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

    ” I wonder who the 75 signatories are?”

    Here are a few :-Respect leader Salma Yaqoob; Green leader Caroline Lucas; trade unionists Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka and Jeremy Dear; and Left-wing London Labour MPs John Mcdonnell and Jeremy Corbyn.

    But this is the key thing from the Coalition of Resistance :-

    “”We reject this malicious vandalism and resolve to campaign for a radical alternative, with the level of determination shown by trade unionists and social movements in Greece and other European countries.”

    So there you have it-the threat of strikes & public disruption.

    I’ve been rabbiting on about this for a while. It was obvious from the public sector union bosses own words. I didn’t expect the old rebel Benn to be at the helm-but he will love it-back to Trafalgar Square- just like the old days.

    Sue is right to warn of a tsunami coming. The coalition will have to deal with it. It may come to the old question-who is running the country?

    And the new Labour Leader has to answer that question too. The tsunami could flatten him if he gives the wrong answer.

  2. Wayne,

    What song would you have us sing? You’ve got me singing the blues?

  3. Wayne

    “The economy is racing ahead again, the banks are busted with cash, people are feeling rosy!”

    You do talk a lot of rubbish.

  4. Colin,

    thanks for that.

    i’ve warned before about Bob Crow…. It surprises me that Benn allowed that name to creep onto the list… but that is the difficulty with open invitations…

    i cannot think what anyone has to gain from a Greek style protest.. Blue’s ratings will hit the 50s. If Balls got in he could stem it since Unite and the RMT have been at loggerheads before…


  5. @Colin

    I think it’s a bit like a bluebottle buzzing around- you can either try and swat it or hope it finds the open window. :-)

  6. Colin, Valerie

    Colluding against the master of political intelligence is not acceptable.. I am streets ahead of all of you when it comes to political savvy. The economy is bouncing back, the banks are all declaring massive profits, unemployment down 36K last month etc etc etc. Some of the red army just don’t want to see the UKbouncing back after just 3 months of new fab government, with the best PM EVER!
    You’ll get over it!

  7. @Wayne

    While I agree with your sentiments, Cameron will NEVER be better then Sir Winston Churchill. He might be in the same league as Mrs Thatcher, but never as good as Churchill.

  8. @Colin

    I rest my case. :-)

  9. @ Jay Blanc

    Very risky, the narrative is not watertight (“it was worse than we thought” vs lower budget deficit than projected) also the economic strategy is high risk – a double dip in Europe will hit the centre-right hard…

    @ Eoin Clarke

    Agree with you on the Tories hitting the 50s if the Unions put their foot in it. Having said that I’d like to think that the UK public are a bit more rational than the Greeks – we’ll see!

    All in all I think there are a tremendous amount of variables which could significantly alter polling figures in the next year.

  10. @Roland
    re: the horrors. Yes I can understand how those experiences leave indelible memories and produce life-changing experiences. Not the sort of tasks for the faint-hearted or those short on courage. I can relate to the DNA aspect as I recently discovered that my Gt Gt Grandma was born in County Mayo in 1842. First time I realised I had some Irish roots, and I am well pleased ! :)

  11. Unions and lefties threatening civil disruption again? How nostalgic. I well remember shouting abuse at Arthur Scargill at the Battle of Saltley Gate, and am looking forward to some strike-breaking at the NHS where I’ve put in a few years in order to get a pension.

    I wonder if the police will be as enthusiastic in cracking Union skulls as they were against the hunt supporters?

  12. On the subject of Ireland, does anyone know of a similar site to this one which shows polling data for Eire? Had a look for this recently but bar a few sites which showed historic polling data there wasn’t much on google.

  13. @ Pete B

    I was at a pilot training session with the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group recently. The Chief Superintendent summarised the tactics in the 80’s as “being dropped off at the other end of the field and told to get them.” It would be intriguing to see how well they managed such operations if mass strikes do occur.

  14. @Pete B

    “I wonder if the police will be as enthusiastic in cracking Union skulls as they were against the hunt supporters?”

    Well at least they didn’t chase them around on horseback with packs of hounds ;)

  15. Billy,
    I can remember being herded by police horsemen at football matches, which felt like being hunted.

  16. @ Pete B

    Ouch. What had happened?

  17. If the unions kick off, I’ll be counter demonstrating in support of the Coalition.

    I’ve never been so satisfied with any government as this one. Britain is starting to look like a very good place to invest and this will result in more growth and more jobs, but the one thing that will screw it all up and deter foreign investors is trade union militancy.

