Liberal Democrats

Climate change in the election and where the Lib Dems have gone wrong

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Politics on December 4th, 2019 by Leo – 1 Comment

About 10 years ago I was part of one of the most forgettable election campaigns of all time. A group of us targeted a bunch of swing constituencies aiming to get climate change on the local agenda. It wasn’t exactly a triumph.

Our efforts can definitively now be buried for good. Climate change has never been so high up the list of voters’ priorities: in the latest YouGov poll the environment is the joint third-highest issue the public say is facing the country. An Ipsos Mori question on which issues voters said would determine their vote also found climate and the environment was the fifth-top priority (in both it’s joint with the economy).

The surge in concern has opened new electoral battlegrounds but it’s not self-evident how they’re playing out. Two possible routes stand out.

Toxifying the Tories

One way climate change could play in voting decisions is for it to toxify the Tories. This is like what happened in 2017, when pro-Labour websites did a remarkably successful job of building the salience of previously obscure stories attacking the Tories on environmental issues, like their failure to pledge a ban on sales of ivory products.

But even last election there wasn’t much on climate change. In fact, the Tories have largely avoided being punished on climate change at elections. They probably have David Cameron to thank for that: his husky-hugging trip to the Arctic in 2006 and support for the Climate Change Bill meant, to casual viewers, there wasn’t much distinction between the major parties.

But since 2017 a lot of people have stopped viewing climate change just casually. The Tories can point to having strengthened the UK’s climate target, from an 80% cut to net-zero by 2050 (which means they’ve already enacted a law that’s stronger than Labour pledged in their 2017 manifesto) but there is plenty of space to criticise their record in delivering policies to meet the target, as Labour have already been doing.

Since the people most worried about climate change are more likely to be Remainers and 2017 Labour or Lib Dem voters – ie not the people Johnson is aiming for – the significance of any toxification of the Tories might be to squeeze Lib Dem votes. If the Tories look sufficiently unpalatable on climate, Labour can argue in Labour-Tory contests that a vote for the Lib Dems is too much of a risk.

Competing for climate voters

Is there any hope for the Lib Dems? Possibly, but they would need to start talking about climate change differently.

Rather than just being repelled by bad policies, voters could also be attracted to vote for parties with strong climate policies. If the voters care enough, the party with the strongest pledges should benefit – implying a race between Labour and the Lib Dems for more ambitious climate policy. This seems like the logic behind the various pledges to plant many trees to help absorb carbon.

But I’m not persuaded that this is actually happening very much. Labour and the Lib Dems might have the most ambitious climate policies they’ve ever had, but they’re not using them to fight each other. 

Looking at the Facebook ad library – which records political ads – none of the parties have spent more than a few hundred pounds on climate ads (to put that in context, the three main parties have between them spent a bit over £400k on Facebook in the last week). Same goes, as far as I can see for surrogate accounts like Labour Future. The climate debate on Channel 4 was also pretty consensual, without much effort between the parties to criticise one another’s policy.

Maybe this isn’t surprising when Labour and the Lib Dems have moved so far in so little time. They’ve perhaps caught themselves by surprise at where they are now. But it means that climate change still hasn’t become normal politics, in the way that Labour and the Lib Dems are happy to argue about Brexit, despite having pretty similar policies.

This is probably fine for Labour because it means the main distinction is with the Tories (though I’m still surprised they’re not doing more to attack the Tories on the climate). But it’s a problem for the Lib Dems. So long as the contrast is between the Tories and all the other parties, Labour can put the fear of Johnson into their want-away Remainers.

It may be too late for this election, but for the Lib Dems to benefit from the surge in concern about climate, they need to show how they would be better at halting the crisis than Labour would be. The argument the Lib Dems need is probably that only they have credible, deliverable policies that are appropriate to the challenge. Maybe also a hint that they would insist on the Tories being better on the climate in any coalition negotiations.

In short, the Lib Dems need to persuade 2017 Labour-voting Remainers (and some Lib Dems too) that, on climate change, it’s not just a question of the Tories versus the others. Until they do, the growing alarm about the climate crisis will mostly help Labour, and not them.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), shows why public opinion about climate change is important and what could overcome climate apathy.

The Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain? Latest Polling Matters

Posted in Liberal Democrats, Politics, Polling Matters on April 17th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on The Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain? Latest Polling Matters

This article was originally published on Political Betting.

The SNP lost a referendum and won a landslide. Could the Lib Dems do something similar by becoming the party of Remain voters?

This week’s PB/Polling Matters Opinium poll suggests the party could do well with a relentless focus on stopping Brexit. But it also shows that a single-issue stop Brexit party would be unlikely to win more than a quarter of voters.

Only around 11% currently say they’d vote Lib Dem, but the Opinium poll found 41% of the public would definitely vote Lib Dem or would consider doing so, including 47% of current Labour voters. Winning over half of those considering the Lib Dems would put the party above even its record 2010 vote.

So should the party try to gain these voters with a promise that they would keep the UK in the EU?

In part the poll backs this up. Among those who voted Remain, 60% would at least consider the Lib Dems – around 29% of voters.

But this overstates the opportunities for the Lib Dems in focusing on stopping Brexit. Most Remainers don’t care enough about staying in the EU to put it above all other issues.

In another question the poll found that only 22% agree with the statement “My top priority when deciding who to vote for is supporting a party that will try to stop Brexit”. This 22% may be a more realistic limit for how far a stop Brexit party could go.

This still suggests the Lib Dems could double their vote share with an anti-Brexit focus. Even winning over just those who strongly agree with the statement, and aren’t already Lib Dem voters, would add 7pts to the Lib Dem vote.

With Labour now facilitating Brexit, the field is clear for the Lib Dems to be the party of Remain. The poll suggests this focus could serve the Lib Dems well, in comparison with their 2015 vote.

But a single-issue stop Brexit party is unlikely to win more than one in four voters. Unless the UK’s exit goes so badly that public opinion changes, this focus can take a party from fourth to third, but it can’t take them from third to second.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast here: