How will the Lib Dems cope when the Blair era ends?

How will the Lib Dems cope when the Blair era ends?

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    Could the 2005 switchers go back to Labour?

With Ming Campbell waking up this morning to the poorest reviews of his short Lib Dem leadership a question the party has not really faced up to is the possible big loss of support when Tony Blair finally goes.

For the person the party can most thank for what they achieved at the General Election and maintaining their support in most surveys ever since has been the Prime Minister.

    Yet judging by the blogs of Lib Dem activists the obsession is still David Cameron and their loathing of him. There’s little serious attention to what happens when the Labour leadership changes – something that now seems more imminent than it did.

For whenever pollsters ask how people would vote without Blair as leader the Lib Dem share drops by about a tenth.

Typical was Tuesday’s Populus Poll where the headline figure for the Lib Dems was 20% – but that dropped to 18% when the “Gordon Brown as Labour leader” voting intention question was asked. Since General Election the maximum poll rating for the Lib Dems without Blair being there has been 20%

The polls fit in with the macro trends. For over the past decade there have been two major moves in voting behaviour. The first was the big switch from the Tories to Labour in 1997. The second was the move from Labour to the Lib Dems in May 2005 when Blair’s party dropped six points and Kennedy’s rose by almost the same amount. The Tory recovery that we have seen, and this is illustrated best by the London votes on Thursday, has come mainly from the former group.

It is those voters who switched to the Lib Dems last year who are most likely to be tempted back by the new Labour leadership. Many had been turned off by Tony Blair and once there’s a new leader how many will stick with their 2005 choice?

Gordon Brown, meanwhile, has been developing his own policy initiatives which seem designed with wavering Lib Dem supporters in mind. For this group of voters, surely, are the ones most likely to be influenced by the proactive lead he is taking on writing off third world debt and the backing of moves on AIDs in sub-Saharan Africa?

How can Ming Campbell deal with this? What policy ideas can his team develop to deal with the real threat. This is what the Lib Dems need to be thinking about – rather that David Cameron, who now seems more secure than ever as Tory leader.

Maye there’s a case for selling the Lib Dems on the Spreadfair Commons seat markets?

Mike Smithson

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