The ‘nowcast’ for May 2015 which gives the Lib Dems 28 MPs

Over at the polling website May2015 (part of the New Statesman stable) Matt Singh has asked the straightforward question, ‘How are the Lib Dems polling and will they survive in May 2015?’ Except it isn’t all that straightforward…

First, there’s the issue that the different polling companies don’t agree on what the current Lib Dem rating actually is. In the last fortnight, the party’s been rated as low as 5% (Opinium) and as high as 11% (ICM): that’s a difference outside the margin of error you might expect.

The divergence is primarily down to what’s known as ‘house effects’ – ie, different polling companies adjust their figures to be nationally representative in subtly distinctive ways.

For instance, ICM assumes around half the voters currently saying ‘Don’t know’ will return to the party they voted for at the last election; however, YouGov excludes them altogether. As previous Lib Dem voters are more likely to be classified as ‘Don’t knows’ at the moment, this is the biggest single reason why ICM’s rating is most generous to the Lib Dems and YouGov’s less so.

My long-held theory is that Lib Dem-inclined voters are most likely to make up their minds latest (or to be voters who are normally supporters of other parties who decide to vote tactically for the Lib Dems in the final days of the campaign) and that this is what accounts for the traditional uptick in Lib Dem poll ratings during general election campaigns. It is also why, by the end of the campaign, pollsters generally converge on what the Lib Dem rating will be, even though their methodologies which currently produce different results stay the same.

Poll ratings converted into actual seats

The most interesting part of Matt Singh’s analysis is an in-depth look at what the current Lib Dem poll ratings imply about how many seats the Lib Dems will win in May 2015.

On a uniform national swing, based on the Lib Dems’ current 8% average rating the party would win 23 seats. Long-standing readers will understand why this threshold is of particular interest to me (my 2013 pledge to run naked down Whitehall kicks in if the Lib Dems don’t hit the 24 seat mark).

However, it’s widely accepted that Lib Dem MPs — embedded “like cockroaches” ((C) Tim Farron) in their own constituencies — often buck national trends. The constituency polling by Lord Ashcroft this year bears out that this incumbency boost persists in the face of the Lib Dems’ national difficulties. The incumbency boost obviously doesn’t exist where an MP is standing down; however, MPs elected in 2010 will likely get a first-time re-election bounce.

Taking all this into account, along with the current SNP surge which threatens the party in Scotland, Matt Singh calculates a ‘nowcast’ of Lib Dem fortunes next May:

Thus we arrive at a “nowcast” of 28 holds, 12 losses to Labour, 10 losses to the Conservatives and 7 losses to the SNP, including 4 seats where the SNP plus another party relegate the Lib Dems to third place.

This is just a summary; you can read his full post here. And of course a ‘nowcast’ is just that: a snapshot of the Lib Dems’ chances next May based on current polling. A lot could still change.

After all, in November 2009 the Lib Dems were averaging 17.5%, yet won 23% the following May. To be clear, I’m not expecting that kind of boost this time round: the circumstances are massively different. My current expectations are more in the 10-14% range. Which end of the spectrum it is will depend on the next 162 days.

* 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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  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 4:49pm

    There is zero evidence to suggest that the party will get between 10% – 14% in the general election. This is the extrapolation on to next May of the pattern of previous general election campaigns.

    There are three problems:

    1. The traditional boost from extra publicity will not happen – the party is in government and people hate it. In fact, reminding the voters that the party is in government may well put downward pressure on the vote.

    2. Nick Clegg is a really bad campaigner. Just look at what happened in the Euro-elections after the debates with Farage. not only that, but ask yourself whether somebody who for two catastrophic by-election results in a row has hidden away for days to avoid commenting is really up to the task of being the shop front for a general election campaign.

    3. What makes Stephen think that the Lib Dems have a chance in the ground war? Tho who will turn out to leaflet and canvass will be a small number as compared to previous elections. the activist base has been hollowed out and is incapable of helping to the extent of aiding to any significant extent during a general election campaign.

    If this post article represents thinking in LDV then it is little wonder that there has been so much complacency and unwillingness to face the fact that at the very least a new leader is required.

  • Cheadle had up to 80 people campaigning at the recent by-election about 40 on election day.

  • Stephen, optimism is one thing, but what is happening on the ground is another. We are not NOW in the game of the Lib Dems being the third party, the outsider around which the disaffected can gather, they now have UKIP, Greens and Nationalist, all who are out-polling us . The world has moved on and unfortunately we have not. We are a stuck as a party of government, total establishment and unwilling to change in any way at all. Cockroaches get stamped on !
    Do we remember the old Stones lyrics:
    “Well, baby, baby you’re out of time,
    I said baby, baby, bay, you’re out of time
    You are all left out,
    Out of there without a doubt, Cause, baby, baby , you’re out of time”

    Fortunately we still have time to do something, but we have to change our entire presentation, that means management, aims and ideas. We have lost the stage of “we are a party of government , look what we have achieved etc”, nobody is interested, our “leader” who cannot generate any feeling and will be ignored, we are as someone said on this site last week, “Boring”. We have no national plan it seems, one MP said last week all we can do is fight 50 by elections, which seems to leave out all those seats where we came a very close second last time.. Well the world has virtually passed us by. Stop the bus I want to get off, well we have to get the bus to stop reversing and then move forward. Its a huge ask but it requires fresh faces and fresh thinking.

  • David Faggiani 25th Nov '14 - 5:16pm

    Back in early 2013, I predicted 41 seats (or something like that). I now would say something like 25-26.

  • I think this is one of the least predictable elections in modern times. From the coalition to UKIP and the SNP effect, the times they are a-changing.

