Nick Clegg Pledges to Stand in 2015

Nick Clegg has announced that he intends to stand for election in the 2015 General Election and will remain the leader of the Liberal Democrats.  He has also confirmed that he will stand again in his constituency of Sheffield Hallam.

I have long thought that the only way the Liberal Democrats stand a chance of avoiding being wiped out in the 2015 election is to get rid of Nick Clegg as soon as possible.  Clegg, for right or for wrong, has become among the country’s most hated and least trusted politicians as a result of his decision to enter into a coalition government with the Conservative Party.  The government has broken many Liberal Democrat manifesto promises, most famously not to introduce tuition fees in England and Wales – which has severely depleted Lib Dem support from one of its largest bases: students.  His leadership has seen the party decline from a peak of over 20% in opinion polls down to an average of 10%, and dramatic losses in local council elections, as well as in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.  The party has also failed in its other aims, such as to replace the First Past the Post electoral system and to reform the House of Lords.

I do not personally believe Clegg deserves this level of public anger – government policies would be far worse with a Conservative majority – but it is obvious that few will be willing to vote for a party he represents.  His image was even used in the ‘Vote no to AV’ campaign leaflets as a reason to vote ‘no’ in the referendum! (“Voting yes would make this man happy”)…  If the Liberal Democrats are to go forward and regain any of the trust they lost, as unfair as it is, Clegg will have to go.

Current Opinion Polling

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The UK has seen a shift in opinion polling since the general election in 2010.  For those who have forgotten (how could you?!), the results were:

Conservative Party        – 306 seats (36.1% of vote)

Labour Party           – 258 seats (29% of vote)

Liberal Democrat Party – 57 seats (23% of vote)

Others                           – 29 seats (11.9% of vote)

As we all know, no party had enough seats for a majority so a Convervative-Liberal Democrat coalition was formed.  Since the election, however, the polls (I shall use Yougov for the figures in this post) have shown differing levels of support for the parties.

Firstly there was a massive drop in support for the Liberal Democrats, down to as low as 8% at times – the lowest a Liberal party has recorded since 1980.  This isn’t surprising, as many of the party’s supporters will see the decision to enter a coalition as a betrayal, particularly after the broken pledge to not introduce tuition fees and the failure of the “Yes to AV electoral system” campaign in the 2011 referendum.  This decline has correlated with a rise in support for Labour, suggesting that many former Liberal Democrat supporters have now turned to the party.  These polls certainly reflect in results of recent elections; the Liberal Democrats have lost hundreds of council seats in elections in 2011 and 2012, and were wiped out in the Scottish Parliament election 2011 with their worst ever result, losing 12 seats.

Secondly there has been the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which despite never having won a seat in the House of Commons is currently polling at around 8%.  This has been at the expense of the Conservative Party, which has also seen a drop in the polls since the election – although not as significant as that of the Liberal Democrats.  This suggests that Conservative voters are more supportive of the government than Liberal Democrat voters.  This change can be attributed to the growing debate over our membership within the European Union, with Prime Minister David Cameron seeming weak over the issue by certain sections of the Conservative Party.

So, according to the polls, if there were to be an election today the results would look something like the following:

Labour Party           – 374 seats* (42% of vote)

Conservative Party        – 231 seats (33% of vote)

Liberal Democrat Party – 20 seats (9% of vote)

Others (including UKIP) – 25 seats (16% of vote)

UKIP                               – ?** seats   (8% of vote)

* Seats calculated using this basic tool.

**No swing calculator has yet included UKIP into the calculations, so we can only guess how they would perform in an election.

These results would give Labour a clear majority in the House of Commons.  Be that as it may, there is reason to believe this is not how the 2015 election will pan out.  The polls are very likely to change between now and then, particularly in the run-up to the election during the midst of campaign season, and significant events may occur to cause a shift in opinion.

There is also the possibility that people polled in these surveys will vote differently during the actual election.  A long-term Conservative supporter may see UKIP attractive now, but when actually voting they may consider their traditional choice a better option in terms of running the country.  UKIP will certainly see an increase in votes if these polling results continue and I would expect them to win their first seats, but I do not believe they will achieve as much as 8% in the election.  The same goes for the Liberal Democrats; the party will be extremely lucky to keep all of its seats, but it is unlikely that in another three years’ time they will be wiped out quite as much as the polls suggest.

Although an indicator of how current opinion is flowing, the polls at this stage ultimately do not shine much of a light into how the parties will perform in the 2015 general election.