ICM has Labour ahead, Ukip moving into 3rd place, Lib Dems on 11%

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2014

The Guardian published its latest ICM poll — commonly regarded as the ‘gold standard’ — this week. The top-line (with changes on the previous months) was: Labour 35% (=), Conservatives 31% (-2), Ukip 14% (+5), Lib Dems 11% (+1) and Others 10% (-3).

icm poll - oct 2014

Polling in September/October tends to fluctuate, as the noise of conference season often leads to spikes in support for each party in turn which soon fade. There have been two additional events which may have further confused matters: the Scottish independence referendum and last week’s Clacton by-election.

It’s the latter event which is probably responsible for Ukip’s surge (up from 9% to 14%), especially as ICM polled in the two days immediately after Douglas Carswell’s victory, and his party’s near-miss in Heywood and Middleton, were dominating the news headlines. Let’s see what happens to the party’s support in November (which will be in the lead-up to Mark Reckless’s defence of his Rochester and Strood seat following his defection from the Tories).

The Lib Dems will be relieved to see ICM continuing to show the party’s support in double figures. This is at variance with other pollsters, in particular YouGov whose daily polls dominate discussion, which tend to show the Lib Dems a little lower, at 7-9%. This is due to the different methodologies used by the polling companies as noted in July here. I stand by my comment then:

ICM is a combination of a snapshot poll and also a forecast. What has happened in previous elections is that pollsters begin to converge the closer it gets to polling day. Lib Dem voters who are least likely to say they are certain to vote for the party make up their minds later; and we are more likely to benefit from tactical votes in key seats. Of course, no-one knows if what’s held true in previous elections will also hold true in 2015. But for the moment at least I’d be more inclined to bet that ICM and YouGov won’t be far apart come May 2015 and that will be because YouGov has moved towards ICM rather than the reverse.

There has been much internal anguish in Labour since its (by all accounts) depressingly flat conference, Ed Miliband’s fluffed leader’s speech, and their poor showing in the Heywood by-election. Yet on the basis of this poll the party would win an overall majority of 36 according to UKPollingReport’s swing calculator. Add to that Lord Ashcroft’s findings that Labour is winning better in the key marginals and it’s enough to wonder why its supporters are quite so in the doldrums.

The explanation is here, from Labour blogger Hopi Sen:

In the last thirty years, only one opposition has improved their poll ratings between the final conference season of the political cycle and the subsequent general election. In every other instance, the opposition has declined by between three and thirteen points. I’d put my expectation on the low side of this, because when oppositions have declined by larger amounts, they have enjoyed larger starting poll shares than Labour does now – going from 49% to 35% in 1991-92 and from 52% to 44% in 1997. I don’t expect that sort of dip. Absent a ‘Winter of Discontent’, you’d expect Labour’s vote share to fall perhaps three to five points between now and the election, putting Labour somewhere between 29-33%. This is more or less in line with what Stephen Fishers’ election predictors suggest.

Labour’s prime consolation can be explained in one noun: Tories. David Cameron and his party show no apparent interest in exploiting either Labour’s absent opposition — or the Lib Dems’ own difficulties — to win the centre ground of British politics. Instead they’ve retreated to their traditional terra firma of Europe, immigration and benefits. Long gone are the days when David Cameron’s brand of compassionate Conservatism was winning 49% of the vote (not that long ago: summer 2008). My best guess is they’ll beat Labour in the popular vote; but my best guess is also that won’t be good enough.

* 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.

Israel-Palestine conflict: the views of Lib Dem members

by Stephen Tall on October 13, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

This afternoon the House of Commons debates the issue of Israel and Palestine: a backbench motion calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine. This follows the summer’s latest outbreak in the ongoing Israel–Gaza conflict, with seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Gazans. We asked Lib Dem members for their views…

61% sympathise primarily with the Palestinians

Thinking of the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, do your own sympathies lie more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?

