Reasons to be careful about new analysis suggesting Lib Dems “set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict”

A new analysis by Oxford academic Stephen Fisher (a member of the team which was behind the scarily accurate BBC/ITN exit poll at the 2010 election) douses the comfort blanket to which many of us Lib Dems have been clinging, suggesting as it does that the Lib Dems are losing more votes in our strongest seats:

The most significant factor affecting party performance at the constituency level is prior Liberal Democrat strength. … the Liberal Democrats are clearly loosing [sic] most in the seats where they started strongest and losing least where they started weakest. Partly this is inevitable. There are over 100 seats where the Lib Dems got less than 16% of the vote in 2010 and so their vote share cannot fall by this much. Moreover it is unlikely that the party will fall exactly to zero even where it does very badly. So if the GB polls are right overall, the Liberal Democrats must be falling more where they started stronger, and the BES data suggest the drop is broadly proportional to their prior strength. This mirrors the pattern of change at the local authority level at the European Parliament elections this year, adding confidence that the effect is real. The implications for Liberal Democrat seats are straightforward. If they are indeed losing most heavily in the seats they are defending they are set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict.

Cue this headline in The Guardian today: Liberal Democrats facing even bigger wipeout than expected.

This may turn out to be true: anyone predicting the next election with absolute certainty from where we are today is riding for a fall. However, there are good reasons to treat with some caution Dr Fisher’s analysis – and Newcastle academic Craig Johnson lists four of them over at his blog here:

1. The data in the [British Election Study] suggests, as have other polling companies, that Labour are set to be the biggest beneficiaries [of former Lib Dem support]. They can only have so much of an impact on Lib Dem seats, given that it is the Conservatives who are in second place in 37 of the Lib Dems’ incumbent seats.

(Agreed: and of course in those Lib Dem / Conservative battlegrounds, Ukip’s intervention is likely to hurt the Tories more. Lord Ashcroft’s polling points to Lib Dem support having fallen since 2010, but in many seats Tory support having fallen further: net result, a Lib Dem hold.)

2. Following on from above, there are a great many seats where the Lib Dems came second with a large share of the vote. In many of these seats, Lib Dem support in local elections has completely dropped off, whilst it has remained somewhat stronger in areas where they have MPs. It is perfectly possible that Lib Dems will lose a great share of the vote in 150-250 seats, but manage to hold on in a number of seats where they have MPs already.

(Agreed. At the last election, the Lib Dems came 1st or 2nd in almost 300 seats we were contesting – ie, almost half the UK constituencies – and I’d be amazed if the equivalent number was in triple-figures in 2015. I can think of a number of seats where the Lib Dems were runners-up to Labour last time where we are likely to collapse to fourth or even fifth this time around. To be clear, this is a major problem for the Lib Dems for the future. However, it is not in itself a problem which will cost us any seats in five months’ time.)

3. Fisher rightly recognises the importance of incumbency and local variation for the Lib Dems, but it is worth stating again. People’s responses, as outlined in polling by Michael Ashcroft, are much more positive for the Lib Dems when asked about constituency voting intention rather than national voting intention.

(Agreed. Dr Fisher suggests Lord Ashcroft’s polling, which asks voters to think specifically about their seat, is risky: “there is a danger that such prompting over-states incumbency advantage”. Perhaps. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Ashcroft’s polling doesn’t name the candidates. It is therefore just as plausible that it under-states incumbency.)

4. Local variation might well damage the Conservatives too. In many of the seats that the Conservatives might hope to take from the Lib Dems, they might find UKIP splitting their vote enough that the Lib Dems can cling on. Again, polling by Ashcroft would suggest this is currently the case.

(Agreed. Ashcroft’s most recent constituency polling showed the Lib Dem vote down 13% since 2010. However, the Conservative vote was also down, by 9%. (Labour and Ukip were up 4% and 13% respectively). Overall result: a clutch of tight Lib Dem holds.)

In his latest Liberal Democrat Newswire, Mark Pack gives his assessment:

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has now polled 38 Liberal Democrat held constituencies (counting Portsmouth South as Lib Dem held although its MP is now sitting as an independent), having started working his way up from the most marginal. In those seats, his polling finds the party ahead in 17, dead tied in two and behind in the others. … So a reasonable starting point in projecting seat numbers is to look at what happens if the party were to hold the seats not polled and those where it is currently tied or ahead. That would give the party 38 seats (important caveat – of which 11 are in Scotland). … [it is] quite plausible for the party to hope to end up with 40+ seats in the next Parliament and hence an almost inevitable share of power in another hung Parliament. Not guaranteed by any means, and getting comfortably into the 40s requires a bit of a following political wind (finally) for the party, but clearly possible, just as the number of small margins shows the possibility of a much worse result too.

A Lib Dem meltdown is possible; so, too, is a better-than-expected result. More likely, then, it will be somewhere inbetween. However, I’ll be very surprised if Stephen Fisher’s contention that the Lib Dem loss of seats will turn out to be “greater than the uniform swing would predict” comes true.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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81 Comments

  • If he’s right then you’ll be able to get a piggyback from Nick on your Whitehall run!

    I think Lib Dem optimism has been a big factor in its demise. The answer to negative news has always been “accentuate the positive” (read above – Stephen agrees with the substance but doesn’t like the conclusion), but if you’re heading for a car crash a buoyant attitude is irrelevant. The behaviour Stephen and Mark exhibit here strikes me as similar to the persona the party seems to be exuding, and that’s what’s destroying it! Five years of ostrich politics leads us to the final curtain for the party as it stands.

    I think Stephen will be surprised, and cold!

  • Roll on May so we can rebuild our party. I suspect we’ll definitely hold 8 with another 20 to 25 or so in play so on a good day we’ll hold half our MPs and on a bad day we’ll be down to 1970s levels of MPs.

    One thing we must not do post May is join another coalition – it will be curtains for us as a party if we do.

