The latest Lord Ashcroft poll does not look very promising for Liberal Democrats in terms of the upcoming General Election. The poll estimates that eight marginal seats in the Liberal Democrat battleground are at risk of falling to Conservative or Labour. Perhaps the most unsettling prediction of the party’s election prospects is the fact that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is set to lose his seat. Should the Lib Dems be worried that Clegg has lost his credibility as the party leader?
A recent poll from YouGov revealed that out of the leaders of the main parties, including Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg received the highest scores when respondents were asked who was doing the worst job as a party leader. And yes, Clegg’s conviction was even more brutal than the critic towards Ed Miliband’s leadership skills.
Is there a severe danger that Clegg will not have a seat in Parliament after the 7th of May? According to Liberal Democrats’ prospective MP candidate for Bournemouth West Mike Plummer, this risk is very realistic. The previously safe Liberal Democrat constituency of Sheffield Hallam looks likely to become a marginal one. If Clegg does manage to hold onto it, it will be with a significantly reduced majority.
Plummer, a lecturer at Bournemouth University in Business and Management, believes that Clegg deserves to keep his seat but the lack support for him in Sheffield Hallam is not a surprise. “I genuinely believe that Nick Clegg has played an important part in helping to get the country out of the recession,” Plummer says, though he admits that this might not be enough for him to keep his seat.
In the 2010 General Election, the Liberal Democrats succeeded in mobilising young voters, who now feel heavily betrayed after they reneged on their pledge to vote against any rises in tuition fees. The tripling of tuition fees during the coalition has no doubt affected the party’s credibility among young people as the current system of university finance looks here to stay.
Plummer agrees that the rise in tuition fees is the worst thing his party has ever done: “We managed to get 72 % of our manifesto promises through in the coalition. However we needed to give up on certain promises. One of these was education fees”.
What really annoyed Plummer was the Lib Dems’ unwillingness to admit that while their long-term hopes and ambitions were to offer free education, for the immediate future they were unable to do so.
“We have lost and it’s a great pity. The Greens will most likely pick up fair number of young votes,” Plummer says.
However Plummer believes that the battle of the votes will be particularly interesting in Dorset, a traditional Tory heartland with a lone Liberal Democrat constituency, Mid Dorset and North Poole, where Annette Brooke was MP till the dissolution of parliament at the end of March. This time around things might be changing since UKIP is predicted to snatch some of the Tory votes.
Yet not all of the young voters have lost their faith in the Lib Dems. Benny de Garis, Bournemouth University Politics & Media student, joined Salisbury’s Liberal Democrats a year ago. Their stance on electoral reform was a key issue for him since he doesn’t believe in the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system. “There was too much at stake with the deficit for it to ever have been a realistic policy,” de Garis comments on the Lib Dems promises not to raise tuition fees.
The Liberal Democrats might indeed have lost most of their younger support, but the main question is whether this will significantly reduce the amount of votes for them in the General Election.
Past experience suggests that students are motivated by policies that directly affect them and tend to vote based on their group interests. Yet the gap in turnout between younger and older voters is bigger in the UK than in any OECD country. The National Union of Students recently claimed the student vote could swing almost 200 seats, if every single student voted.
The British Election study reveals that in the 2010 General Election only 51.8 % of people aged 18-24 used their right to vote. If this number stays the same, it’s unlikely that young voters will determine the election result. In this case the feeling of deception among young voters would stay as it is, a feeling without any concrete implications.