Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A fairer, more democratic, greener, liberal country

In this short film from Channel 4′s “Political Slot” Tim Farron, Floella Benjamin, Chris Huhne, Paddy Ashdown and Steve Webb talk about what Liberal Democrats are doing to make Britain a fairer, more democratic, greener, liberal country.

You may like to look at my comment, on Liberal Democrat Voice. [click here]

Posted via email from Neil Stockley's posterous

Monday, 21 February 2011

The People Say Yes - but do they tell stories?

Yes! To Fairer Votes have produced a new video, The People Say Yes, in which a number of voters explain why they are backing AV.

The video contains arguments, cases and slogans in favour of AV. But most of the people taking part do not tell stories, meaning that the overall impact is not as great as it might be.

The difference is that a story tells or recounts at least one event or incident. An effective story is clear, surprising, emotional and, most importantly, it's credible. If you don’t believe me, compare most of the contributions to this video with one from the ex-steelworker from Sheffield or, for that matter, Ralph’s story, an earlier, striking offering from the pro-AV forces.

Still, The People Say Yes hits a mark, by providing the campaign with a useful brand narrative. The people taking part are mostly young and they are all “ordinary” – that is, outside the political class. There are none of the usual suspects. So far, by contrast, the faces of the No campaign have been warhorses from past campaigns and previous governments, like John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. And the people in this video finish up by saying “yes” with a warmth and an enthusiasm that is noticeably missing from the other side.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What politics should be all about - some suggestions from Kevin Rudd

The FT Weekend has an interesting interview with Kevin Rudd, Australia's foreign minister and ex-PM. At the end of the article, he says:

“I believe in politics for the two questions it asks of us. One is, ‘What do you stand for and why?’ And the second is, ‘Do you know what you are talking about?’”

In posing those two questions, Rudd sums up what I believe politics should be about. No, he hasn't painted the whole picture. After what Rudd cryptically describes as "the events of June 24" last year, he might have added the abilities to keep up basic relationships with colleagues, manage factions, count heads and see around corners.

But after more than 30 years' involvement in politics, in two countries, I have come across a lot of politicians who could do the transactional bits but couldn't answer the questions that Rudd poses. Fortunately, I've also come across a few who stand for something and know why and who understand what they are talking about. I'm clearer than ever about which is more important.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Lib Dem voters now come from the "centre", not the "centre-left": a quick update

There’s new evidence that Liberal Democrat voters are more likely to have “centrist” political views than was the case before the coalition was formed.

It comes from Times Populus poll for February, details of which are now available. Voters were asked to judge how well or badly they thought the coalition government is doing on “cutting back on public spending in the right way”. Liberal Democrat voters were more prepared than others to give the coalition government the benefit of the doubt.

· 14% of all voters gave positive responses, and 16% of Liberal Democrat voters did so.

· 42% gave neutral responses and 55% of Liberal Democrat voters did so.

· 42% gave negative responses but only 29% of Liberal Democrat voters did so.

As for “sorting out the economy”:

· 21% of all voters were positive, as were 21% of Liberal Democrat voters.

· 46% gave neutral responses and 54% of Liberal Democrat voters did so.

· 32% gave negative responses but only 26% of Liberal Democrat voters did so.

YouGov polling data suggests that those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 but have since bolted are more likely to come from the left hand of the political spectrum than those who have stuck with the party. The new Populus data gives this theory some backing, but we shouldn’t get too carried away. For instance, 48% of all previous Lib Dem backers gave negative ratings to the coalition’s record on public spending but only 11% were positive.

All this comes with a health warning: the subsamples of Liberal Democrat voters, whether now or in 2010, were very small.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

UK Polling Report - YouGov shows AV and FPTP neck and neck

In this post, Anthony Wells of YouGov shows that support for the alternative vote (AV) is now running neck and neck with the current, first past the post (FPTP) system in YouGov polling. This follows a period of four months in which FPTP was in the lead. Wells shows how Lib Dem voters have firmed up in their support for AV and Conservative voters' opposition has softened.

One group he doesn't comment on is Labour supporters whom, I believe, will be critical in determining the result of the AV referendum. They still prefer FPTP, by a 44% to 37% margin, down slightly from the 12% margin last October.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley's posterous

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Liberal Democrats and their "centrist rump" of voters

The latest issue of Progress – the journal of the “New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century” – features an article by Professor Paul Whiteley of Essex University, in which he summarises the key findings from a large-scale survey of party members.

Professor Whiteley and his colleagues found four dimensions or clusters of grassroots attitudes in the data. These are: “lifestyle liberalism”; “equality and redistribution”; “free-market liberalism”; and a strongly pro-EU stance. But he shows that when there’s a tension, the egalitarian impulse will win out. We are, at heart, a social liberal party.