    My judgement would be that 28 is… optimistic. I think the Lib Dem incumbency effect will largely fail to materialise (the cost of a disappointed base and flagging finances) and that there will be no Lib Dem poll recovery before the election. The actual vote will surpass the polls only because some tactical voters will hold their nose and vote Lib Dem anyway.

    I would think that 15-20 is a more likely outcome. I expect this to be rather more than UKIP get, although the UKIP vote will likely top the Lib Dem vote.

    Not long until we find out.

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 5:22pm

    @ John

    “Cheadle had up to 80 people campaigning at the recent by-election about 40 on election day.”

    Can that level of activity be sustained across thirty seats or more?

    And are you really saying that the departure of so many activists who were on the left of the party will make no difference?

    Anyway, if I recall correctly, the Lib Dems still came second in that by-election (you are talking about the one last Thursday, I presume). Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

  • Yes they came 2nd in tough conservative leaning territory. Labour were reduced to 3% and there was no UKIP candidate.

    Of course that sort of sustained activity can’t be reproduced at the GE – neither can it for demoralised Labour or Conservative parties. As for UKIP they did the schoolboy error of not getting their paperwork in on time, I think they’re discipline as a party is patchy albeit effective in some areas.

  • @Stephen Tall: “my 2013 pledge to run naked down Whitehall kicks in if the Lib Dems don’t hit the 24 seat mark”

    At the time you actually said that you would do this if the Liberal Democrats were “reduced to 24 seats,” not if they failed to reach 24 seats. Which I suppose gives you an out: you are only obliged to do it if the Lib Dems come out with exactly 24 seats by your original pledge, whereas by this new formulation you don’t consider it a failure if the Lib Dems get as many as 24 seats.

    If you care to clarify the maths here, Stephen (whether the trigger is “=24”, “<24," or "≤24") this is your opportunity; though of course it's not a matter of any particular importance.

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 5:48pm


    “Of course that sort of sustained activity can’t be reproduced at the GE – neither can it for demoralised Labour or Conservative parties.”

    The Labour and Conservative parties don’t need to do so because of the distinction between what a now unmentionable Lord has made in the past about a GE’s ‘air war (mass media) and the ground war (activists, leafletting, canvassing, campaigning etc).

    The Labour party and the Tories will get their air war; our ability to fight the ground war will be severely curtailed.

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 6:08pm

    Dear Stephen,

    ICM is only one pollster. The trend is down. In any event, has the fact that ICM has consistently given the Liberal Democrats more than the other polling organisations, much to the pleasure of the optimistic tendency.

    And yet when it comes to real parliamentary elections, we are achieving dismal results – the latest record low being 0.87%.

    While I am pleased that the weather in May is likely to be better than now (it’s freezing where I am), the result will be so dire that I think that to do justice to your pledge you will have to get somebody to run ahead of you chucking sharp gravel in your path (I assume it’s going to be a barefoot streak).

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 6:09pm

    Sorry, ‘has the fact’ should read ‘the fact is’ – I don’t know why I wrote that.

  • John Roffey 25th Nov '14 - 6:18pm

    @ Stephen Tall

    How many ‘honourable’ LD MPs do you think will switch to the Green Party if LD becomes an even more toxic brand closer to the GE and they realise they haven’t a chance of holding their seat with NC as leader?–the-revolution-sweeping-bristol-9880698.html

    Is it true that secret talks already being held as is the case between UKIP and Tory MPs?

  • John Roffey 25th Nov '14 - 6:42pm

    @ Simon Shaw

    Are you in discussions with the Green Party Simon?

  • Paul in Wokingham 25th Nov '14 - 7:04pm

    “Like cockroaches” – Tim Farron.
    “Like Japanese Knotweed” – Lord Ashcroft.

    Is there a rule that similes for Lib Dem tenacity must be unappealing?

  • The biggest danger has passed in my opinion, if Labour had ditched Millibland and got themselves a more effective leader then you would have been praying for a warm May. Because running naked down Whitehall on a cold day may prove to be even more embarrassing!

  • “But that’s not true, is it? The pollster with the best track record, ICM, showed the LibDems at 11% in its latest poll. You may not think that’s true or likely. But you can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist.”

    If you put a lot of weight on ICM then you need to realise/explain why in 2006-10 ICM consistently polled the party under what they were getting in the estimated national vote share in local elections. Since 2010 ICM have pretty much polled the party at that estimated vote share figure.

    There are a number of reasons for that – but at least one of them is that ICM is now overestimating party support.

  • Though the continual “I expect the polls to improve” mantra from some people is starting to become reminiscent of David Steel’s “waiting for the surge….” in 1987.

  • @Simon Shaw

    What happened to those council by-election results that you used to analyze and post on here almost every week during the first part of the coalition?
    Why ever did you stop?

  • Ignore internet panel based polls. They are not probability samples like telephone polls or face to face polling. Margin of error cannot be calculated for panel based polls as there is an unknowable relationship between the self selecting panel and the target population. This note by the American Association for Public Opinion Research research explains this in detail:

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Nov '14 - 7:54pm

    @John Roffey 25th Nov ’14 – 6:18pm
    “How many ‘honourable’ LD MPs do you think will switch to the Green Party if LD becomes an even more toxic brand closer to the GE and they realise they haven’t a chance of holding their seat with NC as leader?–the-revolution-sweeping-bristol-9880698.html

    I followed your link John and looked at the thirteen Independent-selected Green policies – an interesting mix – but I would urge radicals and mainstream Lib Dems not take to the lifeboats just yet. In my opinion we need to see the GE result, the nature of our party and shape of National politics a couple of years into the next parliament.

    The Cleggites and UKIP may yet precipitate a realignment of British politics and even the Green Egalitarian Libertarian left. Yes, we’re in a particular mess due to Clegg’s leadership in government but it isn’t just the Lib Dems; all the old 1920s-era party coalitions are beginning to come apart at the seams almost a century on.

