At last week’s two hour special meeting of the shadow cabinet Michael Ashcroft’s polling team gave a presentation on the state of public opinion. One of the conclusions was that the last two years had seen many Tory-inclined LibDem voters migrate to the blue corner. They had left behind a smaller party that was much more left-wing than it had been for a decade or so.
It’s too early to make big conclusions about Nick Clegg’s short period as leader – he was elected one month ago – but here are a few quick thoughts:
His election did not produce an opinion poll bounce. The LibDems are 0.2% higher in the latest ConservativeHome poll of polls than where they were just before Clegg was elected on the narrowest of margins. His most memorable intervention was his ‘I don’t believe in God’ remark.
Team Clegg: His top team is a strong one. Not as strong as ours (!) but stronger than Brown’s. Vince Cable at the Treasury continues to win considerable publicity on Northern Rock – more than George Osborne. Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne was assured on BBC1’s Question Time last night (on which Louise Bagshawe did very well). And Ed Davey will be a safe pair of hands at Foreign affairs.
PMQs: He’s done okay at PMQs – choosing safe topics – neither making a big impression but neither flopping in the ways that so damaged Ming.
Policy direction: Last week’s speech on the public services (watch highlights here) – Clegg’s first big speech as leader – was well received by some conservative commentators, including Matthew d’Ancona. MdA described the speech as "impressive" and "robust"; "this was Clegg back to his formidable best". Clegg has also promised to look at Britain’s Constitution and attacked Cameron’s support for marriage.
Hurdles: The big tests for Clegg will come in May. The LibDem’s Mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, is scoring only 7% against Boris and Livingstone. Clegg will need to have compensatory wins elsewhere in local elections (or a good parliamentary by-election campaign (there’s none scheduled)) if the Huhnistas aren’t to start dusting off their ‘Calamity Clegg’ dossier.
The political spectrum: But Danny Finkelstein lifts us above the immediate party political considerations and reflects on, what he hopes, might be the longer-term impact of the new LibDem leader:
"My hope for Clegg is that he will help tip politics in Britain to the centre right. With both Liberals and Conservatives standing for smaller central government and much more choice in public services the debate will, hopefully begin to change. The question marks are over Clegg’s ability to resist pressure from Liberal activists and over whether his choice of big issue to make his mark will be a centre right issue or a more traditional centre right one."