The Guardian has announced its latest ICM poll with great fanfare, declaring what we already new months ago: Cameron is quite popular.
But it is also quite good news for the Lib Dems. Standard disclaimers about opinion polls just being a snapshot notwithstanding, I think we should be pleased that the Lib Dems have stayed at around their General Election figure at the height of the Cameron honeymoon period and during a really difficult week for the leader. Indeed, half of the polling was done after Cameron’s plea to Lib Dems to defect to him, suggesting he made very little impact indeed.
The poll also asks how people would vote in a Brown/Cameron/Kennedy election. Here, the Lib Dem vote drops to 18% while the Tory vote rockets up to 41%. Michael White suggests that this shows the Lib Dems “losing votes back to Tory candidates.”
This is bizarre analysis as under this scenario it is Labour, not the Lib Dems who have changed leader. Why would we be haemorraging votes to the Tories? A more likely analysis in my view (ICM doesn’t provide switch analysis so I can’t say for sure), is that the Lib Dems are losing votes to Labour, but Labour lose many more votes to the Tories. The same thing appears to be happening with the “other” support.
Losing 2 votes for every 1 gained is not exactly a ringing vote of confidence in Gordon Brown, and the only way Brown can minimise that is by disappointing those like Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley who seem to think he is a socialist messiah and hasn’t really spent the last 8 years running the government at all. But that, in turn, is likely to minimise the loss in Lib Dem support.
What all this suggests is that there are in fact two faultlines in British politics at the moment, not just one: one between Labour and the Tories and one between Labour and the Lib Dems. Continuing on a course of competing with the Tories, as we have done for most of the last decade, would be disastrous for the Lib Dems. There are no more votes to squeeze out of them. We should be careful about minimising any loss to Cameron in our key margins to be sure, but our main target should be the disaffected New Labour vote that is attracted to Cameron’s liberal veneer and traditional Labour support in inner cities. Our message to these people should be clear: “don’t be fooled twice.”