So writes Peter Riddell in today’s Times, with the newspaper’s annual ‘state of the parties’ opinion poll:
A plus point for Mr Clegg is that the party’s image has improved over the past year after slipping previously. On five out of eight measures of the main characteristics of parties, the Lib Dems are now regarded more favourably than either Labour or the Conservatives, particularly on being in touch with ordinary people. For instance, there has been a 15-point jump over the past year to 63 per cent in the number saying the Lib Dems are “for ordinary people, not just the best off”.
The party is trying to convey this message with its new redistributive tax proposals. This compares with 48 per cent for Labour and 37 per cent for the Tories.
Similarly the Lib Dems are way ahead on caring about the problems faced by ordinary people (61 per cent, up 13 points over the past year), understanding the way people live their lives (51 per cent, up 11 points), and being honest and principled (59 per cent, up 13 points). The party is just ahead on “shares my values” at 44 per cent, up 3 points. But it is in second place on having a good team of leaders (at 34 per cent, up 3 points, compared with 49 per cent for the Tories); on being competent and capable (on 37 per cent, up one point, against 53 per cent for the Tories); and being a united party (on 50 per cent, plus two points).
By contrast, twice as many voters believe the Tories are united than last year (at 60 per cent, against 30 per cent), with the Labour rating plunging from 53 to 23 per cent.
But the Lib Dems have not been able to translate this favourable image into a belief that they have the best policies on key issues. The party is only ahead on tackling climate change, at 31 per cent, against 23 per cent for the Tories. In most areas the party lags well behind both the Tories and Labour.
Peter Riddell’s full piece also contains some less good news, particularly on questions around whether people believe the Liberal Democrats could win a general election. The more people who like the party and find it credible the better, and there’s no room for complacency, but it’s arguable whether his pessimistic interpretation of these other figures really stands up. This is because winning, say, 30% of the vote would be a fantastic result at the next election, and yet with that also meaning 70% voting for other parties, it leaves plenty of room for lots of people not to like the Liberal Democrats.