  • You’ll almost certainly be down to 2 or 3 seats in Scotland: Kennedy, Carmichael and maybe Thurso. That’s well below what would be predicted by a uniform swing. You’ll lose a couple to the Tories, some to Labour and now probably most to the SNP.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '14 - 2:08pm

    In every way a change of leader will help increase the number of seats we hold at the next election.

    Here is the latest from YouGov 15% of people think Nick Clegg is doing well as Lib Dem leader, 74% badly (a net score of minus 59, the same as last week). To repeat: the same as last week – and surely for most weeks over a number of years now.

    From Com Res: 41% more people trust Vince Cable on the economy than Nick Clegg. (And 30% more trust Cable on the economy than Alexander.)

    If you factor in the likely vote in the dark spaces on little to no activity at 1.5% – 2% which does not seem unlikely, then, Johnson is right that there must be a striking collapse in the next (higher 150 – 200 seats). We can’t expect the differential to be much better in Labour facing seats. Therefore we are left with that magic 40, which I’d love to see – or better!

    However, in these 40, one may assume that a higher proportion of ‘defectors’ from Tories to UKIP will return to the Tory fold – it’s their tactical route and trumps their protest route – and is therefore higher than the Labour to UKIP switchers in LD held seats returning to vote for us tactically because their protest/ideological route will trump their tactical option – or finally indeed higher than among the LD to UKIP (in LD held seats) – again, it is their protest route.

    The scenario attached to the above is now around 16 seats.

    I do hope that our MPs (or their successors) and best other hopes everywhere are holding their own in the constituencies and proving me wrong with their local individual and team reputations and local messaging, but wouldn’t it be better to have even a little positive help from the centre, as opposed to the headwinds that continue to emanate from the present leadership?

  • Paul in Wokingham 9th Dec '14 - 2:09pm

    There has been some discussion of this on the members’ forum. At the last election we polled 23% nationally. At the moment, ukpollingreport’s polling average has us on 8%. But the latest Ashcroft polling suggests that in our held seats we are down from an average of 48% of the vote in 2010 to about 37% of the vote now.

    If those data points are combined then it would imply that our *average* vote share in the 570 non-held seats out of a total of 630 (discounting NI and the speaker) is currently ((0.08*630-0.37*57)/570) which is 5.2%. Obviously some individual seats will be better and some will be worse. But the average is a barely held deposit. Feeding that into the actual results from 2010 implies something like 250 lost deposits.

    Lost deposits (based on such a large sample set) can be determined with some confidence, but what is much less predictable is what happens in individual held seats. However I find it really quite implausible that we retain 10 out of 13 seats on an average of only 37% of the vote.

    Ashcroft is doing all this polling for a reason. I would imagine that all of those Tory-facing seats will be subjected to serious squeezing of that UKIP support.

  • @ Chris B

    “I think Lib Dem optimism has been a big factor in its demise.”

    So pessimism is supposed to make us more likely to survive. I don’t think so…But thanks for the advice. I’m sure it’s well meant.

  • Note that if the Conservatives succeed in framing the question as, ‘Who do you want to be Prime Minister?’ then that would see ex-Tory UKIP votes flowing back, but would not see ex-Lib Dem Labour votes returning to the fold.

    So to base one’s hopes on ‘Our vote is split with Labour, but the Roeis’ vote is split more with UKIP, so we will hold on’ is… well, it’s drawing to a gutshot straight, at best.

  • paul barker 9th Dec '14 - 2:26pm

    All perfectly reasonable but its looking for dustballs in the corners & ignoring the Elephant thats ” taken” most of our Votes. On saturday we should learn how many members Labour really have in Scotland, most Labour commentators expect it to be a lot less than the 13,000 they “currently” claim. Of course Scotland is special but Labours problems there are just an intensified version of their situation in England & Wales.
    According to the last Ashcroft survey one in every four “Labour Voters” would prefer Cameron as PM to Milliband. Compared to the nearly half who dont trust Labour on the Economy thats quite good & those & many other results show how much of Labour support is a protest bubble & not a firm commitment to vote for them.
    When Voters begin to reaaly think about the next Government then most of the Polling of the last 4 years will be revealed as froth.

  • Jonathan Pile 9th Dec '14 - 2:43pm

    We need a realistic approach – somewhere between the indenial optimists and doom mongers. Bill Le Breton shows hard facts about the scale of the impact, the nature of the damage will depend on how much the Lib Dem leadership start listening to grass roots and find ways back for 2010 LD voters. Lets think what we are likely to be saying in a years time about this and start doing that now. What will be blindingly obvious in a years time – that the party should have done. Dump Nick Clegg?, Dump the Coalition? Dump Coalition Policies and adopt Lib Dem policies. Given the Conservatives are everyday usurping the coalition in it’s last days – ie Autumn Statement, Anti-terror powers etc , Nick Clegg is totally past his sell buy date and voters are expecting Lib Dem only policies for 2015 it is perhaps time for things to come to a close.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '14 - 3:04pm

    Paul Barker – ok, but how does that help us?

    Labour lose a load of support north of the border to the SNP … fueling the SNP bandwagon.

    I have always thought the Tories would stage a fairly dramatic recovery in their polling because I recall that, after the deep recession post 1979, the Tory poll rating actually recovered significantly if not dramtically between December 1981 and April 1982 (prior to the Falklands!).

    So why do any of those 1 in 4 who prefer Cameron as PM, and lacking faith in Ed M’s Labour party, vote for us under Clegg? Chasing soft Labour voters under his leadership is, rather like chasing soft Tories in the present economic conditions, ‘rather like chasing unicorns’.

