Is the Coalition changing the Lib Dems? Polling data shows people more confused by the Lib Dems

Is something strange going on? Nick Clegg and many others have called Ken Clarke a Lib Dem. Now Ken Clarke is calling Nick Clegg a One Nation Tory. The Tory conference didn’t ridicule the Lib Dems and Labour conference wanted to rule out a Coalition with the Lib Dems. With so many people having an opinion of the Lib Dems having now gone into Coalition, there maybe signs that the party itself is changing?

For Labour, the Lib Dems have been a left leaning political party that should really be a wing of the Labour Party. For many in the country the Lib Dems were an independent centre-left party. Labour and many on the political left have been confused by the Coalition with the Tories. If we look historically at the leanings of Lib Dem support we see that in recent years there was a tendency for the Lib Dems to favour Labour:

But you can also see that in 1983, 1987 and 1992 the Lib Dems favoured the Tories so it has not always been the case that the Lib Dems have been a left leaning political party, more of a centrist party. So have things changed back to a pre 1997 state? PoliticalBetting report that

there’s been a big change in the views of Lib Dems supporters. Back in August the split was 45%-27% in favour of the Tories/Dave. In the overnight poll that’s moved to 53%-18%.

So a hardening of the support for the Tories over Labour by Lib Dems? This could be explained by the positioning of the other parties – The closer Labour or the Tories are to the centre ground the more support for them by the Lib Dems. So when Labour moved to the left we saw people move to the centre:

When Labour moved to the centre people went with them:

So with Labour moving to the left surely this means people should be more attracted to the Lib Dems? Apparently not as we are constantly reminded everyday by opinion polls. So maybe Labour’s taunts are true – that we have moved to the right leaving people to move to Labour? If this were the case then our support would be going to Labour. In fact what has happened is that Lib Dem support has deserted in all directions:

YouGov are showing that 35% of Lib Dem voters have moved to Labour and 17% to the Tories and 11% to other parties. If this was all about political posturing then the picture would be very different. If we had moved to the right then why would 11% move to the Tories, even while we are in Government with them? Surely it can’t just be about political posturing? And this is where we need to look elsewhere to see the bigger picture

At the General Election people did not know what the Labour party stood for and people were more sure about the Lib Dems. Now we see a reversal of this trend with people saying they know what the Labour party stands for more now and the Lib Dems less. It is interesting that the Labour party vote is higher than the vote for Ed Miliband, maybe a sign they have more trust in the party and what it stands for than him? Whereas for the Lib Dems people are saying they don’t know what the Lib Dems stand for, or Clegg for that matter. The Tories have remined fairly consistent in this area and so have their poll ratings – so it maybe an important indicator?

So as attitudes in the Lib Dems change towards the Labour party, potentially due to changing in political posturing, this is being seen as a change in what the party stands for, and this is damaging. If we want to regain voters, we need to show what we stand for and that this is consistent. We need to stop talking about left/right/centre and more about values. We need to focus on a small number of topics and get the message out. We need to show people that we are consistent and we need to accept that we have not been consistent over the years.

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6 Responses to Is the Coalition changing the Lib Dems? Polling data shows people more confused by the Lib Dems

  1. Matthew Huntbach says:

    Economically, all three political parties are WAY to the right of where they were in the 1980s. The Conservative Party has moved to the left on a few social issues, but apart from that it is what we could call loony right in the 1980s, way to the right of Margaret Thatcher. The Labour Party is about where Margaret Thatcher was. And the problems of our country are mostly down to this right wing economic policy not working. The ordinary public are confused because there is no left-wing party giving them an alternative. The right-wing propaganda sheets called “newspapers” in this country have successfully managed to persuade those who might back the left that all politics is nasty and dirty anyway so they shouldn’t bother with it. The result is that all three political parties are playthings of the power of big money. The Liberal Democrats used to be about the belief that there were political solutions and about getting people involved in politics through things like community politics. In that way, we were the real voice of the left, against the dominant view that “politics is not for the likes of us”. We should go back to that. Ordinary people don’t think in that way any more because there is no one left talking to them about it, not because they have all become believers in the Thatcherite economics which all three parties now peddle.

    • Hi Matthew, thanks for the comments. I think your point of view is a very interesting one and I would be very interested to know what you would do if you were in charge of the Lib Dems? It is an interest of mine looking at alternatives and seeing if that would become electable so your views would be great if you have the time.

  2. shodanalexm says:

    I agree with Matthew Huntbach (as I often do!) – the categories of left and right we are dealing with now bear no relation to those from the 1980s. The centre ground has shifted to the right in as political parties capitulated to the argument that TINA to market fundamentalism. The only contemporary party that would be at all recognisable as ‘left’ from the 1980s perspective is the Greens.

    I agree with the post that being clear on values and what the party stands for is important. But I can’t help thinking that in contemporary political discourse that those “values” and policy platforms will be triangulated from focus groups and market research in order that they can be effectively “messaged” to the voters. Which is, of course, the antithesis of values-driven policy.

    • Hi Alex and thanks for the comments. I was told at conference that ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ was focused grouped and that it had gone down really well! so I wonder if there is an argument we can start making about the impotence of focus groups these days? If we don’t base our policies and positions on values then aren’t we just another New Labour? and that would be pretty depressing.

  3. This, along with the other two articles you have published this week, is an incredibly important piece.

    It seems to me that the LDs have established themselves as a non socialist alternative to the Conservative party over a period of 50-60 years. This place us slightly left of centre. The last couple of years, and Clegg’s leadership in particular, have driven a coach and horses through this positionng and the result is some confusion as to who we are – both internally and externally.

    I think your figures also highlight that the debate can move on. It may not be sufficient to plough the same furrow of being Labour lite – penny on the pound of income tax for education – indefinitely. Indeed under Charles Kennedy we positioned ourselves as in some ways to the left of Labour.

    As I understand it the Orange Book was all about trying to find a new way moving forward – it was never a credo of the ‘right wing’ of the party and economic liberals, styling it like that was to mis-understand the book.

    You highlight the danger of Cameron love bombing us to oblivion and the danger of burning our bridges with social democrats, and anyone with left of centre instincts.

    You highlight the need to win one nation Conservatives for ourselves leaving the Tories to neo Cons and ‘Little Englanders’. Also the need to win those on the left with our core appeal to the non socialist left of centre. And to liberals of course.

    I think the starting point is to decide who we are. Because you have highlighted that while many ‘feel’ they share our values there is real confusion as to who we are. From this work we can discern a range of broad and detailed policy themes, as well as a narrative and an analysis of our society and economy.

    After this is clear we can work on the positioning and the political strategy.

    However, what is clear is that we must be clear of who we are wnd what we are for – because right now there is some confusion and it has the potential to kill us.

    • Hi Gavin and thanks for the comments and a big thank you for the compliment too. I totally agree with you, we do need to make sure we know who we are and what we stand for. I think we mostly know this but I think it gets confused sometimes and so no wonder other people get confused too. We need a clearer message or it will – as you say – kill us.

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