    Don’t the idiots EVER learn?

  18. I saw that interview too. I was surprised how good he was because, in the past, I’ve he’s intelligent, but not full of personality. The interview showed him to be confident about what he says.

    I’m also glad that he admitted that polls are important. We all know that politicians only say the opposite when the numbers are against them.

    I don’t have any evidence of specific poll numbers for the Lib Dems back then, but I imagine the figures would have been low.

  19. Tony Fisher

    At last, someone on here with political intelligence.. They are doing great yes..
    Stick around you will learn a great deal from my teachings!

  20. Peter B,
    I can remember being herded by horseman at a Labour conferance… People were trying to get out!!

  21. Michael V,

    I dont think there is one…. Slugger O Toole is useful if NI politics interests you….

    They don’t commission southern polls often enough…

    Go to google news… type fianna fail poll and click news and you will usually get the most recent one…

    I keep and eye on them … I’ll post them from time to time..

  22. @Wayne

    You said “…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!…”

    Please note the following:

    * The Spending Review announced in the post-election Budget asked some government departments to prepare two sets of cuts: one of 25% at the end of 5 years, another of 40% for the same period. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10500081
    * The results of the Spending Review, including which will be asked to cut 25% and which 40%, will be published on October 20th.
    * The big thing in your living room is your couch.

    Regards, Martyn

  23. Here is a thought re Unions.

    Ed Miliband – with union backing – beats David Miliband.

    Over the coming 2 years there will be aggressive union action & Ed M is expected to back it – even if it makes him unelectable.

    Labour changes leader in 2 or 3 years (something I suggested might happen anyway, on an earlier thread).

    We get Andy B or Yvette C as Labour leader before the 2015 GE. Interesting times. ;-)

  24. @Pete B

    <i<“I wonder if the police will be as enthusiastic in cracking Union skulls as they were against the hunt supporters?”

    We can only hope eh @PeteB…we can only hope.

    Let us anticipate the security forces chalking up more than the salutary one we got at the G20 protests. Disgraceful treatment of that poor copper being victimised like that simply for enforcing the law against a bunch of long haired layabouts….

  25. @PeteB

    I can remember being herded by police horsemen at football matches, which felt like being hunted.”

    A common experience of English Defence League members/ supporters @PeteB…..

  26. Valerie

    “I rest my case.”

    Yes-completely bonkers!

  27. @ Amber Star -4.15am

    Interesting scenario. DC must be praying for it.

    But it would be an unpleasant 2 or 3 years.

  28. Eoin – Re Tony Benn. Ages ago I remember a discussion on who our top three political heroes were.

    I didn’t comment, because I thought

    1) Keir Hardy
    2) Tony Benn
    3) Peter Mandleson

    Would have shorted too many circuits.

  29. @Wayne – “It’s rubbish about Ken Clarke refusing the 40% cuts. Where are people getting 40% from anyway…”

    Er – from George Osborne. He’s the one who asked them to draw up the 40% cuts option.
    Do try to keep up.

    @Tony Fisher – “Britain is starting to look like a very good place to invest and this will result in more growth and more jobs”

    That’s an interesting observation. While it’s certainly true that the economy is currently growing much faster than expected at this stage of the cycle, recent service sector date is not encouraging and while there is some pick up in investment it is generally a poor picture still.

    Many business leaders have been quietly critical of the budget proposals for stifling investment. The Corporation Tax cuts have come at the expense of significant investment tax reliefs and examples like Sheffield Forgemasters and the Dundee gaming industry (a significant high tech UK industry) have suffered under the new government.

    A recent Nesta report argued for greater invetsment in high tech industries from government, but an analysis of current policies by Cambridge Econometrics suggests that the current policies will not help rebalance the economy to greater manufacturing and high tech industries.

    In short, I think it’s a bit too early to make jusdgement on whether the coalition is providing a good backdrop for industrial investment. While the economy is currently improving, this is so far on the back of Labour policies, and some of the known coalition policies are making it harder to justify investment, so I guess we’ll need to wait and see.

  30. Colin you’re right about that tsunami flattening everyone. To risk Broken-Record-ness, I think if cuts of 25% are indeed implemented, even the wise, thoughtful posters on this very forum have not allowed themselves to think about the implications.

