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. @Tony Dean

    I read your post on the last thread but rather late when the conversation had moved on. Thank you for giving me another opportunity to respond.

    I agree with the analysis, and have said something similar in my own cumbersome way before. Where you say “interest” I usually say “constituency”, but whatever you call it, that’s what the LDs lack. To me that is a far more serious failing than the usual accusation that they have no “principles” which are, as Mark Twain said, another word for prejudices.

    I disagree with your conclusions. Neither the SDP nor the LibDems could ever have replaced the Labour Party on the left, Nor could any other centre party. It’s more than 90 years since the Labour Party first beat the Liberals into 3rd place at an election: if it was possible for the centre to break out under FPTP it would have happened by now. It is a forlorn hope, and pursuing it has damaged the two national parties that do have genuine constituencies, to the detriment of our governance in the UK.

    That a party might come out of the wings of politics and displace one of the two major players is a different contention. The SWP has had a baleful influence on the far left in the UK and we must wait to see if its collapse is terminal and what difference that will make to the left-oppostion to Labour. That is a long term prospect. In the short term we have UKIP, demonstrating how deadly insurgency from the wings can be.

  2. @ John Murphy,

    They won’t. The party as a whole would benefit from someone toppling Clegg, but the individual MP who does it would be tainted by the coalition and the inevitable failure at the next election and their own career would be damaged. So Farron or Davey won’t do it. (Davey especially won’t because pissing off pro-coalition voters might cost him his seat.)

    Cable might be willing to make the sacrifice since his career is drawing to a close anyway, but it’s a lot of work for only a small payoff and he’s not a competent enough political operator to pull it off even if he wanted to.

  3. @ NewForestRadical

    Your analysis is spot on – especially No.1 reason.

    Many of us in the LDs – including some senior agents – always believed that “equidistance” was a political fig leaf so as not to put off right-leaning LD voters. We always thought that out terms for coalition with the Tories would always be so tough that the Tories could NEVER, EVER accede to them – like full PR for Westminster with no referendum OR NO DEAL.

    We never imagined that Clegg & co. actually MEANT equidistance when they talked about it – we assumed it was just a strategic positioning for vote catching – not a reality, which we had always assumed that was that we were a serious party of the progressive left aiming for a realignment leading to us becoming the principal party of the left. Instead Clegg & co have turned the party into an FDP clone – with prospects about as good as the FDP!

  4. @Tony,

    In other words, you assumed that your party was just lying to the electorate to try and trick them into voting for it. Most of the activists in the other parties agreed with you, after decades of “tailored” campaigning which basically portrayed the party as whatever it needed to be in a given area.

    It was quite a shock when the LDs turned out to be genuinely interested in forming a stable government and running the country. What a ludicrous notion! No wonder they hit the rocks shortly afterwards.

    It’s a long time since I was (allowed to be) actively involved in party politics, but even when I was (in the 1980s) the Liberals were considered by Tories to be far less honorable than Labour.

    I actually have more respect for the battered remnants of the LDs in 2014 than I had for the Liberals/SLD/LDs for all the years you were involved with them. That’s not intended as a personal slight, by the way, just a counterpoint to your own view.

    Under Churchill, an ex Liberal, of course, the Tories had informal collaboration the Liberals. They had been in government with them after 1931 until their Government collapsed after Labour’s motion against their leader, Neville Chamberlain.
    The collapse of the Liberals helped the Cons. I think a similar pattern might well help the Cons now.

    SHIRLEY Williams.
    I think she was Education Secretary who campaigned against Grammar Schools, lost the High Court case over the Lancastrian Grammar Schools. Public School for her daughter, of course.

  6. Whatever Shirley Williams does or says it is not in the spirit of this site to refer
    To her as a mare!
    I would have thought that it will be the result of the Newark bye election that will test the Lib Dems.

  7. @Spearmint

    Sounds like they need a stalking horse. Even then, as Heseltine could tell you, it’s not always the obvious rival who then takes the prize.


    @”The party as a whole would benefit from someone toppling Clegg, ”

    In what way?

    If you mean ideologically, ignore the question.
    If you mean politically-how will the benefit come about?


    @”– we assumed it was just a strategic positioning for vote catching – not a reality, which we had always assumed that was that we were a serious party of the progressive left aiming for a realignment leading to us becoming the principal party of the left.”

    You seriously believe that your policy preference for the LD Party will lead to it overtaking Labour as the voters’ left of centre option for government?

  9. Anthony

    I’m surprised that you think the comments of an English and a Canadian academic on Danny Alexander’s performance irrelevant to a thread in which you deal with public perceptions of his performance in promoting Coalition policy.

  10. @RogerH

    “Stalking Horse” is a feature of Conservative Party electoral arrangements; the LDs don’t have that option.

