Good news: Voters places themselves and the Lib Dems in the centre. Bad news: that doesn’t mean they’re liberals

“There’s no future for the Lib Dems as a party of the centre,” goes the cry from radicals on both wings of our party. So I was interested to see this polling data from YouGov (hat-tip Adam Corlett) looking at where voters place themselves on the left-right axis and where they place the parties and their leaders. And yes, I know we don’t buy into the idea of a binary left-right axis, but it can’t be entirely dismissed.

As YouGov explains, “tracking data compiled over as many as 12 years gives a clear sense of how the main parties and their leaders have been perceived as shifting on a left-right scale. The two charts below shows mean scores based on 100 being “very right-wing” and -100 being “very left-wing”.” I’ve super-imposed onto YouGov’s graphics where, on average, voters currently place themselves:

voters left right spectrum you gov 2014

Three quick points:

1) The Tories are seen to be a more right-wing party (+46 on the scale) than Labour is seen to be a left-wing party (-37). However, the Tories are seen as slightly less right-wing under David Cameron than they were seen under Michael Howard or Iain Duncan Smith; while Labour is seen to be slightly more left-wing under Ed Miliband than under Gordon Brown — and a huge amount more left-wing compared to Tony Blair.

2) Ukip is seen as even more right-wing than the Tories (+56). That a significant number of Ukip supporters voted for Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s then Tony Blair in 1997 is less surprising when you realise Blair was regarded as a centre-right leader (albeit of a left-wing Labour party).

3) The Lib Dems and Nick Clegg are seen as pretty much in the centre, tending just slightly to the left (-6 on the scale) – almost exactly where voters place themselves (-4). And interestingly Nick Clegg is perceived to have moved to the left since the Coalition was formed.

voters left right spectrum you gov 2014 - 2Enough about the perceptions of the parties – what about the voters’ views of themselves?

As the table on the right shows, a plurality of voters (20%) place themselves squarely in the centre. A further 28% say they are either slightly left-of-centre (14%) or slightly right-of-centre (14%). In total, then, almost half of all voters (48%) place themselves at or close to the centre. This compares to minorities of voters who self-describe as very/fairly left-wing (14%) or very/fairly right-wing (12%).

It is, of course, obvious to anyone who’s looked at the Lib Dems’ poll ratings lately that simply being close to the slightly left-of-centre sweet spot where the voters on average self-identify is not in itself enough. The party has serious trust issues over the breaking of the tuition fees pledge, is tainted in the eyes of many of our 2010 voters by dint of the Coalition with the Tories, and has been heavily pilloried by the media for four years. That has had a huge and cumulative negative impact on Lib Dem support. Much of this is unfair and massively over-blown by our opponents (and too often we Lib Dems turn healthy self-criticism into unhealthy self-harm) – but it is reality.

However, what this polling suggests to me is that however damaged the Lib Dem brand is — and only time will tell whether that’s a short- or long-term issue — our political positioning is about right. Right not just because we’re close to the political centre of gravity, but right because of our situation.

As I wrote last month, “if Lib Dem members really want to remain in government after May 2015 then we will have to do a deal next time with either the right-leaning Tories or left-leaning Labour. We may not place ourselves in the centre, but our circumstances do.”

And as I’ll never tire of pointing out to those who demand the Lib Dem leadership stake out radical liberal positions, the blunt reality is that we’re simply not going to be in a position to deliver on them. Not now. And not after May 2015 either. Unless, that is, they’re policies which we can show enjoy significant popular support. Which is why Mark Pack is dead right to urge Lib Dems to get campaigning in favour of civil liberties rather than simply beating up on the Lib Dem leadership for failing to win liberal fights (for example, over DRIP) when they’re vastly out-numbered by authoritarians both in the Government and in Parliament, and the public is largely indifferent.

Yes, we’re liberals. But we’re also democrats, and we need to start winning a few more arguments in the court of public opinion rather than simply believing that all we need do is more noisily assert the purity of our liberalism.