  • paul barker 25th Nov '14 - 8:04pm

    Interestingly 28 seats is the mid point for the spread betting market (or it was the last time I looked). The point about spread betting is that its for serious punters, losses are not resticted to the initial stake. These are people betting to make serious money, not simply for fun.
    As of now I am expecting a Vote share between 15 & 18%, assuming nothing really big happens in the next 5 months.

  • John Roffey 25th Nov '14 - 8:04pm

    @ Simon Shaw

    “Well I’m an active member of the true green party in British politics, and I obviously talk to fellow Lib Dems, so the answer is yes.”

    Wink wink nudge nudge – must be kept secret eh – say no more!

  • John Roffey 25th Nov '14 - 8:11pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh

    “I followed your link John and looked at the thirteen Independent-selected Green policies – an interesting mix – but I would urge radicals and mainstream Lib Dems not take to the lifeboats just yet. In my opinion we need to see the GE result, the nature of our party and shape of National politics a couple of years into the next parliament.”

    Unfortunately the LD’s are very likely to be a minority party after the next GE. Their MPs, even the honourable ones [presumably the non Orange Bookers] will have been cast into the jobless morass and be of no interest to anyone unless they are proficient at shelf stacking.

    If the move is to be made – it must be before the GE.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Nov '14 - 8:31pm

    @Simon Shaw 25th Nov ’14 – 7:18pm
    ” … the true green party in British politics”.

    I truly used to believe that Simon -it was a key reason for me joining the Liberal Party but fear that we have totally blown our claims on that issue, as in so many others, due to our lack of red lines and Clegg’s over enthusiastic acceptance of collective responsibility.

    Yes we believe in PR and know that this leads to coalition and to compromise but there is a huge difference between openly reaching a reluctant compromise on policies and compromising our entire party, its standing and consequently the majority of its national electoral support.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Nov '14 - 8:54pm

    John Roffey 25th Nov ’14 – 8:11pm

    And I will campaign for the same outcome as you until the New Year. I have cancelled my direct debit and (assuming no realignment) will then pay the minimum as long as we remain a party ‘anchored firmly to the centre’.

    We have acres of truly mainstream Liberal ‘common ground’ before us … sadly the ploughman is intent on ploughing the same barren furrow time after time.

    Echo’s of “There is no alternative”?

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Nov '14 - 9:37pm

    @Simon Shaw

    “In the only recent parliamentary by-election where we stood a realistic chance (Eastleigh) we won the seat.”

    As Professor John Curtice has pointed out (as recently as the Rochester overnight results programme on the BBC) the Eastleigh example is misleading.

    The Lib Dems wouldn’t have held on there if UKIP hadn’t done so well and took loads of votes off the Tories.

    In any event, the Lib Dem share of the vote was down from 4 6. 5% in the GE to just around 32%.

    And how likely is it, do you, think that the Lib Dems could concentrate activists to the extent they did in Eastleigh during a general election? Not very, I would reckon.

    And don’t forget, Eastleigh was almost two years ago. many oceans have passed under political bridges since then.

  • Simon Shaw

    I don’t think he’s trying to be funny, just pointing out that UKIP took a large part of the normal Tory vote. In a GE Ithink it’s reasonable to assume that some of those voters will return to voting Tory. As for displaying an ignorance of psephology, I would think someone like Professor John Curtis would be considered an expert in the field and that’s who Tsar Nicholas was quoting.

  • Peter Chegwyn 26th Nov '14 - 12:29am

    If the right-wing vote in Eastleigh had united behind either the Conservative or UKIP candidate instead of splitting fairly evenly between them, we could have lost the seat.

    And in answer to Simon Shaw, in times past we would have regarded several of the by-elections in this parliament as winnable.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Nov '14 - 2:00am

    This talk of getting 28 seats when the current polls show the party on around 7% – OK, I’ll be generous and say 8% – is amazing.

    Back in 1997 the party won 46 seats with 17% of the vote. I see no convincing argument as to how the vote share is going to double or increase to any significant extent in 170 days. If it was going to increase then surely there would have been some sign by now of an end to the four-and-a half year slide into the abyss.

    The party won more seats in 1997 on a slightly reduced share of the vote as compared to five years previously by ruthless targetting of resources. Can anybody explain how that is going to be done in May 2015? Activists have left; many members have said (to me) that they won’t be putting themselves out this time for a leadership that can’t comment on a bad by-election result or listen to their views on policy.

    Ashdown was an impressive campaigner in 1997 and yet votes were lost. Can anybody explain how votes are going to be gained between now and May with Clegg – an albatross electorally if ever there was one.

    Finally, Simon Shaw’s comment on Professor John Curtice not knowing his psephology is truly . . . well, words fail me.

  • David wilkinson 26th Nov '14 - 5:34am

    Unbelievable headline to this article, ‘Lib Dems win 28 seats’ ,sadly under the leadership of Mr Clegg they lose 29 MP’s.

    Its like arguing how big was the hole in RMS Titanic, it still sank. Just like the Lib Dems under Captain Clegg

  • Charles Rothwell 26th Nov '14 - 7:27am

    My feeling (as things currently stand) is that 28 seats is optimistic and 20 is rather more realistic. The General Election is over for me as this is a marginal Labour-Conservative seat (was rock solid Labour for 70-odd years) and I shall be voting tactically in order to prevent the disaster of last May’s local elections when the Kipper was able to sneak home after the vote was divided. My support for the Party will be for areas where there is some realistic prospect of winning (and not ones where seeing Clacton- or Rochester-like humiliation recurring is likely). Twenty should hopefully provide a base for the total relaunch (leadership, policy, strategy, central “message”) which has obviously been desperately needed since the dismal failure of the entire “IN” campaign, as it is obvious that (as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown put it on “Question Time” last week) “No-one trusts the Lib Dems anymore”. If we do not succeed in winning back the support precisely of people like her (educated, cosmopolitan, progressive, opinion former), it will all be over and we shall be going the way of the German FDP/making way for the Greens. As part of this, I pray the mathematics will not allow us back into government in the form of a coalition. The wave of outrage would probably finish us for good/add yet more fuel to the delusion held by millions that the Kippers are somehow “speaking for the common man” and distract us from the total rethink required.

