h1

The Patrick Perspective: “If the LDs sink then Dave is out”

November 30th, 2010

A guest slot on the future of the coalition

The above chart shows the actual poll shares achieved at the general elections from 1979 onwards. The 2015 numbers are the current PAPA numbers (Mike’s polling average). It also shows the GE turnout % (green line) and the combined share of Labour plus the LibDems (dotted line).

What does it tell us?

Firstly, it shows that there is quite some truth in the notion that Labour and the LibDems have historically fed off each other’s vote. Their combined vote has traditionally been a little over 50%, but this went up to the high 50s during Labour’s time in power. The Labour view that the LibDems were ‘on our side’ is not entirely unjustified – and hence the bitter feelings of betrayal that many lefty voters now feel about the LibDem decision to get in bed with Dave. This is very dangerous for Dave. Labour’s vote translates disproportionately into seats as their vote gets towards 40%. When Labour and Tories are neck and neck in the polls that means, I’m afraid, that Labour are well ahead in seats. Equalising constituencies and sorting postal votes out will help Dave, but only so much. If the LibDems sink then Dave is out.

Secondly, current polling shows that the LibDems’ joining a coalition with Dave has not apparently broken the tradition. The Tory polling remains steady in the high 30s – to 40s range, and Labour is up wholly at the LibDems’ expense. This gives Clegg a sharp dilemma – it seems the lefty half of the party has drifted to the red camp and I don’t think they’re coming back. At 12.5% the LibDems are just not going to win many seats at a GE and the ones they do win will be due to big name local incumbents. The marginals (and Scotland?) will be gone. My own (FPTP based) model has the LibDems gaining just 22 seats at the current level in the polls and an enormous Labour majority. The LibDems would be dead (and Dave too) if current polls were actual GE vote shares.

This raises some serious questions about tactical voting. I think historically the vast majority of tactical voting has been Labour and LibDem voters supporting whoever would keep out the local Tory. We have never seen much tactical voting by Tories – if they are not happy they just stay at home, as the clear alignment of Tory and Turnout lines shows. But now that the LibDems are proving to be good partners in government, I think it is fair to expect there will in future be some Blue / Yellow tactical voting to keep Labour out of some marginals.

And that leaves the LibDems and Dave with some very clear messages:
1. They must do much, much more to boost the LibDem polling. This is as good for Dave as it is for Clegg. The LibDems are disappearing into the Tory noise. To keep Labour out the positive impact of Clegg and the LibDems on all aspects of coalition policy must be better advertised. We need to see much more of Clegg, Alexander, Cable, Huhne (and Laws) on the TV.
2. They must get the vote out for a higher turnout. Dave might then get a Tory majority , but without it Labour do instead – and the Yellows are wiped out. They need much more monstering of the Labour record and scare stories about financial doomsday if Labour get back in.
3. As might have been expected, a ‘sit on the fence’ party has been ripped in two by the realities of a hung parliament. I’m not convinced there is room for three real choices in an FPTP system. The coalition parties will need to work together electorally to keep Labour out, because the electoral advantages Labour’s vote distribution gives are just too big to tackle alone. Increasingly I see survival for both coalition parties will need to come from an electoral pact. They can win together or lose apart.

The LibDems’ future lies not in being the third party but in being the conscience of a permanent centre right alignment based on civil liberties and sound money.

Patrick has been a regular PB commenter for several years