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. @ Neil A

    Are we allowed to think that women are hot and not say it? Or is the thought itself a crime, too?
    That’s a woeful piece of hyperbolic what-about-ery.

  2. Old Nat ,
    So I presume a mares nest is nonsense,Still interested in the origin of the saying though.

  3. I can remember the 1972 CDU slogan from my time in Germany well –

    “We will build progress through stability”

    hmm – something for everyone in that?

  4. Ann in Wales

    More than a “nonsense”, I think. It’s more about triumphing a new discovery – which turns out to be an illusion.

    Rather apt on this site, don’t you think?

  5. Ann in Wales & OldNat

    You had me intrigued – hope this helps?

  6. Ralph Steadman has just produced a “compellingly grotesque cartoon of George Osborne for the New Statesman.” Anyone seen it?

  7. Tony Dean

    So it’s actually Italian! Bloody foreigners messing around with the purity of English!

  8. @PHIL HAINES; “PS. And it’s also worth bearing in mind that, had there not been local elections which boosted turnout in London and the metropolitan districts last week, Labour would have come 3rd in last week’s EU elections, behind the Conservatives.”

    I’ve no idea whether or not that’s so but given that we’re talking about the EU elections it wouldn’t really matter if they had.

  9. Its alright Amber, Neil is handing himself in.

    I am in no way a “holier-than-thou” person and, like most people have been through a few different ways of thinking about lots of things.

    It just seems very clear to me now that, although people who make mild sexist remarks would be horrified to believe so, there is definitely a thin-end-of-the-wedge syndrome that one needs to consider.

    Personally I value women for a multitude of differences and I think it must have been tedious in the extreme for Joan Bakewell, for example, to be a serious presenter and have to put up with being called “the thinking man’s crumpet” as though that were, as RH would term it, a “compliment.”

    Maybe our slow journey upwards to civilisation is dependent on more and more involvement by women [or the fairer sex as I like to call them **]

    You only have to look at certain faiths and countries to see what I mean..

    ** lol

  10. @Tony Dean

    You probably need to be less “Dog”!

    The way people think is not the issue. It’s the way they act.

  11. “I can remember the 1972 CDU slogan from my time in Germany well –

    “We will build progress through stability”

    hmm – something for everyone in that?”

    A good slogan should always be so meaningless that you could reverse it and no-one would know.

    “We will built stability through progress.”

  12. I will build probility through stagress.

  13. Old Nat ,Tony,
    I thought it might be an Aesops fable,but apparently the Italian reference is the oldest.

  14. @JimJam

    Statistics are hard to draw together, but yes, I think that there’s enough evidence to say that Labour would have come third if there had been no local elections anywhere on Thursday. Labour’s vote share was only 1.5% above the Conservatives despite this year’s local elections being concentrated in Labour heartlands, so it wouldn’t have taken much to eliminate that gap.

    In London (where there were local elections in 2014 but not 2009) turnout rose from 33.3% to 37.4%. This was Labour’s best result.

    In the Conservative South East (local elections in 2009 but hardly any in 2014) turnout fell from 37.5% to 35.4%). South West (ditto) down from 38.8% to 36.9%.

    You also need to take into account splits within regions of course. I don’t have detailed figures but I have heard comments that turnout was well up in the met districts in the West Midlands (elections in 2014, none in 2009) even though for the West Midlands region as a whole including both met and shire areas it was down from 34.8% to 33.1%

    So some of the improvement in Labour’s performance (over the all time low of 2009) was clearly down to the turnout impact of the change in the areas where local elections took place, which will also have exaggerated the fall in the Conservatives’ aggregate performance.

  15. More on Mares’ Nests (Or what adolescent boys listen to …]

    “‘All That Glitters Is a Mares Nest’, is a live album by the English rock band Cardiacs . . . Napalm Death were recording their Live Corruption video at the same venue that evening,

    Napalm Death [Death Metal Band: defined the grindcore genre]

    Their November 2013 show [rescheduled from the Victoria and Albert Museum, due to concerns that the noise could damage the museum] features 10 large-scale wooden speakers filled with liquid clay that will be left to solidify. When the band begins to play, the clay inside the speakers will vibrate, causing the speakers to crack and eventually explode .. ”

    Gove is a big fan, obviously.

  16. R&D, Tony,

    Some of them work brilliantly swapped around:

    “Seven Pounds To Save The Day” – Superman charges more than that.
    “Working Isn’t Labour” – Only if you’re doing the easiest job in the world.
    “Cost of Crisis Living” – Massive price hikes on flares and emergency rations.

    The most meaningless of the current ones is “Stronger Economy Fairer Society”. Swap that around though and “Fairer Economy Stronger Society” could be a Labour slogan.

  17. @R&D

    Good point.

    However there are other successful ones which can’t be reversed:

    “Yes we can”. Seems meaningless but can be very powerful. Recently nicked by the Spanish anti a globalisation group ” Podemos” for the actual name of their party.

    “It’s the Economy, stupid!”. Now that’s just downright rude but it worked.