    7% – My sympathies lie more with the Israelis
    61% – My sympathies lie more with the Palestinians
    30% – Neither
    2% – Don’t know

Some 6-in-10 of those who responded said their sympathies in this conflict lie primarily with the Palestinians; just 7% said Israel. However, a substantial minority, 30%, answered neither, and many others too pointed to culpability on both sides – here’s a sample of your comments:

• Two wrongs do not make a right. Civilians on both sides bear the brunt of the fear
• Like it or not, whenever a ceasefire was broken, it was always the Palestinians that broke it.
• Both parties recognising the de facto 1948 boundaries for Israel is the starting point to resolution. That does require Israel to withdraw from settlements. The US, Britain and Europe are hypocrital with sanctions against Russsia but not Israel
• If only the Palestinians would stop lobbing rockets over the border, then my sympathies would be with them.
• I have much sympathy with Israeli citizens, just not with their government.
• My sympathies lie with the ordinary folks on both sides who are badly served by their elected representatives. However, Israel must bear the brunt of disapproval because it wants to be considered amongst the Western Liberal Democracies, and it is failing to live up to the high standard we should expect.
• I think I sympathise more with the Palestinians – but the civilians – and the civilians of Israel not the Government.
• My sympathies are with the peace makers on both sides. It is a mistake to try to reduce the options to pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I want a free Palestine and a secure Israel, I oppose the extremists on either sides who want to find a solution at the expense of the other
• Extreme elements of both are not worthy of sympathy – and the ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer especially when they put their hope in the wrong people, i.e. in Gaza.

81% say the Israeli bombing of Gaza was unjustifiable

During the summer, the Israeli air force has been bombing the Gaza strip. From what you have seen or heard do you think this bombing was justified or unjustified?

    11% – Justified
    81% – Unjustified
    8% – Don’t know

Some 8-in-10 Lib Dems responded that the Israeli government’s response to Hamas’s firing of rockets was unjustified — at least in its extent: the comments showed a few more commenters accepting Israel’s argument that it had the right to defend itself. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Israel is a state, as such it must expect to be held to higher standard than non-state actors. It should be obvious that there can be no peace until the Palestinians are allowed a future worth having.
• Sledge hammers to crack nuts
• Massive overreaction based on the principal of “Collective punishment” a technique taught to the Israelis by the British!
• The bombing was justified, the extent of it probably was not
• The bombings are the product of failure in Israeli politics.
• At the level of intensity, unquestionably unjustified
• This was completely disproportionate and a war crime
• It might have been justified in principle, but the way it was carried out almost certainly broke international law.
• What would the Americans have said had the RAF bombed catholic areas of Belfast in the height of the troubles to “take out IRA houses”?
• If they were worried about tunnels entering Israel, all they had to do was locate and block them on Israeli soil. Their air defences bring down most rockets and should be further improved to bring them all down.

47% say Israeli government most to blame – but 40% say blame should be shared with Hamas

The Israeli bombings have caused a substantial number of Palestinian civilian casualties in the Gaza strip. Who do you think is most to blame for this?

    11% – Hamas – for stationing their military targets and equipment in civilian areas
    47% – Israel – for attacking military targets in areas where civilians are also likely to be killed
    40% – Both equally
    2% – Don’t know

A plurality of Lib Dem members, 47%, felt the Israeli government bore chief responsibility for the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. However, 4-in-10 felt the blame deserved to be equally shared. And 1-in-10 felt Hamas bore the most blame. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Obviously Hama isn’t blameless but they are the weaker party and there would be less need for Hamas if the Israelis had, right from the beginning, practised a fair give and take.
• Hamas want Israel to be seen to kill innocent people. Israel kindly obliges. They seem locked in a spiral of death.
• It was a massive over reaction. Gaza is like a huge jail.
• I wait to be convince that the targets were all military.
• Israel. As the occupying power they are totally out of order behaving like this
• Even though using “human shields” is illegitimate, this does not justify injuries to civilians.
• The question accepts Israeli propaganda. A lot of their attacks have not been against military targets.
• Israel’s tolerance of civilian casualties is far higher than the UK and also even the US.
• UN buildings are no longer safe havens in Gaza and one cannot excuse Israeli behaviour in this regard. With the land area of Gaza so densely populated and Palestinians unable to leave then civilian casualties are inevitable.
• Hamas bears its share of responsibility – just that Israel was disproportionate and bears more
• Population density in Gaza leaves many civilians with little choice in whether or not they are in close proximity to Hamas people.
• Difficult for Israel but they have fallen into Hamas’ trap.
• If your enemy puts weapon placements near civilians, then either you find a sufficiently accurate weapon or else you don’t shoot. Israel has massive military superiority and highly effective anti-missile defences: there is no excuse for not following this principle.
• We were told that the Israeli military were carrying out investigations. I’ve not seen the results. Of course those firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas are culpable and beneath contempt. However, the facts are that very few rockets elude Israeli defences and of those that do, the number causing casualties is almost zero.
• Both are to blame; but Israel had the choice as to whether to start the blitz
• Hamas are also to blame but not I think equally. They have no other recourse. The Israelis hold all the cards and would be widely respected by the thinking world if they showed compassion to others and stopped thinking that violence is the only way to achieve peace, when clearly it isn’t.
• Stupid leading answers which don’t express my views – don’t frame the answers in this way again. My answer is “Israel – for deliberately attacking civilian targets with no military justification, purely to cause suffering within the civilian population.”
• The story is the fault of both sides. Both need to co-operate, learn some trust and re-build.

