This week Labour sees its underwhelming tow behind the Tories being given a drag forward after it was revealed by a another poll, this time by YouGov, that David Cameron’s flagship competition dropped to just two points ahead of it. Essentially what we are seeing is an ailing Gordon Brown having a chance to heal old wounds and stitch up the delays caused by a fragmentation of his ministerial wing (remember January’s failed coup d’état?) and various other embargos to progress, including the deluge of accusations last week following ‘insights’ into Brown’s character. It’s worrying how News International’s published spin equates so well to Cameron’s calls to nurse the pining baby Broken Britain back to health. “See,” the Tory shadow cabinet whispers to News International executives, “we told you, Gordon broke it. We saw him do it and now we’re dobbing him in – we’re the ones who know best.”
The polls themselves are always fun to examine, but all the fuss and furrowing over them seems a little superfluous. Do statistical representations – almost always produced through under-represented sampling – actually demonstrate to us the truth of national hopes for government? I highly doubt that they do. In fact, when the papers inform us that the party players and pundits are “startled”, “shocked” or “horrified” by the polls (some examples of the usual hypemes or buzz words that frequent the dailies’ lexicon), I scrutinise the effect of the polls on the electoral campaigns and conclude that no reasonable candidate for the next parliament or occupier of No.10 would turn sampling in the public sphere into an act of confession on their part. Did anyone hear Cameron declare how dubious the prospect of succeeding seemed after a gradual relegation from Cloud Nine status at Sunday’s Brighton conference? Politicians on both sides lack the time and touch to fritter away speeches on apologies for being so half-baked and average. Although polls give good indication of public opinions on parties, what matters most is securing seats, especially the targeted marginal ones. Just ask Lord Ashcroft about that.
In questioning the opinion poll ‘crisis’ I come next to that trailing yet always hopeful presence: the Liberal Democrat party. What, may I dare ask, is the reason for this party being included in reviews of the national electorate in the wake of a general election? Who deemed Nick Clegg’s easy-going bumble bee of a party deserving enough of a mention? Judging from my less-than-toxic metaphor of the Lib Dems it might sound like I am out to stifle their aims and achievements or emasculate them altogether. This is where I espouse the converse: I love the Lib Dem idea. There’s no doubting its appeal to a younger generation that is so often marginalised by some vacillating and pontificating political surgeons, who slice open issues, implant acts and reseal the incisions with fragile policies before sending it home with a prescription. But actually there is doubt. I know what liberal as a term means, as I do the same for democrat; but what of the blend into Liberal Democrat? I hear friends of mine, the emerging electorate, saying they are 100% faithful the Lib Dems will be recognised eventually – for what? And why do both I and others of a similar age gravitate towards this apparently impotent party?
I did a little background research and was delighted with the answer to my questions. The first area of Liberal Democrat policy that strikes me is the homage it pays to the utilitarian propositions that emanate from John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty, its book of office. The guiding principles of this philosophy immediately concur with the social and economic freedoms which the Lib Dems are so enthused with. Socially they are promoting progressive constitutional reform and greater civil liberties, while assuring the importance of the welfare state. Economically they are, unsurprisingly, liberally inclined towards free-trade and open markets – this corresponds with Scottish political economist Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the market (championing the idea of unrestrained free trade). But a party divide is drawn perpendicular to the party line, with both sides showing disagreement. Social liberals believe in welfare economics – society’s wellbeing guaranteed by collective national revenue leading to fairer distribution of wealth – whereas market liberals prefer the competitive drive of more private means to profit. Adam Smith would side with the market liberals; however, both are forms of economic freedom.
Despite the current polls – Tories 37%, Labour 35% and Lib Dems 17% – it is not difficult to understand why I and many other younger people are warmed to the Liberal Democrat party. The attraction is implicit in the title. When you’re young you think freely; you want freedom and you act free, even when you’re not necessarily in a position to do so. Democracy, as it stands, has a long way to go still. The theory is all there, although a bit patchy in places. What one of these parties needs to work on is the manifestation of the actual, not the recycling of impractical gibberish. “Oh no, baby Broken Britain’s bawling again. Better ease off those ‘swingeing’ cuts Dave.” Let’s hope at least one party manages to make some sense during the campaigns about to spew forth.