Last year the Fabian Society conducted a poll of its membership and asked if Fabians thought Liberal Democrats were ‘potential partners’ or ‘enemies’. It found an almost even split within our membership, with 44 per cent saying partners and 56 per cent saying enemies. Ahead of our trip to Liberal Democrat conference we wanted to explore in detail what people felt, so we put out a second poll looking at what both the ‘potential partners’ and the ‘enemies’ thought in detail about the yellow team.
Is Vince Cable the ‘Teflon politician’ the Lib Dems need to win back disaffected left leaning Lib Dems and form a Lib-Lab pact? Could he be the man that emerges from the coalition untainted by Cameron? Our poll suggests he could.
We asked our readers which Lib Dem leader you would prefer to work with in any Lib-Lab pact and the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly given his choice of text friends, was a call for Vince Cable to take the helm. He took 54 per cent of the vote overall and 64 per cent of those in the ‘partners’ category. While this shrunk to a more modest 38 per cent in the ‘enemies’ sample, second place was a long way back with Simon Hughes getting just 7 per cent of the vote, (interestingly Hughes was also second choice for the ‘partners’ with 12 per cent).
The poll also asked where Fabians felt Labour policy was furthest away from Lib Dem policy, 1 being very far away and 5 being very close. Unsurprisingly, it was the economy where our Fabians felt Labour and the Lib Dems were furthest apart with a score of 2.4.
On the face of it neither of these results are surprising, what is interesting is that the man responsible for a large chunk of coalition economic policy unpopular with the Fabians is also the man who Fabians feel they can most work with.
While our poll won’t pick up the fall-out from his sincere apology, it does seem that the popularity of Cable is only matched by hostility towards Nick Clegg. Our poll asked if his head on a block was a precondition of any Lib-Lab deal and 78 per cent of Fabians said that was the case. On our ‘preferred leader’ question Clegg finished joint bottom with just 3 per cent of respondents saying he was their choice. Clegg was even beaten by a ‘write-in candidate’ with more respondents putting former leader Charles Kennedy as their ‘other’ option.
Whereas Cable won the personal popularity contest despite his policy portfolio losing, the reverse was true for Ed Davey. His 3 per cent standing on preferred leader probably has more to do with name recognition than any particularly strong feelings towards him but if he was seeking to impress Fabians with his policy platform then he succeeded with a score of 3.3 overall, 3.6 for ‘partners’ and an extremely impressive 2.9 for ‘enemies’ – the only score with that sample that exceeded 2.5.
We also asked for written contributions more generally including what Fabians felt were the ‘red lines’ in any Lib-Lab pact. Abandoning Osbornomics and the reversal of changes to the NHS came out way ahead, whereas constitutional reform barely received a mention. Proof, if proof were needed, that the NHS is to Labour what constitutional reform is to the Liberal Democrats.