79% say Hamas launching rocket attacks into Israel was unjustifiable

During the summer, Hamas has been launching rocket attacks into Israel. From what you have seen or heard do you think these rocket attacks are justified or unjustified?

    10% – Justified
    79% – Unjustified
    11% – Don’t know

Pretty much the same proportion of Lib Dem members who think Israel’s actions unjustified (81%) also think Hamas’s actions unjustified (79%) — only a minority 1-in-10 think them justifiable. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• This question is asking whether terrorist attacks are justified. The answer is, of course, no.
• Hamas wants to destroy Israel. This is never going to be accepted. What is needed is serious peace talks without preconditions
• I think they are unjustifiably justified – if that makes sense
• The Palestinians have legitimate grievances, and the Israeli government seems to keep changing the goalposts for addressing them. But a far better approach would be to go down the UN recognition route…
• Justified, but not sensible, and extremely counter-productive.
• Parts of their land is occupied against International Law and another country is building settlements – how else are they to resist?
• Two wrongs don’t make a right, they are both wrong and adding more wrong is not the answer.
• Those rockets are the cause of so much. Not in the news is the rockets that Hamas have launched into Egypt occasionally.
• The rocket attacks are always a waste of time, but they’re the only weapon they’ve got. Can’t blame them for doing something even if it’s pointless.
• Unjustified because they are not targeting the right people – and stupid because they are provoking Israeli sentiment across the world.
• I couldn’t support them for doing this, but given the Israelis will not negotiate with them and will do what they like to them I do not know what I would suggest as an alternative.
• They are terrorist and should be stopped.
• Pea-shooters by comparison with Israeli weapons
• A military response – self defence against military targets – would be understandable, but these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians. They are counterproductive and a war crime.
• Unjustified in absolute terms but the Israelis need to rise above the short term and try harder to make peace.

Your views on this survey’s findings are welcome. Comments will be pre-moderated, as with all articles on this topic, to ensure the debate generates light, not just heat.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * 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.

    General election 2015: broadcasters propose 2-3-4 leaders’ debates formula

    by Stephen Tall on October 13, 2014

    Nick Clegg in TV leaders debate, 2010The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have announced their preferred plans to hold three debates during the 2015 general election campaign. The BBC reports:

    One would involve a head-to-head debate between just the Conservative and Labour leaders, and another would include the Liberal Democrat leader. The other debate would involve all three leaders plus Mr Farage. The broadcasters said the proposed formats reflected “changes in the political landscape” since the three prime ministerial debates during the 2010 general election, which featured Conservative Mr Cameron, Labour’s Gordon Brown and Lib Dem Mr Clegg. … The broadcasters have written to the party leaders to invite them to take part. The suggested schedule is for debates on 2, 16 and 30 April, ahead of the election on 7 May.

