This week YouGov released a poll showing support for the Lib Dems has dropped to a feeble 9 per cent. Abandoning their policy on tuition fees threatens alienating a large part of their base—young people—from the party for years. Most predict annihilation for the Liberals in next year’s local elections. Time for Clegg & co to panic, right?
Apparently not. Despite nosediving in the polls, senior Lib Dem advisers and MPs are genuinely excited about the post-coalition prospects for their party. And with good reason.
A central problem for Liberals has always been that they are not seen as a credible option, a wasted vote that could never be in government. Now the public are seeing them in the newspapers and on TV daily, in government, making serious decisions. In a strange sort of way, the spending cuts could help them convey gravitas, showing that the Lib Dems are a governing party not just a pressure group.
Furthermore, a new dividing line is emerging in politics, favouring Liberals, of pluralism versus tribalism. The public like politicians working together to solve problems. If the Lib Dems enter into coalition with Labour in Scotland next year (a strong possibility), and make Westminster and Holyrood government work, voters could well favour pluralist, coalition government in the future. If people think Lib Dems are a serious force and coalitions are normalised, more people could be more likely to vote Lib Dems in a national election.
Another trend helps the Liberals. The old state vs free market dichotomy has gradually collapsed. The crash in 2008 strengthened this. Now, the centre-ground of politics is that the state and markets should both be utilised, but neither too dominant. As the economy heads for choppier waters and unemployment mushrooms, the antiquated battle of state versus market will rear its head again, forcing Labour and the Tories further apart. The Lib Dems could find an attractive political space oscillating between the two positions, attractive to the majority of the electorate who are sceptical of fixed models and answers.
Had the Liberals opted for coalition with their natural bedfellows, Labour, their identity could have been lost in a blur of agreement. With the Tories, they are more distinctive—able to show certain policies were implemented because of them: the pupil…