On this week’s Polling Matters I argued that the shape of politics at the moment is a great opportunity for the Lib Dems. They’re the party that, by miles, is seen as politically closest to most voters:
- On a 7-point left-right scale, 70% of people who have an opinion put themselves in the middle 3 positions
- 78% put the Lib Dems in those positions
- The Tories are the next-most placed in those positions, and still only 40% put them there.
This may be beginning to show: the Lib Dems have been winning local council by-elections in the last few months, when every other major party has had a net loss.
But their voting intent score is still as bad as it was a year ago and only 22% say they’d even consider voting Lib Dem. The party has to resolve this contradiction, somehow persuading far more voters that they’re in the same place.
I see two huge barriers to resolving this:
1. Hardly anyone outside politics hears about the Lib Dems any more. It’s much easier to get people’s attention as a small party if you make radical protest noises: Iraq, tuition fees. It’s much harder to do that if the space you want to occupy is, essentially, Blairite. They’ve tried this with the EU, and Farron has made his appeal to ’97 Labour voters explicit, but this doesn’t seem to have made much difference yet. It’s much more difficult to come up with dramatic announcements that will allow people to understand what you stand for if you want to present yourself as responsible modernisers.
2. They may not have the members and MPs for this. I don’t claim to be an expert on the membership of the party, but after 13 years of positioning itself as a left-liberal alternative to New Labour, I’m not sure how much appetitie there is for a reversal. That said, 5 years in coalition may have shaken up the membership on that front. But even if Farron wanted to become the new Clegg (and his instincts are clearly to the left of Blair’s) I’m not sure how much people in the party yearn to be a boring party of the centre.
I talked about this and the US election with Keiran and Matt Shaddick from Ladbrokes. Podcast and video below.