    Here’s how the Lib Dems have responded to the proposal:

    “The Liberal Democrats have long argued that the debates last time round were of huge benefit to our democratic process and engaged millions of voters. The Liberal Democrats therefore welcome the fact that the broadcasters are seeking to make progress to ensure that the debates happen again in 2015. The Liberal Democrats, like the Labour Party, have publicly said that we would be prepared to sign up to the same 3-3-3 system we had in 2010. We do not accept the proposal that the Liberal Democrats, as a party of government, should be prevented from defending our record in one of the TV debates. That is the case we will make strongly in the negotiations that will now take place and we urge the other parties to join us around the negotiating table without excuse or delay.”

    Three quick points:

    1) The controversial bit here is the idea there should be a head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband as the leaders most likely to become Prime Minister. Had it been proposed in 2010 it might have been seen as fair enough. Yes, I know we have a parliamentary system not a presidential one; but in reality the distinction has become blurred. However, we’re not now in 2010. We’re in 2015, after what will have been a full parliament of coalition government with a Deputy Prime Minister from another party. To exclude Nick Clegg from a debate – and by so doing give him no right of reply to defend the Lib Dems’ actions in government – is clearly unfair, certainly during a campaign period. The party will contest him being excluded and they’ll be right to do so.

    2) The inclusion of Ukip’s Nigel Farage is inevitable and right. His party came first in a national election (the Euros in May), have performed strongly in two years’ local elections, are ahead of the Lib Dems in most opinion polls, and have now elected their first MP. However, fairness would then suggest the Greens – a national party of longer standing with an elected MP – should also be included (even if it’s to the Lib Dems’ and probably Labour’s advantage if they’re not).

    3) The timing of the debates – clustered within the month-long campaign – is disappointing. David Cameron was right to point out the three debates dominated the campaign in 2010 and sucked the life out of it. Far better, in this era of fixed-term parliaments when we know exactly the date of the next election, to space them out. That said, I’d expect some lessening of their importance this time around (in fact it’s arguable they made little difference to the actual result last time, though ‘Cleggmania’ clearly had a huge impact on the campaign).

    * 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.

    “Good Intentions Are Not Enough”: key questions philanthropists should ask themselves

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 2014

    philanthropy impact“Good Intentions Are Not Enough” is the title of an article I’ve written for the latest issue of Philanthropy Impact magazine. You can read it here (pages 87-89). Here’s how it begins…

    Good intentions aren’t enough. Let me give you an example. A programme called ‘Scared Straight’ was developed in the USA in the 1970s to deter juvenile delinquents and at-risk children from criminal behaviour by bringing them into contact with adult inmates to make them aware of the grim realities of life in prison.

    Early studies showed astonishingly high success rates, as much as 94 per cent, and the programme was readily adopted in the UK and other countries. However, none of these evaluations had a ‘comparison group’ showing what would have happened to the participants if they had not taken part. When tested through Randomised Controlled Trials it was discovered participation in ‘Scared Straight’ resulted in higher rates of offending behaviour than non-participation: “doing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the program”. Yet it continues to be championed by some British police forces despite the clear evidence it actively increases crime.

    What this illustrates is the importance of ‘the counter-factual’ – ie, what would have happened otherwise? This is a crucial question for philanthropists, all of whom will have greater calls on their generosity than they can possibly meet. Inevitably this means there is an opportunity cost in making a donation: whatever money you give to one charity is, of necessity, money denied to another.

    All philanthropists I’ve met are acutely aware of this responsibility. But how many can confidently say their decisions to fund one charity over another are always based on sound evidence? And how many, when making their donation, also seek to ensure the work they are supporting is being robustly evaluated to ensure it’s doing the good everyone hopes it will? Put bluntly, how do you know your money isn’t being used to fund another ‘Scared Straight’, a programme developed with the best of intentions, but which inadvertently did harm to the young people it aimed to help?

    To read on here’s the link again.

    My must-reads this week October 10, 2014

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 2014

    Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

    A Lib Dem reshuffle? If it happens, here’s who party members would like to see promoted

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 2014

    Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

    Jo & Lynne top choices for promotion to cabinet

    The Lib Dems are expected to hold a ministerial reshuffle after the Scottish independence referendum. Which minister would you most like to see promoted to the cabinet?