  • Stephen, I must say that I am pleased the possibility of the word “wipeout” ” appears in your article. It seemed personna non grata when I mentioned it a few weeks ago. It is the worst scenario, it may or may not happen, hopefully not, we do not know, but it seems we are now facing up to the issue. Once this has been done then we can see the best way forward to avoid it. At the moment there is no Father Christmas coming down our chimney! But a week is a very long time in politics!!.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Dec '14 - 3:21pm

    I remember that horrible day in 2011 looking through the detailed constituency results in the Scottish Parliament elections. I was on the train home from Glasgow where I had been on the radio. talking about them.

    It was profoundly depressing to read how many places we had slipped not just out of the running but almost out of the ballpark.

    So, I fear you may be right, Stephen. A fortress election is all we can do in terms of on the ground campaigning. A decent airwar might avoid meltdown everywhere else. After all, in 2005, we did nothing in a fair few seats and still got near enough 20% of the vote. I would be very surprised if that happened next May, I have to say, but it’s not too late to put together a decent campaign that really moves people.

  • Bill: Vince Cable is not going to be, does not want to be, the next leader. At the age of 71, he is entitled to decline any such opportunity. Not only would a change of leader not improve our position, it would make any rebuilding more rather than less difficult.

  • Caron, Yes this the reality and I am very glad you are seemingly with me on this. Adrian Sanders in his entry re Torbay recently identified the problems even in the MP held seats. Our big concern now must be that in the final analysis people
    WILL see us as irrelevant to the result and it will be a Labour and Conservative squeeze on our remaining vote. We need to harness our best assets in term of communication and leadership.

  • Martin, are you having a laugh? .

  • Caron, in 2005 there were good reasons to support Lib Dems, irrespective of any tactical voting. This time we have almost nothing to offer. Hence large numbers of lost deposits. There is not the material, or, critically, the trust, to avoid the meltdown you mention, to allow any “air war” to have any effect whatever. It might be better if Clegg and other Orange Bookers (in the metaphorical sense) took themselves off to their constituencies and attempted to hold on to as many votes as possible, making it clear that more traditional elements of the party are now making the running.

  • paul barker 9th Dec '14 - 3:42pm

    On those soft Labour Voters, its been one of the really striking features of this Parliament that very few Votes have been shifting between Tories & Labour, those traditional “swing voters” seem to have abandoned the Labservative duopoly altogether. Voters who have “left” us have gone Labour, UKIP & Green. Just as our Voters naturally slip away most easily to other supposedly Centre/Left Parties so they will come back to us once the question is about Government & not Protest. Obviously Scotland is very different with The SNP outnumbering us 40 to 1. Even I cant be optimistic North of the Border.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Dec '14 - 3:44pm

    @ Martin

    Vince would make an excellent leader and age should not come into it – we have to get used to the fact in this society that people can lead productive lives over the age of 50 let alone 70.

    If Vince rules himself out should the time come so be it but I for one will not give up hope that the obviously best person for the job will succeed in due course.

  • Caron —
    “….depressing to read how many places we had slipped not just out of the running but almost out of the ballpark.”

    Yes, you might have thought someone up there at the top of the party would have heeded the lessons of 2011.
    Or the lessons of May 2012.
    Or the lessons of May 2013.
    After May 2014 some hundreds of ordinary members tried to do something because they had learned the lessons.
    But not those at the top of the party.
    Maybe as many as three or four of our MPs could see the writing on the wall in May 2014. They are the MPs who are worth supporting over the next four months.

  • paul barker 9th Dec ’14 – 3:42pm — “..Even I cant be optimistic North of the Border.”

    Nuff said.

  • I think the doom and gloom has to stop and a good way of stopping it is a change of leader, Get the party out the atmosphere of conceding defeat before a single vote has been cast.

  • Martin Land 9th Dec '14 - 5:41pm

    It’s interesting that all the talk is about ‘lost’ deposits, assuming we have candidates and deposits in the first place.

  • Nick Collins 9th Dec '14 - 5:43pm

    “Just as our Voters naturally slip away most easily to other supposedly Centre/Left Parties so they will come back to us once the question is about Government & not Protest”

    Would you like to put that to music: to the tune of “Little Bo-Peep” , perhaps? ” Leave them alone, and they’ll come home” sounds a wonderful strategy for improving your electoral prospects.

  • stuart moran 9th Dec '14 - 5:46pm

    RC

    I don’t see why you judge that you need to be pessimistic if you are not optimistic. I think a realistic view beats both!

    I do not see why there are many grounds for optimism, unless built on faith.

    Looking at polling, election results etc would suggest that having this ‘it’ll be all right on the night’ attitude could be very misplaced

    It could also be that this attitude may prevent the reappraisal of the party before 2015(and perhaps change of leadership) and so indeed back up the comment that Chris made.

  • If I understand the BES data correctly it is saying that the projected loss of Lib Dem votes in Lib Dem held constituencies will be much greater than the effect of the general trends of overall voting patterns.

    This suggests strong disappointment with the party and resonates with the complete collapse of the vote at the recent R&S election. The big question is what is driving the voters away? The possible reasons include poor leadership, wrong policies and poor performance in government. Perhaps there is more voter choice with the growth of the Greens, UKIP and the SNP. Perhaps the voters are switching to Labour in view of that party’s apparent inability to get a commanding lead over the Tories without more support.

    If the BES predictions are correct, the party will need a complete re-think and a new leader to shape its future. I don’t envisage Dr Cable being seen a breath of fresh air by the voters.

  • The lack of serious political thought on this website is stunning.

    We have the two major parties more unpopular than they have been since the 1930’s. At no time since then have they have a lower total vote share. The last time this happened YOU were the third party. The 1929 Election was the last truly three party election in this country. Eighty odd years ago.

    Yet we are not a three party democracy any more we are a multi party one aren’t we? YOU have allowed deadly rivals to grow, the SNP, UKIP, the Greens. In 2015 the Lib Dems might perhaps come fifth. I’ll say that again. FIFTH in vote share.

