3% is all it takes….
A 3% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats will cost Labour its governing majority. Bear in mind this doesn’t take into account any swing from Labour to Conservatives and you begin to despair at the sanguine nature of Labour’s response today to the day after the debate before; it’s a true head/desk moment. Look at the response to the early reports today’s ComRes poll had shown a 14% swing to the Liberal Democrats; rather than immediately questioning the polls credentials ‘Labour aides’ were quoted as shrugging their shoulders; it’s an outlier they said. When weighted, the poll showed only a 3% increase in support for the Liberal Democrats and blushes were spared.
While it would be wrong to let every poll start a strategic stampede I think there is room for a rethink here for a couple of reasons. One of the key electoral weaknesses of the Liberal Democrats is summed-up by the word credibility and the reason the effects of the debate last night may well ripple right down to polling day is this is what was gained by Nick Clegg last night. This is why Liberal Democrat poll ratings tend to improve during election campaigns; media exposure gives them credibility. I said at the beginning of this campaign momentum was the key word and this has given Clegg that and will give a fresh impetus to Lib Dem campaigns across the country.
However, it is a huge strategic mistake to try and undermine their credibility as a potential government or be dismissive as Michael Gove especially was today. As a third party all the credibility that is needed is that of being a worthwhile protest vote; not a worthwhile party of government. At a certain point credibility as a potential government will become an issue but hang-on; we are not there yet. It is therefore profoundly misguided for Labour to take the same approach to attacking the Lib Dems as they do the Conservatives whose credibility as a potential government they do have to undermine. Furthermore, it’s a truth that alot of Liberal Democrats are close in their value-judgments to Labour supporters so this is not a debate between opposites but that between squabbling cousins in the back of the family car.
However, in it’s own way this makes the discussion more vehement because we are contesting the same values; even in the case of ‘fairness’, the same slogan. A microscopic dissection of Lib Dem policies therefore wont cut the mustard – Labour has to discredit the claim that Liberal Democrat policies represent ‘fairness’ and that will require strong, robust arguments not molly-coddelling. This is especially true when it comes to the economy which is rapidly emerging as Labour’s strongest card; Nick Clegg noticeably slithered around questions about the deficit last night; rightly assuming endless protestations of ‘straight talking’ would hoodwink watchers.
At the moment you get the dangerous impression that Labour’s leadership is preparing for a hung-parliament before a single vote has been counted. After the election there may well be time for discussion and agreement and moving forward together; something that may well be welcome, however, now is not that time. This is an election campaign and that 3% is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes the price complacency could carry.