      20% – Jo Swinson Minister, Business, Innovation & Skills
      19% – Lynne Featherstone Minister, Department for International Development
      16% – Steve Webb Minister, Department for Work and Pensions
      10% – David Laws Minister, Department for Education (jointly with the Cabinet Office)
      6% – Norman Lamb Minister, Department of Health
      4% – Simon Hughes Minister, Ministry of Justice
      4% – Baroness (Susan) Kramer Minister, Department for Transport
      4% – Norman Baker Minister, Home Office
      1% – Tom Brake Deputy Leader of the Commons
      1% – Baroness (Jenny) Randerson, Minister, Wales Office
      1% – Dan Rogerson Minister, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
      1% – Lord (Jim) Wallace Lib Dem Leader, House of Lords
      1% – Don Foster Lib Dem Chief Whip, Commons
      1% – Stephen Williams Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government
      4% – None
      9% – Don’t know

    David Cameron reshuffled his ministerial team in July. When Nick Clegg didn’t follow suit the assumption was that he was waiting until after the Scottish referendum in order to promote Jo Swinson (who would probably have been appointed at the last reshuffle had she not been due to go on maternity leave) to the cabinet, ensuring the Lib Dems don’t go a full parliament without appointing a woman to the top tier of government.

    It was expected current Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael would make way for her. I heard at conference that this plan had fallen apart and that Alistair has no intention of moving from his post. And with none of the other four – Alexander, Cable, Clegg, Davey – likely to want to move on, Nick’s wish to promote her may come to nothing. We shall see.

    Jo Swinson tops our members’ poll, though Lynne Featherstone – widely considered to have been one of the party’s most effective ministers – is only just behind. Also scoring well is Steve Webb, though his deep knowledge of his pensions post probably means he’s considered indispensable in his current role.

    Huppert & Kennedy top choices for promotions to ministerial office

    And which Lib Dem MP would you most like to see appointed as a minister?

      16% – Julian Huppert
      12% – Charles Kennedy
      10% – Tim Farron
      6% – Tessa Munt
      6% – Jenny Willott
      5% – Lorely Burt
      4% – Jeremy Browne
      3% – Sarah Teather
      2% – Martin Horwood
      2% – Duncan Hames
      4% – None
      5% – Don’t know

    Here are the top 10 choices of Lib Dem MPs to be appointed to ministerial office. Activists’ favourite Julian Huppert tops the list, with Charles Kennedy not far behind. Tim Farron, who’ll become eligible when his term as party president expires at the end of the year, comes in third. I suspect, for their different reasons, all three might decline the offer if it were extended.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * 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.

    Nick Clegg’s speech: 5 initial thoughts from me – and reaction from members and pundits

    by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

    Nick Clegg has just delivered his seventh conference speech – you can read it here. Five quick thoughts from me:

    1. It’s rare to remember party leaders’ speeches. However, I’ve a feeling this one will be remembered. Not necessarily stylistically — its rhetoric or his delivery — but for a government policy announcement: the emphasis on mental health-care which Nick made a centre-piece and which he has said will be on the front page of the party’s manifesto. Yes, there were plenty of positioning soundbites. But, more importantly, this announcement demonstrated, better than any finely crafted words, the point of Lib Dems being in government: to put liberal values (tolerance, respect, fairness) into action.

    2. That Nick Clegg gave this speech at all – and that it was well-received within the hall — deserves a mention. After all, just four months ago Nick Clegg was under fire from many within his party (yes, including me) following the party’s dire results in the local and European elections. Yet here he was today, closing a conference that everyone has commented upon was strikingly upbeat, and rewarded with a genuine standing ovation. That doesn’t mean everything within the party is suddenly rosy, far from it, but Nick’s buoyant performance this week is some contrast to the red-eyed, exhausted Nick of a matter of weeks ago.

    3. Clegg has, undoubtedly, been helped by the Lib Dem conference following Labour and the Tories. Labour’s week was flat, Miliband’s speech a disaster for him. The Tories’ was jubilant, Cameron’s speech a triumph for him. In their different ways, they’ve helped remind Lib Dems why our party exists. For all the policy overlap we have with Labour, they just do not look like a government-in-waiting. The opposite is true of the Tories: little remaining policy overlap and all too obviously waiting to be a government free of the Lib Dems.

