Yesterday we had a selection of ICM polls in Liberal Democrat seats, initially released anonymously but eventually confirmed as having been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott. Oakeshott has now resigned, but left saying that Cable knew about the polls. The political row rolls on, but I’m just going to look at the polls.

Lord Oakeshott commissioned 6 constituency polls. The first was in Twickenham, and only asked about current voting intention. The other five were in Sheffield Hallam, Redcar, Wells, Cambridge and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey and also asked about voting intention with alternate leaders. The tables are here, here and here.

All six showed the Lib Dems losing (to the Conservatives, Labour or SNP respectively). However, I’m always slightly wary of constituency polls in Liberal Democrat held seats – the effect of incumbency and tactical voting is far higher for Lib Dem MPs, and when you ask a generic voting intention I think many people give their national preference, rather than how they would actually vote in their own constituency. In most seats this is only a marginal difference – in Lib Dem held seats it can be substantial, as repeatedly shown in polls of Lib Dem marginal seats using a two-stage national-then-constituency voting intention questions (see here by Lord Ashcroft, and here by YouGov). It’s also worth noting that ICM didn’t do their usual reallocation of don’t knows according to the party they voted for the last election, and given there are a lot of past Lib Dems now saying don’t know that makes a difference. ICM specifically provided the data necessary to do the calculation ourselves in their tables, and with normal reallocation the Lib Dems would have been ahead in Twickenham and only one point behind in Sheffield Hallam.

The second part of Oakeshott’s polling was to ask how people in those seats would vote with different party leaders, which in these seats suggested they would do better with Vince Cable as leader. This is in contrast to a YouGov poll in the Times today which asked a nationwide sample how people would vote with Vince Cable as leader – in YouGov’s control question asking how people would vote with the existing party leaders the Lib Dems were on 8%, if the leaders were Cameron, Miliband and Cable the Lib Dems would still be on 8%. No change.

That aside, how would you vote if X was leader are incredibly crude tools. When a would-be leader is little known to the public they are as good as useless. Even when the would-be leader is relatively well known to the public, like Gordon Brown was pre-2007 or Vince Cable is now, they are of dubious use.

Essentially, an ordinary poll respondent who doesn’t closely follow politics might know what the would-be leader looks and sounds like, might have a pre-existing positive or negative view, they might have a vague perception of competence or incompetence. What they don’t know is what policies that new leader would announce, what direction they’d take the party, how the media would react to them and so on.

If the Liberal Democrats change leader it probably won’t be the personality and image of the new leader that makes the difference… it will be everything else that comes with it. Would it mean them leaving the coalition? Would it mean them repudiating the coalition and their role in it? Would it mean them opposing some of the policies they supported until now? And what would be the impact of that – would it win back supporters they’ve lost, or risk alienating their pro-coalition supporters too? While the departure of Nick Clegg may be a requirement for a change of direction, the big strategic question for the Lib Dems is really what attitude they take to their record in government – not which politician is voicing it.

381 Responses to “On those Lib Dem constituency polls”

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  1. wot? No comments?

  2. The LD nightmare continues. I remember being at Murrayfield, watching Scotland get destroyed and thinking “At any moment the alarm clock is going to go and I’ll wake up…..”.

    Anyway, amongst the many problems now facing the LDs is whether to wait until after the GE to see who is left standing before choosing a new leader, or choose someone now who might manage to save them some seats. What we don’t know is the degree to which voters will support their individual LD MP despite everything that has happened (such as Charles Kennedy), or alternatively do the equivalent of burning them at the stake (such as Danny Alexander) for their participation in the Con-Dem story.
    When he was appointed Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander struck me as looking as though he was suffering from extreme stage fright. I expected that to wear off as time passed, but it hasn’t. If anything, he looks even more scared now than he did in 2010.
    Pity really. It’ll take them years to get back to where they were in the first decade of this century. As for Nick Clegg being ‘guarantor of further devolution’, words fail me.

  3. The problem for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems is that until the the leaders position is strengthened, this lack of unity in the party is going to be questioned all the way to the election. Perhaps the sensible thing for Nick Clegg to do is to put himself up for re-election and invite others to challenge him.

