Was pretty much the gist of what Chris Huhne said on the Marr programme yesterday. I rather like that response – I hate it when politicians resort to the cliches of “I never pay attention to polls” (course you don’t, just like all the other politicians don’t) or worse “the only poll that counts is election day”. Huhne’s response rather charmed me since he does at least know about * signifying less than 0.5% but more than 0 in a poll.

Sadly, I can’t actually find any historical incidents of the Lib Dems getting poll ratings of an asterisk. The lowest the Liberal Democrat party has ever polled seems to be 4% in MORI’s polls between June and August 1989, when their support was being split by the continuing SDP. Looking at their predecessor, the lowest Liberal party score I can find in a poll was 1.5% in a Gallup poll in 1955.

Of course, historical polls from before 1997 or so are tricky to find online – MORI and ICM have their archives up, but it’s trickier to find historical polls from companies who no longer regularly conduct them. It could be that at some point in the distant past the Liberal party really was just an asterisk, but I expect Chris Huhne was just exaggerating a bit. Either way, in the past the Lib Dems have indeed had much lower scores than 12%.

UPDATE: Thanks to David Boothroyd in the comments who has managed to find an ICM poll from the Sunday Correspondent in 1989 that had the Lib Dems at 3% (ICM have their Guardian series on their website back into the 80s, but only have polls for other clients back to 1990). Can anyone beat that?

UPDATE2: There is a System Three poll in Scotland in 1988 that had the Lib Dems at just 2% (see here). A Scotland poll isn’t quite the same thing as a GB one, but what the hell. Rob Blackie in the comments reckons there was a Scottish poll (presumably from a different company) that had them even lower. Can anyone track that one down?

441 Responses to “When I were a lad the Lib Dems were just an asterisk…”

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  1. Eoin asked me
    How does the phrase Liberal-Conservative strike you?

    Well, if we were describing the Mainland ‘liberal’ parties, one would have no surprise at the term.

    Here on the Island, Kyle’s Whigs, undoubtedly such, only exist now in members who probably forgot why they joined, other than grand-mama was already a member. The term you suggested, Eoin, only applies to them.

    The term ‘conservative’ coupled with that of ‘liberal’ would be seen as an oxymoron by most supporters. That’s why the cosying up the toffs’ government (although how did they let Pickles, Fox and Hague in?) does not go down well at the moment.

    The party has a champagne socialist component , that resents the TUC influence and that was what I meant when I wrote of ‘anti privilege and arrogance’ ethos.

    It applies to both left and right wing establishments.


  2. @Eoin Clarke – “It is hard to get away from the view that in terms of Foreign policy, and criminal justic policy Cameron’s administration is the most progressive since the 1970s.”

    At the moment it’s just a lot of noise in both these departments – perhaps in 2-3 years we will be able to confirm this.

    Although progressive reforms in the prison system might seem practical, it’s debatable whether it would be politically expedient for the coalition to press liberal reforms on law and order. It would create an opportunity for Labour to outflank them on the right.

    Foreign policy will most likely be judged by whatever flash-points occur during this parliament – Iran is probably the most predictable of these….

    Also based on current polling trends, do you think that sustained lack of public support for the Libs combined with increasing Tory support will force Cameron to pay more heed to the right, dashing some of the more progressive policies?

  3. Eoin, “i do not think Cameron craves popularity or acceptance”

    Sorry if it seems like I’m picking on you but :

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah lol rofl, etc.

  4. Sue M
    He’s made it now, has DC, (excuse the Yorkshire-ism) so perhaps he doesn’t.

    You would not want more then five years in that stuffy hole, unless you had lost your marbles and were deluded with grandeur, like Thatcher and Blair

    Dc does not require money either, from thelecture circuit. He will just dine out as much appreciated dinner guest for the rest of his life (but not for money, only crude people do that),

    He’s a toff, thus I agree with Eoin.

    The Hindenburg was a very large airship, a Zeppelin, which burst into flames causing the death of the passengers on board. This tragedy was in the early 30s. The esteemed Monsieur Blanc, thinks Cameron has one engine and that Brown combusted.

  6. Bernie / Ecclestone Mittals V Sheffield Forgemaster Andrew Cook and Care UK!!!

    Don’t you want to see these things?