* 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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59 Comments

  • I’m not sure that a lot of these figures are meaningful, we’d expect the results and perceptions to reflect the modalities seen in the electorate. Although a majority define themselves as centrist, we don’t know what sort of centre they’re considering. I expect Cameron sees himself as a centrist, probably Miliband too, I also think a lot of voters would agree with them. It’s no surprise that when you average out voters belief you get a number close to the centre, this often happens when averaging numbers; it’s a mistake to think this means most people are close to the centre or that there’s much consensus as regards what a centrist might believe.

    “the overall position also matters.”

    Haven’t you just demonstrated the antithesis in your article? What I got out of this was the overall position seems to have no correlation with election outcomes, or we’d be winning here!

  • Did they actually define what this axis was? What they meant when they said left/right wing? Two people might consider themselves right wing but for very different reasons. It looks as if individuals could define the axis as they wish. However if we take the view that there are certain important issues (largely social and economic) and we have a pretty good idea of what it means to be right wing on immigration or left wing on the economy then people can judge where they fit in on AVERAGE and probably in relation to the issues that matter most to them. Incidentally this might explain why Nick Clegg is seen as in the centre. He seems very much ‘right wing’ on some issues (the economy, privatisation) and very ‘left wing’ on others (Europe, civil liberties), so perhaps on average he’s seen as being in the middle?

    But is being in the middle such a great thing? It’s assumed to be because of Tony Blair’s 3 victories. But Blair had a base that was rooted on the left. He may have neglected them and it may have damaged his party in the long run, but they didn’t truly abandon him whilst he was in office. Stephen thinks that centrism (presumably ‘robust’ not soggy?) is the only viable strategy ‘if the Lib Dems want to stay in government after 2015’. However I would suggest that is precisely the Lib Dems problem. They are seen as a party ONLY interested in being in government and not really interested in changing the country in a particular way – Norman Lamont’s phrase about being in office not in power comes to mind. This coincides with another general belief about Westminster, that we have a generation of career politicians only concerned with climbing the promotion ladder and never prepared to resign whatever wrong things they do. The current perception of the Lib Dems fits nicely with this. People with no burning desire to change anything who are fairly happy with the status quo – with a few modifications of course.

    Finally I think it’s worth considering those Tory and indeed Cameron’s ratings. The mainstream media does NOT focus anything like enough on how right-wing Cameron is considered. Think how often we hear talk of ‘red’ Ed, how he’s too left wing to win power.Yet the public seem to think he’s no more radical than Cameron. So we have a government led by a right wing prime minister leading a right wing party who are 80%+ of the cabinet and government ministers. Their far less numerous partners are seen as being in the ‘centre’. The idea the public can be convinced that the government is ‘rooted in the centre ground’, as Nick Clegg has tried to claim, is delusional. It would take a pretty Herculean effort for the Lib Dems to drag the Tories to the middle. And sadly the public don’t think they have.

    And please nobody get upset with what I am saying. I have criticised the Lib Dem leadership in the past, but this was a post about public perceptions, fair or otherwise.

  • Charles Rothwell 24th Jul '14 - 11:00am

    I agree with ChrisB. This kind of stuff reminds me of surveys of social attitudes in Australia in which something like 98.76% of those asked declare they are ‘middle class’! I think millions of voters are sick up to the back teeth with statistical polling, focus groups, triangulation, politicians failing to answer questions or state a clear opinion and the whole media-political parties’ love-in which first exploded under Thatcher and which has now been refined and developed to an almost perfect level of sophistication, the sole flaw being that millions of people now longer believe a word of it!It is without the slightest doubt in my mind Farage’s primary strength as millions of people simply believe what he says plus the fact he portrays himself (Tory at 15, has done nothing except politics for the best part of 20 years, which has even cost him his first marriage and (in the 2010 election) nearly his life in an air crash) as NOT being a part of “the political establishment”. What the LDs need above all is a clear vision of a Britain genuinely aiming to produce a “stronger economy AND a fairer society” with policies which are credible and, probably under a new leadership, will help to overcome the major issues which Stephen correctly identifies (“The party has serious trust issues over the breaking of the tuition fees pledge, is tainted in the eyes of many of our 2010 voters by dint of the Coalition with the Tories, and has been heavily pilloried by the media for four years”) rather than trying to spin and triangulate until the cows come home (but the voters probably will not!)

