Keep your eye on the Brown ball

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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.”

18 thoughts on “Keep your eye on the Brown ball

  1. I had exactly the same thought reading it this morning. The danger for the LibDems is that Gordon will attract back to Labour some of those lefties repelled by Tony, while those Mondeo Men who love Tony but don’t like old Labour will scurrey to a Tony-alike at the head of the Tories.

  2. The key to our future success is credibility on the economy.

    – a dynamic economy ensures growing tax revenues to spend on social goals
    – it ensures people are employment, thereby being healthier and less demanding on services
    – the above satisfies the “comfortably wealthy” who are secure and care about services for other
    – it also satisfies the “aspirationally wealthy”, the mondeo (BMW 3-series these days 🙁 ) men & women who backed Tony the winner for delivering them a boom, but will go back to Cameron if that turns to bust

  3. We certainly don’t want to lose votes because of our economic policy (or lack thereof), and I agree that it is an important backbone, but the fact is we aren’t going to be fighting the next election to win and thus it isn’t going to, and should not, dominate our campaign.

    The bottom line is, we aren’t competing for first place and we shouldn’t adopt a strategy that assumes we are.

  4. James – I would wager that the next election will be fought on the economy. There is also a strong possibility that there will be a narrow majority or no overall control. We run the risk of being squeezed out in such cirumstances, and we have to look credible if we are to enter government as part of a coalition.

    Believing that the Economy is not important is the sort of thinking that will keep us in third place and as an
    irrelevance for ever. Liberalism is too important to have to occupy that position.

  5. – “I agree that [the Economy] is an important backbone”

    – “Believing that the Economy is not important is the sort of thinking that will keep us in third place and as an irrelevance for ever”

    Where’s the beef? I agree that having a strong economic policy is important, I merely question (strongly) that it should form a central aspect of our campaign.

    Another thing we should not be doing is tarting ourselves around as a “credible” coalition partner. That leaves us under constant attack. Kennedy has been quite correct to rule such things out from the outset. A Lab-Con Grand Coalition is just as (more?) likely a scenario as us going in with one or other of them, so why should we be the ones talking about compromise?

  6. James 😀 I suspect we actually agree ona lot. It was just that warnign bells rang in my head. One of the things we tend to do as a party is forget what concerns “ordinary people” to use a rather horrible phrase. And the economy is right up there. Unless we come in with policies that at the very least don;t jeopardise the economy, we will suffer.

    I also agree with you about pitching for coalition. We don’t we, pitch our cohesive platform on its merits. Which brings me to my last point.

    I hope we have a strong programme for how to make life better for people. How to improve the sdervices on which they depend, and make them more accountable and responsive. I can also guarnatee that we will be asked “That’s all well and good but …. how will you pay for it?” If we can’t answer that question in a credible fashion we deserve to fail.

    In Cable, Laws and Clegg we have three talented and economically credible and literate spokesmen. Lets make sure we use them effectively.

  7. I feel we need to present a liberal economic policy and show how this benefits people.
    Not just through lower taxes (if that choice is made it will be because the boost to the economy means higher tax takings not as a cheap trick to try and get people to vote for us), but through the greater productivity and opportunity for all.
    If we can present a strong economic case we can then say what we will do with the money and the prosperity. The economics fuelling the social liberalism (which in turn should feed the economics by removing people from poverty and state dependancy).

    We need to target Labour votes, but not through being socialist as that is (or at least should be) an anathema to a liberal party, but by showing that we have the policies that will help people, unlike Labour’s policies which cause stagnation, the poorest getting poorer (I don’t care if the rich get richer as long as they don’t wield extra power due to their money, so long as they pay their taxes) and decreased social mobility.

    Liberalism is capable of delivering a free society in which nobody suffers due to poverty or lack of opportunity or inbalances in power. We need to win the ‘left’ back from the maw of socialism.

  8. The ICM poll is actually quite good news for the Lib Dems.

    Even after a month of relentless Cameron worship in the media, and a damaging, unresolved squabble within the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party, The Tories are only one percentage point ahead of an unpopular government, and the Lib Dems are still on 21%, which is only marginally lower than what we got last May, and greater than our percentage totals for 1992, 1997 and 2001.

