Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 1/31: Are the Liberal Democrats facing decades in the political wilderness after shooting themselves massively in the foot by alienating their largest area of voting support ie. students and first time voters? (from Franchesca Pueller via Facebook)


Politics You would think so given the vitriol which has been directed at the party and its leader Nick Clegg over the past few months. The Lib Dems have gone from being the party “everyone” ignores, to loves, to hates within the space of about six months or the space of a single series of Have I Got News For You, which isn’t bad going considering they’ve already generally been in the political wilderness for a couple of decades without much influence at least on a national level.

After being a supporter for nearly two decades, I’m currently in a kind of ideological limbo, absolutely understanding why they decided to enter a coalition with the Tories (rather than a simple "understanding"), accepting the reasons for many of the cuts, appreciating that to an extent they’ve become the political fall guys for another party which is attempting to show a human face, but also unable to defend many of the more idiotic decisions, such as the garotting of the arts and the BBC.

To an extent, especially in relation to the tuition fee debarkle (for want of whichever word you're thinking of), the Lib Dems have been unlucky because they’re being criticised for the very thing that set them apart from the other two main parties during the last election and before – being specific about their manifesto pledges.  The Tory manifesto is a bit tentative on the point and has this to say on the subject (including repayments):
- consider carefully the results of Lord Browne’s review into the future of higher education funding, so that we can unlock the potential of universities to transform our economy, to enrich students’ lives through teaching of the highest quality, and to advance scholarship; and,

- provide 10,000 extra university places this year, paid for by giving graduates incentives to pay back their student loans early on an entirely voluntary basis.
With an additional promise to “pay the student loan repayments for top Maths and Science graduates for as long as they remain teachers” (something we've not heard much about since). The Lib Dem Manifesto, though mentioning the word "student" less, dedicates a whole section, employing much more direct language:
Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.
In government, the coalition have cut funding to universities and are effectively making up the shortfall by letting the universities increase tuition fees three fold saddling students with the extra debt (though they won’t have to pay the required loans back until they’re earning £21k up from £15k).  Which is a bit different to Scotland where tuition fees have been scrapped altogether.  Now, what's unfair?

Essentially, if the Lib Dems had blanded things out and not done what they’ve always done which is make eye-catching pledges and silly photo-opportunities in a desperate attempt to get noticed, pledges they assumed they'd never have to put into practice (still generally only managing to be eighth in the news running order even on the Today programme), they wouldn’t be in the position of being charged with giving up their principles or some such now.

I don't know the extent to which this will effect the young vote.  Many of the students protesting now and saying that they'll never vote Liberal Democrat again will be in a different life position in four years time and although we all have the ability to hold grudges, as we've discovered time and again, people also have very short memories when it comes to politics.  Voter intentions can flip in a matter of days, even hours, especially in this mad new wired world.

To give a specific answer to your question, at a local level, things definitely are shifting. Councillors are defecting and strongholds like Liverpool have fallen to Labour who will no doubt have a resurgence as the curious split between who people will trust with their bin collection and who they’ll trust with their defence heads off in a different direction favouring red rather than gold with independents and small fringier parties also reaping some of the benefits.

But I don’t think the Westminster Lib Dem vote is actually going to wobble that significantly next time, despite the exodus too of some disgruntled ex-Labour voters back to their natural home. Even though Lib Dems like me don’t like the many of the cuts and don’t like what's being nodding through, we're also still so anti-Tory and anti-Labour that we’re really rather stuck. We might go Green, or we might not bother to vote, but we inherently want to take part properly in the political process which means holding our noses if we have to.

To take that a step further, here’s my prediction for what will happen in 2015.  Because of the cuts, the Tory vote will decrease, the perennially undecided heading to Labour instead, but because of uncertainly over an untested party leader, not enough for Labour to have a majority, the proportion of the vote we saw last time essentially reversing with the Lib Dems piggy in the middle again. Then it’ll be up to Milliband and Labour to decide whether they believe the Lib Dems aren't too toxic to form a coalition with or if they’ll just go it alone...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:26 pm

    I disagree that the Lib Dem Westminster vote won't falter. They lost seats in the last election and that was in the midst of 'Cleggmania'. If the Lib Dems couldn't use that to their advantage, they've no hope.

    One thing we have to remember is that, especially for myself and many of my friends, this election is the first time many people have voted. In the midst of the usual Labour-Conservative shouting match, so many people saw Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems as a breath of fresh air, and the tuition fees pledge WAS the decision breaker for them.

    With this in mind, coupled with the disillusionment shared by many of my age group towards the main three parties, we're angry. And the Lib Dems will pay for their broken promises. We've had enough.