    The way I see it, is that the Lib Dems will not get any credit in May 2015 for having gone into coalition to provide stable government. Many people have not forgiven them for the student fees rise, even though an apology was given.

    The Tories will get most of the credit for popular policies such as the increase in personal tax allowance. I also fully expect the Tories to blame the Lib Dems for problems such as immigration, as Theresa May did recently.

    An other issue not talked about is whether the Lib Dems could actually afford to field candidates in all constituencies. Perhaps having lost a lot of councillors and local activists, they are going to have to concentrate their efforts in a smaller number of seats. I can see them losing 20 or more seats and finding it very difficult to rebuild their local campaigning bases.

  4. Danny Alexander is actually the Lib Dem I would vote for – I think he does an excellent job and I’m a Tory (but a UKIP voter this week)

  5. @Spinner99

    I do find Mr Alexander’s impression of Tory very good…..

  6. At the next GE, LDs may be reduced to a dozen MPs, though that’s a rather pessimistic view. However, they may be glad if they are not called upon to help form a government this time round, so that they can spend the next 5 years re-building.
    On the other hand, the polls in general are still pointing to a small Labour majority which, IMO, would not be able to take the decisions necessary following GO’s wonderful years of being charge of our finances. The LDs may be called upon to help Labour – but those who have been involved in the present debacle may not be acceptable to Labour as partners.

    Whichever way I look at it, I find next May to get more and more terrifying………

  7. @Spinner99

    With friends like you……. !

  8. @RHuckle

    Wasn’t the “apology” for the student fees rise more along the lines of “I’m very sorry you’re all upset that we betrayed you” than “I’m sorry for betraying you”?

    The ‘apology’ made many people just as angry as the initial incident, if I recall correctly.

  9. @spinner99

    “Danny Alexander is actually the Lib Dem I would vote for – I think he does an excellent job and I’m a Tory (but a UKIP voter this week)”

    And that is precisely why former LD voters will no longer vote for him.

  10. Just a final word on Danny Alexander.
    Highland voters tend to know their MPs and vote for, or against, them as individuals. That’s not to say that party affiliation doesn’t matter, but it means that the local man (or, in theory, woman) has a big head start.
    But LDs in the Highlands represent those who are the historical victims of what the Tories did to the Highlands. (That’s far too blunt a statement and I’ll get slaughtered for it, but ….. nonetheless). DA knew he was in trouble the moment he was asked to be part of GO’s team. The LDs would have to have done a lot better than they have done for him to have survived. And that’s without the effect of the Indy Referendum, where DA has been seen to have peddled London’s line on things when it comes to the economic prospects.

    Still, eleven months is an awful long time in politics……

  11. The weighted sample for Inverness has 117 SNP and only 53 LibDem!!!

    With that sample, Jesus couldn’t win it for the LibDems!


  12. Well Lib Dem voters must make their own decisions. However I must agree, Alexander has been a solid soldier in the economic repair job that the coalition has begun to implement. My question to NORBOLD is this, if LD’s don’t believe in sound money, why have they worked with us on THAT aspect of policy so well?

  13. @Peter Cairns

    Ascension Eve is not the best time to talk about what Jesus could or could not do…..

  14. Good Afternoon All.

    I think Nick Clegg will survive as leader; I am not sure that I share John B’s optimism about the number of seats they win in May 2015.
    An ultimate implosion of Lib Dems will help the Cons most, I think, for example in 1951.

  15. @RH

    It’s not about ‘sound money’. It’s about betraying your people. Remember that although there appears to be some sort of revival in the economy in the South East of England (according to some), there is precious little evidence of any such thing in many other places. And the Tory Party is still toxic for many up here.

  16. @JOHN B

    The damage we did the Highlands ? Do you mean Butcher Cumberland, he was a Tory. Also a kinsman of mine, General Sir John Cope was a Tory, but he ran away and left his men to it. When I was an army officer, I kept quiet about him. The Highlanders sang a song about him, ” hey Jonny Cope have ye gang awar”.