  7. ANYONE who stands as Prime Minister craves popularity and acceptance! Arguably, only GB stood on a ticket of being un-popular and un-accepted.

  8. @HOWARD
    Of course it fits my right wing looney profile, but the idea of politicians not needing money is very appealing. Being wealthy in ones own right, seen by the left as out of touch privilege, is seen by me as a less likely applicant to the pork barrel.

  9. Sue,

    Michael V makes an excellent point. The true point of judgement on DC will come in the incidents that crop up in the lifetime of the parliament. He is probably right to point out Iran…

    In terms of post MAy scandals…. I regret to say it but the £80million to Forgemasters was an obvious saving. In terms of craving popularity we are seeing none of the signs of it…. in terms of personality defects Cameron’s biggest is naivety, (he does always think becfore he speaks) soemthing which it is very hard to dislike… I dont think he’s been quite sounding off about hands of history on his shoulder… I think losing a son especially tempered his smugness. After that he seemed a lot more easily angered and rattled but I would not say smug…..

    If criticisms of an administration are to stick people first have to give them a chance… biting at their heels five years out would tire any opposition party out… Cameron himself nearly made that mistake.. he was exhausted by May 2010.



    I am interested in the Champagne socialist/ TUC criticism you mentioned…. would you care to explain that to us non-libs a bit more?



    Thansk for clearing that up…. :)

  10. I have been doing some thinking (gasps) and I have decided that I quite like that Andy Burnham chap. He seems a quite reasonable, down to earth fellow and he might make a good leader.

    After the Bella Blonde incident, I assure you Anthony it isnt me. I have learnt my lessons in such an embarising spectacle.

  11. Roland H
    Exactly, indeed that was my point. It wasn’t like this in Lord Salisbury’s, Eden’s and Churchill’s day and hopefully, it won’t be like this with DC, GO and the other toffs.

  12. Michael V,

    It is a good question but I suspect the answer is no.

    Centre politics is fertile ground for Cameron. Getting the yellows to keep quiet about Europe was the biggest concession of the coalition deal. They are noted for their pro-european stance but as long as yellows dont push Europe the paranoid wing of the party will regard that as a hidden success.

    i guess a lot hinders on the AV bill. If that fails (which it most certainly will do) cameron will be seen to have out manouvred Clegg.

    In short, the right will judge Cameron by what he does not do… not by what he does….

    In saying that Turkish negotiations strike me as remarkably interesting. They potentially could reignite the whole sheebang.

    Nothing will ever convince me that the death of little Ivan Cameron changed David Cameron quite fundamentally. And this is not some old Tory trying to see good in our boy. Money or no money, that kind of life shattering loss makes or breaks a person.
    It always struck me as ironic, that the 2 of them, Brown and Cameron suffered grief in this way and the guy responsible for a lot of peoples dead kids got away with it.

  14. @Eoin
    I looked up Divis Flats as you suggested. Found some pics and articles. Wikipedia has an entry too. Quite an eye opener. Quite apart from the tensions and tragedies during ‘the troubles’ the buildings themselves clearly were a health hazard. Potential asbestos problems plus an unnatural environment born out of sixties thinking. Mental pressures. No doubt you will recall that Nottingham had its share of depressing blocks too, as did many other towns. The one at Hyson Green was known as ‘Alcatraz’. Balloon Woods was grim too. Both long since demolished.

    These places were, IMO, designed by folk who never had to fear having to live in them themselves. The problem with social housing over umpteen decades has been that the governments ( of all colours ) wanted the most homes for the least outlay. So they built slums. Cramped high density estates, low standards of construction, poor sound insulation, poor heat insulation, poor amenities etc etc. I mention all this because I think that, if we ever see a major push to build lots of social housing, cost will come first (again) and the new homes will be as sub-standard as the stuff built in the sixties.

    Anyway, I presume it was a good thing that Divis Flats have been demolished ? I do hope that the former occupants were given somewhere decent to live. Thanks again for suggesting that I read up on it.

  15. EOIN
    ITS THE DEMENTIA, the boys death DID change him fundamentally.

  16. Sue M
    Brown (Gord not Geo) was indeed not after money but was compromised by his fanaticism, as was Gladstone.

    the true liberal wants to tear down anything and everything that he / she regards as a baleful influence on our lives . He /she is essentially a big society person who thinks the Establishment in any form is out for power at his /her expense. Thus a trade union sponsored MP carries as much Establishment baggage as a County Set-supported one.

