It is Conference Season. I have not been to a LibDem Conference for time – mostly money, mostly becuase the only benefit ordinary members get from such things is the occasional bad photograph with a prominant face for the FOCUS. Sadly this always used to mean a gurning Lembit Opik (where has he gone, by the way) or a bored Vince Cable. Conference is the chance we get to form our party’s agenda, but the whole event is a draw only to the most committed anoraks.
Whatever happens at Conference, the thoughts will always be on the next General election. If all goes well – that is, if an election is called after Parliament agrees the planned boundary changes, and Ed Balls gets nowhere with his Judicial Review against plans to abolish his constituency, the next election will be run on entirely new boundaries in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Labour will begin with a significent loss due to an increase in larger rural seats more likely to vote Conservative. The LibDem vote appears to have been largely squeezed, as a raft of election prediction web sites are pointing out.
I have taken a number of recent opinon polls, and using the basic averaging out of figures, have an opinion poll average of the past month of Labour 34.5%,.Conservative 32.5%, LibDems 20.0%, discouting others. This seems highly reasonable and credible, and would result, with all the usual caveats, in a Labour majority of 38, and a LibDem collapse from 60 seats to 48. Moving the LibDems up to 22% – about the very highest you could agree on as a credible LibDem figure – and the predictions suggest no change from last year’s election. I can find very few recent polls giving the party anything like 22%. Almost all sit the party no higher than 20%, which is 2% lower than the result of the last election. It seems the party are stuck – the leadership is not attracting media attention, certainly does not reach out to floating voters, and policy ideas seem stuck and ill-defined. If the polls are credible and realistic, the results could see a collapse not seen since the formation of the party, and if I see Cameron’s redifined liberal conservatives attracting the natural centre ground vote on such a squeezed support base, a collapse is all the credible predictions could possibly suggest.
Conference will be optimistic, they always are, but the polls do not look good.