  17. @JOHNB

    Lol if you call this a debacle what word would you use for the last government? the really terrifying thing is the prospect of Labour having another go so that they can “finish the job”

  18. As usual when I do a really long post, Anthony puts up one on the same topic a minute before (after we’ve waited all day for it!). Anyway as usual it is full of wise words, particularly about polling on alternative leaders, and will be universally ignored.

    So for comppleteness here’s mine again. I don’t think that the ICM polling for Oakeshott is beyond reproach or says what people think it says. Damian Lyons Lowe has a piece up on Survation’s website criticising some aspects of it:

    He points to something I’ve already mentioned about the need to ask the need to include candidate’s names in these sort of constituency questions. This is particularly important in these Lib Dem seats and I think the most telling criticism.

    I’m less convinced about some of his other points. He accuses ICM of trialling two different questions in the Cambridge poll and then choosing the one that gave to worst answer (for the Lib Dems). I suspect this was more question testing than anything more sinister and though it is said the differences are dramatic, they may well be just MoE because of the 230-ish sample sizes. Anyway I would think Damian would be happy that others are following his lead in including UKIP in the main list of Parties asked.

    He also points out that ICM didn’t their usual thing of reallocating don’t knows on past vote. Of course there is some dispute about the benefits of this, especially in the current unusual political circumstances (and ICM do point out that they didn’t do it). It does make a big diference to the Lib Dem vote, though I suspect a lot of this shift might also happen if the MP was named.

    He also disputes that changing Clegg as leader would make much difference, though the only more general polls he quotes in support are quite elderly or only among Lib Dem voters (it’s the non-Lib Dems you want to attract). I agree that the various alternative leaders in the ICM don’t make a lot of difference and indeed it might be interesting to see what [generic Lib Dem] did as the alternative.

    Amusingly the one thing that Damian doesn’t criticise about the ICM poll is the small (500 per constituency) sample size. I wonder if that has anything to do with with the 500 per constituency polls that Survation did for UKIP supporter Alan Bown (you can’t move nowadays for poll-sugar-daddies).

  19. @John B
    I am not going to get into a debate about finance with a leftie, its pointless. However I will point out that the evidence of financial recovery, (however much it disappoints you and your brethren) is rather stronger than you imply.

  20. Just like Roger Mexico, just as I concluded a long post about the Lib Dems Anthony had posted a new thread about them – so apologies to those that saw this, but here it is again for those that didn’t……………

    @ Colin and Spearmint
    “Some of us didn’t realise how nasty the Tories could be’ – Oakeshott

    In that case his greatest crime seems to be naivety – I thought everyone in politics knew that long ago, and the Tories have never themsleves pretented otherwise have they?

    The Tories, since the foundation of their party, have been prepared to do absolutely anything to protect their interests, and the interests of those they represent – is that not what an effective party is for!?!!

    This is what I found troubling about the Liberals/LibDems in all the 36 years I was with them – they seemed to believe in the continental idea that parties exists to represent a shade of opinion and set of views.

    In Britain they do not, and never have done – they exist to defend and promote an interest.

    Liberals have never learnt since they lost power in 1916 that FPTP systems are about battles between the two principle economic power blocks in a nation competing within a set of rules – they are not about shades of opinion or principles per say, other than adopting them as an electability strategy for gaining power for your side.

    This is why the realignment of the Left strategy since the early 1960s was the only realistic long term strategy for the Libs/LibDems, with the eventual aim of breaking up Labour and the Far Left parties to found a new party on the libertarian Progressive Left. underpinned by the economic interest of the “have nots” and those that campaign for them (unions, charities, churches etc)

    As soon as the LibDems went for continental-style FDP centrism, coalescing with the Right of all sides, they were doomed in a system that is inherently an institutionalised battle between the two most powerful economic interests in the nation.

    They rushed into government without a firm basis of support by failing to first establish themselves as one of the two principal parties of state representing one of the two major economic interests of the nation. If they had stuck to the Grimond to Kennedy era plan of eventually replacing Labour they would now be in a much better position on that journey than as a feeble FDP clone in the Clegg image.

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  21. @Norbold

    “And that is precisely why former LD voters will no longer vote for him.”