    It is unlikely to get much better for Cameron. And it can hardly get much worse for the Lib Dems.

    Think back to 1994, when Tony Blair became Leader of the Labour Party. Labour’s lead over the Conservatives was in double figures, and the loss of Lib Dem support (mainly to Labour) was far greater than 1.5%.

    As a media Superhero, Cameron 2005 is not a shadow of Blair 1994.

    But a word of warning.

    If we have four solid years of Murdoch pumping out pro-Cameron hype every day of the week, plus a series of negative stories about the Lib Dems (and fresh argie-bargie), it might not be possible to prevent a Tory victory.

    It was very ominous that the Murdoch press, poised to fill its front pages with lurid tales of Cameron’s drug-taking and womanising, suddenly changed course. The stories did not appear. And the deification of Cameron began. Not just in the tabloids, but in the supposedly more serious papers, such as “The Guardian” and “The Independent”.

    With the broadsheets, you can put it down to Oxbridge solidarity. But what about Murdoch? What caused his Damascene conversion? Was he perhaps appraised by his “invisible government” friends that Cameron (not Davis) is “our man”?

    Think back to 1994, when Tony Blair became Leader of the Labour Party. Labour’s lead over the Conservatives was in double figures, and the loss of Lib Dem support (mainly to Labour) was far greater than 1.5%.

    As a media Superhero, Cameron 2005 is not a shadow of Blair 1994.

    Now to the narrower issue of electoral strategy.

    It remains the case that the majority of seats where the Lib Dems are less than 10% behind the winner are held by the Conservatives. Most of these were 2005 targets, and with a handful of exceptions, our vote fell back.

    You can see why Oaten, Cable, Laws, et al, think and act the way they do.

    Why did we slide in so many key Tory targets? Was it because the Conservative campaigns on the ground were so effective? Was it because the Lib Dems were perceived as being “to the left of Labour”? Was it Charles Kennedy’s lack of credibility as a potential Prime Minister (something which may have bothered left-wing protest voters less)?

    We won’t move forward as a Party until we answer those questions.

  9. Great post, T Mills. Let’s make the economy our issue. Our figures on this were terrilble in May, and surely cost us a shedload of seats (only 6% thought we had the best policies on the economy.

    I don´t agree that we should not be fighting to win. First, I´ve now had 25 years of us hoping to make the breadkthgough the election after next. Second the country needs us. Third, if you don´t fight to win you might just disappear.

  10. All this talk of making economic policy central to the next campaign rather assumes the LibDems can agree on what economic policy they should have. The balance of the party appears to be in favour of social democracy, not massively to the left of Labour but certainly not to the right. But there is a vocal and significant minority, who amongst other things control many of the economics-oriented shadow portfolios, who want a libertarian economic policy of lower tax and smaller government.

    Talking of “win(ning) the ‘left’ back from the maw of socialism” doesn’t seem to be much of a contribution to untying these knots, as New Labour isn’t socialist in any particularly substantive sense.

  11. “Why did we slide in so many key Tory targets? Was it because the Conservative campaigns on the ground were so effective? Was it because the Lib Dems were perceived as being “to the left of Labour”? Was it Charles Kennedy’s lack of credibility as a potential Prime Minister (something which may have bothered left-wing protest voters less)?

    We won’t move forward as a Party until we answer those questions.”

    I saw with my own eyes how effective Tory targetting was when delivering eve of poll cards. The Tories were following me round, hopping in and out of cars and going only to specific houses. I was footslogging around them all. The evidence was that they got a small but significant increase that in many seats brought them back fromthe brink (and lost us 5). I have also much anecdotal evidence about disorganised campaigning.

    So much for tactics. We still need to answer the strategic questions.

    I have also heard from several sources that, to say the least, our polling and data gathering leaves seomthing to be desired. We do not have sufficient information about chrun and switching in our target seats. Until we can answer these questions with some degree of confidence we can’t take effective decisions on policy.

  12. It is clear that the Tories ran a very effective targeting campaign in a number of constituencies, but it wasn’t consistent and depended very largely on centralised resources. In 2008/9 they may be able to improve on that a bit but they are still fucked on the ground. They could win the next general election if they fought an effective ground war, but I’m doubtful they will be able to turn things around.

