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. RAF

    Just checked my account to find out, but the balance is unexpectedly zero. Probably just an administrative error.

  2. Howard – how long was that?

    Agree at least 3 weeks as Newark will delay a return to trend polls; albeit with a large protest vote still with the UKIP.

  3. Thoughtful,

    That would probably be me although I’m aware we have at least one other Sheffield-based contributor.

    We still don’t expect to take it, although obviously this poll has lifted our spirits a little and it’s moved from “near impossible” to “highly improbable”. Our candidate’s campaign launch is this Saturday so I may try to get some soundbites about it while I’m there.

  4. A couple of people have questioned Tony Dean’s pre 2010 belief that LDs could replace Lab as a party of the left.

    I had a similar belief to Tony and prior to the Coallition, given time It was always a distinct possibility. Remember that in recent GEs the LD vote share had been increasing and in 2010 was only 6% behind Lab (29 – 23).

    In the two Newcastle seats in which I had an interest, the gap was narrowing GE on GE and until 24 hours before the 2010 GE it was really felt that we could take the Newcastle north seat from Lab.

    The fact that Clegg et al has thrown this away is the reason for despair by many former LDs (and is I suspect the reason for Oakeshott’s actions during the past 4 years.)

  5. Probably just as well that journos at the Scotsman are so ignorant about polling, that they won’t sully themselves by reading UKPR to find out about it.

  6. @OLDNAT


  7. I was watching the Channel 4 news (who I generally respect) report on this earlier and it just drove home how extraordinary the media is. Objectively this latest data is a catastrophe for the Lib Dems in general and Nick Clegg in particular, but the focus was on how it really sured up his position because his opponents were “a shambles.”

    Now whenever any minor figure related to the Labour party comes out either in public or anonymously to take a pop at the leadership it’s presented as “disaster for Miliband,” along with any election or poll results, even when they’re 10 points ahead because they “should be doing better” by whatever arbitrary standard.

  8. Bramley
    Sorry to have misunderstood you about the Mare thing.I ought to get out more.
    No idea it referred to a nightmare or whatever.


    Really surprised you thought LIBDEMS had a chance in Newcastle North. I was one of many disillusioned Labour voters who abstained but would never had done so if I thought the Libdems or Tories could have won. The tide had turned against the Libdems in Newcastle even before the coalition.

  10. @TERRYP

    “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!”

    Well it’s hardly likely to float my boat is it?

    Are you in the current Harwich and North Essex constituency then?

  11. Just been looking at the regional vote shares in the EU elections on the BBC website – I was trying to identify regions where UKIP would be in with a shout of getting a seat. Now, I know these are different kinds of elections, but there is little else to go on nationally, although the result seem to parallel local election results.

    For this extrapolation, I assumed that UKIP’s best chance would be where the two main parties combined vote share is fairly low and UKIP’s is high. The three regions where the difference is largest are Eastern, South West and Yorks/Humberside, of which I believe the first is the highest, and thus where they might want to concentrate their efforts in the GE.

    As for the LD’s – there’s at least one more major electoral humilation coming their way. This is the problem for a small, centrist party: sooner or later you get into government, and have to choose a direction: a lot of your supporters will be disappointed. They’d be best off on the opposition benches after the election where what they did and who they are can be slowly forgotten.

  12. @Toonie (11.40)

    Can’t see how you thought the tide had turned against the LDs in Newcastle North before the Coalition. The LDs narrowed the gap in 2010 (although obviously not enough) and at the time had the majority of councillors in the wards comprising the constituency as well as on the Newcastle Council.

  13. The LibDems are getting no electoral gain out of bring in govt at all. The folk that approve of the coalition are voting Con and the folk that disapprove certainly aren’t voting LD. They haven’t managed to maintain a separate identity – which must be vital in coalition politics.

  14. I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned the Inclusive Capitalism conference or Mark Carney’s remarks about unethical unregulated capitalism eating itself.

    I don’t suppose it will directly impact the opinion polls but this conference and speeches do rather fly in the face of the ridicule that Ed Miliband received for talking about ‘Predatory corporations’.

    Given that the conference must have been organised months ago, it also suggests that people’s lack of trust in EU institutions and their response to impoverishment by austerity, is worrying the global elites more than the MSM lead us to believe.

    It will be interesting to see what these demands for a better ‘PR’ for capitalism might mean in terms of George Osborne’s GE campaign strategy. As Bramley might say, it must be a bit of a ‘mare.

  15. As for the Clegg resigning issue, when the driver has aimed the car at a brick wall, and there isn’t enough time to prevent an almighty crash, why replace the driver with another one ?

    That way you not only lose the original driver, but the new one as well !

  16. Thoughtful

    Although some passengers may consider the brick wall to be the problem, and think it will magically disappear.

