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. Exactly Colin – thanks for the adding the Guardian extracts. .. (smiles)

    It is a fascinating bit of psychology that you and I can read an identical passage of text but ….because of our individual pre-existing ideas/knowledge, emotional responses and experiences… we might as well be reading wildly different Mark Carney speeches.

    In a different context, I invariably find the Libertarian analysis very convincing. However, I almost never agree with the Libertarian conclusion or solution.

    In your case, I have quite often agreed with your conclusions but somehow we have both arrived there via entirely different routes .. as I say ‘fascinating’.

    However, I think we can agree on the fact that EM was ridiculed for speaking about ‘predatory’ capitalism/corporations but now even Prince Charles, the IMF and the BoE are agreeing to a greater or lesser degree.

    Hope you and yours are well.

  2. AC,

    I think this is always worth watching again:

    (Not the Margaret Thatcher one please)

  3. @ Ann in Wales
    “Very interesting info on mares.Who would have thought dear old Shirl would
    Have stirred this up.Smiley thing.”

    (You invariably start each new line, as opposed to sentence, with a capital letter. Are you writing blank verse?)

    Dear ole Shirl is one of the best communicators in modern Brit politics,
    On a par with Blair & Heseltine.
    But she did first desert the Labour party
    And is now regarded by Lib-Dems as having betrayed them
    She does have a rather bad habit of
    First supporting right-wing coalition policies
    And later criticising them when it’s
    Far too late to do anything about them.


    Ha Ha how appropriate is that? John Cleese with a dead parrot and being a Lib/dem himself he knows one when he sees one. :-)

  5. Ten years ago:

    “The Liberal Democrats are something different, the party of the future…

  6. @R Huckle
    Thanks. I was working from the YG figures which show:-

    Con 484
    Lab 661
    LD 119
    UKIP 279

    Total 1543 for the 4 main parties

  7. @Rosie & Daisie

    If you left a classical music teaching academy, because young blokes (American or otherwise) made jokes about the attractiveness of female students, I think it is you who needs to toughen up.


    Oh how they should had listened to Donnachadh McCarthy.

    Although I’m not sure the Lib’dems are right wing, more like broken wing!!

  9. Balbs

    Good analogy!

  10. I am only familiar with one of the Oakeshott poll seats – Cambridge. Prior to being held by the LD, Anne Campbell (Labour) was the local MP. While I think of her a fine MP, her competence and incumbency didn’t save her when she supported the tuition fees, particularly given the size of the student vote.

    I felt her replacement, David Haworth, did a fine job and was a very steady pair of hands. Julian Huppert, I am not so impressed with and I strongly doubt he will be returned as MP irrespective of who the LD leader is. I expect the tuition fee issue will wipe him out just as it did Anne Campbell. The local council has just gone NOC(with LD administration)->Labour with the loss of 7 LD seats.

  11. SUE

    @”we might as well be reading wildly different Mark Carney speeches.”

    I was just trying to explain that Carney did not-as you claimed- say that “capitalism was eating itself”.

    That is why I consulted & referenced the actual text.

    Whilst we clearly drew different emphases from the Conference Reports because of our political leanings, I don’t think we were “reading different texts”.

    I agree that, on the face of it, a call for ethical behaviour in the Private Sector by such luminaries should play to EM’s key themes. Indeed I was surprised that he hasn’t made more of it-perhaps he will.

    I wonder though, that since the major speeches were specifically about banking , and what Carney called the failure of “light touch regulation”; EM would be wary of difficult ground for him.

    Anyway-I feel sure that, emphasis aside, we can both agree that Banking regulation,reform and attitude to high risk banking activities have changed for the better.

    The most worrying remarks for me were from Lagard , who implied that systemic risk was still present in some areas, alongside resistance to increased regulation.

    Yes we are reasonably well thanks , though tempus doth fugit ever more quickly. Grandchildren taking bthere all important A levels & thinking about UNi keeps ones eyes on a bright future.

    Hope you & your family are well.

  12. Sue

    re your “‘predatory’ capitalism/corporations”

    I note your inclusion of the all encompassing
    ” capitalism”.

    I just returned to the text of EM’s sept.2011 speech.
    He made no generalised attack on “capitalism”.

    He referred to individual companies. And he did put his remarks about “predators” in this context :-

    “The vast majority of our businesses that have the right values and do the right thing.”

