First Euro poll of 2014 shows Lib Dems at 7%. Can we make being ‘The Party of IN’ work for us by the time of the real election?

The first poll this year asking how people will vote in May’s European elections has been published today by YouGov. It gives the following headline ratings compared with the last elections in 2009:

    Conservative 17% (-11%)
    Labour 24% (+8%)
    Lib Dem 7% (-7%)
    Ukip 19% (+2%)

Feed these numbers (plus those for the Greens, SNP/Plaid and others) into euroelection.co.uk and here’s what it means for numbers of seats:

euro results forecast 2014

The Lib Dems would be reduced from 11 seats to just 4, if these numbers are to be believed. The Tories number of MEPs would be cut from 26 won in 2009 to 16. By contrast, Labour would almost double their representation, up from 13 to to 27 while Ukip would add a further 5 to their tally of 13.

One challenge to activists is to motivate Lib Dem supporters to vote in these elections. If you look at the breakdown of certainty to vote, Conservative (53%), Labour (54%) and Ukip (66%) supporters are much more likely to say they are 90-100% certain to vote than are Lib Dems (45%). Our get-out-the-vote operation will be more crucial than ever given the large constituencies for European elections (SE England, for instance, stretches from Dover to Oxford, taking in nine counties).

Of course this is just one poll more than four months ahead of the actual election. In 2009, the polls shifted a lot the closer we got to polling day, with Ukip surging in the last few weeks. I’d expect some churn in the next four months, too, although Ukip’s profile – and their core issues of Europe and immigration – has been consistently higher which may reduce their potential to increase their vote as much this time.

Though the figures look pretty bad for the Lib Dems currently, we too have an opportunity – to be the only major party enthusiastically to campaign as ‘The party of IN’. As I wrote in this month’s issue of Total Politics:

In 2014’s Euro elections the issue of Europe will dominate in a way it hasn’t done before. UKIP will toot its populist anti-EU, anti-immigration tune while the Tories and Labour do their utmost to stop their voters dancing to it. This gives Lib Dems the chance to occupy a distinctive niche in British politics as ‘The Party of In’.

The party’s internal polling shows this pro-European message plays well to the 15% of voters who don’t currently support it, but would consider doing so.

If the party can woo even half this group of ‘Lib Dem considerers’ – Clegg’s strategy guru Ryan Coetzee terms them “our market” – between now and May 2015, its ratings would climb to 17%-18%. That would be good enough to save some 40 to 45 Lib Dem seats and give the party leverage in the event of a second hung parliament.

* 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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40 Comments

  • Peter Davies 16th Jan '14 - 11:05am

    If this is the poll you mean http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/01/16/european-elections-ukip-closes-first-place/ then it puts us on 9% (-5).

  • I am quite surprised that with only 8% of the vote (I assume that the 8% in the table is right and not the 7% in your article, Stephen?) we get any seats at all. After all, the biggest region by population, the SE of England, has 10 MEPs, so needing around 10% of the popular vote, unless we assume that SE voters will vote Lib Dem disproportionately higher than elsewhere. For the biggest of the other regions, who have 8 (london, the NW of England) that means 12% or so, which would seem decidedly out of reach. So what are the assumptions behind this calculator, Stephen? The sample size (and the majority of the regions used by the survey) give no valid statistical info about how individual regions may be trending at present, so I think 0 MEPs would be a safer prediction at present than 4. It is noteworthy that the weightings applied have increased Lib Dem crude numbers, while reducing UKIP’s. I find this a little unlikely, to say the least!

  • But Helen, we were on 14% or so last time, which took us over the line in all regions – with only approx half that, it doesn’t. In 1989 we were fighting on the old smaller constituencies on FPTP, and we didn’t get any then! IIRC we only had one result (Cornwall and Plymouth) where we were above 4th place!

  • Any idea which four of our candidates would be elected, based on this poll?

    BTW @Tim13: a quick check on Wikipedia tells me that in 1989 we did indeed finish comparatively well in the Cornwall and Plymouth European seat, with Paul Tyler finishing second with over 30% of the vote.

  • 4!, it could well be a wipeout. At that point will we wake up drom our dreams, face reality and do something to save the party.

