It’s a harsh reality that ‘Nick Clegg’ has become an easy punchline for many comedians. Nick can perhaps draw some comfort from the truth universally acknowledged that it’s better to be joked about than never to be joked about at all.
But he can draw greater comfort from some of the polling evidence showing him doing better than Ed Miliband, even though the Lib Dems’ ratings significantly trail Labour’s. The Independent’s Matt Chorley noticed this little-noticed phenomenon last week:
Most, though not all, months the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes poll has asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed with these statements on the three party leaders.
David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister
Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party
Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats
The net ratings from December 2010 to April 2012, with don’t knows removed, are shown in this graph. … it is worth noting that in January Nick Clegg’s net rating overtook Miliband for the first time since we started doing these questions.
And Nick remains ahead of Ed Miliband — here is that Indy graph:
Also of interest is this ComRes polling data:
I like the Conservative Party and David Cameron 27%
I like the Conservative Party but not David Cameron 10%
Net like Con Party – 37%
I like David Cameron but not the Conservative Party 11%
I don’t like David Cameron or the Conservative Party 52%
Net don’t like Con Party – 63%
I like the Labour Party and Ed Miliband 16%
I like the Labour Party but not Ed Miliband 29%
Net like Lab Party – 45%
I like Ed Miliband but not the Labour Party 5%
I don’t like Ed Miliband or the Labour Party 49%
Net don’t like Lab Party – 54%
I like the Liberal Democrat Party and Nick Clegg 18%
I like the Liberal Democrat Party but not Nick Clegg 19%
Net like Lib Dems – 37%
I like Nick Clegg but not the Liberal Democrat Party 12%
I don’t like Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrat Party 51%
Net don’t like Lib Dems – 63%
Two points stand out for me:
1) The Lib Dems now divide opinion. The party has got used over the decades to being happily tolerated, and usually liked to one degree or another, by most people. It has come as a rude awakening to find ourselves actively disliked by significant parts of the population, the more so as the nature of Coalition politics means we sometimes bear the brunt for policies that aren’t the ones we’d enact if the party had a majority.
2) This isn’t about Nick Clegg, it’s about the Coalition. The Lib Dems are bracing ourselves for a Tricky Thursday followed by Frit Friday if, as commentators suggest, we stand to lose in excess of 300 councillors. If that happens, someone somewhere is bound to suggest now is the time to change party leader. Yet this polling data suggests Nick Clegg isn’t actually a significant factor at play here. The fact is that a coalition with the Tories at a time of double-dip recession is proving toxic for the Lib Dems with many voters. There’s no magic wand solution to this.
To back up this second point, let’s look at ComRes’s net likes/don’t figures for each of the party leaders’ personal ‘brands’ compared directly against their party’s popularity:
I like the Conservative Party but not David Cameron 10%; I like David Cameron but not the Conservative Party 11%.
Net Cameron brand: +1%
I like the Labour Party but not Ed Miliband 29%; I like Ed Miliband but not the Labour Party 5%.
Net Miliband brand: -24%
I like the Liberal Democrat Party but not Nick Clegg 19%; I like Nick Clegg but not the Liberal Democrat Party 12%.
Net Clegg brand: -7%
True, Nick’s leadership ‘brand’ compared to the party’s overall rating is negative, but the difference is modest — certainly a lot more modest than the huge brand deficit facing Labour’s Ed Miliband.
The Lib Dems face a huge uphill task in the next three years, there’s no escaping that fact. A leader who to some is a punchline, and a party which to some is a punchbag. So it’s time for some fighting spirit, and plenty of it, if we’re going to enjoy a last laugh.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.