  13. Interesting that a chap gets into hot water for doing something of which we here heartily approve, namely paying for an opinion poll. I do hope Lord Ashcroft is not intimidated by the fate of Lord Oakeshott.

  14. Alec
    Your speculation that BA would be banned from flights to Switzerland, if serious sounds like economic warfare.
    We are now 100 years and a day away from the shot that started the the Great War and what with DaoDao re~stating the ‘German Question’ I’m beginning to feel more than a little spooked. The death toll in the East of Ukraine is steadily ticking up and if it becomes a full-on civil war it is hard to see how Russia and NATO (via Poland ) can avoid getting involved.

  15. I think the hot water arose because he polled in the constituency of his party leader, with a question about alternative leaders, and published the conclusion -all without consulting his leader & in order to prompt a change of leadership.

    So “paying for an opinion poll” hardly does justice to it :-) :-)

  16. Colin
    For your benefit, that was supposed to be a joke.

  17. @Ewen Lightfoot – “Your speculation that BA would be banned from flights to Switzerland, if serious sounds like economic warfare.”

    Yes it is – absolutely – because tax havens have (with our quiescence) waged economic warfare on us for several decades.

    My thinking on this stems from my questioning of why we _must_ accept conventional wisdom on globalization. As far as I am concerned, if nations don’t conform to our views of what is right and proper in terms of providing information on financial transactions so tax can be correctly allocated, then why should we accept their right to trade with us in all other areas.

    Given that tax avoidance and evasion is crucifying our national finances, and is largely responsible for the build up of huge inequalities and instabilities in the global economy, I really don’t see any problem going to ‘war’ on this.

    We need to ensure global financial transactions are honest and open, so that tax burdens can be allocated fairly. Do this, and we can have much better performing economies and much more stable systems.

  18. Thanks for explaining that Howard :-)

  19. ” @ozwald

    @R Huckle
    Thanks. I was working from the YG figures which show:-

    Con 484
    Lab 661
    LD 119
    UKIP 279

    Total 1543 for the 4 main parties”

    Ah, I see. For some reason, I always look at the age groups, as they seem to me to an indicator of how accurate the poll is likely to be.

    What you are looking at is the 100% likely to vote for the main four parties. This shows Labour getting about 43% and Tories about 31%.

    You would probably have to ask Anthony to explain how the tables are put together and how they treat people who are not 100% sure about which party they will support. Clealy YG are saying that about 500 people from this sample who are not 100% sure, will probably vote more for other parties. Therefore it reduces Labour down from 43% to 36%.

  20. Alec,
    One (perhaps sanguine) interpretation of your remark below could be that the market is working in the end if business faciliatates less inequality.

    ”Here we have business leaders – global big business leaders – telling governments that inequality within capitalism isn’t working. ‘

  21. Ozwald

    The sample had too many 2010 Lab voters and not enough 2010 Cons.

  22. I can’t see any point at all for the LibDems to replace NC with VC. VC is tarred with exactly the same brush as NC and maybe even worse after the dismal Royal Mail sell off. I can’t see how he would win any more support than NC.

    It seems to me their only chance of winning back the Lab deserters since 2010 would be to replace NC with someone like Tim Farron and for him to immediately repudiate the coalition, say that things like the increase in tuition fess, the bedroom tax and the reorganisation of the NHS were a big mistake.

    But, of course, if TF had any sense, he wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole until after the GE.

  23. Alec
    Fair enough to fair dealing on a Global scale. However, what you seem to be advocating is a move to World Governance and regulation , do we have the collective will to make that happen?
    Bretton Woods required WW 2 for it to be put in place.

  24. I think some Lib Dem voters think replacing NC would raise the popularity of the party with the new leader. My view is it would trash the reputation of the new leader instead.

  25. Always interesting to read an international perspective on our politicians.

    Very pertinent quote for those of all stripes indulging in point scoring over appearances:

    Last week in Nottingham, he said, he met a man who is struggling to take care of his family on a minimum wage job at a gas station.

    “He was really really desperate because he felt couldn’t properly provide for his family — that’s why the stakes are really just exceptionally high,” he recalled. “He was thinking of ending it all because he just couldn’t make ends meet.”

    “Suddenly bacon sandwiches look slightly beside the point,” he said.

  26. I agree that, on the face of it, a call for ethical behaviour in the Private Sector by such luminaries should play to EM’s key themes. Indeed I was surprised that he hasn’t made more of it-perhaps he will.
    Just because a few people are grudgingly aligning themselves with Ed M doesn’t mean that he should align himself with them.

