The lurking threat of UKIP may be filling column inches, but Liberal Democrat defectors compromise the floating vote paramount to election success.
How many times have we seen Nick Clegg insist that his party are still of vital importance to the electoral agenda? That his “party of the centre” hold the fine balance between Labour intemperance and Conservative impotence. He insists that the Liberal Democrats are the ‘party of government’, ready and prepared to restrain the excesses of Cameron or Miliband. To most, this strikes of straw-clutching desperation; the type where you drop the straws and split the rear side of your trousers trying to gather them up. Indeed, the polls confirm the level of Clegg’s electoral hallucinations; the Lib Dems haven’t been able to regularly push beyond 10 or 11 points, and since Clegg’s knockout defeats to Nigel Farage over the EU, the Yellow side of Westminster have seen their popularity drop consistently below 10 points.
True, the Lib Dems may hold the power brokerage in any coalition negotiations next May, but this will be a negotiating position damaged beyond repair when in government. Indeed, 30 or 40 MPs may be enough to ensure a government majority in the Commons, but it will not scare Cameron or Miliband to the negotiating table once the wheels of motion start turning.
What few account for however, is the importance that Lib Dem defectors will have on the result in 2015. UKIP’s astronomic rise to the forefront of the political pantheon is the trending issue at the minute. Understandably, commentators have been attracted to the rising star rather than the rapidly falling pretender, but we cannot ignore the significance of those who once supported the nascent protagonist Clegg.
Indeed, despite much pontificating by the press, it seems that the success Farage’s ‘fruit cakes’ may affect the main two parties relatively similarly. UKIP will pick the pockets of the Conservatives and Labour alike, running away giggling with hands full of former old Labourites who dislike the EU and hate the political establishment- as well as middle-class rural Tories disillusioned by Cameron’s ‘wet’ Conservatism.
Consequently, the election will not pivot on the fortunes of Nigel Farage- despite how much he would love it to- it will actually centre primarily on who can gather the lost votes of the Liberal Democrats.
And, fortunately for Labour, this is an area the party’s election strategists have exploited so far. They have realised that despite the fact that a large majority of Lib Dem voters have gone AWOL, that their protest is not toward the policies of the party, but their implementation. Indeed, Clegg is right, the Lib Dems hold a progressive middle-ground balance, encompassing modern values of social and economic liberalism. Yet, to put it bluntly, many voters- and especially former Lib Dems- could not care less anymore. Clegg may insist vigorously that his party has policies, but when the electorate believe he has sold its body and soul to the Tories, there is little substance left for them to cling onto. Thus, in a move that initially seemed dangerously counterintuitive, Labour have been seen to actively align themselves with the Lib Dems in recent months, adopting policies such as the Mansion Tax and housing investment as their own. Far from the incipient moves toward a coalition agreement however- as many have assumed- Labour’s strategy is designed to ruthlessly plunder Lib Dem electoral support. Labour are giving voters Liberal Democrat policies, without the Liberal Democrats. A ploy they hope will swing the electoral balance in their favour come May next year.
Moreover, Labour know they hold the upper hand when it comes to attracting former Lib Dems. Nick Clegg may have sold his soul to the devil, but in this scenario David Cameron is el diablo himself- despite the Prime Minister’s otherwise messianic illusions.
The UKIP cult may be amassing support, creating a smokescreen of weak southern ale and peculiar tweed jackets, but it’s Lib Dems who will decide the next election. They are the disenchanted masses, the ones who trusted so greatly in 2010 and received a kick in the face in return. And the Labour Party is ideally placed to benefit.