  31. “The economy is bouncing back”

    Hmmm, the service sector, responsible for 40% of economic output, recorder the largest drop in 13 years yesterday. Representatives blamed the cancellation of public contracts for the slump.

  32. As Colin predictably picked the one phrase from the Tony Benn letter that suited him, I thought the rest of you might like to read the whole thing and put it in context.

    htt p://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/aug/04/tony-benn-coalition-cuts-campaign

  33. Sue,
    I hate having to keep giving these lectures about facts already out there!
    “The last quarter growth figure of 1.1% (1% came from the private sector & an appalling 0.1% from the state sector!)”

  34. Alec,

    Thanks for the advice.. If I need that type of advice, I’ll ask the cat!

  35. Wayne – I agree, stifling Public Sector growth IS risky

  36. “The last quarter growth figure of 1.1% (1% came from the private sector……”

    Yes – I think Alistair Darling can be very satisfied with these figures and it’s one in the eye for his Tory opponents who predicted terrible things for Q2.

  37. @wayne – “Thanks for the advice.. If I need that type of advice, I’ll ask the cat!”

    No problems Wayne. You’re clearly thrashing about a bit here and on this forum we’re keen to help anyone who’s so obviosuly struggling.

  38. @Amber

    Ed Miliband – with union backing – beats David Miliband…is unelectable…
    Labour changes leader in 2 or 3 years…Burnham or Cooper…interesting times

    living in interesting times is an ancient Chinese curse. For good reason in the political context.

    If Ed M does win we are unelectable even if the Unions vote for no strikes and across the board 10% pay cuts ‘in the national interest’ (sic).

    I remain to be convinced that we won’t elect David M- in the way that the historical alliance against social democracythe Tories and the hard left– are dreaming of.

    IMHO the race result remains the same:- a small but nonetheless clear win for David M; a stronger showing for Ed B and Andy B than anyone is expecting; and a weaker showing for Ed M then people are expecting. The usual campaign-group 5-10% for Dianne A.

    However if we do elect a gift from the Tory gods in September and are then forced to have another leadership election circa 2013, then it won’t be an ex cabinet minister. Not a chance.

    It will be someone like h tt p://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuka_Umunna

    Despite being one of Ed M’s 65 MP nominees this guy is going on to big things.

    Currently a member of Treasury select Committee- where he gave Georgie an utter roasting on 14 July- it was a joy to watch- he beat up Portillo over the ideological nature of the spending cut levels on live on BBC newsnight earlier this week. Great stuff.

    An ex-Lawyer of Nigerian, English and Irish ancestry who will be 35 in 2013.

  39. @Wayne
    1.1% growth last quarter, modest house price recovery, plus the taxpayer looking at a real return on their investment once stakes in (now profitable) state owned banks are sold off…

    All of this is Darling’s legacy, not Cameron’s. Being a humble chap, no doubt you’re willing to give credit where it’s due.

  40. Rob – I very much hope your prediction for the contest is right. Do you have any links to this Umunna guy? Can I still watch the TSC roasting?

  41. @Phil
    _All of this is Darling’s legacy, not Cameron’s. Being a humble chap, no doubt you’re willing to give credit where it’s due.

    The electorate wont see it that way and the coalition will be happy to take the credit.

    It means the cuts can go ahead without double dip recession.

    [Snip – a step over the line there I think – AW]

  42. Phil,
    You have this wrong. Growth acceleration has started on the back of budget by GO. Including reduced employers NI, more business confidence now we have a government that is not in denial about the deficit, like the last shower.
    In fact in denial like most Labour supporters!

  43. @ A Wells

    [Snip – a step over the line there I think – AW]


    I shall remember to include “IMO” next time :D

    [It wouldn’t have worked! – AW :D]

  44. Sue
    ” I think if cuts of 25% are indeed implemented, even the wise, thoughtful posters on this very forum have not allowed themselves to think about the implications.”

    I really think phrases like “25% cuts” are quite meaningless.

    What matters is whether what is being cut can be dispensed with, or curtailed. If the answer is yes , the reduction is 25% that is not a problem. There will be cases of 100% where the function/activity serves no useful purpsose-and that is not a problem either.

    If the fears expressed here & elsewhere , that mere salami slicing emerges, then I might begin to share your concerns because the % cut may well not be related to the relevance of the activity being curtailed.