  27. Actually, joking aside, I wonder if Lord O’s results were not privately earnestly pored over by the LD high-ups?

    I bet they were! :-)

    The samples of 500 were not too inadequate for the purpose.

  28. @COLIN

    “What a sad thing to say. I can’t imagine a life devoted to that .”

    Yes, Colin. It is incredibly sad. I do feel I have wasted my life being involved in politics in the way that I have been, especially as it was for a cause that wasn’t what it seemed.

    All those thousands of hours pounding pavements, analysing figures, drafting leaflets, travelling thousands of miles often late at night dog tired, and giving umpteen pep talks on effective campaigning. All that effort on freezing cold/wet nights or swelteringly hot ones, when I could have been with my family instead. What a waste of a life – and it all started with such promise. They say that all political careers end in disappointment or failure. I feel like mine ended with both!

    When did I really realise it? When Clegg got himself wrong-footed by Cameron’s appeal to him to back tuition fees, and then Osborne used it via the No campaign to portray him as untrustworthy in the run up to the AV referendum, thus swinging the result. Lethally effective – it showed how out of their league the LDs were actually playing in – and how lethally effective the Tories can be by deliberately setting honeytraps for LDs at every turn.

    For me now supporting Labour (and getting active in a very low level local way in my union branch) is a bit like having a life after death – but I harbour no personal ambitions any more other than to still enjoy political conversations.

  29. Well you’d hope so. It takes astoundingly poor party management to ignore polls showing their leader and half their upper echelons are about to lose their seats.

  30. Disappointing that this Clegg issue is now dominating matters, the focus could easily have been pressure on Miliband after the election results and the Tories could have built more momentum.

    Further collapse in the LD share makes a Tory majority harder still.

  31. New poll.

    Referendum on EU membership favoured by a margin of 61% to 21%, with only 18% don’t knows.

    Now AW will of course (rightly) argue that the public will favour a referendum on the most obscure of issues given a choice. But given the results of last week’s Euro elections, I don’t think that anyone can still credibly argue that this is an obscure issue.

    Miliband is way offside in terms of public opinion on this one, and I can’t see the issue going away.


    I agree, the criticism of Ed M’s leadership has become a minor issue compared with the LibDem problems. However I think NC position in the LibDems is now unassailable until after the election. I also think the LIbDems will hold more seats than the polls suggest.

  33. Weighted sample VI from that referendum poll:

    Con 35
    Lab 40
    Lib 9
    UKIP 16

    It’s not a proper YouGov VI poll so has something different happened to those figures? The Labour score looks very high.

  34. Ah. 100% VI for the big four. Unless all the Greens and Nats died overnight that’s only asking those who gave that VI. Gotcha.

  35. rh

    “@Rosie & Daisie

    If you left a classical music teaching academy, because young blokes (American or otherwise) made jokes about the attractiveness of female students, I think it is you who needs to toughen up.”

    1/ I didn’t. You misread.

    2/ Its you who complained out “bull ying” not me my dear.

    3/ You make yourself look worse with every post that shows that you see women as objects.

  36. @ Phil Haines
    “Miliband is way offside in terms of public opinion on this one, and I can’t see the issue going away.”

    Yes, I remember arguing months ago that Miliband should match Cameron by promising a referendum on the EU sooner after getting elected (late 2015) on EU membership “As it is”.

    Any renegotiation by anyone will be nothing more that a tweaked fig leaf, like Wilson’s of 1974/5, which enables the PM to come out recommending a “Yes” vote – which Cameron knows he will have to do no matter how minimalist the results of his renegotiation are in reality.

    So, we might as well have a referendum sooner on membership “As it is” for that will be the sunbstance of it anyway, due to likely French intransigence.

    I believe Miliband in late 2015 would get a narrow Yes majority for staying in on current terms anyway – so why not promise it?

    Too late for that now as it would look like a U-turn. But nevertheless a bad strategic positioning by the Labour team IMO.

  37. @TONY DEAN

    At least you care and tried to make a difference, that is important and admirable.
    You put in your own effort in an attempt to improve life for people.