    But really, why would anyone bother? Apart from anything else, most of them are not in safe seats, and there’s no point being Leader if you’re kicked out by the voters a year later. This is a lot of fuss about nothing. Clegg is safe until the blood has been let.

  11. @NORBOLD

    Shirl stood for Harwich! How dare she, thas my stomping ground. Boundary changes have buggered things up in harwich. What was a marginal has now been turned into two safe tory seats.

    Good if thats what floats your boat though!

  12. @ Ann in Wales

    Whatever Shirley Williams does or says it is not in the spirit of this site to refer to her as a mare!
    That was my reaction too, then I my son told me ‘mare is now used to mean nightmare; did you know that already? If not, you might find it equally offensive as the other meaning but I thought I’d ask because I’m always interested in your views on things.

  13. Can somebody here, tell me where the person who wants 1) a form of PR and 2) greater integration of the EU states, can find another party than the LDs? This is a genuine request, as I have not been made aware of one, but I must say I would be very interested to hear of it. I thought I was pretty clued up but I am sure I can still learn.

    It could have been interesting had Lord Oakeshott (note spelling) had paid for a poll on that. Perhaps there are vanishingly few, but I have wondered.

  14. a in w

    “Whatever Shirley Williams does or says it is not in the spirit of this site to refer
    To her as a mare”

    I left a classical guitar forum because of irritation at the number of American posters setting up threads about

    “Who is the hoddest female guitarist ?”

    I never expected such pathetic comments about women as one gets here, thankfully from only one or two posters.

  15. The aggregate of the council elections which constitute Nick Clegg’s Hallam ward give;

    LibDem 33
    lab 23
    gren 18
    Con 12
    Ukip 10
    Tusc 2
    Ind 2

  16. @Chris Lane
    Quite right, the Liberals had a long history of collusion with the Tories between the wars. My contention is that this continued after 1945, and in 1951 it was this collusion cost Labour the election, rather than the collapse of the already largely defunct Liberal Party. Although I was convinced early in this parliament that the LDs would go on to form a similar pact with the Tories I have changed my mind on that point – or rather Nigel Farage, by throwing a big spanner in the works and making the results of any pact disastrous for the Tories, has changed it for me!

    But even if we disregard the conjecture of collusion, the Liberals were at that time perceived as closer to the Tories than to Labour – so no surprise that their voters mostly jumped ship to the Tories when no Liberal was standing (my dear grandmother and many other rural working class folk who saw Labour as a conspiracy of town against country was but one). That isn’t the profile of the average LibDem voter in 2010. I have no doubt ,if the polls do not lie, the Tories will win some seats from the LDs, when their Labour inclined voters are unable to stomach voting for Clegg. But in Lab/Con seats the LDs will split to Labour. And there are more of those.

    BTW We agree on Shirley Williams, but it was Shirley Bassey – in her alter ego Conchita Wurst – that I was talking about :)

  17. @Tony Dean

    Paddy believed in equidistance (and probably still does). The problem is that taken purely, that’s a relativist position, oscillating with the political weather.

    The core of LD ideology appears (or appeared) to be radicalism roughly rooted in soft social democracy but without any firm left or right blinkers. The Orange Bookers abandoned this not for equidistance by for an extension of ring wing Blairism – the same policy stance DC adopted.

  18. HOWARD

    The answer to your question must lie across the Channel somewhere.

    I suppose you would have to be some sort of political fanatic though to move abroad for voting preference. That doesn’t quite fit my impression of you.

  19. @NewForestRadical

    I don’t entirely agree with your analysis. Realistically in 2010 the a CON-LD coalition was the only conceivable option and that gave them a weak hand in negotiations as the junior partner. Propping up a deeply unpopular Labour govt that had been in power for 13 years would probably have worked out even worse electorally.

    There isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any conflict on economic policy. Conservatives and Liberals share a desire for a smaller state and I think LAB would have followed a similar policy. The mistake on tuition fees was to make the pledge in the first place, not to agree to switching to a system that is more efficient. Had they avoided the pledge they would never have taken the bulk of the ‘blame’, though as a student myself I can say that the system is unproblematic – it is paid back more slowly and not at all until you are earning £21,000 per year. With increased student numbers the old subsidies were always going to have to end.

    I agree that they messed up on portfolios. In some ways those they were given made logical sense but they conceded just about everything that allowed them to implement policy. Had they insisted on the Home Office I think Cameron would have had to go with it – remember that Theresa May was not Shadow Home Sec, that was Grayling who was out of favour at the time. So there was a vacancy there that could have gone to Clegg himself. DPM presumably appealed as a kind of joint Head of Govt, and that is how it was presented initially, but since the novelty of coalition wore off it has looked a weak position. The lack of any constitutional reform has made that side of his portfolio effectively redundant.