    4. Yet there is a paradox about the Lib Dems position, or at least Nick Clegg’s. The nakedly anti-Tory positioning of senior ministers, from Clegg down, has not been faked. There is genuine scorn for the Tories’ rightward tilt – banging on about Europe, immigration and benefits again — but still there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband.

    5. At its heart, this was a plea in favour of Lib Dems not turning their backs on being in government. Clegg made his pitch in a way cannily designed to appeal to Lib Dems’ anti-establishment instincts: “what the [Establishment] vested interests would relish most is to eject us from office before our time is up”. He feels he has grown-up through being in government; and that it’s only through being in government that parties learn how to deliver for their voters. Even if this was his last major conference speech as leader, he wants that message to resonate.

    That’s what I thought – here’s what some of you thought…

    And here’s what the pundits had to say…

    * 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.

    Je ne regrette rien? Would Lib Dem members have voted for Coalition knowing what we know now?

    by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

    Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll run last Thursday and Friday.

    Since the Coalition began, I’ve been asking the question about whether members support the party being in coalition with the Conservatives. Pretty consistently, across more than 20 separate surveys, around 80% have said yes. But I realise this question is, to some extent, skewed by the fact that we are where we are. Some members who are deeply unhappy with the way the Coalition’s panning out acknowledge that the party has little choice but to try and make it work.

    So I thought I’d pose a counter-factual. Imagine, knowing what we know now, you could rewind to May 2010: what would you have supported with the benefit of hindsight? I asked this same question just over a year ago. And again last week. Here’s what you said…

    62% would have supported the Coalition in May 2010 – even knowing what we know now

    Had you known in May 2010 what you know now about how the Coalition has worked and what it has achieved, which one of the following options would you have supported?

      62% – Coalition with the Conservatives

      20% – A Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement (ie, no coalition deal so no Lib Dem ministers and with MPs free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)

      9% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition

      6% – A Labour-Lib Dem coalition (if agreement could have been reached)

      1% – A second general election in 2010

      1% – Other

      1% – Don’t Know

    Strikingly, these figures are near-identical to a year ago. Exactly the same proportion, a sturdy 62%, would still have opted for Coalition with the Conservatives if we could turn back time (though doubtless with lessons learned from the mistakes we made first time round). And exactly the same significant minority, 20%, would have preferred to avoid it through a Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement. As I wrote last year:

    Of course we don’t know how that would would have worked out had it been tried. My guess is not happily. The party would have got pretty much the same amount of electoral pain for propping up a Conservative government with precious little opportunity to influence from within. Soon enough the Conservatives would have engineered an excuse to pull the plug on the deal and triggered a second election (after all, there would’ve been no fixed-term parliaments act) which would’ve seen the Lib Dems viciously squeezed. It’s possible we would’ve ended up retaining more MPs than we will in 2015; but at the price of not having implemented (m)any of our policies in government.

    I think a similar scenario would’ve played out in the event of a minority Conservative government, too, favoured by 9% of members. And very few people think a Lib Dem-Labour deal was a realistic goer (even though it’s the preferred option of more than half our members).

