I made a public prediction within a month of the formation of the Coalition that electoral support for the Lib Dems would decline steadily to single figures in the public opinion polls. Last week, in a Yougov Poll, it had fallen from 23% in the General Election to 12% now. It will fall further through a pre-budget statement (if we have one), the budget itself and the local elections in May. In the autumn I expect Labour to be given a boost by the election of a new leader ( assuming this not to be Diane Abbot). The Lib Dems usually do better in local elections than their national opinion poll rating might suggest. Nevertheless, if their opinion poll rating at that time is, say, 8 per cent, they will do badly. If Labour decides to mount a national campaign to oppose the AV alternative to first past the post in a referendum, and given the likely low level of Lib Dem electoral support at the time, the alternative vote option will be lost. And where will the Lib Dems be then, poor things, where will they be then?
In Conservative Party Central office lies on a few desks the result of a recent survey of the opinions of party members on the future of the Coalition. The Tories are not fools. They have tested members with the question, ‘Would you support a single Lib Dem Coalition candidate in selected areas and seats in elections?’ The results will be interesting. (Shouldn’t the Tories be asked about these survey results?) What price will Tories be willing to pay up and down the country to preserve the Coalition? If the Coalition itself is unpopular at the time, in May, I assume it would not help much. And what of the Lib Dems? Are their members willing to stand on a Coalition ticket? I suspect than many, if not most, would decline. There is Nick Clegg’s own position in Sheffield. Isn’t there an imminent and real danger that he will lose his seat if he stands as a Lib Dem candidate with a Tory running against him. There may be a heavy price to be paid for abandoning Sheffield Forgemasters.
This is the way of all Con/Lib Coalitions. The weaker party comes out worse for the arrangement. There will be Lib Dems who will run in some sort of Liberal /Conservative colours and others who refuse to do so. Wise Lib Dem cabinet members will get out while the going is good but others will remain and fight on as Liberal Conservatives. If the margin of support is small at the time between Labour and the Conservatives an extra 4-6 pecent of the vote sticking to Lib/Con candidates could be decisive. These calculations are difficult. It may be in the interest of the Tories and Nick Clegg to cut and run before these difficulties overwhelm them. What should Labour do when the leadership issue is settled? I shall return to this theme in future blogs. We will not get any wiser by listening in to Labour leadership debates.