    What? Because Tories think he’s done a good job?!

    Lib Dems voters need to buck up..I mean God forbid you actually got into Government hey!? Some of them must have got a real shock in May 2010..”Well I voted LD but I never thought they’d actually get into power!? Last thing I wanted”

    And really…tuition fees? Is that it? Yes it was a massive mistake and they looked utter fools but seriously.. “I’m voting Labour next time..a party that keeps its promises” hey?! Give me strength…

    Let’s have it right…LD will do very badly in marginals with Labour because those on the Left who voted LD will go to Labour, not quite knowing why nor because they’ve been a superb opposition..ahem.., but because of their all-consuming hatred of all things Tory

    And they will do sufficiently well in Tory marginals because those who voted LD last time will fail to see what the fuss is all about and are to be fair less vindictive…

    All of the inherent bias towards Labour in the electoral system..points to Miliband getting into No 10 through the back door which in my opinion would be neither welcome nor deserved

  22. @RogerM (FPT)

    Yes,Mr Wells has stolen your thunder by opening a new thread saying pretty much the same as you, alas. I prefer yours.

  23. Peter Cairns (SNP)

    The weighted sample for Inverness has 117 SNP and only 53 LibDem!!!

    With that sample, Jesus couldn’t win it for the LibDems!

    If you referring to the 2010 recalled vote, the unweighted/weighted figures are:

    Con 43/43

    Lab 70/75

    L/D 103/128

    SNP 120/72

    So the sample has been weighted to the 2010 result.

    The question is why there is such a discrepancy between recalled SNP and Lib Dems and the actual result. There may be a possibility that some 2010 Lib Dems are recalling their 2011 SNP vote instead. In that case if anything this should flatter the Lib Dems, because such people are likelier to return to the Lib Dems in 2015 than those who never voted for them. Meanwhile the votes of those who remember correctly have been upweighted as well.


    I replied to your first few para on the previous thread. You reallly didn’t need to repeat the same c*ap on this one.

  25. Great piece Anthony ( glad you are better-if you are ?)

    Your last para is spot on & NC is following the advice.

    They wouldn’t retrieve any lost support if they repudiated their Coalition policies. It has all gone now.

    They have to defend their track record & see what the GE brings.
    If Lab are largest Party but need LDs for a majority, I can see Oakshott getting “his party back” ( to use a Kinnockism) & waving goodbye to Clegg.

    Oakshott needs to work for a big Labour vote next year now to achieve his objective………….but that’s what he has been doing for four years so nothing changes.

  26. […]it probably won’t be the personality and image of the new leader that makes the difference… it will be everything else that comes with it.

    I hope you realise that you’ve just destroyed Pressman’s life’s work. He’ll be devastated (no he won’t he’ll just keep on repeating the same thing).

  27. Interesting renditions of Shirley William’s views:-

    Shirl according to Oakshott :-

    “”We then, like most Liberal Democrats now, wanted a radical progressive party, not a ‘split the difference’ centre party, with, in Shirley’s memorable words, no roots, no principles and no values. But that is where Nick Clegg has led us.”

    Shirl according to the Guardian :-

    “Clegg won the influential support of Shirley Williams. Writing in the Guardian, she said: “Nick Clegg has been a principled, honourable and brave leader of the Liberal Democrats. He has borne criticism, even insult and abuse, with remarkable grace, maintaining a political position based on reason and on strongly held values. Such politicians are rare.

    “As for polling in four seats reported today by the Guardian, the survey was conducted throughout April, undermining its credibility – and was clearly commissioned and leaked for political purposes.”

    “My question to NORBOLD is this, if LD’s don’t believe in sound money, why have they worked with us on THAT aspect of policy so well?”

    I have no idea what that question has to do with the contribution I made and why you ahould be addressing it to me rather than a LibDem supporter.

  29. Shirley Williams
    “leaked for political purposes.”

    Daft mare – if it was for political purposes, Oakeshott would have let the results be known prior to the local elections.

  30. I can’t find this anywhere other than Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian blog but this is what he has said:

    Martin Boon, the ICM director, has responded to the criticism of the polls he conducted for Lord Oakeshott.

