Bob Worcester forecasts Lib Dems to be reduced to 24 seats in 2015. I’ll run naked down Whitehall if that’s the result.

by Stephen Tall on September 17, 2013

At a conference fringe meeting on Monday evening, the pollster’s pollster Bob Worcester, MORI’s founder, made a forecast of how many seats the Lib Dems will win at the 2015 election: 24.

His prediction was based on current polling which he’d fed into the Electoral Calculus website and implied the number should be 17. His slightly higher punt allows for known Lib Dem strengths, such as our MPs’ habit of holding on tight in seats we win through sheer Stakhonovite grit.

Forecasting the next election is a bit of a mug’s game, as the Coalition means there’s no past precedent to guide us. Usually the Lib Dems pick up 3% or so during the campaign thanks to increased media exposure. But next time, who knows? Will the tactical ‘squeeze’ on Labour votes in Lib Dem / Tory battlegrounds still work? We can’t be sure.

But I’m willing to stick my neck out, and more besides:

It’s not an original pledge, by the way. Iain Dale promised to run down Whitehall naked if the 2010 exit polls’ prediction of the Lib Dems on 59 seats turned out to be accurate. (He didn’t.) Dan Hodges has since gone one better: ‘If UKIP break 6% at the next election I’ll streak naked down Whitehall in a Nigel Farage mask whilst singing Land of Hope and Glory…’. So, at least if I’m wrong, I’ll have some company.

Two polls this week have made me more confident that my modesty (and Whitehall watchers’ gaze) will be safe on Friday 8th May 2015.

Lib Dems just 3% behind Tories in our top targets

First, Lord Ashcroft – the former deputy Tory chairman and the man who spends more on polling than all the political parties combined – released his latest findings this week. 13,000 voters in the 40 Conservative seats with the smallest majorities were surveyed, including eight where the Liberal Democrats came second in 2010: Watford, St Albans, Oxford West & Abingdon, Harrogate & Knaresborough, Camborne & Redruth, Truro & Falmouth, Newton Abbot and Montgomeryshire.

Remember: these are seats which are potential Lib Dem gains in 2015. The result? Overall, across the eight seats, the Lib Dems are just 3% behind the Conservatives, 32% to 29% (with Labour third on 18%). The reason? Not hard to guess: Ukip, which is polling 12%. None of us know if the rise of Ukip is a bubble, or a permanent feature. But I’m struck by the number of senior Lib Dems who tell me they expect to make gains (plural) from the Tories at the next election (though not necessarily net gains from them).

Lib Dem MP incumbency boost still holds true

Secondly, Phillip Cowley, professor of Parliamentary Government at the University of Nottingham, has published an article in the latest Total Politics magazine, What does the population really feel about its MPs, local and national? In it, he and co-author Rosie Campbell challenge the oft-cited claim that “while people don’t like politicians, they do like their own MP”. Though broadly true, there is a lot of variation:

The response differs depending on which party the MP belongs to. The net score among respondents with Labour MPs was -5, and among those with Conservative MPs -13, slightly worse than the national average. Liberal Democrat MPs, however, scored +14. The ability of that party’s MPs to dig in to their constituencies appears to have survived the various traumas of coalition politics.

Put these two bits of evidence together and…

We are of course 18 months away from the next election. Much can change. But put these two findings together — the party polling reasonably well in Lib Dem / Tory battlegrounds where we don’t have an MP; and in seats where do have an MP polling suggesting they’re more appreciated than Labour or Tories are — and you start to see why Lib Dems are don’t believe we’re out for the count.

None of this changes the essential truth: our support has halved (at least) since the 2010 election. It is therefore highly likely we will make a net loss of seats in 2015. We are helped, however, by the fact that the Tories are in second place in 37 of the 57 Lib Dem seats. My hunch is that as the election nears Labour voters in those seats will be persuadable to a ‘keep the Tories out’ squeeze message.

Which is why I don’t expect to be streaking down Whitehall in 18 months’ time – you’ll be relived to hear.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.