Polls don’t and shouldn’t matter to Liberal Democrats, so says Paddy Ashdown. The ex-Lib Dem leader managed to whip activists into a yellow-tinged frenzy this afternoon at a packed out polling discussion. Ashdown refuted that his party has been smothered with an ‘atmosphere of political gloom’ and ordered the rank and file to ‘ignore these polls and get on with the politics’. However, an overview of Times/Populus polling on voting intentions presented at the discussion highlighted how the Lib Dems’ fortunes have changed since the election:
Ashdown insisted this is nothing to worry about, citing Margaret Thatcher as an occasionally unpopular leader who was still able to win elections. With the ‘best party leader for 100 years’; Ashdown said he was confident that British public will come to a positive conclusion about the Lib Dem’s role in government:
‘Liberal Democrats shouldn’t be obsessed with opinion polls. We are in government, informed by liberal principles and our courage will take us right through to polling day…our electoral dividend then will be completely different from these [Populus] sets of figures’
Besides residing in fourth place in the above poll behind UKIP, the Lib Dems also still face a significant challenge to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives. As the slides below highlight, the Tories appear to be reaping the benefits from the government’s successes:
The figures do present a slight inkling of good news. 78 per cent of Lib Dem voters now believe a Liberal Democrat vote is not a wasted vote, up 4 per cent from May 2011. Two per cent more of Lib Dem voters also think their party have made a positive contribution to government.
What about Nick Clegg? Ashdown conceded that the party leader ‘isn’t as popular as we’d like him to be’ but said that Clegg’s current unpopularity is the ‘price to pay for doing difficult things’. When questioned about the future of this (or any) coalition, Ashdown demonstrated his classic distrust of other parties:
‘I have friends in other parties, I even text them sometimes. It’s grown up politics to have friends in other parties. When people ask why we are in coalition, it is because we are servants of the electorate. I hate the Tories — I fought them all my life — but it was the judgement of the electorate. I hate Labour too!’
Lord Ashdown’s appearance at this small event was by far the most enthusiastic and interesting speech I’ve seen at this conference so far. Unlike many of the main hall speakers, he was convincingly optimistic and realistic about the Lib Dem’s future electoral prospects. Judging by the comments of those leaving the room, he managed to inspire the rank and file members and reassure them that their campaigning efforts are not wasted. The present Liberal Democrat leader has tough competition when he attempts the same task later this week.
Thanks to Rick Nye of Populus for providing us with the slides above.Tags: Lib Dem conference 2012, Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Polling, UK politics