    Here’s a sample of your comments…

    • I still think it was the right decision. The problem lies not with the decision but with our failure in the early days not to realise that people in the UK don’t understand coalitions in the same way that many people in mainland Europe do. Plus the printed media who were disgruntled about the Tories not running the show.
    • I think a lot of what we wanted to achieve was kyboshed by the Tories superior political machine – AV and Lord’s Reform. I can see why we wanted to be “in government” however we’ve suffered very badly for it and poll ratings do not seem to be improving.
    • None of the other options are remotely realistic: we would either have suffered equally (as in a confidence-and-supply agreement) whilst achieving very little, or Cameron would simply have called a second election.
    • The problem with confidence and supply is the minor party has no real say in policy. The coalition will / has caused us pain (and will see a haemorrhaging of votes) BUT has given experience of government and has helped neuter the Right. We never fully recovered from the Student fees issue and that will be our albatross up to and through 2015. The best we can plan for now is damage limitation and a rebuilding post the election.
    • I support the coalition – but we should have been more realistic about the day to day working of government. We got policy wins, but we failed to get process wins. We should have paid more attention to making our achievements more visible.
    • we had no choice
    • a Lb-Lib coalition was not sustainable and we have achived more (depsite the pain) in coalition than we would have had we sat on our hands.
    • This government has been disastrous for the country and the most egregious actions it has taken were without a mandate. Disgraceful and shame on Lib Dem ministers.
    • We said that we were not afraid of coalition government.This was our opportunity to show we meant it. We have learned lessons and would approach it differently next time.
    • Coalition, yes, but we should have done things differently (e.g. we should have said we’d vote against any tuition fee rise)… that is obviously said with hindsight, of course.
    • Definitely. Just regret in terms of Comms we were naive
    • It has been a successful government which has achieved a lot, especially in the area of pension reform. Sure there are things I don’t like – but I probably wouldn’t have liked everything a purely Liberal Democrat government would have done.
    • A deal of one sort or another with the Tories was the only option apart from walking away. However, a confidence and supply deal would very likely have lasted just long enough for the Tories to call a election as soon as the polls favoured them.
    • We have been very naive in our dealings within the coalition. In 2010 I wrote to Nick Clegg (I didn’t expect an answer – nor did I receive one)stating that although I was in favour of the coalition we must make sure that we did not get ‘shafted’ by the Conservatives. Sadly, this is exactly what has happened.
    • Not ideal but more effective and more stable than a Tory minority govt. Labour were a shambles at the time and would not of been capable of forming a sensible govt. They may be better now.
    • Though I detest the Tories and all they stand for. I rather be in their camp and be able to stop some of their more outrageous policies. Though we should of stuck fast on tuition fees and on policies that have created a Country “OFs, and HAVE NOTS”. AT ground zero we are going to be slaughtered because we allowed the Tories to take us too far right, which have harmed and dramatically increased suicide in our Country. We have to take some of the blame for the non-caring attitude, the increase in disability attacks. We have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt, that we still care for people more than big profits.
    • In favour of coalition if Nick Clegg was competent – however he is not – so best option minority conservative admin
    • We had to find out what being in coalition would be like. Also the country needed the stability this brought. Coalition with Labour would have been preferable but they were not ready to recognise the extent of changes needed to turn Britain around. Never the less, coalition with the Tories has been very unpleasant.
    • There was no alternative if we wanted to be in government for the first time since WW2
    • Coalition to stabilise the economy. Should have brought down the Government after AV or failure of Lords Reform.
    • I believe this option would have brought stable government and still allowed our party to be differentiated from the Tories in the eyes of the general public.
    • It was a rotten choice.
    • Coalition has provided what PR should have done and as I’m on the right of the party coalition with the conservatives, while uncomfortable at times, has been worthwhile.
    • I am appalled by the social policies or rather lack thereof by the Tories also by the lack of credit given to LibDem compromises and advancements.
    • Any other choice would have given the impression that Lib Dems aren’t serious about politics
    • We should have held out for PR and if Cameron hadn’t given us that we should have walked away. I never believed the line about that bringing the markets crashing around our ears.
    • There was no other option that would have provided a stable government. We put country ahead of party. We will get no credit for it.
    • The only way to achieve some of our policies

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * 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.

    My conference debut video: Sticking up for press freedom, ‘Save Our Sources’

    by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

    As mentioned here, I broke my conference duck in Glasgow and spoke in a debate from the platform. The party has, and kudos to them, posted all speeches to YouTube and you can watch my four-minute, first-time effort here.

    5 thoughts from Lib Dem conference

    by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

    con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here yesterday – a despatch from Glasgow written on Monday. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

    1. Not dead yet

    “What’s the mood of members? It’s a lot more upbeat that I was expecting.” I’ve heard that sentence, more or less verbatim, from half a dozen journalists. I’m not too sure what they expected. Well, that’s not totally true. I think what they expected was some kind of continuation of the party’s post-European and local elections meltdown when, briefly, it looked like Nick Clegg would either fall on his sword or be pushed on to it. Truth is, though there remains a significant minority of the party who want Nick Clegg gone, everyone knows he’s staying til May to fight the election. Which means the vast majority of the party is now focused on the campaign to come. So, with a taut, grim determination, members here are readying themselves for the fight ahead. When John Major said, “When your back’s against the wall it’s time to turn round and fight,” we all knew what he meant to say. And it’s that spirit of cussed resilience — tinged with justifiable fear — which I think best captures the mood of this conference.