  • Peter Davies 16th Jan '14 - 12:09pm

    South East, South West, North West and London are most likely on an even swing or on an equal percentage of our vote lost. East of England is not far behind London.

  • Paul in Twickenham 16th Jan '14 - 12:26pm

    4? But for the last 2 years I have been promising £20 to charity for every Lib Dem MEP more than 3 who gets elected and I don’t want to be out of pocket!

    On the other hand the Lib Dem leadership could directly challenge the concensus view of the other 3 parties and carve a distinctive and Liberal position rather than creeping around the margins of the debate and coughing apologetically. Hey, who knows, with a strategy like that I could be out forty or sixty quid.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '14 - 12:27pm

    There’s an interesting discussion by Peter Kellner about the methodology behind this particular poll and the way the voting intention question was posed (http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/01/16/european-elections-ukip-closes-first-place/). The question gives a single list of the parties which won seats in 2009 and includes a prompt that smaller parties have a better chance of winning seats than in a general election.

  • Paul in Twickenham 16th Jan ’14 – 12:26pm
    On the other hand the Lib Dem leadership could directly challenge the concensus view of the other 3 parties and carve a distinctive and Liberal position rather than creeping around the margins of the debate and coughing apologetically.

    Well Paul, I will not hold my breath on this side of the river. The likelihood of the Lib Dem leadership directly challenging their way out of a paper bag is so small that your money should be safe.

    BTW —- Which charity will lose as a result ?

  • Peter Davies 16th Jan '14 - 12:52pm

    Using the predictor with the exact results gives us 3. a 1/2% increase in our vote would give us 5.

  • @ Caracatus

    “but just saying “were the party of in” rather than reform from within is a bit weak”

    Totally agree. We’re really going to have to sharpen our message and put some flesh on the bones of how we want things to be different if we’re going to avoid being wiped out in May.

    “we’re the party of in” sounds like we don’t want change and we’re quite happy with how things are. This is a disastrous message to be putting out when everyone can see the EU has horrendous problems.

  • paul barker 16th Jan '14 - 1:20pm

    There is a long history of VI Polls for European Elections & its a history of them being wildly out of line with the eventual result until 5 or 6 weeks before the date of the Vote.

    On the question of motivating our Voters surely the problem up to now is that we have pretented that The European Elections were about anything but Europe. In the year we remember the slaughter of Two Wars lets go out & remind people of what The EU is for – Jobs & Peace.

  • The accuracy of Stephen’s voting pattern figures are close enough, to reflect the real debate on Europe, and not the faux debate that ‘ivory tower dwelling’ Lib Dems would prefer to be the case. The emerging trend is very clear, and you cannot change that voting trend if Lib Dems repeatedly cower away from the real debate presented here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l93yjako2j8
    If Lib Dems can’t counter this, with a cogent argument, I suggest that you are lost.?

  • Frank Booth 16th Jan '14 - 5:21pm

    ‘We’re the party of in’ Why is anyone surprised by this message? Clegg and Alexander simply like to butter up elites like the small party fanboys they are. Just as they butter up Cameron and Osborne at Westminster, so they will Barrosso et all in Brussels. Certainly don’t expect them to say anything that might challenge such people or make them uncomfortable. There’s jobs to be looking for in 2015.

    This 2010 LD will be looking elsewhere in the Euros. Probably Green.

  • “The party of in.” I think the public is broadly “anti” so they may read much more into it that message than we think. It is an ambiguous message and could be highly dangerous unless fully clarified. What does it mean exactly? Here are some interpretations: 1. The party of in on the existing terms? 2. The party of in with powers restored to us? 3. The party of in with further loss of sovereign powers? 4. The party of in with ever greater expansion (or with no further expansion)? These are just examples of why this simple message will mean different things to different people and why we really need to phrase it slightly differently.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '14 - 7:06pm

    @Theresa-1 “this simple message will mean different things to different people”
    Perhaps that is intentional. After all, an unambiguous message like “No top down reorganisation of the NHS” and “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament” can get a party into all sorts of trouble. 😉