Whiteley concludes that the party’s dismal poll ratings will tie the Liberal Democrats to the coalition, but that over time, both coalition parties will veto policies from the other side that their supporters oppose, most notably on reducing public spending and taxes.

This situation is a recipe for policy gridlock as the next election approaches.

Professor Whiteley may be correct. But then he may not. The coalition government has proved several times already that making political prophecies is a hazardous business, especially when the leaderships of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are prepared to act in ways that are so detached from the expectations of their grassroots.

What I found more interesting are the signs of a disconnect since the party went into coalition between core views and instincts of Liberal Democrat members (as set out in Professor Whiteley’s article) and those of Liberal Democrat voters.

Here’s a signpost. On Monday, UK Polling Report commented on a new YouGov poll asking voters where they placed the parties on the ‘left-right’ spectrum.

Until the general election the Liberal Democrats had consistently been perceived as a left-of-centre party, scoring between -9 and -17 on the left-right scale. They are now viewed as being almost exactly in the centre, with a score of +1. Nick Clegg himself is now seen as firmly right-of-centre with a score of +10.

As is well known, the pool of Liberal Democrat voters is smaller than it was at the 2010 general election. Current Lib Dem voters are more likely now to see themselves as being “in the middle” of the political spectrum.

The data also gives us firm evidence of what most people assumed anyway – that the votes the Liberal Democrats have lost since the election have been their more left wing voters, leaving them with a somewhat more centrist rump. “Lost Liberal Democrats” (those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but wouldn’t tomorrow) place themselves on average at -20 on the left-right scale. Those who have remained loyal place themselves on average at -6.

We now have some clues as to what this “centrist rump” of Liberal Democrat voters think and expect of the government.

First, Liberal Democrat voters appear to be not much more likely than most to be concerned about the cuts to benefits, or changes to social housing. In November, Ipsos MORI asked voters what they thought of the coalition government’s spending cuts.

Over half of the public (54%) were concerned about cuts to benefits but a significant minority (44%) were not concerned. 52% of Liberal Democrat voters were concerned and 47% - about the same ratio - were not concerned.

On changes to social housing, it was a similar story: 52% of voters were concerned, but 42% were not concerned. By comparison, 51% of Liberal Democrat voters were concerned and 47% were not concerned. (Note that the sub sample was very small.)

On university fees, however, 81% of Lib Dem voters were concerned about what the government had announced, and only 19% were not concerned. Amongst all voters the breakdown was 67% to 32%. But whether this issue is really about using tax revenues to reduce poverty (as per the question on the egalitarian dimension in Professor Whiteley’s survey), is open to argument.

Second, when it comes to the spending cuts, Liberal Democrat voters have been more prepared than average voters to give the government the benefit of the doubt. In October, just after the Spending Review was delivered, Populus found that Liberal Democrat voters were more likely than other voters to see the cuts as “fair” and to agree that the government was “getting the right balance between tax rises and spending cuts”. (Still, it must be said that Lib Dem voters were evenly spread on these questions). And Lib Dem voters were much more likely than voters to agree that the government’s decisions were putting the economy on a stronger footing for the long term.

Last month, after the VAT rise took effect, YouGov asked if the government’s cuts will be good or bad for the economy. Only 38% of voters thought they would be good, compared to 47% who thought they will be bad. Liberal Democrat voters thought they would be good, by a margin of 46% to 35%.

But Liberal Democrat supporters are swinging against the cuts, albeit more slowly than the electorate as a whole. Between October and December last year, it was roughly even between voters thinking the cuts would be good and those thinking they would be bad. At that time, Liberal Democrat voters backed the cuts, by a two-to-one margin.

In January, 57% of voters said the cuts are being done unfairly, the highest figure that YouGov have shown so far. But Liberal Democrat voters divided evenly on that question. By comparison, in the closing months of 2010, voters tended to say that the cuts were unfair, with a plurality of Liberal Democrat supporters saying the opposite.

Third, YouGov’s surveys have shown for some months that Liberal Democrat voters are more likely than others to see the economy, education and pensions, rather than, say, health, taxes or Afghanistan, as top issues facing the country.

In the past, Liberal Democrat members’ political views have been broadly in tune with those of people who vote for the party. This was especially the case on key issues around taxing and spending. (See, for example, the work of Russell and Fieldhouse). But members and voters now have different narratives about the party.

Some Liberal Democrats will find this shift discomforting and demand a drive to regain support on the “left”. Others will see it as the opportunity to build some kind of tough, new liberal party for the next general election, and beyond. Harder heads will recognise that you can never wind back the clock, especially where voters and their perceptions are concerned. And the agendas of the ‘left of centre’ voters who backed the Lib Dems in 2010 were vague, if not nebulous. [Click here] Yet the party needs to build a bigger, broader electoral coalition than a “centrist rump” if it is to avoid an electoral wipeout. What we’ll surely need is a long, determined push to gain the support of liberal-minded voters of all varieties.