    Does that that mean that at long last the anachronistic party of Gladstone is finished, there is no space for you? The final end of parliamentary “liberalism?” After its terrible slow decline for a almost a century a final Indian summer under ” tuition fees” Clegg? The strange death of Lib Dem England?

    I don’t know but goodness you are in TERRIBLE shape.

    Why has this happened?

    What are you going to do about it?

    Have ANU of you serious thoughts of a way forward? Or is it just rabbits in headlights stuff?

    Serious question, any takers with a serious response???

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Dec '14 - 6:24pm

    Peter
    ‘ I don’t envisage Dr Cable being seen a breath of fresh air by the voters.’

    Mmm… I seem to recall the ‘fresh air theory’ being trotted out when Clegg was thought of as a possible new leader to replace Ming Campbell.

    The theory is overrated in my view. All the talk of ‘new brooms’, ‘fresh air’ and the like is simply a way of justifying ‘newness’ in electing people with no experience of previous office or having worked their way up, who ‘arrive’ at the top and take over the party.

    Examples: T. Blair for Labour and N. Clegg for the Lib Dems.

    The voters have had enough of this kind of squeaky clean, ‘washing whiter than white’ leader.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '14 - 6:46pm

    Martin, neither of us have any evidence for our opinions.

    Cable remains the ideal choice to take us from here into and beyond the next election. He has an extraordinary ability to connect with people as an atypical Westminster type. I don’t know how such people do it, but they do. And there are a couple of them in Westminster, only say three among 650 of them.

    I believe with him fronting the air campaign we *would* get up into the 40s. We just are not going to get anywhere near that with Clegg and Alexander dominating the central campaign – the polls keep telling us of this and they are not going to change. But we can change our destiny.

    It would be nice to see Caron come to that conclusion openly, given her remarks above. Like so many others who wished for change in May yet kept quiet, she is only a sentence away from the obvious conclusion.

    As leader, if we were in opposition post 2015, Cable would also be ideal as a person to keep the ship steady through the summer, set up a constructive opposition and oversee the hand over to a new leader. And if he were to be required to serve in a Government again, well, in that case I think we should take our lesson from the extraordinarily competent job done by Campbell Bannerman prior to and following the 1906 election – aged 69 and not a ballroom dancer.

    And finally, I imagine among all Cable’s many qualities, one is a strong sense of duty to the country, to the party and to the ideology of Liberalism that he expressed so well when acting leader..

  • Bill, I have lost faith that Cleggie thinks of the PARTY, the government yes but not the PARTY. How can he be when he allows it disappear at an ever increasing rate?

  • Helen
    I suppose it depends on your analysis of what has gone wrong. If you believe that the party would not be in this state had Vince been leader, then maybe you have a point. I do agree that the country has far too many career politicians – some as party leaders – who as “new brooms ” have been pretty awful.

    My view was based on the thought that if the next election is a disaster then some fundamental changes are needed. Vince currently holds a senior position and is therefore implicated to some degree in the party’s fortunes, or lack of them. If a significant change of direction is needed then I don’t know if VC would be the right leader. If you want to return to pre-Clegg ways then maybe Vince is the right man.

    My own belief is that many of the party’s policies are very unpopular with the voters but the party does not seem able to accept that fact or contemplate what to do about it. If that is the case then the discussion about the next leader could be academic.

  • Speaking as a former Liberal Democrat voter, the reasons as to why I would not vote for the party are as follows.

    1) Civil liberties – Secret courts, DRIP and voting to curtail judicial review – these are fundamentally illberal and go against everything the party stands for. It is a serious betrayal of the party values. The party should have been working with the likes of David Davis in the coalition (and it would have been very interesting what would have happened if he had won the Tory leadership), to promote civil liberties, not voting with the authoritarians to go back to Stalinist Brownism.

    2) Unpopular and unsuitable privatisations. I alway see the centre ground when it comes to privatisation is the test of, is this a public service and is a free market with suitable competition possible? Hence why nationalising airlines or the local takeaway or supermarkets is a very bad idea. However railways, and the probation service are insane privatisations.

    3) Corporatism. The party supports TTIP uncritically, despite the problems NAFTA caused to working class Americans with job outsourcing and offshoring, not to mention the ISDS clause which is now just a tool to give foreign multinationals more power than citizens over their own governments. Free trade is a good thing, but these NAFTA style deals are little more than protectionism for corporations. Similarly the Liberal Democrats in goverment have done little about the amount of public money going to very unpopular firms such as Serco and G4S to provide services that would have been in the public sector and performed to a much higher standard in it.

    Gay marriage and the raising of the basic rate of tax threshold are great things the party has been instrumental in achieving. However there are too many issues and decisions that have been taken which render the party in the eyes of many of us now as part of the corporate establishment, rather than the radical centre.

    Whatever 2015 brings for the party, I hope Farron takes over and changes the direction of the party dramatically, so it does not become little more than Tories in yellow in the minds of the electorate.

  • paul barker 9th Dec '14 - 7:27pm

    If ever a group of people needed a Xmas break its the people who comment on LDV, we all need to drink too much & open some prezzies.

  • Bill: Vince Cable certainly has many admirable qualities and I do not understand the decision to put Alexander as the lead spokesman on the economy. True, I do not have the evidence, but I suspect that Vince Cable ceded the role to Danny Alexander and I see no sign that Vince is manoeuvring for the leadership.

    I would like to see a leader having a clean, fresh start after May, but I find it very disconcerting that I really do not see a suitable, likely candidate. I would be happy with Vince Cable, but I do not see any sign that he would put himself forward. I do not blame him: the next leader will I think have to put him or herself forward with a prospect of remaining in place for two parliamentary terms i.e. 10 years.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '14 - 7:35pm

    simon

    Have ANY of you serious thoughts of a way forward?