  38. My view has changed, and is now that Miliband should not match Cameron’s offer but beat it. Say to Cameron:

    “It’s clear people want a referendum, and you keep putting it off and won’t tell anyone what your terms for renegotiation are. Dragging it out for three years will hurt business confidence and damage our international reputation, so if you think people should have a choice let’s be straight up about it. Let’s have a referendum in six months, and I will be campaigning for a Yes vote.”

    Then introduce a motion for a referendum in the Commons, or get a Tory Awkward Squad member to do it. They’d get sufficient LD and Tory rebel support for it to pass, and tie Cameron’s hands.

    It would be a U-turn but I think that would be lost in the campaign and would gain more support than the U-turn would lose anyway. There’s a clear positive net score for staying in before the mounds of cash and publicity come pouring in for the campaign, so no risk of actually having to leave.

  39. @Mr Nameless

    The sample is the same as for the current 32% Con, 36% Lab poll – must have been a supplementary question.

    @Tony Dean

    Sometimes U-turns are the least worst option.

  40. @Tony Dean

    There’s an obvious danger with that approach, which if what if people vote to pull out? It would be unlikely, but if it did happen Miliband’s government would be totally knocked sideway. It would cause havoc within the party and the process could derail the government’s entire agenda. Why take that risk whern there’s no evidence at all of the lack a referendum pledge actually costing Labour any votes?

  41. “the focus could easily have been pressure on Miliband after the election results and the Tories could have built more momentum.”

    Perhaps more emphasis on Labour’s success in the Locals and on Cameron’s achievement at being the first Tory leader to manage third place in a national election.

  42. @ Couper2802

    Thank you for your kind words.

    In 1978 when I was Liberal PPC for Islington South & Finsbury I once got two families who lived in appalling conditions in Clerkenwell rehoused by the council.

    The rest of my political life was in party campaigning, both internal and external, with little direct impact on the wellbeing of other human beings.

    Not much that is really good for people to show for a life-times’ activity – but I guess those 40 years were worth it, even if just for those two families?

  43. @ Phil Haines

    I can’t see any benefit for Labour in agreeing to a referendum. It’d just be a distraction when in government. Cameron conceded one in a moment of weakness in an attempt to shoot the UKIP fox but it’s done him no good.

  44. Tony Dean,

    Even if you became disenchanted with what the Lib Dems nationally became, you surely contributed to the election of local representatives who did a good job of helping those in need, whether it was with broken streetlights or protecting vulnerable children.

    Those things do matter to people and even if you yourself didn’t carry them out, you helped good people (and there are good people in every party) to be in a position where they could carry them out.

  45. @PHIL HAINES: “Referendum on EU membership favoured by a margin of 61% to 21%, with only 18% don’t knows.”

    It’s ‘support or oppose’ not favour. It’s really a meaningless question. There’s numerous referendums I might not oppose but it doesn’t follow I’m that particularly bothered about them or likely to switch my vote if one is/isn’t offered.

  46. Mr N – agree the ‘uncertainty’ true or not gives cover for a u turn by Milliband even early next year he can say in the autumn of 2015 if elected.

  47. Why would EM offer a referendum on the EU when such an action may lead to a vote to leave & then he would be tasked with securing that exit ?

    Given that the public cannot rely on the media to correctly report what being in the EU means for the UK, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that there would be a huge effort made by the press to attempt to influence the electorate to voting in a way that the editors themselves want rather than what may be best for the country & it’s citizens.

    I think he’s right to refuse to amend Labour’s opposition to a referendum until there is a treaty change.

  48. Tony Dean
    I think quite a few of us on this estimable site have a back story rather like yours.
    As good old Sam Beckett said, “we all fail, the thing is to Fail Better ! ”

    ChrisLane of this parish thinks that the LDs collapsing will help the Tories, as does Vernon Bogdanor, so why are you so , unusually , downcast ?

  49. For once I agree with Pressman. Where the LibDems are likely to do the worst is more likely to be where their collapse will most benefit Labour.

  50. @ Tony Dean

    Your experiences are probably not dissimilar to mine (except for a different party and the fact I was only active for about 7 years until New Labour turned up).

    I felt a sense of waste because what transpired wasn’t what I had been working for. Probably spent 90% of evenings and weekends during elections and a couple of days/nights inbetween election times.

    But I’m sure, like me, you had a lot of positives as well. New likeminded friends- many are still regular friends to this day Lots of fun at socials and regular post canvass trips down the pub. So for me, it was work but it is also something I miss as well and I don’t feel it was wasted time with plenty of happy memories.

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