  • Simon Shaw – I see you have joined the ranks of those blithely dismissing Green stewardship of Brighton council. How easy it is to overlook that the Greens do not hold a majority there when looking to besmirch their record…

  • David Evans 26th Nov '14 - 9:54am

    Stewart, but the Green Party’s websites do refer to ” Green-led Brighton Council”, ” councils across the country, such as Green Brighton”, and “Brighton and Hove council, led by a Green Party majority.” They do seem to want to claim responsibility for it!

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Nov '14 - 10:40am

    Charles Rothwell26th Nov ’14 – 7:27am
    “I pray the mathematics will not allow us back into government in the form of a coalition. The wave of outrage would probably finish us for good”

    Totally agree Charle but would add that another coalition while NC leads us would be absolutely certain to finish us for good.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Nov '14 - 10:42am

    Sorry … Charles … yet another ‘Kingdom for a preview/amend button’ request!

  • Paul Barker. You might get your 15 – 18 seats if we do the changes to management and leadership that areso urgently necessary.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Nov '14 - 11:43am

    @Simon Shaw

    “Are you seriously claiming people have said that? Anyway, why on earth would any Lib Dem members speak to you?”

    Because I was a party member for nearly three decades beginning in the early 1980s, was a Lib Dem principal authority councillor for close on 25 years, and did an awful lot of activism besides, and I have many friend and associates within the party (and many among the ranks of those whom have left).

    I don’t like this unpleasant way of describing people as displaying an ignorance of psephology. I quoted John Curtice. In your eyes, that makes me ignorant, but not my source.

    The fact that a respectable second place can be gained in a ward that comprises one of our seats does not suggest that it is going to be won in May, rather the opposite. But then i suffer from an appalling ignorance of wishful thinking.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Nov '14 - 11:48am

    The performance in Rochester, recalling the previous worst result for the Liberals in a Glasgow parliamentary by-election, realistically suggests to me that the outcomes of the elections following 1948 may have relevance here.

    There were two within three years after 1948, in 1950 and 1951, and the latter left the party with just nine seats, soon to be six seats in 1955, and whittled down to five by the Carmarthen by-election of the following year.

  • I think we can be fairly certain that Lib Dem voters will behave differently this time, with a greater proportion of the “don’t know”s settling on another party. I think voters like myself are commonplace – we’re lifelong Lib Dem supporters that want to stick it to the party this time around because you ignored us in government…we just don’t know how we’re going to do that yet, which is why we reply “don’t know” to the pollsters.

    I think we’re all settling on similar ballpark figures, 20-30 MPs. The only real shelf in that range is Stephens 24 seats which is fairly inconsequential for everyone but Stephen; it’s a wipeout whatever way you view it.

  • @ Stephen Hesketh

    “Totally agree Charle but would add that another coalition while NC leads us would be absolutely certain to finish us for good.”

    I think it should be kept in mind that the EU seem intent on pushing through TTIP certainly during the lifetime of the next parliament – that achieved politics is likely to change out of all recognition once this is in place.

    It has been recognised by Labour that this agreement will make it impossible for the NHS to be run as a public service – and would ensure its privatisation – so they have asked for amendments to protect this service.

    The agreement has been progressing somewhat in the shadows as this article from the New Statesman explains:

    TTIP: the biggest threat to democracy you’ve never heard of

    For those who want chapter and verse – this seems to provide the detail:

  • Talk of how many MP’s we will or won’t get is kind of missing the point. the fact is that where we actively campaign we do *a lot* better than the national average, Eastleigh and the recent Bramhall by election near me prove this.

    I really hope that the people who are complaining about the leadership put that to one side and get behind their local MP’s – regardless of what you think of Clegg they desperately need your support. The party will evolve and change over time, leaders will come and go, policies will change. Try and see the longer term picture – its essential that the UK has a strong party that espouses Internationalism, Fairness and Liberal values. That *is* the Liberal Democrats, regardless of what you think of the particular flavour of liberalism the leadership are promoting right now.

    Who knows who will be leading the Liberal Democrats in 5 years, 10 years time. Please try to remember that.

  • Peter Chegwyn 26th Nov '14 - 12:56pm

    @ Simon Shaw – Oldham East would certainly have been won and many others including even Rochester may well have been won in previous parliaments where we repeatedly showed we could win almost anywhere. Croydon North in 2012, for example, is based largely on the old Croydon NW seat which we won in a 1981 by-election (I was the election agent). Now we get 3.5 per cent.

    Even now, parties in government can still win by-elections as we proved in Eastleigh and the Conservatives proved in Newark.

    Even in the darkest days of the late 40s, 50s, 60s and mid-70s Lib-Lab pact (when we also had a say in government) we NEVER polled as badly as we polled in Rochester and we seldom polled as badly as we have in most by-elections in this Parliament.

    Simon Shaw may look at life through the same rose-tinted spectacles as our Dear Leader but as Tsar Nicholas and numerous other realists have repeatedly pointed-out on this forum and elsewhere, if people like him don’t wake up and smell the coffee, and fast, we are heading for electoral disaster next May.

