What’s going on in the British Isles?
I wanted to wait a bit until making an election preview post for the UK’s May 6th general election, something you probably all know about and are following with passion anyway. But the recent craziness of the electoral campaign and polling in the British Isles has forced me to do otherwise. A certain yellow party was polling between 20 and 22% a week ago, and now this same party is polling 30-33% and is even leading in some polls. What’s going on?
The Liberal Democrats were formed in 1988 by the merger between the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP). The LibDems have, thanks to a successful electoral strategy, been able to increase their representation and popular support from 17.8% and 20 seats in 1992 to 22.1% and 62 seats in 2005. They have, however, never been able to breakthrough lastingly at the national level, the result partly of the electoral system and low media coverage. The LibDems have had a rough ride this Parliament, first with the 2006 resignation for his past alcoholism problems of popular
Nobody knew who Nick Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam was, so his message of a third-way alternative to Tories and Labour didn’t resonate much but he did get the LibDems out of the polling straits they had been under Ming Campbell (as low as 13%). Yet, his message was and is one that can work. The idea of a fourth term for Labour, already in power since 1997, isn’t an appealing prospect to the majority of Britons and the Tories, rejuvenated under their young leader David Cameron, have led in polls since Gordon Brown took office in 2007. Yet, the enthusiasm of Cameron’s first days in leadership have worn down and the Conservatives aren’t as popular as they were back in 2006 or 2008. The recent expenses scandal in 2009 has hurt all sides, especially Labour, and has led to a generalized feeling of discontent with politicians and the two big parties, a discontent expressed in June 2009 by the high vote for the UKIP, BNP and Greens in the European elections.
The first ever televised debates between the big 3 leaders was held on April 15, and two others will be on April 22 and 29. This debate was the opportunity for Clegg, unknown to voters, to gain notoriety. And that he just did. He easily won the debate against Cameron and Brown, who did poorly. The result was huge. All polls since the debate have them over 29%, and up to 33% in some. YouGov on April 18 had them first with 33% against 32% for the Tories, while Labour is polling far behind in third place with 26% in YouGov’s poll but as low as 24% in today’s Angus-Reid (though Angus-Reid is more like ‘Tory-Reid’) poll.
A lot now depends if Clegg lives up to high expectations set for him for the two last debates. But there seems something lasting in this LibDem bump, and it is now extremely unlikely the LibDems will see a net drop in their share of the vote or seats nationally vis-a-vis 2005.
Playing around with the universal national swing (UNS) is always a stupid idea since it assumes that all seats will swing by the same amount on election day, which for is, for all intents, impossible. But with the craziness now, and since the LibDems are a party with some weird voting patterns, it’s even stupider. But it seems that on most of these polls, Labour would be the largest party in a hung parliament followed closely by Tories. Both would hold between 240 and 260 seats. The LibDems would win around 100 to 125 seats. The cool swingometer map on UKPollingReport shows that the LibDems would be strong in the southwest, especially in Cornwall (where they hold all seats already) and Devon.
May 6 will be fun, no matter what. But a likely very divided result could either lead to electoral reform because of a deal between LibDems and either Tories or Labour or to a new dissolution for a late 2010/early 2011 election if Tories and Labour don’t commit themselves to electoral reform, which will likely be the main demand of the LibDems after May 6. Their old plea for electoral reform will be strenghtened by the unproportional result of this election.