  • Caspian Conran 24th Jul '14 - 11:05am

    Hi there , just a quick question. Are voters actually placing nick Clegg and the lib Dems on the centre or are voters actually showing dislike of us . IE are rightwing voters saying we are left wing and left wing voters saying we are rightwing leading , in aggregate , to us being put on the centre ground.

    Fantastic if they are actually putting us on the centre ground but I fear they are just saying we are the opposite of what they identify themselves as. If anyone could clarify this that would be awesome 🙂

  • A Social Liberal 24th Jul '14 - 11:17am

    The Lib Dems being placed in a similar position on the chart as where the average voter would place themselves is not going to translate into votes. We have seen this in every recent election on every level from district council to parliamentary elections.

    Whilst people would identify themselves as being liberal they do not see themselves as being Liberal Democrat, a conflation which is lending a false sense of optimism to some of our parties members.

  • @ Caspian Conran @ Stephen Tall – I do remember there was one such survey , not long ago, which put us in the centre, but right wingers regarded us as left wing, and left wingers regarded us as right wing, so very few people liked us.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jul '14 - 11:41am

    I think the telltale kink in Nick Clegg’s positioning in the popular mind in 2010 may be a sign to why there is voter suspicion of the party.

    The gap in the popular mind between the Labour and Tory positions may also give us a clue to why there is a hung parliament at present.

  • @Stephen

    >at the moment our centrism is all too often seen as wishy-washy, rather than fair and pragmatic

    I’d suggest much of that is down to us creating the modern political analogy for “wishy-washyness”, the tuition fees u-turn. Also, UKIP and the Greens are in the ascent on the back of the most wishy-washy agenda in a generation. I think you’re mistaken about this being the root cause of many problems – people seldom read manifestos or understand the finer points of policy.

    >much of our party’s concerns (eg, civil liberties, political reform) are just not seen as important by enough voters.

    Surely it’s merely our failure at manipulating media well that causes this to be the case? The left and right are very good at sensationalism, we’re really not. What’s important to people is what they’re told is important, since we don’t believe in telling people what to think we seldom set the agenda.

  • David Evershed 24th Jul '14 - 12:30pm

    This is an excellent article by Stephen Tall.

    I have always regarded the Liberal Democrat/Liberal Party as right wing on economic issues and left wing on welfare issues. Does this make us a party of the centre?

    In my view, having such clear positions on economics and welfare is better than a fence sitting, neutral position. Not only are they the best policies but they should be clearer messages to get across to electors.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jul '14 - 1:09pm

    Regarding our position, real or perceived, whilst the voters place themselves in the (left-right) centre, the majority of them vote for parties deemed to be to the left or right of their self-reported political positions.

    Correct me if I am wrong but is there not also a correlation between our (Nick Clegg and party) stronger poll ratings when we were perceived as being slightly more to the left – or as I’d prefer, egalitarian.

    In contrast to Stephen’s, ” … I’ll never tire of pointing out to those who demand the Lib Dem leadership stake out radical liberal positions …”, I think a good argument can be made that our natural constituency is (or was if we haven’t blown it for a generation) roughly where our last left of centre manifesto placed us!

    Our natural position and optimum support is not in the centre – it is on the centre left!
    Had we fought more vigorously for what we had stood for e.g. opposition to tuition fees and not subsidising new nuclear generation, we might not have haemorrhaged votes to Labour and the Greens for example. Had we not horse traded some of the things we clearly did, we may even have won the AV debate. As it was we simply gave an opportunistic Labour Party the excuse not to support much needed reform.