  • >I really hope that the people who are complaining about the
    >leadership put that to one side and get behind their local MP’s

    You’ll find former Lib Dem voters are made of tougher stuff; we’re just like you – we’re resolute, determined and you should of listened to us sooner. I can’t support the party at the general election because it’s my only remaining means of protest; I’d rather vote Raving Loony than prop Clegg up. Plus my local LD PPC seems terrible – doesn’t live here or know anything about the place; he got parachuted in over the head of a local favourite, apparently Tim Farron liked him.

    >regardless of what you think of the particular flavour of liberalism the leadership are promoting right now.

    I have a choice of several parties that espouse liberal and democratic values to vote for, the particular flavour of liberalism is surely all that differentiates LibDems from the other parties.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Nov '14 - 1:12pm

    Gareth Wilson26th Nov ’14 – 12:38pm
    “I really hope that the people who are complaining about the leadership put that to one side and get behind their local MP’s – regardless of what you think of Clegg they desperately need your support. The party will evolve and change over time, leaders will come and go, policies will change. Try and see the longer term picture ”

    Gareth, I do agree and Simon Shaw and myself sat across a table stuffing envelopes for our excellent MP only last week.

    Although I am certain he is a decent individual, my issue with NC is that he may yet have rubbed us (as the Liberal Democrats) out of the longer term picture through his vision of us being a party anchored firmly to the centre and, from my point of view, his too readily accepting the post Thatcherite conservative economic agenda. I am all for evolutionary democratic change; unfortunately neither term fits what the Clegg-led centre-right team have imposed on our centre-left party.

  • Paul In Wokingham 26th Nov '14 - 1:56pm

    The latest Ashcroft poll reports Lib Dem support in England at 6%, compared with 24% at the 2010 GE. Now it is undoubtedly the case that many of the 45 or so held seats in England we will buck this trend and will not see a drop of 75% in support.

    But that means that in many other seats we must be looking at a loss of more than 75% of our previous support. In fact if we were to maintain our 2010 GE support in all our held seats then the average reduction in vote share across the remaining 510 seats would need to be over 80%. Which is consistent with the results in the two recent by-elections in Clacton (-89%) and Rochester (-94%).

    A few months ago I would have suggested that the attack line from other parties would be “You can’t believe anything Nick Clegg says”. But now I think that our opponents will point to the Euros and the recent by-elections and will add the message “The Lib Dems are irrelevant”. That is dangerous because it can create a self-reinforcing feedback loop, undermining our remaining tactical support in marginal seats.

    The failure to run traditional, high-profile Lib Dem by-election campaigns in places like Newark, Clacton and Rochester might prove to be the most significant error made by the party’s er… “strategists”.

  • On continuing surveys, public opinion is basically in favour of more localism, less-militarism, more reform to the way we are governed and environmental policies. So why is the LD party which championed these policies is in so much trouble?
    Well, There is this economic and political problems and the governments on both sides of the Atlantic solution is following policies of austerity against the poorest while the banksters and those in power (the 1%) are getting richer at the expense of the 99%. It Cannot work!
    The LD party leadership is propping up such a government in the form of the Conservatives.
    The LD leadership then follows the Tories by blaming the economic mess on the last Labour government.
    While it is true that the Labour government did sell off the countries’ gold at low prices, the real problems go right back to the decision of the Heath Tory government of 1970-74 to remove the £ from the gold standard which open the doors for debt, leverage, further devaluation and inflationary pressures to which the city banksters exploited.
    (the Bearings bank incident should have been a warning of bigger derivative losses to come).

    The LD party should have championed the cause of the truth. The Tories succeeded to interpret the coalition agreement to their ends: When that happened the LD party should have given a public warning to the Tories to which if the Tories didn’t response we would resign from government and join the opposition benches.
    Failure to do that as resulted in the Clegg’s LD party becoming detached from the principles of Liberal Democracy.

    This detachment is now why the Greens, PC, SNP (and even Labour) now have an open door by taking forward policies of localism, electoral reform, internationalism once championed by our party.
    The LD party is just not properly functioning as a liberal reformist party and that’s the problem.

  • All this opinion poll watching is no substitute for what Paddy used to call “REAL VOTES IN REAL ELECTIONS”.

    So when was the last time the Liberal Democrats won a seat in parliamentary by-election ?
    (Eastleigh remember was a hold not a win)

    Well as Willie Rennie reminded us in his speech to the Conference in Scotland this week, the last time we actually made a GAIN in a parliamentary by-election was in February 2006.
    Since Clegg became leader in 2007 (even before the coalition) the fourth places and results worse than fourth have become the norm for Liberal Democrats. Not a single gain from any other party in 7 years under Clegg.

    The last time Liberal Democrats won a seat from another party in a parliamentary by-election —
    Dunfermline and West Fife Held 9th February 2006
    Lib Dem gain from Labour
    Willie Rennie Lib Dem 12,391 35.8 +15.4
    Majority: 1,800
    Turnout: 48.7%

  • John Roffey 26th Nov '14 - 4:55pm

    @ Simon Shaw

    “If you really think that Tsar Nicholas is a “realist” rather than a disgruntled ex-member who is doing his best to undermine the morale of those who remain members, then I think your spectacles need some attention.”

    Simon, I find it difficult to believe that you do not recognise that NC’s leadership [or the strategy he has followed] has reduced the Party’s popularity to an astonishingly low level – with few if any parallels in modern times. It is also clear that NC intends to remain leader and follow the same strategy during the 5 months leading up to the GE.

    Given the steady, and sometimes rapid, decline of the Party since 2010 – I also find it difficult to believe that you do not expect this decline to continue until the GE.

    It is very laudable to try to maintain morale amongst members – but it is a very steep cliff that the Party is heading for and there is the very real possibility that it will become extinct after the GE [or at least never again play a part in mainstream politics].