    I don’t think many of their 2010 supporters wanted to prevent a neo-liberal agenda. A few may have, particularly activists, but I think most saw them as an alternative from the main two parties that seemed reasonable and ‘deserved a chance’. I doubt many gave much thought to the finer points of liberal ideology or LD policy.

  20. Just a note – my post above refers to the LDs only – not the Liberal Party (apart from maybe in its 1906 guise).

  21. @Mr Beeswax

    I have my doubts about the usefulness of the Oakeshott polls, but I think they’re more useful than adding up the results of local elections. Voters are not fools, the few who bother to vote in local elections are probably the least foolish of them, and they are quite capable of distinguishing between voting for a local councillor and voting for an MP (or a Euro MP for that matter). Perhaps the bins are collected regularly in Hallam?

  22. @Jack Sheldon

    I think it was clear from the desertion of their voters to the centre left on entering the Coalition, that 2/3 of 2010 LD did not want the LDs to be a neoliberal party. At least not as neoliberal as the Tories.

    I do however agree that NC made it very clear during the 2010 GE campaign that he was no Charles Kennedy and that he wanted nothing to do with Labour (even if the maths did stack up).

  23. Around 60% of 2010 LD voters have abandoned the party and I think the reason is clear: they voted for a radical, left of centre party and were shocked – and felt betrayed – when they got Tory lites. Many LD members – and I was one for 20 years – defined their political position by visceral opposition to self-interested, cynical and self-serving Tory policies. There is a depth of anger at the extent of betrayal that will only be assuaged at all by a complete replacement of the current leadership.

  24. Great goal for Scotland. Will Danny Alexander be cheering or dismayed?

  25. @OLDNAT

    He’s a lib dem he will be doing both!

  26. @Howard

    You really only need to find a party in favour of greater European integration. As this is such an unpopular position to take the party in question would, of neccesity, believe in PR.

    I don’t know who the “Harmony Party” are, but they sound lovely. Perhaps try them?

  27. I think that initially Clegg believed DC had moved to the centre and he believed they could be a centre govt which was right wing on spending but left/liberal on social issues, gay marriage, constitutional reform and green issues.

    It didn’t work out because of Austerity which left LDs having to support policies that their voters did not approve off, the failure of the AV referendum and the rise of UKIP pushing Cons to the right on immigration etc. I am sure DC is much closer to Clegg than UKIP but he is in a different party and he will advance the interests of his party.

    I very much agree with I think Tony Dean who talked of ‘constituencies’ Labour urgently need to rediscover their constituency and start representing them IMO

  28. @Oldnat

    Is that the match that was under investigation by the fraud folk?

  29. @RAF

    It is match that ends in. 2-2 draw

  30. As someone who would like to see just about every Lib Dem MP lose their seat in 2105 I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I expect them to win at least 40 seats at the next election. This is based on the results of the local elections in 2013 and 2014 and the extent to which Lib Dem MPs dig themselves in and become difficult to dislodge. For example, the Lib Dems got more votes than any other party in Portsmouth South in 2014. If they can do that in a seat where the reputation of their ex-MP is not exactly glorious, then what might they do in seats where their MPs are still popular. Going by talking to people in my Lib Dem-held constituency it does not take much to convince people that their Lib Dem MP is hard-working. If I am proved wrong I will be mighty glad.

  31. @Anthony – Why don’t YouGov do marginal polls?

  32. Couper2802

    So you took that bet from the Nigerian bookie too? Great odds, weren’t they?

  33. @Couper2802

    If it does, you’ll have some serious questions to answer :)

  34. Chris,

    “Why don’t YouGov do marginal polls?”

    Because no one is paying them too!


  35. @Rosie&Daisy
    Actually I tried to bring my admiration for Ms Bassey up to date by using the word hot. Back in my youth when she was the biggest British female star by a mile, we would probably have said she was a right cracker.
    Whatever, I am certainly not going to be bullied by PC crackpots about my 1970s terms of endearment. Therefore you waste your time complaining.

  36. @COUPER
    I rather think Labours constituency (or a large part of it) has been rediscovered. But by UKIP.

  37. I have said this before, but I think the way Nick Clegg is being portrayed is wrong.

    He done what in his opinion was best for the country, I am sure he did not enjoy propping up the Conservatives but he thought it was the right thing to do.

    Is it really that bad in what he is doing?

  38. Couper2802

    Well, our investment looks safe. Half-time and half-way to the final result.

    I do hope that nice Nigerian bookie received my bank account details, so that he can send me my huge winnings.

  39. Amber and Paul.
    Thank you for your kind words.I do hate these terms for women.A mare suggests to me a brood mare,good for one thing only.Remember the furore when Hilary Mantell suggested this and was absolutely monstered by the press.Based if I recall on derogatory remarks on her own appearance.Bullies
    Always focus on looks.Mare seems to be on a par with silly old moo.Who said
    That.A racist ,misogynist ,old git.But in those days he was treated as a joke!