    Regarding civil liberties, of course these are important to us as Lib Dems and we must never stop arguing to improve and protect these core value but to use your own term: “when [we are] vastly out-numbered by authoritarians both in the Government and in Parliament, and the public is largely indifferent”, I believe we must therefore fight at least as strongly on (amongst others) green and egalitarian issues.

    Our voters were clearly looking for a non-labourite alternative to the Tories. People want a free and fair society not one in which there is one rule for the rich and powerful and one for the rest of us. Not one in which we encumber our children and grandchildren with debt, the inability to afford a home of their own or a world polluted by those seeking short term gain or simply having no vision beyond their own lives.

    That fairer society should also start to address the wealth gap fostered by the post-1979 neo-con economic consensus together with a rebalancing of the UK economy back towards manufacturing and a reform of the financial institutions and its excesses.

    Yes, to quote again, “we’re liberals. But we’re also democrats, and we need to start winning a few more arguments in the court of public opinion rather than simply believing that all we need do is more noisily assert the purity of our liberalism.” – So let’s start by choosing some of the right battles to fight in the court of public opinion.

    Fairer economy, stronger society!

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '14 - 1:16pm

    David Evershed “I have always regarded the Liberal Democrat/Liberal Party as right wing on economic issues and left wing on welfare issues. Does this make us a party of the centre?”
    A voter who is left wing on economic issues and right wing on welfare issues could equally claim to be at the centre and still be opposed to everything that such a Lib Dem party stood for.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '14 - 1:31pm

    @David Evans “I do remember there was one such survey , not long ago, which put us in the centre, but right wingers regarded us as left wing, and left wingers regarded us as right wing, so very few people liked us.”
    This is pretty much the case in the poll to which Stephen refers. The yougov poll shows that 43% of Conservative voters think Lib Dems are to the left (27% in the centre, 20% don’t know), 39% of UKIP voters think Lib Dems are to the left (20% in the centre, 28% don’t know). On the other hand, 33% of Labour voters think Lib Dems are to the right (23% in the centre, 24% don’t know).
    Meanwhile, general polling and election results confirm the “very few people like us” aspect.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '14 - 1:39pm

    Looking at my last two posts, I can’t escape the feeling that the centre is potentially a very pointless and fruitless place to claim to be. Are we a socially-left economically-right centrist party or a socially-right economically-left one? Better to stake out a clear and consistent position on key policies rather than attempt to be an arithmetic mean of Labour, Conservatives and UKIP.

  • Green Voter 24th Jul '14 - 2:03pm

    ” the public is largely indifferent.”

    Why should the public be enthused about the Lib Dems when they do not stand up for civil liberties, see secret courts and DRIP?

  • paul barker 24th Jul '14 - 2:05pm

    There are 4 or 5 useful Political Spectra & the most important ones for Libdems would be Liberal – Authoritarian, Nationalist – Internationalist & Green -AntiGreen, in that order I would think. On all those measures we are an Extreme Party & a minority view. However the Spectrum that matters most to most voters is The Left-Right one & on that we are close to where most voters are, at a time when both our major rivals have moved out to the edges. That will pay off when voters actually have a real decision to make about a body they think is important but we have to beleive in ourselves.

  • It’s difficult to interpret those charts because no scale is shown and while we told that “very” is 100, we aren’t told what “slightly” and “fairly” equate to.

    But guessing that the divisions are equally spaced, so that “slightly” is 33 and “fairly” is 67, the interesting thing is that Labour is seen as only just to the left of “slightly left-of-centre” and the Tories are closer to “slightly right-of-centre” than to “fairly right-wing”. Even UKIP is less than “fairly” right wing!

    So it may be that most people see themselves as being in one of the three centre categories, but they also see all three of the main parties there as well.

  • Daniel Henry 24th Jul '14 - 3:34pm

    Interesting analysis Stephen.
    I agree with your conclusions, especially the “wishy-washy centrism” vs “fair and pragmatic centrism”

    I think one of the major problems of the coalition is that we’ve been seen to be the voice of defending government policies rather than the voice of radical ideas to keep improving it.