    If what I have said is reasonably correct, a change of leadership and strategy now – so that the Party’s fortunes are turned around before the GE – is likely to be the Party’s its best hope of survival.

    You have drawn attention to the fact that you are an Accountant and, at times, have made much of your professional status. If one of your clients is running their business in a way that will lead to almost certain bankruptcy – do you not tell them the truth so that they can take remedial action – or do you refrain from telling the truth to avoid undermining your clients morale?

  • Simon – “Could you give me a couple of example of by-elections in this parliament that you would have regarded as “winnable”? Oldham East is the only other one that I would put in that category.”

    In this Parliament and assuming no coalition you could conceivably have Leicester South (which we have held before), Manchester Central and Cardiff South (strong local gov base in 2010 and neighbouring/near to existing Lib Dem seats) as strong prospects.

  • nvelope2003 26th Nov '14 - 5:54pm

    The German FDP lost support to the more right wing AfD rather than to the Greens and have lost more support since the 2013 election. The FDP and the AfD got about 4.8 and 4.7 % respectively but it is now 2.5 – 3.5 and 8% according to recent opinion polls.. Sadly I am not confident that the Liberal Democrats will recover because of the rise of UKIP which has taken the protest vote. The party is over I fear. The trumpet makes an uncertain sound and the Labour party under Miliband is more likely to attract those who dislike the Conservatives and their policies. If UKIP were to continue to grow and attract more right wing Conservatives there might be a tendency for moderate Conservatives to merge with the remnants of the Liberal Democrats.

    It is possible that the rise of the SNP could deprive the Labour Party of its status as the largest party in the House of Commons

  • David Allen 26th Nov '14 - 6:10pm

    Gareth Wilson said:

    “Try and see the longer term picture – its essential that the UK has a strong party that espouses Internationalism, Fairness and Liberal values. That *is* the Liberal Democrats, regardless of what you think of the particular flavour of liberalism the leadership are promoting right now.

    Who knows who will be leading the Liberal Democrats in 5 years, 10 years time. Please try to remember that.”

    Well, first of all, isn’t all the evidence that the “soft Tories” now have a stranglehold on this Party? They have driven away enough of their internal opponents to gain control, reinforced through the “payroll” votes of MPs and local councillors, and entrenched through control of the manifesto. In hinting that Clegg could step down after 2015 they hope to kid the centre-left that there will be jam tomorrow, but when it comes to it, the Right always find reasons why they should stay in charge for a little while longer.

    But secondly – When did you last hear, outside this party, the word “Internationalism” used to describe a poliitical attitude? It’s a hangover from the sixties, when it meant campaigning against apartheid and in favour of being nice to emerging African leaders. The world is a much more complex place these days, and just calling ourselves “internationalist” fails to answer many of the policy questions that arise. It’s outdated and somewhat lazy thinking.

    When, indeed, did you last hear about “liberal values” outside this party – unless the words came from American neocons, that is? Ordinary people have stopped talking about “liberalism”. Ordinary people have also largely stopped talking about “socialism”, and the Labour Party has to a considerable extent changed its language accordingly. Labour, of courrse, are not known for being brilliant at staying on the same wavelength as the people they hope will vote for them. Sadly, Lib Dems seem to be even worse, with their own Libspiel language of “community politics”, “proportional representation”, “internationalism” and so on.

    Try and see the long term picture. There is no future for the Lib Dems. We need a new party on the left of centre, one that comes free of disabling baggage.

  • John Roffey 26th Nov '14 - 6:45pm

    @ David Allen

    “Try and see the long term picture. There is no future for the Lib Dems. We need a new party on the left of centre, one that comes free of disabling baggage.”

    Thanks for your post DA – it has helped me to express more succinctly what I have been trying to say.

    Would you be comfortable with ‘Adapt or die’?

  • Stephen Tall 3.43pm.
    Interesting that Stephen Fisher said Lib Dems would get 9% earlier this year with 31 seats.
    He now says 11% yes, but with ONLY 26 seats, 5 down and only 3 above the dreaded 23.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Nov '14 - 7:20pm

    @Simon Shaw

    “What he seems to be unwilling to recognise is that what really matters in a FPTP system is not whether we get 1% or 5% or 10% in a seat we DON’T have a hope of winning (although 5% is clearly better than 1%, and 10% is better than 5%), but whether we get 38% (rather than, say, 25%) in a seat that we DO have a hope of winning.”

    Your argument fails completely when you realise that in the European elections, we had a chance of winning in every regional constituency but lost out in all bar one.

    Or are you now going to start complaining about the unfairness of proportional representation?

  • David Evans 26th Nov '14 - 8:29pm

    I hope and pray David Allen is wrong, because new parties take decades to establish themselves – SNP established 1934; first MP 1967; up to 2010 they had less councillors than us; less MPs and less MSPs. Likewise the Greens, UKIP and the Welsh Nats. We need a continuing Liberal Democrat party in the UK otherwise the UK will become like the US with no third party with a uniquely liberal message.

    The problem is that Nick’s disastrous dalliance with the Conservatives has toxified our party’s image to such an extent over 20,000 good Lib Dems have left the party in four years. The SNP surge now means we now have the fourth highest membership of all the parties in the UK and possibly by the end of the year the fifth highest behind UKIP. A green surge in 2015 could even make us sixth.

    As I have argued elsewhere (on, I believe that the only chance we have to turn the tide is to replace Nick as leader before the election in May as afterwards it will just be too late. After that date most people will not forgive us. After 2015, I see only a long slow decline probably to oblivion like the National Liberals in the 1940s and 50s. The evidence is there for all to see.

    If we believe in the truth of our values we need to get our MPs to act now.