    If-as I hope & expect- however, the spending review is based on a more specific assesment of state activities & functions, then I expect the % cut in each case to be uncontroversial. The debate will-or at least should-centre on the desirability, or otherwise of curtailing given activities.

    Just trotting out a given % figure and calling it unacceptable is not very informative.

    ie-we cannot make reasoned judgements until the departmental spending detail is released.

  45. “Then at last we can have a much smaller STATE that is fit for its proper purpose …”

    I find this comment from John F very interesting. Buried amidst the general debate about deficits and cuts, there really is a key philosophical divide at stake which is amply illustrated by JF’s comment.

    A couple of days ago Cameron was challenged by a fire brigade staff member on the Meet the PM debate and when asked if these cuts would be reversed once the austerity age is over and he replied pretty emphatically that they wouldn’t.

    It would be tempting for those on the left to claim this as coalition dishonesty and that they are using the economic situation to promote a political agenda. While the cuts (and any long term reinstatement of them) are clearly led as much by ideology as economic necessity, I don’t think the Tories have been dishonest in this in that they have openly talked about a smaller state for a long time – pretty much since DC conducted one of his great about faces and reversed his decision to agree with Labour spending plans.

    Herein lies the real debate – not in the economy, but in the philosphy of government. This is where Labour and other opposition parties need to address their thinking. The signs are (and this is even claimed by some of their close allies and some Tory MPs) that Osbourne’s Treasury led cuts are overly ideological and risk throwing a number of babies out with the bathwater.

    If Labour can make a credible case for opposing some cuts while identifying progressive options to reduce spending without service reductions they will be in the game at the next election. If they opt to support some of the unions in blanket opposition and base opposition on fears of economic decline they will be on the wrong side of the long game, although they will probably appear highly popular in the mid term period.

    My view is that the era of big government is over, but the era of small government is not wanted. Smart government might be more appropriate.

  46. @Wayne
    Clearly you make it up as you go along. I suggest you read the latest KPMG business confidence survey. Keep taking the pills, and educate yourself at:-

    h ttp://www.kpmg.co.uk/news/detail.cfm?pr=3147

    Some snippets:-

    ”Unsurprisingly, the general mood of British business has significantly darkened over the course of the quarter, with 75% of executives confirming that their organisation has been negatively impacted by the credit crunch. Indeed, only 40% of people surveyed now feel optimistic about their own company’s prospects for the forthcoming year, compared to 60% who were feeling bullish in March.”

    “Furthermore, organisations certainly seem resigned to the fact that they could be in the doldrums for some time to come, with 56% expecting the current economic conditions to have a negative impact on UK business for one to two years, with a further 16% thinking that it will be between two and five years before we see an upturn in fortunes.”

    Double Dip Times !!

  47. @Sue-

    that wiki site link contains various other links.

    Here is the newsnight clip

    h t t p://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8885288.stm

    Check the BBC Parliament listings every day for the Treasury Budget Committee 13, 14, 15 July.

    It’s being repeated often- this evening it’s the meeting of July 13: the one where Alan Budd concedes the Budget-induced double-dip fears.

    Tomorrow at 3.05pm it is a repeat of the Chuka Versus Georgie tear-up…

    n.b. Friday 09:40am BBC Parliament is a full repeat of the NS Labour leadership hustings: the one where Ed M claimed he would not have voted for the war had he been an MP in 2003 but where Ed B says -on the basis of the evidence presented at the time- he would have if he had been an MP. Also that Labour should apologise for that in order- giving what we know since- to move on.

  48. Sue
    Thanks for the Guardian link.
    I hadn’t read it all.

    I liked this bit :-

    “He said the group was committed to opposing cuts and privatisation and proposals to “solve” the crisis through “racism and other forms of scapegoating”.”

    Gotta hand it to the old firebrand-he knows how to sock it to ’em ;-)

  49. @ Alec

    My view is that the era of big government is over, but the era of small government is not wanted. Smart government might be more appropriate.


    An excellent post. IMO you are absolutley correct. The battle lines are about the size and responsibilities of the state. The cuts are the current tactics being used in the battle.

    At the moment Labs policy such as it is, is to oppose the cuts and assume and hope that eventually the state will return to its former size.

    We on the right are determined this will not happen in out life times again.

  50. @Wayne
    You must be living in a time warp (as well as on a different planet). Since when can economic data reporting changes up to the first half of 2010 possibly reflect the impact of a budget in late June?

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