    He rejected the suggestions that his methodology was slanted to obtain results that suited Oakeshott’s anti-Clegg agenda and he told me that ICM had published all its figures so that people could look at the details themselves.

    We conducted what we considered to be a private poll. Why would there be any need to slant it? We are considered by the people who use us, including the Guardian, as the gold standard. We are not in the business of doing crooked work and, as long as I’m involved, we never will be.

    We put our polls on our website for people to look at them and evaluate them through their own lenses. They are entitled to do that.

    Boon also said that he took “full responsibility” for the questions in the poll himself.

    On the subject of sample size (an issue raised by Danny Alexander, who said only 309 people contributed to the voting question in the poll in his constituency), Boon said the sample size was actually 500, which was not unusual for a poll in an individual constituency.

    On the decision not to reallocate 50% of those who do not answer the voting question in line with voting in 2010, Boon said he believed that was not a useful technique in constituency polls. Events in the constituency were more likely to have an impact. But he said that the figures were available so that anyone who wanted to do that calculation could do so.

    And as for the claim that the poll would have been fairer if it had included a prompt naming the local MP, he said that was one view, but that his view was different. He said that he had been carrying out polling for 20 years and that this one was in line with previous constituency polls.

  31. @Norbold

    “And that is precisely why former LD voters will no longer vote for him.”

    I take your point Norbold, I did not read your comment properly. However, I did get a response from the frozen north which explained money doesn’t matter.

  32. “At the next GE, LDs may be reduced to a dozen MPs, though that’s a rather pessimistic view”

    Yes it is. I am hoping for about eight at most.

  33. @Bramley
    Dame Shirl, (Williams not Bassey) has never been right about anything yet. On the other hand the other one, was in my young day, about the hottest girl in Britain.

  34. @Spinner99 (4.19)

    “Danny Alexander is actually the Lib Dem I would vote for – I think he does an excellent job and I’m a TORY ”

    Your own words (capitalisation is mine) explain why he has cost the LDs. He, Clegg & Laws may as well join the Cons.

  35. @ChrisLane

    “An ultimate implosion of Lib Dems will help the Cons most, I think, for example in 1951”.

    The Liberal (not Democrat) Party didn’t collapse in 1951. It collapsed long before that. They had 9 seats going in to the election and came out with 6. Their vote share did collapse, but that was because they couldn’t afford to fight an election so soon after the election of 1950 so they only stood 109 candidates – per candidate their vote actually went up.

    But, by some inexplicable coincidence they mostly stood in seats where they were likely to split the anti-Labour vote. By another inexplicable coincidence the Tories didn’t stand in those 6 seats that they won. Were you hoping for a similar set of coincidences this time? I fear you’ll be disapponted.

  36. @Peter Bell
    Laws fine, Alexander ok , Clegg we don’t want. He is a typical daft Liberal.

  37. @spinner99 and @roland Haines Any chance of you two reading the comments policy?

  38. @Roland Haines

    “Dame Shirl, (Williams not Bassey) has never been right about anything yet. On the other hand the other one, was in my young day, about the hottest girl in Britain”.

    Mind you, she has let herself go a bit since then. I mean, she still has a good figure and it was great to see her perform again, and fabulous that she was such a success, but you’d think someone would have told her she needed to shave.

  39. @Chris Lane

    For “anti-Labour vote” you should read “anti-Tory vote”. It’ll then make more sense – though you’re still unlikely to agree with it!

  40. @ Colin

    I think you are jumping to conclusions Colin before reading the entire post. I am not being rude about the Conservatives (or any other party for that matter) but merely making the point that parties exist to represent an interest in the nation, rather than a set of fixed views or shade of opinion. T think it rather unkind of you to call my thoughts “c*ap”, when I have always respected your contributions, and conducted our exchanges, with the utmost courtesy. I hoped for the same in return – even if you profoundly disagree with my conclusions about the nature of political parties.

  41. TD @ Colin

    “think it rather unkind of you to call my thoughts “c*ap”, when I have always respected your contributions….. ”

    Yes, it was a big shock to me also.

