YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 41%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%. It’s the lowest Lib Dem score YouGov have ever shown, and as far as I can tell the lowest Liberal Democrat score any pollster has shown since September 1990, over 20 years ago.
I’ll add my normal caveats about not getting too excited about a single poll, new extreme highs and lows for parties do tend to be the outliers, but nevertheless, the fact that we’ve got our first 8% for the Lib Dems suggests that their support is still on a downwards trend. It is probably no co-incidence that this comes after several days of the Liberal Democrats internal ructions over tuition fees have been all over the political headlines.
Responding to the recent education cuts, Caroline Lucas, Leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion, said “The huge hikes in tuition fees, together with the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance and proposed cuts in college funding, amount to nothing less than a Government assault on our young people – and an attack on the principles of universal education.”
She also countered the Governments claims that rises in tuition fees are the only way to fund the gap left by the 80% cut to the teaching grant given to universities. “There are alternatives. For example, a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies would require business to pay its fair share for the substantial benefits it receives from higher education. Tragically, such alternatives haven’t even been looked at. Instead we have this ill-considered policy rushed through in the face of huge public opposition.”
Meanwhile, Adam Pogonowski, a Young Green councillor in Cambridge, said, “This is a shocking and depressing vote against universal free education. The Green Party is the only party who believes in fair and free education for all. I urge all voters to vote for a party who will not break such fundamental promises with such flagrant disregard for those who elected them, in the local elections next May.”
Rising unemployment will cost the government £1.5bn more than expected in welfare benefits, according to official forecasts that reveal the hidden cost of the coalition’s austerity drive.
As big increases in VAT are due to bite from Tuesday, analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility shows slowing economic growth will make it harder to reduce the deficit by forcing more people to seek state support.
The Treasury watchdog calculates the government will have to pay out £700m more in unemployment benefit than previously forecast. Similarly, a higher number claiming jobseeker’s allowance as well as falling into lower wage brackets will see the government needing to pay out another £700m more in housing assistance over the next four years.
One could read the faint desperation in the Deputy Prime Minister’s New Year message. It was directed not at the country but at his remaining party activists. He listed concessions apparently wrung from the Conservatives: some 800,000 lifted out of income tax and a pupil premium set up in schools. It is a list that Cameron is keen to lengthen, possibly by abolishing control orders and reforming the Lords. Ken Clarke’s policy of reducing prisoner numbers has been thrown in for free. There have been concessions galore.
Little wonder, then, that Lib Dem strategists talk in private about a “reverse takeover” of the Conservative Party, though much good it does them in the outside world. At least a third of their supporters have defected and they expect to be routed in the May elections. Losing the referendum on changing the voting system to AV would compound the misery. Clegg emerges not as a victor but a dupe and perpetrator of a monstrous betrayal over tuition fees. No matter how hard he tries to portray his party as the good guys in a two-party coalition, voters are not buying it. This looks, talks and walks like a merger.