Monday, 22 September 2008

Encouraging Signs..

After a pretty miserable couple of years, there are some encouraging signs for Liberal Democrats. Since the departure of Charles Kennedy in early 2006, the party has struggled to make any kind of positive impact. The election of Sir Menzies Campbell turned out to be a mistake but once it became clear the next General Election would be deferred until 2010, Sir Menzies bravely and selflessly walked away.

Enter Nick Clegg and he'd be the first to admit it's not been plain sailing. The GQ interview was a mistake and even last night his inability to get the level of the State pension correct was inexcusable - to be fair, he held his hands up to that. No one expects leaders to be gaffe-free - David Cameron has made his share of mistakes too - but I will be disappointed if Nick doesn't learn and improve.

So, what has started to go right ?

Nick, as an Orange Booker, has led a wholesale revamping of the Party's economic policy. We are now the Party articulating tax cuts (a 4p cut in the basic rate to 16p) and looking to make big spending cuts. This change hasn't gone well with all Liberal Democrats but it sits well with Liberal tradition. In the 1950s, for example, it was Liberals like Jo Grimond who stood for tax cuts and smaller Government against the prevailing Butskellist corporatist orthodoxy.

This has gone down well with the public too. Nick Clegg's superb speech to the Party Conference last week hit a number of the right buttons with the public according to a Newsnight focus group led by the controversial American pollster Frank Luntz.

Despite the tumult in the financial markets, the Liberal Democrats got a significant "bounce" from the Conference with YouGov putting the Party on 20% - the highest figure since November 2005. Com Res also put the party up sharply.

Another significant poll last week was the so-called "mega marginals" poll from Politics Home. This poll suggested Labour MPs would be swept away by a Conservative landslide with the party set to lose more than half their Parliamentary strength. Surprisingly, Liberal Democrat MPs seemed more resilient to the Cameron onslaught with 44 MPs set to survive. It's likely that higher polls might push that figure higher.


Let's not get too excited. The Liberal Democrats will fall back again once Labour and the Conservatives have their gatherings and the real business of politics resumes in the autumn but I hope and suapect the Lib Dem ratings will begin to move up again through the winter.

The other thing of which I am increasingly confident is that Nick Clegg will play a big role in the next Parliament. As the Cameron Government unravels, Nick will look like a serious and effective alternative leader and who knows where that will take the Liberal Democrats.

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