  • Why should the public be enthused about the Lib Dems when they do not stand up for civil liberties

    Why would standing up for civil liberties make a blind bit of difference to how much the public is enthused about the Lib Dems? Civil liberties do not enthuse more than a tiny minority of the public and they already vote Lib Dem.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jul '14 - 4:03pm

    David Evershed

    I have always regarded the Liberal Democrat/Liberal Party as right wing on economic issues and left wing on welfare issues.

    If that is now generally accepted, I resign from the party.

    I mean that quite seriously. If the general consensus now is that the Liberal Democrats are a party of right-wing economics, I want nothing whatsoever to do with them. After 36 years of membership, I will tear up my membership card. I did NOT join a party that was about right-wing economics when I joined the Liberal Party in 1978, and I have not worked hard for the party and its successor since on the grounds that it was about right-wing economics.

    The party I joined and was active in was always sensible and moderate, which appealed to me, but also had a strong left streak, in some ways more alternative left even than being just “centre” in economic terms. In all my years of activity, until recently, I never experienced it as a party which was “right wing” in terms of economics.

    If the takeover is now complete, if the Orwellian re-writing of history has been so successful that it is now taken for granted that the Liberal Democrats are a right-wing economic party and always were – and here we have someone with the Liberal Democrat birdie by his name saying just that – I resign. I am holding my membership card in my hands right now, ready to tear it into pieces. Unless I get a strong message from others which says that David Evershed is wrong, I’ll go ahead.

    I am deadly serious about this.

  • If the general consensus now is that the Liberal Democrats are a party of right-wing economics

    I think that the general consensus is that the Liberal Democrats are a party that doesn’t know what it stands for, that was out of power for so long that it coasted along on never having to make any hard decisions or define itself too precisely, and therefore managed to attract lots of members whose views (especially on economics) were violently at odds with each other (some right-wing, some left-wing, some of even weirder and wackier strands of economic thought), and that the experience of being in government is forcing these tensions, that previously manifested only in robust debate at the party conference, out into the open.

    Is that not the general consensus?

  • Is that not the general consensus?

    No. I think no one knowing what the party stands for is a relatively recent development. I think 10 or 20 years ago it was very clear what the party stood for on most issues. I think not knowing what the party stands for is the natural consequence of the party being led by a clique which is out of touch with the wider membership on many issues.

  • @Stephen Tall

    What on earth do you mean by the Lib Dems being centrist though? In economic terms, you and your wing of the party are quite definitely on the economic right, so can you please explain what you mean?

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jul '14 - 5:31pm

    Daniel Henry 24th Jul ’14 – 3:34pm “I think one of the major problems of the coalition is that we’ve been seen to be the voice of defending government policies rather than the voice of radical ideas to keep improving it.”
    YES – If we ever get another chance at coalition government, this must be the second biggest lesson. The first one being of course to stick to pledges!

    Caractatus 24th Jul ’14 – 3:56pm “… we are still running a C19th system and have a leadership who are only interested in telling people what to think rather than listening too and acting on what they have to say.” Absolutely!

    Matthew Huntbach 24th Jul ’14 – 4:03pm “…if the Orwellian re-writing of history has been so successful that it is now taken for granted that the Liberal Democrats are a right-wing economic party and always were – and here we have someone with the Liberal Democrat birdie by his name saying just that – I resign. I am holding my membership card in my hands right now, ready to tear it into pieces. Unless I get a strong message from others which says that David Evershed is wrong, I’ll go ahead.”

    Matthew, David Evershed is WRONG!
    If he is proved right however, I too will be out of here. I can only assume DE joined the party along with NC. I am leaving it there, otherwise I will be in trouble yet again.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jul '14 - 5:44pm

    I want the Lib Dems to be broadly where I am, which at the moment is a centrist, but slightly right on the economic front and slightly left on the social point.

    I know it’s better to just have one clear philosophy, but in reality I think government and politics is too complicated for that. I also recently learnt that my right wing instincts on economics only really apply to SMEs, so there is common ground with social liberals.