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jan '14 - 7:24pm

    @Frank Booth: Then it’s perhaps just as well that Clegg and Alexander aren’t the ones standing for election to the European Parliament. The relationship between our (or any) MEPs and the European Commission is very different from that between the Lib Dem leadership and the Tory leadership (or between our MPs and the national government), what with the separation of powers between the EU institutions. So our MEPs do publicly oppose and vote against Commission proposals… they’ve even voted to sack or reject Commission teams. And I think if the party leadership were to try to interfere in the work of our MEPs, then our MEPs would tell Clegg & co where to go.
    So please, if you have an issue with the national Lib Dem party leadership, do not take it out on our MEPs and MEP candidates. It’s a completely separate institution from that seated at Westminster, and you should vote on the basis of the performance of our MEPs.

  • The real problem is trying to defend being Theresa-1’s number 3 by using arguments for being number 1.

  • Paul In Twickenham 16th Jan '14 - 7:48pm

    @JohnTilley – The Refugee Council. A Lib Dem councillor on Richmond Council (who happens to be my partner) will confirm I have made payment, in the event that it is necessary.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Jan '14 - 1:24am

    The entire idea of ‘the party of IN’ is the politics of utter desperation. I hesitate to say ‘insanity ‘. Why I am hesitating? I am not sure. Shall we also campaign for the Council elections on the policy of being the party of the Council? 🙁

    If you haven’t got something more serious to say, something of substance, it might be better not to bother.

  • Frank Booth 17th Jan '14 - 2:41am

    Alex Macfie – I’m afraid thought that Clegg will be the face of the LDs in this campaign though. Mike Smithson had a rather good post on this on his politicalbetting site. The Euros are unusual in that you vote for a party and you just get the candidate who is top of the party list. People know next to nothing of their MEPs. From an MEPs point of view it’s all about being at the top of the Party list rather than appealing locally to voters. I’m not blaming individual candidates but the system needs changing and as it is the ‘personal vote’ so many LD MPs enjoy won’t apply here. And the campaign strategy has come from the top ie Westminster.

  • Paul In Twickenham 16th Jan ’14 – 7:48pm
    @JohnTilley – The Refugee Council. A Lib Dem councillor on Richmond Council (who happens to be my partner) will confirm I have made payment, in the event that it is necessary.

    Excellent charity ! And an interesting bit of serendipity. My partner,Rosemary,used to chair Refugee Action Kingston. Small world. But a lot of refugees.

  • This poor polling result is deeply concerning. As we are the only party of ‘in’ with any sort of conviction, why are we not polling closer to 30-50% ? This seems to be about the percentage of the electorate who are strongly pro-EU.

    The problem is that traditional Labour voters seem to think that domestic policies of their party, such as freezing energy prices have any effect at all in the European parliament. We have to make it clear to potential Labour voters that their MEPs operate in quite a different parliamentary ‘market’. We should not waste time challenging the Conservatives on matters of the EU, they are confused enough already. Labour has got to be our target. Forget about UKIP, their supporters are impenetrable by us anyway, we would be wasting our time and effort on them. I repeat, for the EU elections, Labour has got to be in our gun sights, we must be clear on that.

    For the upcoming European elections we need to forget about challenging Labour on domestic matters, and force them to make their mind up: are you pro-EU or anti-EU? If we can arrange for them to admit to being anti-EU, then our own poll ratings will surely rise up. Have a look at the RMT union, being left wing does not automatically mean being pro-EU. This is extremely serious, if we get it wrong it is an existential threat to our party. Please, no more love-ins with Ed Balls, at least not this side of the European elections. Coalitions with Labour are for the General Election, we must focus our effort on the election that comes first, then adapt our stance afterwards.

    In order to challenge Labour we have to understand Ed Miliband. This means that we have to really understand how he ticks. It is somewhat confusing, we have to look beyond the confusion, the smoke screen and peer through the fog that he generates. In order to get to the nub of the matter we have to stop being afraid to say uncomfortable truths. The following may sound a bit racist, please, we have got to stop being hung up on that.

    Ed Miliband is in order of importance, as far as I can see through his smoke screen:
    1. Jewish
    2. Marxist
    3. A puppet of the unions
    4. Labour leader.