  42. It is a bit snippy and unpleasant today and I wondered why, but it suddenly occurred to me that the Coaltion might be in trouble.

    What if Clegg goes? The coalition might go too, quite quickly. And if Clegg stays, watch those LD MPs start to rebel. Could we see the house of cards collapse this year?

    The eleven months the Tories were expecting might suddenly be about 2.

  43. “At the next GE, LDs may be reduced to a dozen MPs, though that’s a rather pessimistic view”

    Yes it is. I am hoping for about eight at most.
    ROFLOL! :-)

  44. Nick Clegg needs to sit in and tough it out, Monday could be the lowest point. When the coalition ends and the campaigning starts he can aggressively make clear exactly what he has achieved in government.

    My belief is they will hold most of their seats and be in the next government because it will be hung again.

    For the Liberals they will have to learn in future not to promise what they can’t deliver.

  45. @ Colin

    Upon re-reading my own c*ap, I can see now why I think you baulked at the first couple of paras. I used the word “nasty” only because that is the word Oakeshott used about the Conservatives. I think what he means – and certainly what I mean when I started to discuss the raison d’etre for political parties – is that the Tories have always been politically speaking “lethally effective in their own interests” – there is nothing wrong or rude about saying this. It is a fact that the Conservatives since their foundation as a party have been consistantly effective as a politcal party in representing the interests of their Interest in the nation.

  46. The question is whether or not the LibDems will have the courage to do what David Miliband toyed with but chose not to do….and what historically the Conservative Party has been more inclined to do – though that said it stuck with John Major to the bitter end…as these decisions often are matters of judgement and personal calculation rather than ones polls advise helpfully upon – I guess it’s all a guessing game with the balance as ever in favour of the devil you know and the status quo….but Newark might change everything and cause headless to rule the day….

    Meanwhile, it seems from the safe distance of London that the UK government cavalry in the person of Danny Alexander rode unhelpfully into the referendum campaign and shot itself in the foot before it managed to fire at the enemy….

  47. @ Roland,

    if LD’s don’t believe in sound money, why have they worked with us on THAT aspect of policy so well?

    Clegg and Alexander do believe in austerity, or as you call it “sound money”, but they campaigned on an anti-austerity manifesto. That is what their supporters voted for, which is why so many of them are no longer their supporters.

  48. Aah, Shirley Williams. Fought her first Parliamentary election as Shirley Catlin in the old Harwich constituency…..Those were the days!

  49. The Lib Dems are suffering now not because of Clegg per se or because of any individual policy adopted while in coalition. Their current problems are the result of four fatal errors they made up to and after the 2010

    1/ Before the 2010 election they had no strategy in place for how they would manage a hung parliament in which a Lib/Lab coalition was not possible. The Tories clearly did have such a strategy and completely out-maneuvered the Lib Dems
    2/ The panicked in the face of the Greek crisis and signed up to the Tory’s economic policy. They have thus left themselves no room for manoeuvre on the austerity programme and only limited scope for arguing that they have tamed the Tories. The retreat on tuition fees was largely a consequence of this broader decision.
    3/ They agreed to the Tories having all the main domestic ministries which has enabled them to dominate the policy agenda. Anyone who knows anything about British government knows that Deputy PM is as good as worthless, given the absence of a department, and business and environment have always lacked power
    4/ They saw the NHS reform coming far too late and, as a consequence, the resistance they put up looked reactive – ultimately, rather than gaining credit for the changes they engineered, the process emphasised their weakness and naivety

    Clegg was leader during this fiasco so of course bears the main responsibility for it, but replacing him as leader is likely to have little impact because the failings outlined above prevented the Lib Dems from doing what most of their supporters in 2010 would have wanted them to do ie prevent the Conservatives from following a neo-liberal agenda.

  50. @ Norbold

    Yeah! dear Shirley – I had high hopes about her once as a good radical left-winger coming into the Liberal fold, especially as she had been on the Grunwick picket line over union recognition – how she can now defend Clegg as a man of principal is very, very sad. Maybe he is – but I shouldn’t have thought they were anyting like the principles of the young Shirley of Harwich and Stevenage days?

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