    The 48% seeing themselves as near the centre is encouraging and it is why I don’t like the argument that we should change because of “strategy”. I do sometimes compromise with the public, but I don’t like to just pander to exactly where they are. No one should promote big leaps across the political spectrum due to strategy.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '14 - 6:27pm

    @Stephen Tall “However, what this polling suggests to me is that however damaged the Lib Dem brand is — and only time will tell whether that’s a short- or long-term issue — our political positioning is about right.”
    The polling that you believe suggests this shows that 22% of the respondents voted Lib Dem in 2010 and only 5% of them would do so now. Where do you think we’d be if our political positioning was wrong?

  • Green Voter 24th Jul '14 - 6:30pm

    @Chris
    “I think 10 or 20 years ago it was very clear what the party stood for on most issues.”

    Well, things were not perfect under Kennedy. The party tried to paint itself as the anti-war party, when in fact, it was a party that wanted a UN vote.
    However, I would rather have Kennedy, or Colin and his cactus leading the party than Clegg, the nowhere man

  • Lee_Thacker 24th Jul '14 - 9:20pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach – no don’t tear up the membership card. I have never understood the Liberal Democrats to right-wing on economic issues. However, I suppose that depends on what we are being compared to and how you define right-wing economic policies.

    @ David Evershed – can you give examples of where Liberal Democrat conferences have passed motions supporting right-wing economic policies?

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jul '14 - 10:40pm

    Lee_Thacker 24th Jul ’14 – 9:20pm … “can you give examples of where Liberal Democrat conferences have passed motions supporting right-wing economic policies?”

    Tut tut – typical activist ruining an argument by bringing up the facts.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jul '14 - 11:19pm

    Dav

    Is that not the general consensus?

    No. Chris in reply to you has it correct.

    The “general consensus” you write of here is the general consensus in the Westminster Bubble commentariat, who never could be bothered to actually look at what we were actually doing, so just made it up on the basis of prejudice.

    Until recently, the general consensus within the party was pragmatic on the classic left-right economic divide, there simply was not any sort of extreme right-wing economic group within it as you allege, at least not after the departure of Arthur Seldon in the 1960s. There was a strong interest in workers democracy, co-operatives and that sort of thing.

  • Jenny Barnes 25th Jul '14 - 8:36am

    There’s a political fable about ice cream vans. You have a very long beach, and 3 ice cream vans. Good for the public would be that the 3 vans position themselves about 1/6,1/2 and 5/6 along the beach, each getting 1/3 of the ice cream buying. However, it would clearly be advantageous for the vans at 1/6 and 5/6 to position themselves nearer the centre, say at 1/3 and 2/3. They would still get all the ice cream buyers to the left (for the 1/3 van) and to the right, for the 2/3 van, and half the icecream buyers between halfway and their position. Centrevan would then get only 1/6 of the ice cream buyers, while the other two get 5/6 between them. They don’t want to get so close to centrevan that people don’t care at all (maybe they sell slightly different ice cream) nor so close that Centre van decides to move outside leftvan or right van to pick up some of those ice cream buyers. But you can reckon that economic (or political ) logic will position all 3 vans quite close together, whatever happens. Centrevan is a bad place to be.

  • David Evans 25th Jul '14 - 9:33am

    I like it!

  • They would still get all the ice cream buyers to the left (for the 1/3 van) and to the right, for the 2/3 van, and half the icecream buyers between halfway and their position.

    Although Mr ‘Whippy’ Farage has now complicated things a bit for the right-hand van.

  • Peter Watson 25th Jul '14 - 10:00am

    @ Jenny Barnes
    Brilliant. Perhaps it appeals to my mathematical mind, but that fable crystallises why I am so uncomfortable about the goal of being a party of the centre for its own sake,

  • Jenny, try explaining to a beachgoer that if they don’t buy from the centrevan, they are just letting the rightvan/leftvan win

    It’s a two-van race!