  40. @JohnKay
    “There is a depth of anger at the extent of betrayal that will only be assuaged at all by a complete replacement of the current leadership.”

    Too late for that for me I’m afraid. I have reflected upon my politically active lifetime, and can say candidly that I wasted 36 years of my life both professionally for some years and as a volunteer for many more. I really believed the LDs were tougher about being a party of the Left, even if in a coalition with the Tories I thought they would demand much more, not get it, and bring the Tories down at a worst possible moment for them, rather than become Tory-lite FDP clones.

    “You seriously believe that your policy preference for the LD Party will lead to it overtaking Labour as the voters’ left of centre option for government?”

    The reason I followed what has turned out to be this mirage for 36 years is because I thought that over the long term, yes, that was possible. Labour was sparklingly progressive and redristibutist under Attlee, but thereafter under Wilson, Callaghan and Blair it lost its way and became stodgy and right-wing on economics, rather than radically redistributionist as Attlee had been. It was Labour’s timidity in this respect and others that led to so many radicals being attracted to the Liberals from Grimonds time onwards.

    The best chance of overhurdling Labour was probably in the run-up to 2005, after Blair had blotted his copybook with Iraq with his own voters, but Kennedy blew it – probably because he was “frightfully drunk at the time”.

    However, upon deeper reflection I would have spent the last 36 years prior to 2010 more usefully by campaigning for reform within the Labour movement, rather than trying to build up an alternative Left to replace it..

  41. @Bluebob

    I think he did enjoy it. Remember Leon Briton was his patron in Europe.

  42. @OLD NAT
    Please be careful that an implied suggestion that a Nigerian bookmaker may be less trustworthy than say a Finnish bookmaker, does not bring down the full force of PC BIG BRO on your pate.

  43. The opinion polls and elections themselves have been bad for the LDs, but being the smaller party in a coalition is an uncomfortable place to be.

    The FDP in Germany have found this to be the case (as a consequence the German SDP was very reluctant to get into coalition, to be continued…) and I believe there have been problems for the Irish Labour Party as well, in coalition with Fine Gael.

    The individual elector votes in their constituency only, and in that sense no-one votes for a coalition. Maybe the coalition outcome is a result of the lack of a really inspiring political party, which can draw support outside its natural range. When it does come it may be from a political viewpoint you or I do not favour.

    Until then we will get messy coalitions, but isn’t life like that sometimes?

  44. @ Howard

    “Can somebody here, tell me where the person who wants 1) a form of PR and 2) greater integration of the EU states, can find another party than the LDs? This is a genuine request, as I have not been made aware of one, but I must say I would be very interested to hear of it. I thought I was pretty clued up but I am sure I can still learn.”

    When you find them let me know and I will be right behind you in the cue at the polling station.

    Ideally rather than being left or right they will be liberal. The political compass does after all have 4 points and not 2.

  45. Roland

    I don’t care. That’s Scotland scored their second goal. An equaliser from Nigeria in extra time, and I can fund the Greens for their Yes campaign – even after I’ve bought the mansion and the yacht.

  46. amber

    A ” ‘mare ” is a sporting term for someone having a crap game. Unlikely to have been used about S. Williams as she was always rubbish at footy anyway.

    r haines

    I am expressing an opinion – my opinion. If you feel that is somehow commensurate with “bull ying” then you need to toughen up a bit.

    You are right in a sense though – judging [or “complimenting”] women you don’t know by how “hot” they are is a bit 70s.

    Its a long way from telling your wife/husband partner that they look lovely or, come to that, observing that anyone, of either sex, looks lovely.

    The crucial words are wedge and thin end. “


    Can I say that I completely agree with your LD analysis of 6.40pm? And dumping Clegg won’t change anything at this side – the damage has been done.

  48. That should have read ‘…anything at this stage’.

  49. Chris Green

    Why don’t YouGov do marginal polls?

    Because polls for individual marginals have to be done by phone and YouGov are an online only pollster. The YouGov panel has perhaps 400,000 people on it at most, which works out at about 630 per constituency – not enough for a poll.

  50. @RAF

    If most LD 2010 voters were centre-left then I expect that’s only because there were more disaffected LAB supporters at the time after 13 years in govt. I maintain that the main reason for the drop in support is the loss of their ‘alternative’ and ‘deserve an opportunity’ status. Cross-national analysis suggests centrist parties of coalition struggle to avoid that. The FDP case from Germany exemplifies that well, though eventually their performance stabilised (with a few exceptions they were almost constantly in coalition from 1949-2013, always as a junior partner to either the CDU or the SDP).

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