    Yes. I’ve been putting my serious thoughts about the way forward here in Liberal Democrat Voice since May 2010. OK, so the party leadership has done almost the complete opposite of everything I’ve suggested. But I have at least made plenty of suggestions of alternatives.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '14 - 8:01pm

    thanks for the reply, Martin.

  • David Allen 9th Dec '14 - 8:07pm

    “Just as our Voters naturally slip away most easily to other supposedly Centre/Left Parties so they will come back to us once the question is about Government & not Protest.”

    But will they?

    Let’s face it, there is such a thing as the plague-on-all-your-houses protest vote, and whilst we never really went all out to attract it, we did tend to pick a lot of it up. Nowadays it is UKIP, and to some extent the Greens, who are its beneficiaries. The Lib Dem position nowadays is probably best represented as “We have a whole lot of ideas which the Tories don’t agree with, but we work with the Tories anyway, and occasionally block some of their crazier proposals”. That is not going to attract the protest voter.

    Is it, as paul barker suggests, going to attract the serious voter who wants to help elect the next government? Why should anybody be keen to vote for “We work with Tories but slow them down”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '14 - 8:56pm

    David Allen

    The Lib Dem position nowadays is probably best represented as “We have a whole lot of ideas which the Tories don’t agree with, but we work with the Tories anyway, and occasionally block some of their crazier proposals”

    We needed to get across the idea that we worked with the Tories not because we had any particular liking for them and their policies, but because the way the people voted and the distortions of the electoral system meant it was the only stable government. We needed to have broken dramatically with the Tories when the time was right to do so – and that time was when they broke the Coalition Agreement on no major top-down reforms of the NHS.

    The Coalition was always going to be difficult, but it was made far, far worse by the Orange Bookers using it as an excuse to push our party to the economic right. THEY have wrecked our party, and we members who still care should be ANGRY about that. Sadly, I see too much timidity in the members, plenty of grumbling, but no willingness actually to stand up and do something. For example, we needed a fearsome anti-Clegg candidate for the presidency, someone who would stand up and CHALLENGE what Clegg and the Cleggies are doing. Instead we had probably the most boring presidential election ever, all three candidates seemed to be just to be uttering nice platitudes and one had to look hard to see any distinction.

  • A political party should never be in the position of losing support from those who identify most strongly with its core values. The natural consistuency of the Liberal Democrats is liberal people: those who support liberalism over all other principles should be voting Liberal Democrat in normal circumstances. This is not happening now; instead, natural, instinctive liberals are looking everywhere else. The extent to which this is a disaster for the Liberal Democrats cannot be overestimated; at present, the Lib Dems’ consistuency consists of people whose sentimental or professional attachment to the Party outweighs their passion for liberalism, and the very small group of people who actually enjoy reading books by Jeremy Browne. This is not enough to win elections.

    This is not solely down to Nick Clegg, and while it is unlikely that needed change will take place while he remains head of the party, simply replacing him is not in itself a solution either. The Liberal Democrats will continue to shrink until they make a positive effort to regain lost liberals and recruit new ones.

  • A Lib Dem meltdown is possible; so, too, is a better-than-expected result. More likely, then, it will be somewhere inbetween

    That would depend on what you classify as a meltdown. I once would have called less than 35 seats retained as a meltdown, predicting some sort of recovery in the national polls by now as indicative of that outcome, but now? Anything in the realm of 30 would be a great result.

  • Peter Chegwyn 9th Dec '14 - 10:26pm

    @ kle4 ‘Anything in the realm of 30 would be a great result’

    Sadly that shows how low our expectations have fallen.

    How many parties go into an election claiming that if they only lose around half their seats it will be ‘a great result’.

  • Stevan Rose 9th Dec '14 - 11:27pm

    I would be overjoyed if Cable took over as leader. I suspect he would be unopposed. It seems he could unite all wings of the party. But if he had that ambition he would have gone for it last time around. Sadly I don’t think there’ll be anyone else of his stature remaining post election.

  • I wouldn’t be so confident of the LibDems holding on to the seats where the Tories finished second. Yes the Tories may lose some votes to UKIP, but the LibDem vote has been falling like a stone in recent elections. Come the GE UKIP will be putting all their efforts and funds into the seats they have a chance in. The Tories will smell fear in the LibDem marginals and will pump lots of resources into winning them, except for the odd one like Eastleigh UKIP won’t bother.

    To me places like Birmingham Yardley, Brecon and Radnorshire, Bristol West, Eastbourne, Leeds North West, St Ives, Sutton and Cheam, Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk and even Eastleigh (Tory gain) look like good bets for the LibDems to lose. I would have backed many more, but the odds just aren’t worth it – Withington 1/20 for a labour win for example. I know I don’t have the political knowledge of many posters, but I come from a family of bookmakers and do know how to study the form. I’ve looked at every LibDem held seat and I’m struggling to find more that 15 that could be considered remotely safe.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Dec '14 - 8:45am

    @ Chris B

    “I think Lib Dem optimism has been a big factor in its demise.”

    No. Lib Dem foolish over-optimism in the centre has been the big factor. Combined with a serious dose of self-delusion. Thankfully, this disease has not spread right across the country.

  • I have huge respect for Vince Cable, who ensured that we alone among all the political parties can say we consistently called the economy (and banking regulation) correctly in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. But he has too many albatrosses in the shape of tuition fees, and mail privatisation (actually Michael Fallon’s fault but that hasn’t stopped the Tories rewarding him) – and support for unpopular government bills in healthcare and the courts – to win back our erstwhile supporters. And his support for the mansion tax, airport expansion (excluding Heathrow of course) and building on the green belt will alienate many of our current supporters.

    Tim Farron has no such drawbacks. He has served his apprenticeship as President and will be a brilliant campaigner for us at the general election in whatever role he takes – deputy leader? But for all Nick’s supposed toxicity I continue to come across voters who tell me they really like and respect him as a decent, responsible politician who has put the country first. Can we afford to lose those voters who have stuck with us so far in the hope of winning back those who have left us?

