Thursday, May 05, 2011

Believing the polls

If we believe the final polls before today's votes, then the UK may look rather different tomorrow.

If we believe the polls, the Liberal Democrats will receive a pasting: set to lose up to half their seats on Scotland and several hundred council seats across the country, the party may also be facing a major setback in its quest for British political reform, with the rejection of the AV voting system. Many journalists are forecasting a party in meltdown, with early leadership challenges coming to Nick Clegg.

If we believe the polls. the the SNP is set to win close to an outright majority at Holyrood, which will finally give them the opportunity to stage their own referendum on whether of not Scottish separatism should break up the UK.

I am not sure how much we should believe the polls, or in any event I am not sure about the message that they convey. I think that the Liberal Democrats will take some heavy punishment, and I am braced for some sad results, yet in fact the party has actually recovered a little from the nadir of 11%, if we believe the polls. In fact I hear reports from across the country that the campaign has gone well, and that far from being disheartened and divided, there is a mood of grim determination. Far from May 5th being the beginning of the end of the Liberal Democrats, I think the story may become that in the face of extremely adverse circumstances, the party turns out to be more resilient than was predicted, and more resilient than our political enemies- both inside and outside the coalition- hope.

The fly in the ointment though would be the failure to get a change to our absurd electoral system. The conservatives- both Labour and Tory- will say that the rejection of AV would mean that the British people do not support any change to the electoral system. This is a position that the Liberal Democrats will- and must- reject. While the process of electoral change will now move to the reform of the House of Lords, which the coalition agreement frames as a largely or wholly elected body, selected by a proportional voting system. No referendum is mandated for this change, and it will be more vital than ever that it is completed before the end of this Parliament. In the end though, despite the fact that the commentariat will insist that the project for electoral reform is dead, the party must redouble its efforts to put the case for a more open political system, including comprehensive electoral reform. In my view the various electoral systems we currently use- including AV at Scottish local by-elections incidentally- should be rationalised into the best system, and that system is a single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. The cynicism of Gordon Brown led to the side track of AV: we must not get fooled again.

So as we vote today, I am braced for a poor showing for my party, but I am also hopeful that we will also pull off one or two surprises on an otherwise gloomy night. I think we will do a lot better than our national poll rating shows at present, I do not think that the party will go into meltdown, or anything like it. We are a party that has grown inured to adversity and we will be able to cope.

For those of us who joined the Liberal Party- in my case over thirty years ago- well, we have seen many ups and downs. We have even seen a time, just after the merger, when the party support could barely be measured statistically at all. So, we really have stared a meltdown in the face and we know what it looks like.

Even if we do believe the polls, the Liberal Democrats will still be fighting for our Liberal beliefs on Friday.

Even if we do believe the polls, the Liberal Democrats will still be in government on Friday.

Even if we do believe the polls, the Liberal Democrats can most definitely recover and rebuild.

Of course the shock of the evening may not be the Liberal Democrats at all, after all the expectations of the media for them could hardly be lower. On the other hand, a poor result for Labour is not in the media script, and that could leave the Lib Dems very well placed indeed for a recovery that seems beyond all hope today.

Beyond all hope that is, if we believe the polls.

1 comment:

Newmania said...

I do not agree with you about AV but I would not be overly concerned about the Polls. If you thought you could be centre and far left in government then you were always going to be disappointed.
I am not precisely sure what values you think you have that are Liberal as opposed to my presumably illiberal ones and I struggle to see how such a thin sliver of difference justifies a whole Party of the centre right.
Laws,Clegg and others would be welcome as Conservatives.