  • David Evans 26th Nov '14 - 9:31pm

    I must admit ICM’s practice of allocating half of the “ex Lib Dem don’t knows” back to us looks like a step too far this time. In the past, with us as a nice party I can understand it. Now with Nick clinging on as leader, my instinct tells me almost none.

  • We will get about 10% in 2015. Doom-mongers predicting 5% are overegging the pudding and I question their motives. Optimists predicting 15%+ are doing likewise and I question their motives as well.

    The problems facing liberal politics in the UK and Europe aren’t going to go away and are very difficult, but they can be dealt with. First thing first, we need to allow the electorate to deliver their verdict on our present market liberal direction. Whoever we put in front of them, they are going to judge us based on that record. Might as well be the man responsible for spearheading the market liberal drive for our party. If we swap the boss out now, not only will it look crass and opportunistic, but it will also simply give the market liberal mainstream the excuse they need to brush off the defeats.

    From 2015, we need to regroup more quickly and with better ideas than any of the other parties. All of the other parties bar the SNP will be coming out of 2015 either disappointed or in disarray for a multitude of reasons. And as long as it’s a hung parliament, a Liberal Democrat party with 20 seats or more will still be significant and would have a role, either to embarrass a coalition of our competition on the progressive side of politics, to head up opposition to a grand coalition or to give supply and confidence for a price to some grouping that might include nationalists or conservatives.

    Easy solutions like jumping ship and joining the Greens are being pushed to us by, well, obviously the Greens among others, as the big answer to roll the clock back to April 2010. That won’t work. At best, it’ll be rolling the clock back to 1988, with twenty years of building up a third party ahead, followed by it falling into the exact same pitfalls having lost the institutional experience our party now has of encountering them. At worst it’ll be us looking around and finding that we’ve got lost in some party pushing an ideology we don’t recognise, with no liberal option on the British ballot sheet. Better to rebuild our liberal party, from whatever remains after the next election.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Nov '14 - 9:51pm

    David Evans 26th Nov ’14 – 8:29pm
    “After 2015, I see only a long slow decline probably to oblivion like the National Liberals in the 1940s and 50s. The evidence is there for all to see. ”

    I sat nodding my head reading this.

    Although I was one of those who came out strongly for Nick Clegg to resign following last May’s results, I had come round to the view that the moment to elect a new leader had passed and that we would need to await the aftermath of the 2015 GE.

    Unfortunately however there have been no signs of any meaningful revival in our fortunes and NC has continued to plot his equi-distant course, draw up an uninspiring centre-right manifesto, ignore the centre-left membership and voters of recent history, select a mainly Cleggite post-GE negotiating team and show every sign of believing he can stay on well into the next parliament.

    Worst of all, he has led us back to the latter days of Jeremy Thorpe and us attracting more ridicule and satire than serious consideration of our policies.

    If he leads us into the GE, he will be shredded in the leadership debates (no one will be agreeing with Nick this time), in all but the most promising of seats we will struggle to inspire sufficient activists to come out to work for us, we will find it a real struggle to squeeze our traditional labour tactical voters (vote Clegg get Cameron) … the list goes on.

    The biggest fear is that a very poor showing, with us possibly being overtaken by the Greens in terms of the national vote, will see a terminal turn of the downward spiral in our fortunes. If this comes to pass, we could easily be back into ‘wasted vote’ territory by 2020.

    So, a long winded way of saying I do agree with you David, our MPs do need to think, listen, think and then act. No one like being disloyal but if it is a question of loyalty to a leader or to our ideals and our survival, the party must come first every time.

  • Where are those 23/24+ seats going to be won? Currently you have 11 Scottish MPs. After the general elections I think you will have 1 or 2 scottish MPs, the polls here say the same. In the scottish parliament elections you lost every mainland constituency? Do you think things are pretty much ok in England for the party?

  • Thanks Stephen. No one who puts loyalty to the values of the party above support to a mere leader can be accused of being disloyal.

  • So I can take comfort from the idea that a uniform national swing with us on 8% will give us 23 MPs. From this I can be optimistic that we shall end up with more than 23 MPs. I can be depressed when considering that 8% will be our lowest share of the vote since 1970. And I can be depressed when Stephen Tall (26th Nov ’14 3.43pm) in an effort to cheer us up tells us we will come forth in the popular vote.

    I think Tsar Nicholas makes a very valid point about our ability to put foot soldiers on the ground. Our membership has declined by about one third since 2010 and I would expect that our ability to put people on the ground has declined by more than one third if there are lots of members who were activists but have decided that they can’t defend what we have agreed to in coalition.

    The Farage-Clegg debates I think showed how bad Nick Clegg is at TV debates now. Nick Clegg and the party doesn’t have a truthful answer to the trust issue.

    Stephen Tall believes that lots of those undecided Liberal Democratic voters of 2010 will in the end turn out and vote for us, but I don’t. We could end up with 10%, but I think it will be less that the 13.8% we achieved in 1979.

    If we had a different leader for the general election, we might find an answer to the trust question, we might have a leader who could perform well in the debates and so gain us a couple of percentage points in the general election and we might get some of the lost activists back out on the ground in the general election. I really believe that with a different leader we could add two or three percentage points to our popular vote and provide us with a much better position to rebuild the party from.

    @ Simon Shaw and Tsar Nicholas
    Like Tsar Nicholas I believe it was John Curtice when discussing that Eastleigh is misleading (last Thursday on the BBC Rochester by-election programme) said “The Lib Dems wouldn’t have held on there if UKIP hadn’t done so well and took loads of votes off the Tories.” The point I think he was making was that if the UKIP vote had been less (which is likely in the general election) those voters would be likely to vote Conservative and then we would lose seats like Eastleigh.

