economic recovery be sustained?
Talk of a double-dip recession has receded, but with the public sector cuts and the VAT rise yet to kick in any signs of the economy weakening will be seized on by Labour. And as Mark Pack points out here, for most voters their perception of the state of the economy will be determined by real wages growth, which is projected to fall.

3. Can the AV referendum in May be won?
The prospect of electoral reform — albeit not a proportional voting system — was key to the Lib Dems signing up to the Coalition Agreement. A loss would undoubtedly be a blow to Nick Clegg and the party, and the latest polling suggests the result will be tight.

4. Will legislation to create an elected House of Lords be passed?
A century after the Liberal Government’s 1911 Parliament Act, Nick Clegg will attempt to introduce democracy into the second chamber. The speculation is that a compromise of 80% elected members voted in via the proportional STV system has been agreed, but that Tory MPs will do their best to drag their Parliamentary feet. Combine this with possible confirmatory ballots on elected mayors in the top 12 cities, along with elected police commissioners, and 2011 could be an unusally significant constitutional year.

5. What will happen to the Lib Dem vote in the English local elections and the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election?
In 2007, the Lib Dems under Ming Campbell secured a projected 26% of the national vote but lost control of net four councils and 246 councillors. The pressure on Nick Clegg and the party will be even more acute in 2011 now the party’s in government. An early indication of quite how the Coalition has affected the party’s vote will be seen on 13th January, with the result of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, a seat the Lib Dems narrowly lost out on by just 103 votes last May.

6. What will happen to the Lib Dem vote in elections to the national parliament in Scotland and assembly in Wales?
In 2007, the Lib Dems saw 16 MSPs elected to Holyrood on 16% in the constituency vote; and six AMs elected in Wales on 15%. If the polls are to be believed, the party faces an uphill battle in both, and especially in Wales.

7. Who will be selected as the Lib Dem candidate to be Mayor of London in 2012?
The party contest to select our hopeful to take on Boris and Ken was postponed in October owing to “an insufficient number of approved applicants”. Lembit remains a declared candidate, with the ‘Anyone But Lembit’ members in the party yet to unite behind a single challenger. The party has selected its 12 candidates for the Greater London Assembly.

8. Will the party’s poll ratings be above the 13% recorded by ICM in December 2010?
The last six months of the year has seen the party’s poll ratings plunge from the 23% recorded in the general election, let alone since the dizzy heights of ‘Cleggmania’, with YouGov — usually the harshest polling company on the Lib Dems outside election time — showing us in single digits. The leadership is phlegmatic, with some justification: the extraordinary flux in the opinion polls in the past year shows just what a snapshot of public opinion they are. But they are watched avidly and nervously by party activists, and in particular by candidates in forthcoming elections who are looking at polling deadlines a lot closer than 2015.

9. How will Tim Farron fare as Lib Dem president, and will party membership continue to rise?
The new party president is a campaigner to his fingertips — it’s no coincidence he’s converted a Tory marginal into one of the party’s safest seats — firmly identified with the party’s social liberal wing on economic issues. Unencumbered by ministerial collective responsibility, Tim will be semi-licensed to put forward the party’s pure, unvarnished position, becoming the authentic voice of the grassroots — a la John Prescott. Will there be genuine clashes with Nick Clegg as a result, or will their ying-yang dual roles enhance the Lib Dems’ standing? Party membership has soared by 10% in the past year to over 65,000 thanks to the successful election campaign, and the historic decision to form a Coalition — but the turmoil over tuition fees has sparked resignations, and it will be tough to maintain that growth in 2011.

10. Will Ed Miliband park his policy tanks on the Lib Dem lawn?
On his election as Labour leader, Miliband Jnr seemed keen to pitch to disaffected Lib Dems, distancing himself from the reactionary inertia of the Blair/Brown years, and seeming to embrace a progressive left-liberal stance on civil liberties, the environment and political reform. Yet there has been scant follow-up, with the Labour leader seemingly much happier taking pot-shots at the Lib Dems than advancing Labour policy in areas where the two parties could agree — though it’s perhaps possible the Byrne-Grayson review might achieve something positive. The next year will help to define Mili-E’s public image: will it be as a lightweight oppositionist, or as a genuine progressive?

Have I missed any out? And how do you anticipate we might be answering these 10 questions in a year’s time?