    Even busy young houswives I have met who go for us say something similar but without mentioning the above ‘isms’. It’s a state of mind.

  17. Eoin – I think Cameron is honest and fair minded, whether I agree with his policies or not. I think his aim when forming the coalition was rather noble.

    I have expressed support for his foreign policy and some of the Welfare suggestions.

    Criticism however, should come where and when one feels it is justified. Not criticising decisions or attitudes one feels are wrong or misguided at any point in a parliament is dishonest.

  18. Roland,

    Yes I understood you- dementia is a long way off I suspect….


    That makes sense. But does the left of the party also believe that? If so are they anarchists?


    Yes he did… tis why I love him :)

  19. Eoin

    May I concur with the spirit of Roland’s 5.44 post.

    You & I would seem to be miles apart politically from my reading of our exchanges here , and particularly , given your honest self confessed prediliction for Big Government .

    But your attitude to Cameron ( thus far ;-))strikes me as pretty objective-and somewhat fairer to him than I might have been on one or two issues.

    I do think that those who set great store by disagreements & divided opinion in the Coalition haven’t yet “got it”

    The whole point of the arrangement is that Liberals & Conservatives join together to produce mutually acceptable policies in government. This inevitably means that there will be discussion-constant discussion. In a sense, that is the very mechanism by which the edges around consensus are exposed & dispensed with, and the core of consensus is exposed.

    That is what IMO. the main appeal of this government will be to the electorate. It is the visible proof that each is having effect on the other……arguably what the electorate wished for.

    Of course-if the edges become more significant than the core , and there is no consensus, then DC & NC come into play. But as yet , I can see no sign of that much desired thing from the “let’s watch it fall apart” contingent on the left-the collapse of the arrangement.

    That the Tory right wing is perceived to have as much to complain about , as the Lib Dem left, seems to indicate that Cameron as PM has got it about right.

  20. @HOWARD
    Once again I agree, It is widely known that if Jay Blanc is correct and Brown had burst into flames, I would not have urinated on him. However, that was one man definitly not in it for the money. The amount of the hard stuff George Brown put away, its a wonder he did not go up in flames.

  21. Roland – I think it must have changed him fundamentally too. It was the one thing during the campaign that always gave me pause for thought. If it didn’t influence his attitude to the NHS it would be quite remarkable.

  22. Cozmo,

    Yes I agree with all of that entirely. They rebuilt Divis. i am sure Roalnd could tell you all about it. Today 2,700 people still live in it.

  23. Roland H
    Yes I understood the typo immediately. I don’t want to wear heart on sleeve but I lost an 11 year old girl to cancer and also a baby that died in the birth, poor girl.

    I believe that apart from genes, being an only child, for instance, can be of the highest importance in moulding character.

    Having said that, the finest man I knew was my FIL, who was one of six. He was a Green Howard (private) who was captured in the desert and spent the rest of the war in ghastly POW camps being not infrequently bombed by the RAF and USAAF (!!).

    That sort of thing does make you see what is important. As he said once to me, ‘they talk about diets, I know a sure way of losing weight’.

    Like Eoin, I have this innate feeling that DC will be OK but that will not save him, nothing can nor ever does.

  24. @Sue

    I wish more Labour MPs were as fair minded as you. It is very refreshing to see some constructive critisism for a change instead critisism for the sake of it.

    I am quite impressed by Cameron at the moment. I know his honeymoon cannot last but the speed of the way he is tackling the deficit is impressive. Sometimes I raise an eyebrow at some of the things the government cut, but I have to remind myself that it is necessary. It is a brutal business, politics. Somehow, I think changing the face of it can be quite difficult.

  25. Roland.

    I am sure that DC’s loss of a son affected him.

    Any parent is surely affected by the loss of their young child. I think he indicated in that TV prog. that it made him stop and think about what was important in his life.

    But I feel confident in suggesting that by far the greatest influence on David Cameron’s life was having
    a severely disabled child, and caring for them.
    Ivan’s life was the significant factor on David Cameron’s life.

