By Nick Osborne
David Mitchell of Peep Show fame said on Mock the Week last night that the Liberal Democrat Conference was simply a warm up for the Labour and Conservative Conference’s in the coming weeks. Normally, from what I’ve experienced, this was probably the case, although this time I’m not so sure.
Naturally, there has been a fairly large amount of press surrounding the Lib-Dem Conference. It is after all, the first major conference in the last conference season prior to a General Election. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Vince Cable MP has been named the most trusted politician in the UK. Nick Clegg has found his feet as Leader of the Lib-Dems and as he states he is ready to become Prime Minister. This obviously will never happen, but I predict that the Lib-Dems will play a more significant role in this election than they have played in recent ones.
All elections are fascinating, but this one will potentially benefit the Lib-Dems for a number of reasons:
1. Increased visibility. I’m sure Nick Clegg was the first to jump at the chance of a three way debate between the leaders. Clegg has nothing to lose and everything to gain. A story on Newsnight earlier this week revolved around Barack Obama’s polling analyst looking at the upcoming election.
Via a number of focus groups he initially determined that Clegg’s biggest problem was the lack of visibility i.e. no one had heard of him or understood what he stood for. However, once they were shown footage of him speaking and discussing his policies, many of the focus group opinions changed. He was seen as likable, strong with reasonable policies. A televised debate would give him a national platform that the Lib-Dems would not have experienced for a long time.
2. Social media. This kind of fits within the increased visibility section above, but like the other parties, the Lib-Dems are going to be able to push their policies and candidates over the web, something that hasn’t been done during a general election in the UK before. Voters will therefore be more aware than ever before.
3. Disaffected Labour voters. The term progressive has been over used to a nauseating level in the past two weeks, but, let’s be truly honest the Lib-Dems probably have more right to the term than the Conservatives. With the Lib-Dems wanting to tax the rich via the mansion tax and out flanking Labour from the left by raising the tax-free threshold to £10,000, scrapping trident and ID Cards, angry lefties might just tick the yellow box.
4. People who can’t bring themselves to vote for David Cameron. In the North, Cameron is still going to struggle, simply because of his Oxbridge, Etonian, Bullingdon club reputation and there will be many voters who won’t be able to bring themselves to tick the Tory box. If they don’t vote for Labour, or god forbid the BNP, the Lib-Dems might just pick up a few votes or even seats here and there.
5. Expenses. The Lib-Dems were comparatively unscathed as an individual party, although as MPs, they were dragged through the mud with everyone else. The Lib-Dems should have done better in the Euro elections in June, but they did reasonably in the local elections so it is hard to say whether they will garner extra votes from being relatively clean.
6. Increased voter numbers. The public is peeved with Westminster and this could either mean a record high or low turnout. If it is high, then I think the smaller parties, including the Lib-Dems will pick up a significant number of votes because they are still not seen as one of the major players, yet they are still seen as a viable protest vote destination.
No Party is doing as well as they should be. Sure, the Tories have a commanding lead in the polls and hover just above 40%, Labour mid to high twenties and Lib-Dem low twenties, high teens. That to me suggests some issues. To be clear winners, the Tories should be 45%. Labour should be higher at 30% to be in with a chance, but things will tighten as the elections looms. But the fact is, there looks like around 15% undecideds, even if you give 5% to the minor parties.
The Tories should still get it, but things aren’t as black and white as some pundits claim they are. If the election was called today, it would not take a huge percentage shift for the Tories to be presiding over a hung parliament and Ming has already stated that if the Tories won, the Lib-Dems would be compelled to work with Labour. The Tories are also clearly a tad concerned, hence David Cameron and Eric Pickles calling, slightly ridiculously, for Lib-Dem voters to come home to the Tories.
The ultimate test will be election day, but the fact is, I don’t think the Lib-Dems can necessarily be discounted. They may be a force to be reckoned with, or they might fluff it, they’ve done it before after all. But you never know, come Autumn in 2010, we could be waking up with a few extra pounds in our pockets or less, if you own a whopping great house.
Love to know your thoughts.