    Overall he is one seriously confused individual. We have to be merciless and exploit that fact if we are to defeat him.
    He does his damndest to hide point 2, did you see how he was chasing after the middle class recently? Did you have a look at the commentary in the Morning Star? Talk of class betrayal etc. This is a serious fracture within Miliband and indeed Labour regarding class issues, we have to exploit it. If we are going to get ahead then we have to be hard bastards too.

    Item 3, puppet of the unions. Miliband owes his union puppeteers significantly. He would not have got the job without their tendencies to rig votes. His brother David was ahead in the other electoral colleges votes. Ed has been completely incapable of getting to grips with the unions, not because he has a weak personality, but because they literally control his strings.

    Now the interesting part: how to destroy Ed Miliband. It is necessary to examine items 1 and 3 together. There is a very interesting article on the Jewish Chronicle website:
    http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/103221/ed-miliband-im-a-zionist-and-oppose-boycotts-israel

    Ed Miliband is quoted as saying:
    “I take antisemitism very seriously. Any kind of delegitimisation of Israel is something we should call out for what it is and not tolerate it. I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders.”
    Bear in mind that the unions have been very active in the calls for boycotts of Israel. Can you see what is being said here? We need to handle this cautiously of course, it is dynamite! This statement is why I have placed his Jewishness ahead of his role as union puppet.

    We must ask ourselves a question: Do we want our party to thrive or not? If we do, then we need to be much harder on our political opponents. No more Mr nice guy. The very existence of our party is at stake. For the European elections it is Labour who our our primary opponents, not UKIP. As I have written elsewhere, the lifespan of UKIP is severely constrained. They are spreading their memes but not via their genes.

  • Whilst people delve into the figures presented by Stephen Tall, trying to ascertain what is going on, please remember, that this ‘trend’ or ‘sentiment’ is also emerging across a swathe of other European countries. Hence, it is folly to suggest that this is some kind of ‘Little Englander’, issue.
    This battle is about a Europe taking on a role of authority, that it was never mandated to do.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jan '14 - 1:16pm

    I agree with Geoffrey Payne on playing party politics with the issue of Israel. Just don’t go there. What Joe King suggests is very dangerous and would open us up to accusations of anti-semitism. And I don’t agree at all with the idea of making Labour our main enemy in the Euro election campaign. In the European Parliament, ALDE have a lot more in common with S&D (Labour’s European Parliamentary group) than with either ECR (Tories) or EFD (UKIP). It would be counter-productive to make the main focus of our Euro election campaign attacking a party that belongs to the group that our MEPs would be working most closely with (among the Euro parties that UK voters have the option of voting for). I think it makes much more sense to attack the Tories, both for the record of their MEPs and for the company they keep. There is a lot of stuff there from which we could make political capital, and essentially do to them what they did to us in the AV referendum. Unfortunately, because our party campaigns department has chosen to run a campaign that ignores what MEPs actually do and does not challenge the conspiracy of silence in this country’s political media over what happens in the European Parliament, no-one ever gets to hear about it. we have tacitly accepted the UKIP framing of the debate in terms of nothing other than whether this country should be in the EU, when we should be openly saying that that is not what this election is about.

    For the upcoming European elections we need to forget about challenging Labour on domestic matters,

    Indeed — domestic matters have no place whatsoever in Euro election campaigns, and that includes the UK’s membership of the EU. We should be campaigning on what we, as Liberals, intend to do to influence EU law in the European Parliament. I don’t like any of @Theresa-1’s options as they all miss the point of what the European Parliament is for. We should be “the party of IN in an EU with liberal policies”.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jan '14 - 1:25pm

    @Frank Booth: I agree that the electoral system for Euro elections needs changing (of course, ideally to STV) but I don’t quite agree with your view that the ‘personal vote’ won’t apply. Since in most regions we only have 1 MEP in most regions (2 in SE England) it would make a lot of sense for the regional party campaigns to promote the head of the list (in most cases, the sitting MEP) as the ‘personal candidate’. “Vote for (or re-elect) X as your Lib Dem MEP because [insert a list of things that that MEP has personally done to change EU law for the better, as well as things that the party in the EP has done.] Making it a personal campaign for the head fo the list may be our best chance of getting that person (re-)elected.