    Their challenge – and our challenge – is to revive our local organisations. In many ways we are in a stronger position to do this (and good market research would be a great help), but perversely what I’ve seen so far is a push for greater centralisation. In my view that will be a big mistake that will cost us dear.

  13. Peter (#9): fighting to win is very nice in theory, but there is absolutely no way we can do this. One of the bizarre things I’ve noticed is that certain senior party figures believe that they can simultaneously argue that the Tories have no hope of gaining overall control in 2008/9 and that the Lib Dems can.

    The party proudly boasts that it is in first or second place in 40% of constituencies across the country, but we can’t win every single one of them and even if we did, it doesn’t get us even close to a majority. True, there are some 3-way marginals we have a strong chance of leapfrogging in, but that is around a dozen seats nationwide.

    Here’s another statistic. Most opinion polls ask how people intend to vote, not which party most closely identify themselves with. The former has consistently given us a figure at around 20% over the past couple of years, but an ICM poll done earlier this year found that when the latter question was asked, just 10% of the public said Lib Dem. The other parties have a much higher core support which simply aren’t up for grabs.

    Fighting to win leads to a qualititively different strategy than fighting for a third of the popular vote (say). The Lib Dems have attempted to split the difference for the last 3 elections. That has given us a good base from which to grow, but we need to develop our own core support. Otherwise, winning outright will only ever be a pipedream to us.

    I just think it is healthier to face up to certain realities and deal with them than to continue living a lie.

  14. 13 James, whilst I agree with the realism assessment, I’m struggle to see the differenc between campaigning as if we were going to win, and campaigning otherwise. ATEOTD it all comes down to having a coherent policy platform that’s been supported over the preceding years by a well argued exposition of our philosophy.

  15. I wouldn´t like to propose living a lie, James…

    But assume that 1/3 support is viable – thus a little more than 1/3 is viable – thus it is conceivable to be the largest party.

    The proportion of the population saying they are Lib Dems (as a proportion of those naming anyone) was 14% when I last looked. I certainly agree that we should work on developing this.

    The economy is THE issue for many voters. We won’t get much joy from being good on localism but poor on running the economy imo.

  16. For me, one of the saddest moments of the General Election was the loss of Newbury. Of all our MPs, David Rendell was the one best placed to appeal to soft Tory voters. Personable, talented, hard-working, an Old Etonian with the common touch. Yet he lost to a local landowner. A 22,000 vote majority evaporated in the space of 12 years.

    Tabman is right to say that the Tories ran a more efficient and focused campaign on the ground in target constituencies. I can recall shoving blanket deliveries through letterboxes to be greeted by the sight of Tory “personalised” letters sitting on doormats direct from Coleshill (Michael Howard’s mug staring in my face, in point of fact).

    As a Party, we owe more to Chris Rennard than to any other single individual, but that doesn’t mean that everything he says and does is right and beyond criticism.

    There was not nearly enough canvassing, in my opinion. On the eve of poll in a constituency which we actually won from Labour, I asked one of the organisers how much of the electorate had been contacted, eyball-to-eyeball. The answer was “about 10%”. Not good enough, say I, even if it didn’t matter in that individual case.

    Now, I work and reside in London and the Home Counties, where most of our active members live in the 21st century. In the West Country (home to many of our targets) that is not always the case. One still bumps into people who “know better” than Chris Rennard, who think FOCUS doesn’t work, or refuse to deliver leaflets in villages for fear of offending non-party parish councillors (I call these folk “palaeo-liberals”).

    That is the problem, as I see it, and I am sure it is painfully familiar to most visitors to this site.

    On the policy side, we seem to have conflated the separate but nonetheless related issues of policy and presentation. It is possible to APPEAR to be “centre-right” while actually being “centre-left”, as Mark Oaten proves every time he opens his mouth. And vice versa, no doubt. Now, I am sufficiently doctrinaire to believe that policy has to derive from basic liberal democratic values and must reflect what we genuinely believe is in the best interests of the country and the international community. First get the policies right, then work out how to present them. Not the other way round (ie, hire a market research agency to tell us what people want to hear, then cobble together some policies to fit the brief).

  17. One of the reasons we lost to the Tories – at least were I was helping – was that Tory voters who had stayed at home in 2001 came out again in 2005.

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