  • Jonathan Pile 25th Jul '14 - 8:15pm

    It’s an interesting debate and reveals everyone’s real views. It might represent an opportunity for us all to come together if we can listen and engage with each other. The centrists rejoice in the fact that the voters are in the centre but cannot answer the paradox that if the voters are where we are why are they not with us. Those on the left argue that the party is and always has been on the centre left whilst drawing from the centre. It is clear from our current standing that the alternative position if being on the centre and drawing from the centre left is not translating well.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jul '14 - 9:45pm

    I love all this talk of fables and ice cream vans but it doesn’t take into account the issue of the customers having decided not to trust the salesman . Apparently a significant number have suffered sickness for four summer’s in a row now. It is understood the organic matter pledged did not match that served up 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jul '14 - 10:08pm

    Not sure where the ‘ came from in summers. But I do now … predictive text!
    Is there a technical reason why we are unable to have a preview or correction option for our posts? Thank you.

  • The problem is Joe that the right do not prefer the Centre Van, they think the vendor is stopping the right van from selling his wares, and the left don’t trust him because he lied to them, and most of those who used to like the centre van don’t because he has washed his hands of them. Indeed he has said “the centre van is no receptacle for left van supporters.” All in all a self imposed marketing disaster.

  • Because it is true that the left of the beach prefer the centrvan to the rightvan, and the right prefer the centrevan to the leftvan, and so the centrevan is the democratic choice

    Actually, doesn’t that mean the centrevan is nobody’s choice, but if it does get in it’s by default because it was the least hated ?

    That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of democracy, is it? ‘The system of governance that gives you what nobody really wanted but most people were prepared to put up with just to stop the other side getting in!’

    Kind of hard to see people manning barricades for that…

  • Although people see (in the poll above) Nick Clegg as CentreVan, most leftvan supporters see him as a Right Van Man masquerading as Centre Van Man. Perhaps it’s all a matter of where most of the newsagents are? Are all the Mails, Telegraphs etc piled outside Centre Man’s Van?

  • Jenny Barnes 26th Jul '14 - 8:25am

    “try explaining to a beachgoer that if they don’t buy from the centrevan, they are just letting the rightvan/leftvan win.”
    Left (or right ) van can’t win here – buy your ice cream from centre van to keep right (or left) van out – see this made up graph?

  • The graphs are made up?!

    I feel quite nostalgic at the mention of them, they used to be my pet peeve, now they’re the least of our concerns. Top analogy Jenny.

  • Richard Dean 26th Jul '14 - 2:51pm

    The trouble with the centre van is that no-one wants its mixture of blue and red ice-cream.
    People generally prefer either blue or red, not the confusing clash of bits of both together.

  • Richard Easter 26th Jul '14 - 4:21pm

    I have always thought broadly there are two types of centre ground, the more “working class “centrist – who on the left broadly support large scale renationalisation of railways / utilities and opposed to privatisation and outsourcing, not to mention higher taxes on the rich, but on the right support national sovereignty, tough on crime and immigration.

    Hence why Old Labour appealed to the left aspects and UKIP and even Thatcher more to the right.

    On the other side of it you have the more “middle class” centrist view – who on the left are much more concerned with social issues, very pro Europe, pro foreign aid, pro prisoner rights and more for community service rather than prison but on the right have no real issue with privatisation, outsourcing and tax cuts for higher earners.

    Hence why the Liberals appeal more to the left and the Tories more to the right.

    Had the Liberal Democrats not screwed up over the issue of tuition fees, and supported an extreme right wing Tory government on civil liberties, and the welfare state so rabidly, the party would have more likely gained more support from younger voters, who aren’t calling for old left wing policies such as renationalisation, but are pro EU and pro human rights and are more internationalist in their outlook.

  • Nick Collins 26th Jul '14 - 8:34pm

    Sales figures seem to suggest that the most popular flavour for ice-cream, world-wide, is vanilla. Perhaps orange ice cream is perceived as rather sickly.

  • Stephen Hesketh 27th Jul '14 - 7:26am

    Amongst all our talk of ice cream during the current hot weather, I believe Richard Easter makes some very good points.