  17. Thoughtful

    Exactly. Oakeshott shouldn’t be trying to get rid of Clegg. Clegg should be put through Hell over the next 12 months, pour encourager les autres Premiers des LDs de l’ avenir.

    Kaiser Willhelm’s got it right when his Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg screwed up the response to Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, precipitating WWI. When the Chancellor tried to resign, the Kaiser said, “You’ve made this stew, Now you’re going to eat it.”

    Bon Appetit Nick.

  18. RnD
    “Someone made the excellent point, in response to my observation that only democracies should be allowed into the UN, by pointing out that is really how the EU operates.”

    Aye, but Hungary is pushing it these days.

  19. leftylampton

    Re Hungary

    I wonder what would happen to EU status if a member country was suspended/ejected from the Council of Europe.

  20. @ PETER BELL

    Please excuse delay in replying I was distracted by cricket highlights.

    I can only tell you that my observation at the time was that the LIBDEMS had reached their peak in the 2009 council elections when this also coincided with the maximum disillusionment with the Labour Party but the disaffection with the LIBDEMS and the arrogant way they were running the council was building up. I think this was seen in 2010 when they lost 8 seats and Labour gained 6. Even in Newcastle North 2010 GE with a new Labour candidate the LIBDEMS were only able to increase their share of the vote by 0.1. I personally had no enthusiasm to vote Labour, although I must say Catherine McKinnell is a great improvement on Dougie Henderson as an MP, but felt I could comfortably indulge my principles in not voting without the danger of getting a candidate I would not have voted. Since then it has been a steady decline for the LIBDEMS in Newcastle North with only tactical voting by Tories keeping them in other council seats.

  21. @SYZYGY

    Yes that conference (which Larry Elliott suggested should have been called ‘Exclusive Capitalism’ due to the press being excluded) was a bit of a shocker (in a good way!)
    Not many of us 5 years ago would have predicted that the head of the IMF would make a speech like that at any point in the future.
    I’m not sure this is about PR for capitalism: it seems that a sense that capitalism, and the financial system in particular, is ripe for pretty radical reform is now taking hold amongst powerful opinion leaders.
    Combine this with the Piketty story – and it remains to be seen whether the FT’s accusations that he got his sums wrong significantly harm it – and you have just a chink opening up in the armour of the neo-liberal establishment.
    Whether there is anyone out there savvy enough to direct an arrow to that chink is another matter.


    Wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who said that you only give in at the last possible moment, and only as much as you have to?

    6y ago the banks crashed the global economy but somehow the narrative was transformed into one of sovereign debt and IMO the totally unjustified need for austerity. Since then we have had financial scandal after scandal revealing that the ‘market’ is not so much free, as ‘rigged’… that the real freedom has been for the financial sector to mis-sell, mislead, whopping hidden charges, money laundering and dodgy tax avoidance schemes. And yet no-one has been charged let alone sent to prison.

    As you say, it is surprising to hear the head of the IMF and the BoE making their respective speeches – but I would say even more surprising that they weren’t making them 6y ago and that pretty radical reforms have not been implemented already.

    As for ‘PR’, the reports all talk about the need for communicating the virtues of capitalism. No remedies or regulation is proposed.

  23. @Mares everywhere

    Well I’m glad you all sorted that out amongst yourself without resort to pistols at dawn.

    A couple of points about “mare” that have nothing to do with polling, but may interest you:

    The “mare” in “nightmare” isn’t a horse, but a demon – two different words in Old English that are now pronoounced the same: mere is the horse, mære the demoness. I say “demoness” for alas, Ann and Amber, a nightmare is an ancient bit of mysogyny too!

    On the other hand, and on the other side of the world, in ancient China the animal wasn’t thought to be silly, but the epitome of stolid determination. Can’t locate my copy of the Book of Changes at the moment, but the judgement of the hexagram “Earth” is something like “Sublime success with the perseverance of the mare”. Not something particularly appropriate to Shirley Williams, I admit, but I think of it whenever I hear anyone use the modern derogatory expression and, not being a horsey person myself, wonder who has got it right.

  24. @Peter Bell

    Its for two reasons…
    Its taking being part in a Government that is dealing with the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and taking the tough decisions because of that.
    Secondly, the underlying problem was the LDs making unrealistic promises in opposition, probably lesson learnt.

  25. @ OldNat

    From yesterday: thanks I read it and it makes sense to me. I don’t quite agree, but I’m sure that we’ll return to it in the next few months.

    So, thanks again.

  26. The Hungaian government has rather powerful friends… So it won’t happen. It’s an ultra right one, but the EU didn’t have problems with erecting monuments for SS units in the Baltics.

