I was listening to Evan Davis interview Nick Clegg this morning. I like Evan Davis by the way, he sounds like such a comfortable, companionable interviewer. Then suddenly he chucks in a beast of a yorker. And so it was this morning – after 10minutes of matey chat he asked (and I apologise for this not being verbatim, but I was travelling to work, and using a pen whilst travelling along the A4 on a Vespa is less than ideal):
So, think forward a year – you have lost the AV referendum, your party is at 15% in the polls and you are co-conspirators to the most comprehensive rebalancing of the state since Lloyd George 100 years ago. How do you feel?
Credit to Nick, he answered as any good politician should, in that he didn’t really answer it at all. But Evan’s analysis must be the thing that keeps him awake at night.
The polls now have any referendum on AV as too close to call. Remember for most Lib-Dems this is seen, at best, as a stepping stone – if they lose this one, then the issue of electoral reform is dead for another generation – and with it you might assume the Lib-Dems chances of remaining a force in British politics.
Evan is being generous in his 15% poll rating. Most recent polls have had them down at 12-13%, one even had them in single figures. This is not because the Lib-Dems are doing anything unpopular, it is because no-one really understands what they are doing at all. Early Lib-Dem achievements such as the Freedom Bill have been hi-jacked by Tory ministers much more au fait with what it takes to be in power. As for the rest, well you only have to look at the likes of Vince Cable and Simon Hughes to see what senior Lib-Dems think about Free Schools, the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts and the wider dismantling of the welfare state. And there is the problem facing Clegg, for without AV the Lib-Dems have given up everything, including their identity, for nothing.