  26. Howard – I’m sure you don’t want a thread-full of sympathy, but I’m unable to ignore your post and am so dreadfully, dreadfully sorry for your loss. There can surely be nothing on earth worse.

  27. Colin,

    Thanks… For me it is a question of democracy. 59% is a very high figure indeed. If Atlee can set up the NHS with a mandate shy of 50% DC can say no to Forgemasters….

    The ‘big society’ project might work. It might not. I question if some on the left are terrified of its success.

    I indeed am a fan of big government. In much the same fashion as Balls & Brown I did not beleive cuts where necessary. But if I am to have any faith in big government then it is logical to first give big society a try…

    Big gov. was only necessary when society had judged itself incapable of ameliorating its own ills. If society thinks it is ready for another attempt then it should be given the right to do so. You are not a socialist unless one day you ultimately forsee the abolition of the state…

    I am sceptical that 2010 is that year but since the 1890s is the last time we tried society I do not think it would do any harm to give it another bash again.

    If society is found wanting, you can bet Balls, Cooper et al. will be back to try social democracy.

    In the meantime, all the best of luck :)

  28. @HOWARD
    You know far more about Cameron and Browns private grief than I do mate. I am deeply sorry. Of course having a soldier son soon to have a another dose of Afghanistan is not a comforting thing.

    Your ladies Dad sounds my kind of bloke I must say.
    Also you are right about only children. I was adopted and an only child, quit a shock at 32 to find two half sisters. Imagine how they felt meeting me! Poor souls.

  29. Howard,

    Can I echo Sue’s words entirely. That you remain full of wit, wisdom and optimism, is a credit to how you have dealt with it.

  30. Howard

    Deepest sympathy-those were terrible losses to have to bear.

  31. @COLIN
    As is usual agree with you comments and sentiments Colin.

    We will never know how much the NHS would mean to Cameron had Ivan been a healthy little boy. When said and done he is a wealthy Tory. But, there is no doubt, it means a great deal to him now.

  32. Eoin – I liked your 7.48.

  33. We’ve come along way from Libs on 3% but I think perhaps not so far as we think (thanks to AW to letting the more informed discussion rip).

    The factors that will take us towards PR are of course varied and the character of PM is but one. My prediction of DC’s fall from grace is not a wish but simply based on previous experience.

    I believe the third party will survive for the attitudinal reasons I gave earlier, again based on experience.

    The political fifties to sixties were essentially based on the mammoth win of Labour in 45 and the equally mammoth growth of the State (good and bad) that was achieved by Atlee, based on what he had already achieved with people like Butler in WW2. Thus it remained two party for yonks.

    My feelings of goodwill towards DC are based on this notion, which we have been discussing, that he sits above all the grubby stuff, due to his background and life experience.

    I have another devastating anecdote about my FIL but maybe that’s one too many for AW. I’ll post it later to see if he culls.

    Your comments were appreciated BTW.

  34. @COSMO
    Taking Eoins advice, I relate my memories of Divis Flats, so I will. When I think about it even the accent comes back, so it does. When a young para from the butt end of Stretford or Catford says to you “jeez this is bleedin rough boss” you know you are witnessing deprivation.

  35. @Roland
    Many thanks for that. I take my hat off to you and those who served under you. I can only imagine the pressures and I struggle to find the right words. But well done indeed for doing your duty, and finding the courage you needed. I also think about those on all sides who lost loved ones.

  36. @COSMO
    The Irish Question. The expression still fills me with horror. From Cromwell to Blair (we hope) and much blood and evil. And between people who if DNA tested, would look so inter related that no scientist could tell who was Irish and who was from the mainland.

  37. Two very blunt (if predictable) bit’s of sabre rattling today.

    1) Brogan in the Telegraph could not be more clear over Trident. The threat to Cameron is not even veiled.

    2) Tony Benn’s (I did say both were predictable!) letter to the Guardian with 73 co-signatories calling for a Coalition Resistance movement.

    Yes, they are the same old suspects, yes things have moved on for both elements of the parties they speak for, but anyone who doesn’t believe tsunamis are approaching is going to be drowned.

  38. Roland – On flying home from visiting family in Dublin, I bought a little “History of Ireland” book, and settled down for the flight home. I was so very confused by about Manchester and the 1750s that I had to give up.

  39. Fredrick Stansfield:

    “If the Liberals went down to 1.5% in 1955, there is hope for UKIP and the Greens.

