NEWS & Views

Lessons for the political parties from the PLMR poll


Whilst Nick Clegg has chosen this weekend to pick a fight with the Conservatives over free schools, a new poll, commissioned by PLMR, may give the Conservatives some economic ammunition to fight back with.

It turns out that the David Cameron leading the Tories governing alone would be more trusted to manage the economic recovery than any coalition government involving the current Deputy Prime Minister.

None of the current crop of political leaders and leadership contenders fared particularly well in our poll of 1885 adults, conducted for us by YouGov, between the 16th and 17th October. 58% of British adults would not trust a Conservative government led by David Cameron to manage the economic recovery.  Unfortunately though for Nick Clegg, this figure starts to look quite good compared to the 64% who would not trust the current coalition pairing.

Conservative backbenchers will be strengthened in their call to ditch their coalition partners at the earliest possible opportunity. Liberal Democrats however will need to ask themselves some serious questions about why they are failing to get any political credit for the apparent turnaround in the economy.

How much, if at all, would you trust the following to manage the country’s economic recovery?

There is some comfort for Nick Clegg in that his nearest rival for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable would struggle even more to inspire confidence that he could help steer a coalition government recovery programme. David Cameron might also be pleased to see that, his rival, Boris Johnson’s economic standing with the electorate is not that good either (although the London elections seemed to show that Boris has an ability to defy political conventions and remains popular in spite of, or perhaps because of, his well known failings) Labour strategists might want to have a glance at the very low level of trust that voters would place in a theoretical government led by Ed Balls, as he appears pretty close to the bottom of the heap. Worrying of all for the Liberal Democrats though is that a Clegg/Miliband coalition looks like the nightmare scenario for voters with a measly 19% having faith in that the economic prowess of that particular potential partnership.

“It’s the economy, stupid” is a cliché according to YouGov’s Joe Twyman, “because it’s true.” Speaking at a breakfast event PLMR hosted last week Joe and a panel of MPs from all three main parties agreed that the next election will be fought on the economy.

Joe Twyman argued in an article in the Fabian Review and also on the YouGov website that as the economy starts to look less bleak, Labour’s lead over the Conservatives shrinks. Labour is still blamed for the recession and as economic news improves the Conservatives are reaping an electoral reward. So why then is there no corresponding leap for the Liberal Democrats? The answer may lie in the increasingly argumentative and hostile approach to coalition government taken by the junior partner.

The recent Lib Dem reshuffle points towards where the Lib Dem strategy is going wrong. The removal of Jeremy Browne from the Home Office seemed odd. To remove one of the coalition’s most loyal advocates and probably the most Tory friendly minister, from the government and replace him with the prickly, argumentative and conspiracy theorist, Norman Baker was decidedly peculiar. The Lib Dem approach to the reshuffle resembled the way Come Dine With Me producers seek out dinner party guests who will actively hate each other. It might make for entertaining TV but doesn’t make for good government.

Lib Dem strategists seem to think that being seen to squabble with the Conservatives will help electorally. Showing the differences between the two parties and bringing the previously private disagreements into public view may appease restless party activists but it doesn’t look good to ordinary voters. As a lifelong and loyal Liberal Democrat myself, I think the party’s strategists are making a big mistake.

If the coalition looks fractious, bad tempered and divided voters will be turned off and they will blame the Liberal Democrats. For voters unimpressed by coalition, the simplest way to prevent a future coalition is to resist the temptation to vote Liberal Democrat. Liberal Democrats need to be seen to be enthusiastic champions of the coalition especially if the economy is really beginning to recover.

Meanwhile there is good news for local politicians in the PLMR poll

Tip O’Neill, the longest serving speaker of the US House of Representatives famously said that, “All politics is local,” and the PLMR poll shows that it is local politicians who really “get it” when it comes to the impact of the economy on people’s lives.

Only 30% of Britons think that the coalition government understands how the economy affects them and their family. The official opposition doesn’t fare much better with only 31% thinking that Ed Miliband and his team understand. However, when we asked people whether they thought that their local MP, their local council or their local councillors got it, the numbers were higher (34%, 35% and 34% respectively). Regardless of party affiliation, local politicians are understandably thought to be a little more in touch.

How much, if anything, do you think that the following understand about how the economy affects you and your family?

Sadly, after decades of centralisation, stripping power and autonomy from local authorities, few local politicians have the confidence or inclination to take responsibility for the really driving forward the economy in their patch.

PLMR works with a number of growing businesses, charities and associations who all make a huge contribution towards the growth of the economy and are keen to do even more. Any political leader or aspiring political leader who wants to be seen to care about the impact that the recession has had on people’s lives could do a lot worse than meeting some of the wonderful people we work with who, between them have a manifesto filling quantities of imaginative ideas to spearhead the recovery.

PLMR Senior Consultant Steven Gauge is a former aide to Liberal Democrat Leader’s Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg and oversaw campaign visits for them both during the 2010 and the 2005 general elections.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,885 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 17th October 2013.  The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). A full copy of the poll information is available from PLMR.

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Steven Gauge

Senior Consultant & Head of Training & Conferences

Steven is a senior consultant advising a wide range of clients including major national charities, national and international sporting bodies and leading businesses in the health and care sectors. An experienced and accomplished executive coach, trainer and facilitator he leads strategy workshops and focus groups for PLMR clients to help senior management teams and business ...

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