    ” Yes it hurt: yes it worked”. Terrible slogan and no it didn’t work.

    “Things can only get better”. Cleaver in that governments over time run out of steam. It’s also both positive and negative at the same time, which is handy.

    ” New Labour: New danger”. Far too negative. Smacked of desperation.

    So there’s no obvious rule of thumb for successful slogans. Perhaps the most successful above carried both a sense of dissapointment with the incumbent and hope for the future.

  18. Working isn’t labour.

  19. @ Pressman,

    As for Europe, banging on about it is not a vote winner for the Tories or Labour.

    A remarkably sensible observation from you.

    But we might then ask why the Sun is running this, if it wants Cameron to focus on more salient issues:

  20. @ Raf,

    “Can we? Yes!”

    “Only get better things”- a Tory campaign for more careful government procurement?

    “It’s the stupid economy” – Brown explains why he couldn’t win the 2010 election.

  21. Phil – not sure enough to wipe out the lead though.

    And, as I ask, we don’t know if the turnout increase was just due to locals on the same day perhaps it would have been higher anyhow in Cities due to a higher level of antipathy to the UKIIP.

    You may be right but risky to assert without being sure which is unlike you Phil.

  22. @Spearmint

    Haha. Very good.

    Some of those are better than the originals. And the GB one is arguably true

  23. @ R & D

    My rule of thumb: if the opposite of any statement (including slogans) is meaningless, then the original is vacuous.

    Banner outside my local school I pass every day.
    “Striving for Excellence” becomes “Idling for Mediocrity” etc.

    I should torch the damn thing [banner not school.]

  24. Spearmint

    “Can we? Yes!”

    Sounds good to me! :-(

  25. NickP – any rumours of a YouGov constituency poll will always be bollocks. We don’t do them.

  26. Robbie,
    Goodness,I’m not sure I wanted to know that.

  27. Funny you mention that – That would be why there is a constituency poll, but Survation are doing it instead.

  28. Good, youv’e never had it!

  29. Ann in Wales

    Frequently, on this site, people see things they didn’t want to know about. Usually, they are called polls.

  30. More swaps that improve the slogan:

    “One Labour Nation”

    “Working hard for people”

  31. Tony Dean

    That would read better as –

    So good. Youv’e never had it!

    (“It” being the preserve of a few – like living in a fair society).

  32. Some of them go a bit funny when you reverse the meaning. “Build a new Jerusalem” seems to become “Destroy the old Jerusalem” – not a great slogan to have in 1945.

  33. @ Old Nat,

    Frequently, on this site, people see things they didn’t want to know about. Usually, they are called polls.


  34. The current Tory slogan (Labour and Lib Dems Won’t, etc…) could be shortened to “That other lot are bastards, we’re not”.

    I’ve long thought a good slogan for any party would be “Go on, we’re nicer than them”.

  35. @Old Nat

    Due to a strange quirk of fate, I’m taking a holiday next month in Inverness. What would be the chances of meeting Mr Alexander?

  36. Old Nat,

  37. RAF

    If you’re interested in Property & Development, then Tom Alexander would be desperate to meet you.

    If you want to meet Danny, on the other hand, go to London.

  38. Oh no,
    I missed the full stop.I shall get into trouble now.

  39. “Can we ????? Can we fu*k. “

  40. Anthony, you’re tied with Mike Smithson in the list of places Labour MPs visit (your website in the most impossible to read colour ever):

  41. @ Mr. Nameless,

    I was rather taken by Ian Hislop’s “Settle for Labour.”

  42. @ Ann in Wales.

    “Goodness,I’m not sure I wanted to know that.”

    You couldn’t make it up! But no worry, many boys go through a Heavy Metal Alienation stage & their suicidal tendencies are exaggerated?

    I was never really a Metal Head as I had the option of Psychedelic Music.

  43. Perhaps, thinking of opposites and thinking back to Atlee’s Labour 1945 slogan, one adapted by Blair prior to the invasion of Iraq

    ” we’ve won the peace, now let’s start the war”.


    That’s a cracking link.

    BTW I thought The Metro might had been nearer the top as it’s a free paper. ;-)

  45. @R&D

    “there is definitely a thin-end-of-the-wedge syndrome that one needs to consider.”

    I tend to go on repetition. If someone is repeatedly behaving in manner ‘x’, then they are what they are. Normal folk can have gags about the sexes and so on, and if sensible can accept them.

    Personally, I always thought that this use of the word mare was a regional version of cow, and was generally derogatory.

  46. Education, education, education.

    Are you thinking what are we thinking?

    Danger, New New Labour.

  47. Ann in Wales

    “Oh no,
    I missed the full stop.I shall get into trouble now.”

    Struggles really hard to avoid thinking about the alternative name for a full stop.

    Failed. :-(

  48. Sun Politics @Sun_Politics
    YouGov/Sun poll tonight – Labour lead jumps to seven points: CON 31%, LAB 38%, LD 7%, UKIP 16%

    Onwards and upwards. Things can only get better.

  49. Wow- a bacon butty bounce !

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