What are his party’s general election prospects?
This will be a day for the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, to savour. For in all the time that he’s been leader this is the first occasion when he came out of PMQs as the clear winner.
The anger and ferocity of his attack on Brown for Labour’s inflexible stance on the Ghurka issue hit home on all sides of the house and acted as a good trailer for this afternoon’s debate, on a subject chosen by his party, on the issue. It will also have enhanced his reputation at Westminster and given extra heart to party activists.
All this is important as we head into the general election – for to be seen to be smashing into Labour might help his party’s appeal in the key LD>CON marginal that the Tories are hoping to pick up. It should be remembered that 30 of the top 130 target seats for the Tories are held by Lib Dems where, as I’ve argued, a very different electoral dynamic will exist.
The Lib Dem were always going to be vulnerable to the charge here that they are too close to Labour and in a change election why risk voting for any other party than the main challengers to Brown’s government? Nick Clegg should be thanking Brown for the policy on the Ghurkas.
A key element in many of those LD>CON marginals has been the size of the Labour vote to squeeze. Thus the PoliticsHome marginals poll last year asked a prompted question over what people would do in their specific seats. In the south-west, the survey found that more than one in three Labour voters were prepared to switch to keep the Tories out and this was a key element.
Still it should be said that the PH home survey was forecasting that overall 44 Lib Dems would be returned compared with 62 in May 2005.
The LAB-LD battles are of a different nature and, again, Clegg’s party needs Tories to switch in seats where they are clearly the party to oust Labour. In the past Tory supporters have been more reluctant to vote tactically – will that change? We discussed the other day Brent Central where my money is on Sarah Teather to beat Dawn Butler in the battle between the two current MPs. The 15/8 that I got looks a good price.