  • I do think we are somewhat boxed in by our constitution on the leadership issue. Any MP even vaguely considering whether they feel up to putting themselves forward will be very reluctant at present, because we may find they are made very toxic by a poor result in May, and not given a proper chance, both by activists and the electorate. If we were able to have a Party Leader, separate from the Westminster Commons Leader, we could separate the roles. Amalric and others are, however right when they say that it is NOT too late to change. The Party was put in a very difficult position by NC when he effectively refused to go after the dreadful Euro and London results, as that involved further contortions on “the trust issue”. NC, having been informed by many, inside the Party and out, that his time was up has forced a limp and rather pathetic excuse that “he has had to put up with so much, and look how resilient he is”, leaving any challenger in the position of “That nasty bully who took away the man who ‘took us into Government’ and paid too much attention to unfriendly media comment and our enemies in other parties”. The message to NC is – many of us who have remained through the bad times, as well as those we have lost because of his naivete, his political antennae being way off from any recent Liberal history, and his breaking trust – and his poor debating powers, as Amalric said, agree with those critics. The Lib Dems will die, or be so weak and split that they don’t survive, unless he goes quickly.

    We had a mini recruitment drive here among some of those who had left over the recent years, and there was little enthusiasm for a return to membership. Deliverers who were never members are also in short supply.

  • Tsar Nicholas, David Evans, Amalric, Stephen Hesketh all point to a fundamental problem that Stephen Tall and academic pollsters sometimes forget — the importance to Liberal Democrats of the activists on the ground.

    How many activists followed the example of Olly Grender and actually went to Rochester?
    How many activists have turned out to any parliamentary by-election since Clegg became leader?

    Is the loss of tens of thousands of members reflected in the loss of activists since Clegg’s positioning of the party made it a laughing stock at parliamentary by-elections?

    At best we have seen activists sitting things out until Clegg has gone because they cannot stomach the right wing aberrations of recent years.

    The importance of enthusiastic and motivated activists is crucial to Liberal Democrat success in any elections.

    One seldom sees the words “enthusiastic and motivated activists” in the same sentence as the word “Clegg”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '14 - 2:24pm

    John Tilley

    At best we have seen activists sitting things out until Clegg has gone because they cannot stomach the right wing aberrations of recent years.

    Yup. I used to be active in the party, I have stopped. I think a lot of the criticism the party gets is unfair, doesn’t take into account the difficult position we were placed in by the 2010 general election, doesn’t have a coherent alternative which would actually win support, and is actually aimed more at destroying us as a party so that we can get back to the “good old two party system” than getting us back to pushing the sort of policies that used to be ours, that’s why I have characterised it as “nah nah nah nah nah” and want no part of it. However, I feel attempts I make to defend the party on this basis are being so undermined by its own leadership that I don’t know why I bother making them.

    I hate the idea of a general election going on and me doing nothing in it. But unless there are BIG changes in how our party presents itself, that’s where I’ll be. It’s horrible, it’s against what I have always urged everyone to do – be practical, take an active part in whichever party is closest to your own opinions, accept that to be effective there has to be some compromise, so sure you may not have a party in which you agree on everything, but get out delivering leaflets and knocking on doors for the nearest to that. However, the PUBLIC IMAGE of the Liberal Democrats as pushed by its leaders has now moved so far from the party I joined that I can’t do that. I still despise Labour for its anti-pluralist attitudes and sheer arrogance, and complacency, shown right now by its campaign tactic of “just be negative, and the votes that are ours by right which went to those horrible LibDems will come back to us”, to the point that I couldn’t give them even the passive support of voting for them in the marginal constituency I live in. So that’s not an option. There are no other options (I don’t wish to be rude about the Greens in pubic, but …).

    So, I’m sitting it out. I want the party I was once so keen and active in back. I’m scared the damage has been done, and as I’ve noted elsewhere we’ve already moved to a position of recruiting enough head-banging economic right-wingers that they’ll be able to stay in control of whatever’s left after 2015. It seems to me that the only way out of that now is something fairly dramatic happening, just as we had the “Clegg coup” now we need an “anti-Clegg coup”.

  • Trevor Stables 27th Nov '14 - 7:55pm

    Tories were renowned for sending leading knights of the Shires in to see their leader. We should do the same. Now.

  • I wanna know which 28 seats they think these will be, if more than 3 of them are in Scotland I’d say disregard the prediction.

  • Stephen Hesketh 27th Nov '14 - 8:15pm

    Trevor Stables 27th Nov ’14 – 7:55pm
    “Tories were renowned for sending leading knights of the Shires in to see their leader. We should do the same …”

    Presumably with their swords drawn!

  • Tony Dawson 30th Nov '14 - 8:27am

    I don’t know whether Matt Singh has anywhere listed his ’28 survivors’ for the Lib Dems but what he has done is point out that, historically, incumbency of individual MPs is not a big factor for Lib Dems across the board. Whyever would it be? Some MPs are a lot better than others. Some are great personalities and individual campaigners with a reputation for caring for their constituents’ concerns. Others are creations of the central machine and formula-application – some more obviously so than others.

    Another factor which may assist Lib Dems disproportionately in some places is the comprehensive effect of the Lib Dems as a campaigning organisation in the area including MPs, councillors and Local Party. I notice that both Sutton and Cheam and Carshalton are bucking the trend against the Tories at the moment and would think it is more to do with the cohesiveness of the Lib Dem operation within the Borough which they both represent than any particular common factors possessed byTom Brake and Paul Burstow,

  • Tsar Nicolas 1st Dec '14 - 9:55am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I know what you mean about sitting out an election, but I have a suggestion.

    Decide which non-Clegg candidate is bets placed to win in Hallam and go and deliver some leaflets for him/her. If there is a “Portilllo moment” in May, then you might be part way to getting our party back.

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