ComRes poll: Vince leadership would boost Lib Dem fortunes

by Stephen Tall on September 3, 2012

It’s not often that polling companies ask how alternative Lib Dem leaders would impact the party’s popularity — in fact, I’m struggling to recall a single example — but ComRes has asked what difference Vince Cable leading the party would have on its fortunes. Here’s the result:

ComRes/Independent poll: party voting intentions by leader

Current Voting Intention – name of party only Current Voting Intention – name of current leader and party Current Voting Intention – name of current leaders for Con / Lab, Vince Cable for Lib Dems
Conservative 35 35 (n/c) 34 (-1)
Labour 42 39 (-3) 38 (-4)
Lib Dem 12 14 (+2) 18 (+6)
Others 11 12 (+1) 10 (-1)

Conducted 31st August and 2nd September 2012; published 3rd September 2012.

Two findings of note:

1) There would, according to this poll, be a small but significant boost to Lib Dem fortunes if Vince Cable were party leader. The headline rating for the party is 12%; this increases to 14% with Nick Clegg named as Lib Dem leader alongside his Labour / Tory counterparts; and is boosted still further to 18% when Vince Cable is given as the alternative Lib Dem leader.

2) Ed Miliband is a notable drag on the Labour ticket. While Nick Clegg’s and Vince Cable’s names boost the Lib Dems’ standing according to these figures, Labour support drops back when Ed Miliband’s name is mentioned as Labour leader.

I’m generally sceptical of these hypothetical polls. As UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells remarked a month ago when similar surveys were showing how Boris Johnson’s leadership of the Tories might impact on their fortunes:

The [other] thing to consider is quite how hypothetical these questions are! In many cases we are asking about politicians who the general public know very little about – apart from very well known politicians like party leaders and Chancellors of the exechequer many other ministers – even cabinet ministers – are almost complete unknowns to the majority of people. Even when a politician is relatively well known, like Gordon Brown pre-2007 or Boris Johnson now, people answering questions like this don’t know what they would do as a party leader, what sort of mission and narrative they’d set out, what policy priorities they’d follow, and all these things could change how they are viewed.

Quite. I am a big fan of Vince Cable as business secretary, a cabinet minister who gets that true economic competitiveness is not the same as giving business everything it asks for. That does not mean I think he is necessarily the answer to Lib Dem prayers. As I wrote earlier this summer:

Would he be a successful Lib Dem leader? I’m unconvinced. Though he has that rare ability to speak to the full spectrum of Lib Dems – an Orange Book liberal who prefers the label ‘social democrat’ – he has a habit of springing surprise announcements on the party, from his hasty welcome of the Browne Report’s fee-hiking recommendations to his proposal for a ‘mansion tax’ launched without any consultation at the party’s 2009 conference. It’s the kind of behaviour more forgiven if you’re not leader.

On the balance of probabilities, I still think Leader Vince an unlikely outcome. But it cannot be ruled-out entirely. If it came to pass, it would be (among other things) a massive irony, for it is Nick Clegg’s breaking of the Lib Dems’ tuition fees pledge which remains – as Iraq was for Tony Blair – the issue that continues to define him for much of the public. Yet who was the architect of that policy U-turn? It’s that man Vince again.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.