  27. @oldnat

    I think it’s more like a bus heading towards a wall with the passengers shouting out of the windows that if only the pedestrians could understand us the bus will surely slow down

  28. SYZYGY

    @”I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned the Inclusive Capitalism conference or Mark Carney’s remarks about unethical unregulated capitalism eating itself.”

    What he actually said was “”Just as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. To counteract this tendency, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system.”

    He also said this:

    “”We simply cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital.”

    In a very thoughtful speech about banking conduct & ethics in particular he also said ” “Perhaps the most severe blow to public trust was the revelation that there were scores of too-big-to-fail institutions operating at the heart of finance. Bankers made enormous sums in the run-up to the crisis and were often well compensated after it hit. In turn, taxpayers picked up the tab for their failures.”

    Carney said that ultra loose monetary in the UK had helped to prevent a lost generation of long-term unemployed, and improved long-term social mobility prospects and that new powers and responsibility handed to the Bank by George Osborne should help to reduce incidence of financial crises.

    Guardian report
    28 May 2014

  29. COLIN.
    Good Morning; very useful indeed for my ‘Business Ethics’ paper which I try to teach in the A Level Moral Philosophy Paper.
    Regards to you.

  30. The EU doesn’t have any difficulty in tolerating (some would say supporting) the current Hungarian government, SS-supporting Baltic nationalists or the new neo-fascist regime in Kiev, because its aim is to create a New Order of Europe, in essence an undemocratic European super-state controlled from Berlin. This was also the aim of the mid C20 Großdeutsches Reich, albeit by far more brutal means. The success of UKIP in the recent Euro elections reflects the hostility of many British people to this vision.


    @”’m not sure this is about PR for capitalism: it seems that a sense that capitalism, and the financial system in particular, is ripe for pretty radical reform is now taking hold amongst powerful opinion leaders.”

    Lagarde was saying that banks are still resisting the new reforms.
    She warned the too-big-to-fail problem among some of the world’s largest financial institutions was still unresolved and remained a major source of systematic risk,

    The ECB,, which is scheduled to take over as the region’s banking supervisor in November is undertaking an in-depth review of the quality of banks’ assets and stress test.

    Banking regulation is moving in the right direction & has been since the credit crisis.

  32. CHRIS

    There were some very thoughtful contributions at the Conference Sue referred to.

  33. @Daodao: ‘The EU doesn’t have any difficulty in tolerating (some would say supporting) the current Hungarian government, SS-supporting Baltic nationalists or the new neo-fascist regime in Kiev, because its aim is to create a New Order of Europe, in essence an undemocratic European super-state controlled from Berlin.”

    There is clearly a receptive audience for this “it’s all a conspiracy” view of the EU in parts of the UK electorate, as there is for disbelief in human-induced climate change, but in both cases very selective selection of evidence is needed to sustain the argument. Are the EU-supporting LDs, for instance, really apologists for eastern European crypto-fascists and dupes of a Berlin-masterminded plot? Far better, I think, to look at the roots of the organisation in the post-war continental determination to ensure “never again” was not just a pious hope but but a concrete reality. There have been other supranational entities that have succeeded for a time in keeping the nationalistic ferrets in the sack – Austro-Hungary and Yugoslavia come to mind – and when they eventually failed the consequences were not pretty. That is why the EU, for all its faults, is a monumental achievement which we would abandon at our peril.

  34. Postage,
    Very interesting info on mares.Who would have thought dear old Shirl would
    Have stirred this up.Smiley thing.

  35. Oops, tautology alert: “selective selection.” Should have used ‘careful selection’, perhaps, or even the useful cliché ‘cherry picking’.

  36. @ John Kay

    The EEC was established with noble aims, principally to prevent another Franco-German war, and European co-operation is in theory beneficial. However, the renamed EU has become a juggernaut dedicated (in its own words) to ever-closer union and more and more control over the subjects of this state,

  37. SWs most significant political contribution in years perhaps Anne?

    Sadly – when the LD leadership turned to her to squirm support for the Health Service changes which she loyally did but without conviction her remaining credibility left.

    Of the GOF she was the one it seemed to me that was the most left wing probably as much as Healey and others who stayed.

    I wonder if she ever regrets leaving or perhaps like other SDP travellers takes credit for the creation of New Labour which in many ways was the SDP.

  38. @Jim Jam

    …and is now the LDs!

  39. Jim Jam,

    I’ve heard that when the SDP formed Shirley Williams still considered herself a socialist, which makes her the most left wing at the time. Roy Jenkins was always a centrist at heart and did take credit for New Labour. David Owen was considered seriously right wing at the time but seems to have softened and taken up quite left wing positions on the NHS in recent years so may have ended up leftmost of them all. Who knows what’s happened to Bill Rodgers…

  40. DAODAO

    While you and i agree about the way the EU is going I think that the UKIP surge was more about levels of immigration and a “plague on all your houses” to the established parties.

