In leader Nick Clegg and business guru Vince Cable the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner to the Conservatives in the UK’s current coalition government, had two of the most popular and respected communicators at the time of the May general election.
But both are well and truly in the doghouse now following their decision to back the Government’s decision to allow student tuition fees to triple despite pledging at election time that they opposed an increase of any sort.
A new poll by Reuters/Ipsos Mori shows the Lib Dems trailing Labour (39 per cent) and the Tories (38) on a measly 11 per cent, down from the 24 per cent they polled in the election. Clegg, the blue-eyed boy of the televised election debates, is now the least popular party leader.
Clegg and Cable will no doubt argue that they expected to take a hit and that voters will realise in the end (or by the time of the next election) that they did the right thing, dishing out the pain to ensure that the government reduces the UK’s financial deficit.
Except that the higher charges won’t produce any more dosh until 2015, by which time the deficit is supposed to be more or less eliminated. But never mind.
But the ‘it’ll be all right on the night’ strategy rather overlooks the fact that the many Lib Dems who are not in the coalition government (and no doubt some who are) are rather keen to hang on to their seats and stay in a job. Clegg and Cable are both high profile enough to find gainful employment elsewhere, Clegg with the Tories possibly.
It also ignores the rumblings of discontent from right wingers in the Tory ranks who are unhappy with the elements of Lib Dem policy incorporated in the coalition’s programme. These MPs are saying that the coalition should have a short shelf life only until the worst of the financial crisis is over and the Tories can fight another election based on hostility to Europe and putting as many people in prison as possible (which is not what their justice secretary Ken Clarke wants to do, but they think he’s a barely-disguised Liberal anyway).
So that 11 per cent in the Ipsos Mori poll is a big, big problem.