In Depth

Could the Lib Dems win the next election?

Party tops general opinion poll for the first time since 2010 campaign

The Liberal Democrats have surged into first place in the polls ahead of the Tories, Labour and the Brexit Party, according to a new YouGov survey.

The shock opinion poll result, published in The Times, puts the Lib Dems on top with 24%, ahead of the Brexit Party, on 22%. Labour and the Conservatives are tied in third place on 19%, followed by the Greens on 8%.

The Lib Dem triumph marks the first time that the party has been in the lead since 2010, under the leadership of Nick Clegg. “This is definitive proof that Lib Dems are back in the game,” said MP Ed Davey, who is hoping to be the party’s next leader after Vince Cable steps down on 23 July.

What’s behind the resurgence?

The Lib Dems’ clear pro-Remain stance is the major factor in the party’s current popularity. Polling shows that almost 70% of voters believe Brexit is the most important issue facing the UK - so for those who want to reverse the 2016 referendum result, Cable’s party is an obvious draw.  

The recent spike in good publicity for the Lib Dems is also at play. As Stephen Bush notes in the New Statesman, the Lib Dems “have been in the news more recently, thanks in part to their stunning performances in the local and European elections”. 

And the competition between Davey and Jo Swinson to become the next Lib Dem leader “means that the party has had two of its best communicators on prime slots on Newsnight, the Today programme and BBC Question Time”, Bush adds. 

The internal battles within the Conservatives and Labour are likely to have helped the Lib Dems, too. A leader in The Times argues that the resurgent party’s gains “owe much to the woes of everybody else”.

Could they win an election?

Probably not, says the director of political research at YouGov, Anthony Wells, who argues that it is too early to write off the two-party system. 

Although the Lib Dems have undeniably enjoyed “a solid boost of publicity”, over time “the election results will fade from memory”, with the focus moving back “to the traditional parties”, he says.

Wells points out that it is “only two years since Labour and the Conservatives won a combined 82% of the votes in the election”.

Sky News agrees that the Lib Dems gains may prove temporary, noting that that the last time the party were in first place, it “proved to be something of a false dawn”. Having led after the first ever TV prime ministerial debate during the 2010 general election campaign, support for the Lib Dems faded, and they ended up with five fewer MPs than in the previous parliament.

Despite such warnings, Davey has ruled out a coalition with Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn if he wins the top job.

Launching his bid for the leadership, Davey said: “We’re not going into coalition with these people. But if you vote Liberal Democrat you will get more Liberal Democrat MPs.”

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