    2. Will hope and reality collide?

    Of course we all read the polls. And in particular the Lord Ashcroft polls of Lib Dem marginals showing what a massive uphill task faces the party, though they do at least show that our MPs’ incumbency still works massively in our favour. Here’s my honest take. As it stands, with the Lib Dems struggling to reach double-digits in the polls, I reckon we’d win 25 seats on a bad day, 45 seats on a really good day. So my best guess lies somewhere inbetween, say 30-35 seats. When I’ve asked fellow Lib Dems who know about these things (some of whom have seen the party’s private polling) they reckon that sounds about right. The hope is that the party will recover it’s national position in the polls — an uptick to, say, 12-14%, — so that we won’t have to be quite so reliant on the Stakhanovite local fetishism of our MPs. At the moment, though, that’s a hope more than an expectation

    3. The elephant in the room

    It’s compulsory for Lib Dem MPs with leadership ambitions to deny they have any leadership ambitions. They know if they were to speak out loud what they’re thinking – “Yeah I’d like to be leader and chances are there’ll be a vacancy in seven months so I’m making a some plans so I’m ready” — the headlines would be ‘Clegg’s leadership rocked, Lib Dems in chaos’. So they don’t speak it aloud. But — quietly, gently, cautiously — hopefuls are beginning to limber up. Tim Farron on the party’s liberal-left, Jeremy Browne on the party’s liberal-right. Thee cabinet ministers (Alistair Carmichael, Danny Alexander) hoping their red-box gravitas will mean they pass the “Does this guy look like a future Deputy Prime Minister?” test. And a handful of MPs, including ministers like Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson (if she retains her marginal seat), who could emerge through the middle as the compromise candidate. The smart money’s on Farron — he polls well ahead of any candidate other than Vince Cable, who’s unlikely to stand — but he knows only too well the curse of being the favourite. It almost did for Nick Clegg in 2007 (he only just squeaked home ahead of Chris Huhne), just as it did for David Davis two years before that.

    4. You don’t bring me Rose Gardens any more

    There’s a palpable sense that coalition, whether with the Tories or Labour, seems less likely now than it did even a year ago. That’s not too surprising, given Lib Dem support, which most of us had hoped had bottomed out a year ago, turned out to have a little bit further to fall in 2014. Bluntly, we may not have enough MPs after next May to be a viable coalition partner: our votes, plus Labour’s or the Tories’ 280 MPs, may not equal a working majority. But there’s something else, too. The Tory conference — with its relentless focus on benefits, Europe and immigration — played well to the right-wing press and appallingly with Lib Dems (I imagine you think that’s the right way round!). Meanwhile, Labour’s dud conference — everyone I’ve met who was there has called it utterly flat and depressing — inspired no-one, including us. Can we really imagine ourselves summoning the enthusiasm to work with either party for five years after the battering we’ve taken? Never say never — the voters may deal us a hand that leaves us with no real choice, as happened in May 2010 — but any idea the Lib Dems are eager to jump into bed with whichever party wins no matter what are wide of the mark.

    5. The C-word

    Does any party want to occupy the centre ground any more? That’s the question hanging over all three parties’ conferences as they seek to shore up their core vote. Once 35% would have been seen as an electoral disaster for either Labour or the Tories — it’s what Neil Kinnock polled in 1992 — now it would be seen as respectable. And to get to that minimal figure you need to motivate your base. That’s what George Osborne sought to do with his announcement of a benefits freeze on the working poor. And it’s what Ed Miliband tried to do by ignoring the deficit and pretending Labour wouldn’t have to cut public services if they were in power. They were messages strictly confined to the parties’ ideological comfort zones. They weren’t messages that will reach out to the voters beyond. Just six summers ago, David Cameron’s cuddly Conservatism was attracting the support of up to 49% of voters in the polls: because he had planted himself squarely in the centre of British politics. Stronger economy, fairer society is the core Lib Dem message for a simple reason: it’s what voters want (though they may not want us). The public can’t vote for it, but, if they could, the most likely election winner next May would be… this Coalition. Worth thinking about.



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