  • Paul 10th Dec ’14 – 9:08am

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the privatisation of Postman Pat and the outsourcing of his black and white cat were the responsibility of Ed Davey before he moved to DECC.

  • Gwynfor Tyley 10th Dec '14 - 9:55am

    All of this reading of the tea leaves is irrelevant until we see a coherent campaign message to persuade voters to vote for us.

    If we cannot produce that, then we will be at the bottom of these expectations, if we can then there is hope yet.

    But that is pointing out the bleedin obvious – so to the main question – when do we get to see the campaign message?

  • How many voters are likely to change their votes because of Royal Mail privatisation or even railway privatisation ?

  • malc: are you telling us that you have a financial interest in the comments you make on this site? Perhaps you should be paying for the privilege.

  • Paul: Tim Farron has other drawbacks.

  • nvelope2003 10th Dec ’14 – 10:27am
    How many voters are likely to change their votes because of Royal Mail privatisation or even railway privatisation ?

    I think the specific polling on the question of rail privatisation is that 65% of voters would like the railways to be re-nationalised.

    I may be wrong but I think the % is even higher for Royal Mail.

  • I was working out yesterday how many seats we have held for a good period of time since 1997 and then lost.
    It is quite illuminating, I reached a total of 16. Sixteen, thirteen of which were gained in 1997, following which our percentage vote and expectations rose, right up to 2010. Just shows how we have to be very careful about expecting to hold seats when since 2010 our fortunes have since dwindled to the very low level they are today..

  • Martin

    I call it how I see it and I see the LibDems in far deeper trouble than many other posters on this site. Whether I have a punt or not makes no difference, I’ve had a look at all the LibDem held seats and I’m struggling to find even 15 “safe” seats. My predictions – for what there worth – are less than 20 seats and that I’ll make a fair few quid.

  • I wonder how many Lib Dem supporters speak to non-political people in casual conversation. Those who do find that Nick Clegg is, at best, a joke. I know that he has many fine qualities but judgement is not amongst them. People aren’t stupid. Nick Clegg is a liability. Vince is an asset. People believe him, even trust him. However no-brainers can’t penetrate the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party and the party establishment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Dec '14 - 12:48pm

    Paul

    But for all Nick’s supposed toxicity I continue to come across voters who tell me they really like and respect him as a decent, responsible politician who has put the country first.

    Well, as one of his biggest critics, actually I agree with this.

    So much of the criticism of the Liberal Democrats following the formation of the Coalition has been unrealistic, not acknowledging the very limited room for manoeuvre the Liberal Democrats had given the Parliament elected in May 2010, somehow expecting the Liberal Democrats to have achieved what no other party in a similar junior coalition partner situation has ever been able to achieve anywhere. As a good comparison, see the record of the Irish Green Party in coalition with Fianna Fáil, and then the Irish Labour Party in coalition with Fine Gael. What’s the common feature?

    It makes me really angry to see the formation of the coalition written up as just a selfish thing done to get personal power, when in fact not forming the coalition and leaving Britain without a stable government would have been the selfish thing. I don’t like this government and what it is doing at all, but unfortunately it IS what the British people voted for in 2010, any doubts about that were smashed by the 2011 referendum when by two-to-one the British people voted to support the distortion which made this government with its over-domination by the Tories the only possible one we could have had. The alternative to what we have now would have been what the “No” campaign in effect said we should have – a pure Tory controlled government. If we do get that in 2015 (and the “nah nah nah nah nah”s are pushing it that way), people will realise how very much horribly different that would be from what we have now (and what we have now is horrible enough, yes).

    The problem is that Nick Clegg was dealt a poor hand, but he has played that badly, making it even worse. He ought to have been aware of the way that the role of junior coalition partners is to be torn to pieces, and so done as much as he could to defend us against that. Instead, he did the opposite, seeming to deliberately position our party in a way that anticipated these attacks and wanted them to cause maximum damage.

    I think he is a decent person, but too easily led. For as long as I have been a member of the party (since the 1970s), media commentators have pushed this idea that we need to become “just like the other parties – proper politicians” and we need to become much more right-wing economically “authentic” or “classical” or “Gladstonian” liberal as the usually-Tory-supporting commentators put it when they are pretending to give neutral advice, and that will win us support. I have found that a good rule to follow is whatever the media commentators are saying we should do, the best thing is to do the exact opposite. That is because those commentator are at best profoundly ignorant about our party, and at worst deliberately want to see it damaged. Sadly, however, Clegg seems to have taken them at their word, and followed closely what they suggest he should do. And his reward from those fair weather friends for doing that? A better leader would have known their game and known our party and done what I suggest.

  • @RC

    Thanks for exemplifying my point. First, not everything is dichotomous; I was eluding to a more pragmatic view. Secondly, you couldn’t wait to get your head back under that sand, dedicating your comment to derision, negativity, mistrust, denial, sarcasm, anything but practical and realistic observation. This is why I and millions of other Lib Dem voters can’t support the party any more; it’s in denial, its made some terrible choices and it’s still doing so. If Nick went before the GE I’d reconsidered, but I think the party is a bit like you – not interested in considering other views, incapable of change and so cock-sure that it’s making terrible mistakes.

    If you really require a dichotomy I can oblige : there are 2 types of Lib Dems, ones that agree with me now and ones that agree with me after May. 🙂

  • >I think he is a decent person, but too easily led.

    +1 – As is often the case, Matthew puts this point better than I could ever hope to. I think Nick is a decent guy, I just don’t want him leading the party.

  • Matthew: I think that you you should be considered as one of Clegg’s “biggest critics” in the sense of critical analysis, in many ways you are very understanding of him.

    You are right that the negative impact on the Party, although anticipated, was severely undersetimated and I do think that one consequence of this coalition is that the price of coalition has shot up considerably. If ever a similar electoral dilemma recurs, a junior partner in negotiation will point at this coalition when demanding political compromises.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Dec '14 - 1:35pm

    @malc

    ” I come from a family of bookmakers and do know how to study the form.”