  • John Broggio 17th Jan '14 - 3:27pm

    @ Joe King

    Perhaps your post was satirical but in case not, doesn’t your quote from EdM re boycotts rather undermine your 3rd allegation about his make-up (politically speaking)?

  • Simon Banks 17th Jan '14 - 4:29pm

    The public likes to grumble about the EU and have a kick at it. Some of the complaints are justified but many aren’t. I’m not convinced reforming the EU, good idea though it is, would change this much. Come a referendum and the real prospect of suddenly finding ourselves out and I suspect the anti-EU majority would evaporate.So I think Theresa-1 is being too analytical. There is a minority of voters who are seriously worried about anti-EU sentiment and I’m sure it’s more than 7%. UKIP is making the anti running, so there should be an opportunity for us.

    However, in our local party, weak in terms of votes and members, we’re assuming we’ll be asked to support some wider initiative and we haven’t heard of one yet. If there is a lot going on, it doesn’t seem to be getting to the constituencies – unless it’s just the winnable ones.

  • @ Alex Macfie “I don’t like any of @Theresa-1′s options as they all miss the point of what the European Parliament is for. We should be “the party of IN in an EU with liberal policies”.

    Don’t forget that If we wish to project ourselves as the “party of in”, we will be “in” an organisation that will not necessarily reflect or even respect our preferred liberal policies. You seem to discount the clear consensus that the European Parliament’s composition will in all probability change radically this year. Whatever we may think about it, the so-called “extreme right” is likely to gain many MEPs all over Europe (for example in France, Italy and Holland). UKIP will do well in the UK. The previously left leaning pro-federalist EP is likely to become right leaning and anti-federalist. The President of the European Commission will leave later in the year and his successor is likely to reflect the new post-May reality. If the news reports are to be believed, and if the European voters really do move significantly to the right we will not be able to pick and choose what policies the EU follows in future, nor even do much to influence them. I do not mean this to sound negative. I just feel we need to be aware of the likely outcome.

  • The EP will be pro-EU by roughly a 3 to 1 majority after the next elections. The anti-EU faction hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining a majority in it.

    It will probably be more “left wing” though as the current one is the most “right wing” one in decades.

  • @Theresa-1

    …we will be “in” an organisation that will not necessarily reflect or even respect our preferred liberal policies

    In the UK parliament the Lib Dems have less than 10% of the MPs, and are the junior partner in a governing coalition that mostly does not follow our party policy. So in the UK we are in an organisation that “does not necessarily reflect or even respect our preferred liberal policies”. In what way is the EU situation different? We want an EU based on liberal values, but respect the result if ALDE does not win thwe most seats (as we know it won’t) or get its choice of Commission President. However, as @Paul R notes, pro-EU parties are anyway likely to have a large majority in the EP. Also in all likelihood ALDE will continue to hold the balance of power in the new Parliament, so we will, as now, get policy with a liberal flavour passed in the European Parliament. Indeed ALDE is probably more effective in influencing policy in the EP than our party could ever be in influencing government policy as ALDE is not tied to a particular “coalition” partner for the lifetime of the Parliament but can choose which faction to support issue by issue.

  • Cllr Martin Hunt 18th Jan '14 - 1:53pm

    There’s too much dreaming going on – the answer to the question posed in the headline is ‘No’ . My big fear is that more importantly our local powerbases will go too with UKIP voters being given a local election ballot paper as well and just blindly voting for a UKIP paper candidate.

  • Paul in Twickenham 20th Jan '14 - 5:56pm

    Well at the moment I imagine that the Great British Public are busily autocompleting “The Party Of In” with an appropriate ending such as “competence” or “eptitude” or possibly “ternal warfare”. However you choose to complete it the sense is of a party lurching from crisis to calamity led by a man unfit to manage the proverbial brewery-based celebration.

  • Paul in Twickenham 20th Jan ’14 – 5:56pm
    … … party lurching from crisis to calamity led by a man unfit to manage the proverbial brewery-based celebration.

    Paul , I don’t think you will be sending too many £20 notes to the Refugee Council in May.

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