Image by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr
“Nick, the Electorate May Hate You but You Absolutely Have My Full Support”
Nick Clegg is telling the Liberal Democrats to hold their nerve, with the local elections approaching in May.
Don’t be cowed by what people are saying about us. Stick to the course.
he said at their Spring Conference in Sheffield.
He added for good measure, that it would not have been right after the general election to
retreat into a corner of perfect purity in opposition but complete incompetence.
I suspect he meant “impotence”, but who knows. Perhaps incompetence is at the forefront of his thoughts.
Mr Clegg’s defensive remarks are not surprising. At the general election last year, the Liberal Democrats received 23 percent of the vote. The most recent opinion polls then had put them on 28 percent. In that same election, UKIP polled 3.1 percent.
The most recent YouGov poll now puts UKIP on 6 percent – double the share they achieved at the general election. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are credited with just 9 percent support.
9 percent! Compared with a real result of 23 percent last time.
According to that opinion poll, UKIP support has doubled since that election. And Liberal Democrats have lost getting on for two thirds of their support.
At the Barnsley Central by-election last week, UKIP came second, handsomely beating even the Tories, while the Liberal Democrats trailed in sixth and lost their deposit.
And at Euro-elections, UKIP have consistently polled well, coming in a strong second after the Tories, and again very comfortably ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
At UKIP’s Spring Conference, Nigel Farage set the party the objective of supplanting the Liberal Democrats as Britain’s third party by the next general election. Looking at those opinion poll figures, the result in Barnsley Central, and the strong results that UKIP have delivered in Euro-elections, that objective looks solidly achievable.
Of course, Mr Clegg’s discomfiture is in no small part due to the fact that David Cameron has stolen all his clothes. From localism to “common sense” and “non-extreme” policies, the Tories have morphed into a distinctly yellowish shade of blue. Mr Cameron has calculated that this approach will gain him as many votes from the Liberal Democrats as it loses him to UKIP.
Mr Clegg has calculated that his approach, of going into coalition with the Tories, will get him a ministerial car and the meaningless title of Deputy Prime Minister.
Unfortunately for Mr Clegg, this leaves him and his party looking distinctly impotent – or incompetent, as the case may be.
They might have been impotent, or incompetent, or indeed both, in opposition. But in power, they are facing electoral meltdown in May.
Mr Farage is right. Because of the highly unusual political circumstances, UKIP really do have a historic opportunity to make a breakthough. In truth, to achieve their main objective, they don’t even need to win a general election. They just need to achieve enough seats to make the Tories dependant on them for power.
I suspect that in that scenario, the Tories would quickly rediscover their Eurosceptic credentials.