    That statement is difficult to reconcile with your views in the same post about Yardley Eastbourne, Sutton & Cheam. The local factors(form book) in these particular constituencies appear to be going against national trends.

  • @JohnTilley
    You may be right about Davey and the Post Office.

    The EU created the Single Postal Market which meant that all subsidies had to end and the market opened up to all 28 countries.

  • Tony Dawson

    I’ve not gone just with the national trends, I’ve looked at each constituency as a single unit. Just for info the main bookies – at the moment – make Lab 5/6 favourite to take Yardley and the Tories 13/8 to take both Eastbourne and Sutton and Cheam. These are the very best prices, other bookies have shorter odds.

  • SIMON BANKS 10th Dec '14 - 4:52pm

    OK, my prediction is 32 seats. That’s based on looking at the held seats one by one and giving us one gain where there are special circumstances. Before an election is called, people tend to think in terms of the national scene. Before polling day their focus shifts to take more account of the local situation, which includes “We don’t want to lose that nice X as our MP, even though his leader’s a dead loss” and “Labour can’t win here and it’ll be tight between the Lib Dems and the Tories”. The SNP will surge in Scotland, but that won’t necessarily result in the outcome g so confidently predicts.

    I don’t find the comments here that cast doubt on Stephen Fisher’s analysis to be whistling in the dark at all. Nonetheless, it’s depressing that we can view the prospect of losing 1/3 to half our MPs as a good result; and in the long term, the grinding down of the party outside the “strategic seats” is ominous and must be reversed by a new leader and leadership team.

  • @JohnTilley
    I should have mentioned that the EU is also creating the single railway market. That is why subsidies are being stopped and the cost passed on to the passengers. The market will open up to all 28 countries.

    They have started on the single energy market. I don’t know when they will get around to health care.

  • One last point on GE betting, the most popular bet on the amount of LibDem seats is that they will win between 11 – 20, the second most popular is that they will get between 0 – 10. No doubt a lot of these bets are by mug punters and not Oxford academics, but perhaps it does show what a lot ot of “normal” people are thinking.

  • David Evans 10th Dec '14 - 5:49pm

    I don’t often disagree with Tony Dawson, but my view of those in the leadership is that they have a vision of the idiological position they want the Liberal Democrats to become and they will drive it onwards irrespective of the electoral consequences. They have used all the usual corrupting factors in parliament of privilege, patronage and saying just enough to get themselves through the next five minutes to subvert the instincts of loyal party members and activists, and are leading us to oblivion unless they are removed before May. After that irrespective of any leadership changes we will never, ever be forgiven by the electorate, and it will be our fault.

  • Tsar Nicolas 10th Dec '14 - 5:49pm

    Simon Banks

    “Nonetheless, it’s depressing that we can view the prospect of losing 1/3 to half our MPs as a good result; and in the long term, the grinding down of the party outside the “strategic seats” is ominous and must be reversed by a new leader and leadership team.”

    It’s not just that – it’s also that nobody who is not already an incumbent is likely to win next May.

    As for rebuilding, I am not hopeful. I can well imagine that when all the party’s female MPs go, there will be calls within the party establishment for something to be done about the party’s processes for selection of women, rather than a recognition that this loss will be a natural outcome of a disastrous result under first-past-the-post.

  • “One last point on GE betting, the most popular bet on the amount of LibDem seats is that they will win between 11 – 20, the second most popular is that they will get between 0 – 10. ”

    Where is that? The shortest prices at Ladbrokes are for 20-40 seats. True the shortest price on Betfair is 25 and under but a fairly tiny amount has been matched (and my experience of Betfair is that it isn’t particularly accurate indicator – though I’ve made some nice money out of that in the past!)

  • Hywel

    I didn’t say shortest price I said the most popular bet. The shortest price is for 20 – 30 seats.

    http://www.oddschecker.com/politics/british-politics/next-uk-general-election/total-seats-liberal-democrats-banded

  • OK – so where do the figures about most popular bet come from?

  • Hywel

    Just scroll down the link and you will see the most popular bets.

  • Yes because a pie chart with no source for the figures is really authoritative! I would be very surprised if all the bookmakers were sharing information like that

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '14 - 11:05am

    Martin

    You are right that the negative impact on the Party, although anticipated, was severely underestimated

    Anyone who couldn’t see what was going to happen was a fool. What has happened IS what happens to junior coalition partners, especially when the situation is bad so the government has to do unpopular things. Nothing that has happened under the coalition surprises me, it has all gone entirely as I expected.

  • Hywel

    OK. The most popular bet on the Oddschecker site, as stated by Oddschecker, is for the LibDems to get 10 – 20 seats.

  • Peter 10th Dec ’14 – 4:53pm
    I should have mentioned that the EU is also creating the single railway market.

    By the time that happens most of our TOCs will already be owned and run by the French state railways company so we will probably not notice much difference. 🙂

    Simlarly with the single energy market, the French/Chinese state owned industries will own and run all the nuclear dinosaurs in the UK before there is a single market. I have full confidence that they will do so to the same exacting safety standards as someffective when used in Fukushima. I also have full confidence that whatever party the Secretary of State for Energy comes from the globalised giants in the world of energy will purchase as many politicians as it takes to get their own way.

    The UK governement will get around to health care just as soon as the USA Private Health Corporations have engineered the Trade Deal to ensure that they can take the NHS to Court if it refuses to sell your grandma to them.