    I would love you to be right as we would then have a real chance of getting out but I don’t think you are.

  41. Mr N,

    MY recollection is that of the 4 SW was responsible for more defections from the ranks than the others.

    Tony D may have a view.

    I recall ‘debating’ with a friend who left for the SDP saying that imo they were doomed to failure and that he should stay and fight within Labour as that was always likely to be the only serious vehicle for centre-left Government in a FPTP system in the UK – it was SW being involved that tipped his decision.

    To be honest I now think there was a chance of replacing Labour had the Alliance gained the second most votes in 1983 but the Falklands Conflict in a bizarre way may have saved Labour long-term as much as saving Thatcher short term – just a though!

    Nice one Raf.

  42. @Roger Mexico (from a very long time ago, just catching up now)

    Good points and a more balanced appraisal of these LD constituency polls than the criticism offered by Survation. After their pretty lousy performance in the Euro elections, criticisms by Survation don’t carry that much weight anyway.

    Regarding the lack of a mention of candidates, I am still in two minds about the merits of the Ashcroft-style constituency questions for two reasons:

    (1) that if the question is asked after the standard VI question, it is akin to asking “bearing in mind that answer you just gave me about your voting intention in a general election, taking account the specific circumstances of your constituency and the candidates likely to stand, are you really sure about that?” It is almost prompting for a change in the original answer. I would much prefer the question to be asked first, rather than after a standard VI question, if pollsters really consider it to be so important.

    (2) At the moment, incumbents have a built in advantage from the fact that their main challengers will be hardly known. So asking about the candidates when only the sitting candidate is yet known skews the responses to benefit the incumbent more than it should. Roll on 11 months, when parties will have promoted their challenger, and that will change.

    I don’t deny that LD MPs will get some benefit from incumbency, but I think the way the current “constituency and candidates” alternative question has been asked by Ashcroft et al is exaggerating this.

    Oh, and finally I suspect that there is one sitting LD MP who might get a negative rather than a positive incumbency effect, based on his national rather than local profile, something which @Mr Nameless might well have an opinion on.

  43. LibDems trying to look on the bright side:

  44. Where we work, we win implies that councillors and activists who lost are lazy, and moreover it ain’t true. Nick Clegg himself and our former Lib Dem MEP were out in Crookes the night of the election and we still parked a rather threatening tank on his lawn.

  45. Bill Rodgers…
    Three speeches in the HoL over the last year, voted in 57% of divisions (above average), “one person is tracking this peer on They Work for You.”

    Roy Jenkins a truly tranformatoinal Home Secretary building the “civilised society” and as chancellor pushed through massive tax hikes.

    David Owen, complex and individual personality. At a time when “gentification” was associated with Islington, he and his wife chose to settle in Limehouse.

  46. Without the hefty weighting I make the Lab lead 12% in the latest YG. Seems odd. Am I missing something ?

  47. I understand some LibDems have objected to the implication that it’s the candidates at fault.

  48. “@ ozwald

    Without the hefty weighting I make the Lab lead 12% in the latest YG. Seems odd. Am I missing something ”

    From quickly looking at it, the unweighted Labour lead would have been about 5%. So only about 1% affect due to weighting. The largest sample found was 40-59 age group of 880 people showing a 5% lead.

  49. @SYZYGY

    I had a lengthy post of this evaporate, and I was too busy to repeat it again, but I found the conference extremely interesting.

    Here we have business leaders – global big business leaders – telling governments that inequality within capitalism isn’t working. It really is quite astonishing, but it’s all part of the much delayed backwash from the crash.

    Politicians remain too afraid to confront to alleged consensus view, which has been proven to have failed. Instead, it’s businesses themselves that are picking up the newly emerging economic theorists and deciding that there is something in this.

    On the Piketty/FT story – the FT is completely wrong, as Mason pointed for C4. The income relationships Piketty talks about break down for some countries post 1970s – that is correct. But this is because of the fact that this is when governments allowed tax haven to blossom – we no longer have the data on earnings of the wealthy, as they have been allowed to hide it.

    Piketty suggests a simple solution, that all banks globally have to share information so no individual can evade tax jurisdictions. Posters here may recall over the last many years myself saying something identical to this when I proposed a UK law based on the US Cuban boycott laws, which would outlaw any UK company trading directly with, or indirectly through third parties, any jurisdiction that failed to meet open standards of banking information provision.

    I envisage this meaning things like BA would no longer be allowed to fly to Switzerland, or to any airport in any country that had flights to Switzerland etc. Overnight we would collapse tax havens and get back to a decent way of running capitalism and the tax system.

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