The Surge.

Politics Last night, I nearly burst into tears after seeing some numbers. No, it wasn’t the ratings given by visitors to Gallifrey Base for the Doctor Who episode, though fans really don’t know when they’ve been born when they’re giving Spitfires vs. Daleks five on ten and complaining about the fact that the technology seemed to have been knocked together in five minutes by one of their agents gone rogue.

No, my near show shower was after seeing the Liberal Democrats ahead of two other parties in the Mail on Sunday poll. A YouGov poll tonight as reported by UK Polling Report offers similar numbers LDEM 33%(+4), CON 32%(-1), LAB 26%(-3). I knew that Nick Clegg’s performance had been good, but I didn’t really suspect that they’d be transferred into these numbers.

Mad keen on politics, I’ve been following the election since its been called watching Newsnight on consecutive evenings, listening intently to the Today programme and PM and reading my paper of choice. As I joked here, having already decided who I was going to vote for this largely consisted of half listening to the arguments then insulting the people on Twitter. #ge2010.

Until Thursday there was a quite resignation about being a lifelong Lib Dem supporter and knowing that our polling record would slip in and out of 20% until the election when we would stunningly under-perform, as usual winning some seats but losing just as many others meaning we’d end up back at square one, our only hope this time for a hung parliament and a bit of more influence. Hence my emotion response to some numbers.

As ever until Thursday, the Lib Dems where considered by the media as the also rans. The election meant some extra focus here and there, but though the Labservative manifestos appeared as headlines in the papers Monday to Thursday, the Lib Dems were reduced to a byline or nestling somewhere in the middle pages, our message lost within the squabbling over the content of the parties that seemed most likely to form the next government.

Have I Got News For You the week before the debate was making the usual jokes about the Lib Dems being forgettable and not being able to make up their mind about anything – jokes which were repeated the following week in the episode which ran opposite the leadership debate and which look slightly anachronistic now (slightly?). There was an element of motion going to Paxman’s interviews with Clegg and then Cable; they both acquitted themselves well, but with his cold, Paxo didn’t seem to be trying.

When I wrote my review of the leadership debate with my effusive praise of Clegg, it was still with the slight expectation that since only about a quarter of the country would be watching and since in the days after the chancellor’s debate which Cable won hands down too the polling numbers stayed the same, I expected that we might pick up a couple of points, but people would still keep to their usual expectation that a Lib Dem vote was a wasted vote and that they’d stick with one of the two main parties.

You know the narrative from there. The wacky polls on Friday with massive numbers which turned out to be the product of voters who’d actually watched the debates and knew they were going to be asked. Then into yesterday polls from typical samples began to show and the Lib Dem numbers were higher but not steller, which it then transpired were from surveys taken before the debate and showed a manifesto surge. Now the real post debate numbers are appearing and well, we know the story of that:

LDEM 33%(+4), CON 32%(-1), LAB 26%(-3)

Liberal numbers which haven’t been this high for decades, Labour numbers lower than Michael Foot, the Tories holding steady. If this is just a flash in the pan, if by the end of the next week the hype will have died down and the Lib Dems have returned to their old stomping ground of 20% at least we have this moment to point to and show that we can be relevant.

Except, and this is why, quite frankly I’m brainfried, people with an opinion are suggesting that this may not be a flash in the pan, that these numbers may be sustainable. Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report thinks (and he isn't the only one) that they could well be if the “wasted vote” people switch back to their natural opinion and I’d add if the non-voters in a similar category make the time.

I’m under no illusions about this. The chances of the Lib Dems winning the election are slim unless they can start picking off the Labservative vote in greater numbers. Most projections suggest that the support is too diffuse and there aren’t enough true marginals to be relevant. This would have to be 1997 scenario with shell-shocked young Lib Dems picking off cabinet ministers and us asking each other the next morning if we were up for Milliband.

Both of the other two parties (it feels wrong to call them the “main parties right now) will be heading after the Lib Dems with greater force. We can already see the new Conservative strategy at work with there persistent suggestions that voters will change their tune when they scrutinise the “eccentric policies” going on to purposefully misrepresent those policies (see Bob Ainsworth fudging Trident yesterday morning).

Plus there’s two more leadership debates and Cameron and Brown are bound to be sharper having been rocked out of their complacency. The next, on Foreign Affairs will be a real test for Clegg, though his anti-war credentials and general internationalism (what’s the word for someone who speaks five languages?) may stand him in good stead.

And neither of the other leads will want to come across as bullies, the conundrum which faced John McCain and look what happened to him. I don’t think Gordon will be agreeing with Nick as much and David will cut back on the anecdotes but since those seemed to be the well honed strategies, both may come across as nervous as they try desperately not to fall back into those old modes and risk looking like fools.

The only problem may be that it’s on Sky News which, apart from the potential for bias in the moderation, means that many people will rely on clips (despite the reach of digital television people can’t seem to find the top of the dial). If he makes any major gaffs they’ll be repeated over and over and over again. It just depends on the narrative and how fair the media wants to be.

But as we’ve seen by the sudden appearance of Nick on the cover of newspapers (unthinkable before Thursday), there’s a buzz around him of the kind that sells newspapers or makes people visit websites; the last thing they may want to do is piss off their potential readership by suggesting their new golden boy is no good, a flash in the pan. We’re uncharted territory now.

So that could be my natural pessimism. For the electoral polling map to change overnight like this feels unprecedented and like 1997 there is something in the air. Search for Clegg or “Lib Dems” on Twitter and watch the general outpouring of good will; if that is being replicated in the real world, and the polls suggest it is, anything could happen.

Anything is possible.

Cue late career, but not Deborah yet, Debbie Gibson:

Yes, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:20 pm

    They will come 3rd again. They'd have to have 50%+ of popular opinion to actually do anything I'm afraid. It's just how it works, first past the post and all that . . .