  • We are in a terrible state and no one can predict the future but we can all write Focus and newspapers and some of us can put them through letter boxes and get our message across. The only worthwhile message I saw in the above discussion was Paul’s: that Nick Clegg is a fundamentally decent person who put the country first .
    Sadly I think the reason so many mistakes have been made is that he is a convinced European who understands coalition politics and believes deeply in that form of Government. His tragedy and ours is that the Great British Public (GBP) does not understand this form of politics and doesn’t want to thank you very much, so every compromise is seen as abandoned principles and a betrayal of pre election promises. By and large the GBP does not trust us any more and we have had no time in which to properly explain the Parliamentary Party’s actions. Hence our sound kicking in the area which it recognises as being important to us and which is fairly unimportant to the GBP, the Euros.
    It may well be that the position we find ourselves in is the result of the leadership of the party being ahead of it’s time as well as being completely unaware of that fact. We have been hoist by our own European petard after confusing and angering the GBP by spending too much money on trying to achieve what the GBP sees as self serving constitutional reform .
    On top of this we have moved to the centre and are promising more if what they hate – another Coalition if they vote for us.
    When I was active in politics in the 80s and 90s we did not have any power in Westminster but we able to influence the political debate through our policies which promoted social justice . Now we no longer have influence over the GBP but we do have power .
    I think our only hope is to come up with a rethink on broad brush policies concerning the effects of the economy and taxation on social justice (no one else has any new ideas) and put those on the same piece of paper as Nick being fundamentally decent. Otherwise it’s back to square one grass roots and all and who but the Parliamentary Party would actually suffer when you really think about it?

  • Malc the most popular bet is often completely different to the shortest odds.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '14 - 5:13pm

    Sue S

    Sadly I think the reason so many mistakes have been made is that he is a convinced European who understands coalition politics and believes deeply in that form of Government. His tragedy and ours is that the Great British Public (GBP) does not understand this form of politics and doesn’t want to thank you very much, so every compromise is seen as abandoned principles and a betrayal of pre election promises.

    No, I don’t think he has a good understanding of coalition politics. See his latest stand-in at PMQ, where he seemed to be taking a very partisan role, as if we had a two-party system Condematives v. Labour, and he was enthusiastically pushing the Condemative side.

    In doing so, he comes across as an uncritical supporter of Conservative policies, maybe a bit more moderate than some on the right of that party, but most certainly not as someone independent who is accepting a lot of it as a compromise rather than because he truly believes in it. Coalition ought to have been played so that if the party balances worked out different next time, and a Labour-LibDem coalition was the most stable government that could emerge, it wouldn’t seem odd. Instead, the impression is given that a vote for the Liberal Democrats can only be a vote for them to continue as part of the Condemative government, which really is not the way to go seeing as how in most of the seats we hold people vote for us, or used to vote for us, because we were the lead opposition to the Conservatives.

  • @Matthew, thank you. My LD friend didn’t understand this point I made to him. Now, I am a Labour member and voter, but LD policies sound ok to me and I wouldn’t mind a coalition with them. The problem is that if I were a Lib Dem voter then Nick Clegg standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories would be incredibly off-putting. He’s pretty much backing up everything they’re doing.

  • As an ex-libdem voter who was enthused by Clegg-mania to think I could really believe in the party I was thrown back out into the disillusioned by the way the party betrayed its principles whilst within coalition. Tuition fees? Bedroom tax? Really ?!!?! The power was there to say no. Clegg could have said no.

    I have since joined the green party as I know they will not betray their core values.
    But: I do agree with other comments that Vince Cable would be great to take over. That would once again show some principle as I did think it was ageist before. With age comes wisdom and he is a good honest man. He would bring back some faith.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Dec '14 - 3:17pm

    Jamie B

    Tuition fees? Bedroom tax? Really ?!!?! The power was there to say no. Clegg could have said no.

    On tuition fees, no.

    Why do people seem to think that tuition fees involve just a wave of the hand, wave this way abolish them, wave that way, not? University tuition has to be PAID FOR. So, keeping it subsidised means either much more tax to pay for it, or big cuts elsewhere, or reducing it cost by big cuts in the number of university places.

    If Clegg had said no to tuition fees, he would have had to say “Yes” to whatever alternative the Tories proposed, saying no was NOT just a cost-free wave of the hands. I think it clear that the Tories would not have accepted higher taxes to pay for Clegg’s “no”, so it would have been one of others – most likely HUGE slashes in the number of university places. With the Tories and the Tory press going “Blame the LibDems for that – these cuts had to be made against our will so they could keep their pledge”.

    On the “bedroom tax” why do you think someone who needs a two-bedroom flat should be subsidised to live in a three-bedroom house, while a family who needs a three-bedroomed house is forced to live in a two-bedroomed flat because no three-bedroomed houses are available?

  • Mr Huntbach: If you are not a liberal democrat – you are not a person to answer.
    If you ARE a liberal democrat it is these specific issues that go against Liberal values.
    I’ve probably voted for (& supported) the party longer than you have been alive .
    liberal democrats had such an amazing opportunity to dispense with the myth that government could only be about two parties – Labour or Tories. They (or we) at that point had such a chance that we have squandered.
    Its time to dispose of the ‘winning here’ placards and get back to basics.

    1. Being liberal means that you can not support illiberal policy – no matter what.
    2. Being democratic means that you must support democracy.
    Why on why did Clegg sign a vow with the other two against democracy for the people of Scotland, whilst at the same time other MP’s in the party are in Cornwall offering support for a Cornish Assembly. It does not make sense.

    Sticking up for failures in policy and really rubbish decisions is a waste of energy.
    The fact is that we failed to be liberal and democratic and we must get back to our roots.
    The party needs to win people like me back – and Getting Vince Cable to run it is a good start.

  • PS: The Bedroom tax has (according to shelter) contributed to a large increase in homelessness. It has also contributed to the rise in visits to a food bank. It is a policy that has increased inequality.

    With reference to paying for education: the whole country benefits from free education and people who go through our university system contribute strongly to the economy. Lets not put off people who might otherwise have studied a niche subject that in the future might have a significant impact on our way of life.

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