It should come as no surprise to see that the Conservative party trails Labour in the polls by between five and ten points. The government has been guilty of several embarrassing U-turns and their presentation of policy has been poor. The slide in Conservative popularity since 2010 is an inevitable consequence of government, particularly when the economy has been in recession. Similarly, the Liberal Democratss have been punished for their part in the coalition and for a series of broken promises. It is Clegg’s party, however, which should be the more worried.
Cameron and Osborne have absorbed most serious criticism of the government in recent months, leaving Clegg to post a wet apology on the internet. The vitriol directed at the Lib Dems after the decision to raise tuition fees was unpleasant, but at least their contribution was being acknowledged. The public’s attitude towards the Lib Dems now feels more like indifference.
Moreover, with the exception of Clegg, the Lib Dem ministers are getting off lightly. How often does Danny Alexander share the blame for a particularly brutal round of public spending cuts? Vince Cable remains confusingly popular, despite the fact that his department has performed badly. The vast majority of the £2.4bn regional growth fund remains stuck in local agencies at a time when the economy is crying out for investment. Several agencies closed earlier this year. Cable has continually reiterated the importance of small to medium sized businesses. He should be helping them, not flirting with Labour on the Andrew Marr show. Unpopularity shows that a government is willing to make tough decisions. The shortcomings of Cable and co. have gone almost unnoticed, which suggests that the country doesn’t really believe they have a serious role in this coalition.
Moreover, the other Lib Dems in the Cabinet hold positions that seem relatively trivial. Ed Davey is in charge of climate change, an issue which inevitably takes a back seat in the minds of those who fear for their jobs. Michael Moore is the minister for Scotland, a country which has its own Parliament and First Minister. Moore is hardly the number one guy to blame if Scottish growth is slow. This only reinforces the perception that the Lib Dems have no more than a supporting role in this coalition.
Attracting criticism means that you are still a player. The danger for the Lib Dems now is being ignored. They must prove their commitment to the coalition strategy and, crucially, be prepared to take some of the flak. Otherwise, their first foray into government will be short-lived and unmemorable.