    Coincidentally, we were out with friends last night and I took the opportunity to ask a completely open non-leading question about their views of the Liberal Democrats; bearing in mind I know them and their families to have been long-term Liberal and Liberal Democrat voters, their comments centred on the tuition fee debacle, us being just as bad as the other parties and the fact that that they hadn’t bothered to vote recently. There was an over riding sense of disappointment.

    Whilst the best outcome for the party would have been for Nick Clegg to have made way for a new leader untainted by the tuition fees disaster, he has decided to tough it out and take our share of the credit for the achievements of the coalition in the area of the economy with the hope this can restore our fortunes. It will not. The major issue was and remains tuition fees and the resultant loss of trust. No amount of good news on the economy can rectify that.

    I sincerely hope NC and his team have a plan on this key issue. A genuine apology for this mistake – not for making the pledge but for breaking it is required. Breaking a pledge is a serious matter. No amount of smoke and mirrors will come close to what is needed.

  • The chart suggests that the majority of beachgoers are near the centre of the beach.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jul '14 - 11:42pm

    @Paul K
    How so?
    If 50% buy from left van and 50% from right, the average is still the centre, but centre van has no customers at all!

  • Richard Easter 28th Jul '14 - 12:22am

    Am argument could be that the “official” centre ground is taking a line of what works in practice for the improvement of society as a whole rather than as an ideology to support vested interests. For example nationalising taxis or corner shops would be left wing ideology but ridiculous. In the same way privatising the court system or child protection services would be right wing ideology but just as ridiculous.

    The civil liberties aspects of Liberalism for example meet the requirement of improving the rights of society as a whole.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jul '14 - 10:59am

    Stephen Hesketh

    I love all this talk of fables and ice cream vans but it doesn’t take into account the issue of the customers having decided not to trust the salesman . Apparently a significant number have suffered sickness for four summer’s in a row now. It is understood the organic matter pledged did not match that served up

    Underlying this point is the assumption that the Liberal Democrats are bad people because they did not deliver a 100% Liberal Democrat government. Why is it that so many seem to assume they could have done so? OK, part of the answer is the mis-handling of the situation by Clegg and the Cleggies, playing the game of boasting about “being in government” and exaggerating what could be achieved in the position the party was in, when actually having just 57 MPs to 306 for the major coalition party, and no other coalition being viable, is a dire state to be in, one with very little real power.

    A better way of putting it is that three ice-cream salesmen came to a place where there was only room for one ice cream van. So they asked the customers what they wanted, and more customers wanted the one on the right than the left, and not many wanted the one on the centre. But none of them had enough equipment or staff to get the ice cream sales up and going. So if they all refused to co-operate, there would be no ice-creams. The ice cream salesman on the right agreed for the centre one to help him out, but only if the centre one sold his products. The centre one felt he had to do this so the people at least got ice creams, although he could do only a little to influence what was sold. Everyone moaned at him for not selling his own products, and didn’t seen to appreciate that due to their lack of support for him in the first place, that wasn’t an option.

  • SIMON BANKS 28th Jul '14 - 5:05pm

    The very basic point about this is that the left-right axis means very little. If, for example, you look at where people stand on key defining issues such as positive or negative views of immigration, people place themselves firmly on one side or the other and there are very few in the middle. On redistribution of income, the peak is well over to the “left”. If you look at data on Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters before 2010, our group is predominately on the “left” on some key issues but more centrist on tax and spend.

    For talk about left, right and “the middle ground” to be meaningful, we need to define what issues we’re talking about. Otherwise it’s lazy thinking.

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 3rd Aug '14 - 10:16pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – absolutely! But sadly, this is exactly what people assume we should have been able to do. It goes back to the fact that we (as a party) didn’t put this message out there clearly enough for the general public to understand. … and the mass media ensured that these facts were ‘hidden’.

    I would really like for members at least to understand what Nick’s strategy will be in the coming weeks and months – I feel a growing sense of despair at the moment caused by a feeling of too many heads buried in the sand!

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