    I guess one or two LibDems characters out in the sticks (e.g. John Thurso?) would hang on so that their party did not totally disappear.”

    In the Scottish parliament, the Greens will probably recover some of the five seats they lost last time to SNP though this could be compensated for by SNP gains elsewhere so that it will seem that the SNP were not involved in the transaction.

    John Thurso isn’t the only one who can hang on in the far North. Libdems have such large majorities there that they can afford to shed some votes, and if they are further squeezed elsewhere where they are in fourth place, that won’t make any difference either.

  40. Alec

    “It’s reported that Ken Clarke has flat refused to prepare a 40% cuts package, saying the impacts would be ‘unthinkable’,”

    That is probably literally true in that he cannot think how it could be done.

    He can make substantial cuts over five years. He can cut 40% over a longer period (though the consequenses are likely to be so severe that they would be halted, and other new costs would fall on other departments, but you cannot make cuts of that scale in that time.

    The 2011 year starts in 8 months time. Lets close a prison or two every year. Lets close one on 1st April 2011. Remember that if you only manage to close it half way through the year you have to close two to get the same saving.

    That kind of panic management engenders a huge additional risk of unintended consequenses.

    There are bad decisions too. The buildings you can do without will be in the wrong place so you have to get rid of the ones you would rather keep. The same goes for staff.

    The bottom line is that everyone will see that there less damaging and wasteful ways of doing things and the bankers will be getting their bonuses.

  41. Would be surprised if the 40% cuts are serious – perhaps this may be the case in one or two departments – most likely it is a ploy to make the 25% look less. With the 25% cuts being higher than even the Tories campaign on, fuel is needed to fire the “it’s worse than we thought” narrative. Hope this isn’t too partisan, just my take on the 40% figure.

  42. @Michael V

    I think you could well be right about that and the public resistance of some cabinet members will allow them to position themselves as protecting services whilst simultaneously making cuts.

  43. Massive improvement for Lib dems!

    YouGov tonite
    Con 42 lab 36 LD 13

  44. @Michael V

    I think that’s exactly the idea.

    But it’s one that is risky. It assumes that people will think that the cuts that happen aren’t as bad as the ones that might have. But it doesn’t factor in that people don’t really see either cuts as real yet, so just see a miasma of potential nasty cuts, and will later feel the real impact of the cuts that do happen.

    It may well be a huge stalking horse for increasing the proportion of tax rises instead, or that might be held in reserve as a plan B.

    The odd thing now is that what would save the Coalition from all their woes, is if Labour were proven right, and the economic recovery brought in enough tax returns to reduce the deficit.

  45. @Howard

    I’m so sorry to hear of your losses. I am sure there is nothing so painful as the loss of a child.

  46. Michael V,

    Spot on… 40% cuts are raised to make us feel better about 25%.


    A coalition resistence movement- what a grand title…. you have to love Tony Benn…. mind you , you would think that such an advocate of political reform would be looking forward to preparing a yes campaign for an AV referendum…. perhaps he could lead it… I wonder who the 75 signatories are?


    Spot on… both sides are as freckly and ginger as one another

  47. Howard,

    The last four scores for the LDs 12% 12% 13% 13%… Simon Hughes might have done them some favours today.. lets wait and see tomorrow nights.

  48. The Lib Dem percentage on |You Gov has now been pretty steady at 12-14 for a long time.

    I can’t see where any improvement is going to come from and would imagine that as the rumblings from disaffected Lib Dems become louder (further complaints about DC from Simon Hughes tonight) they could drop to high single figures

    From a psephological point of view this must have been one of the most interesting immediate post general election period ever.

  49. Tonights YouGov
    C 42 L36 L13

    As I said to you all AGAIN last night, without being partisan.. Labours poll bounce is OVER, finished, dead, busted!!
    The Tory’s have delivered all the bad news and still are racing fast above forty.. The economy is racing ahead again, the banks are busted with cash, people are feeling rosy!
    Happy times are here again, let’s sing a song of cheer again…
    Exciting times ahead!

  50. John b dick, Alec

    It’s rubbish about Ken Clarke refusing the 40% cuts. Where are people getting 40% from anyway… Even I would think that unreasonable, and I love a juicy cut!

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