Michael Brown: The future's orange (despite all that ridicule)

Cameron is acting as an unwitting press officer and recruiting sergeant for the Lib Dems


"Vote Blue, go Green" is the Tory slogan for next week's local elections. But the latest ICM poll suggests it may be actually more of a case that "the future's bright, the future's orange". The poll finding, that shows Labour at its worst rating for 19 years (32 per cent) is devastating in itself, but this ought to be commensurate with a significant rise in Tory support. More devastating for the Tories is that they are only on 34 per cent - less than two points higher than their general election showing last year.

Labour is clearly finally suffering the consequences of the loans-for-peerages row, but it may be the redundancies and closures in the health service that have also accounted for this dramatic slump in support.

The parallel with John Major's government after Black Wednesday is probably overdoing it but, when a government loses the voters' confidence on issues on which it was once seen to have the strongest claims to office, it is hard to see how Labour can recover - at least under Tony Blair. The economy was the Tories' passport to power, but Black Wednesday destroyed all credibility thereafter. Could it be Labour's unique selling points on being "purer than pure" and being the party of the health service are now having the same negative effect?

But it is the Liberal Democrats, not the Tories, who appear to be the beneficiaries of disillusionment with the Government and they are now back, on 24 per cent, to their most optimistic ratings since before the 2005 general election. Less than three months ago, the Lib Dems were in the middle of the most scandal-ridden and chaotic leadership election campaign. But the short-term dip, to 15 per cent in January, in the Lib Dems ratings was quickly corrected, even in the middle of the leadership chaos, by the by-election victory for them in Dunfermline and West Fife.

This ability to withstand ridicule and bad publicity means that there is now a new, increased, permanent "core vote" for the Lib Dems that is impervious to temporary difficulties. A spokesman at Lib Dem headquarters estimates that, 10 years ago, their own "core vote" was probably no more than 5 per cent. But in recent years this has probably now increased to about 15 per cent - whatever the vicissitudes and crises of the moment.

Nevertheless, this still does not explain entirely why, after such universally good publicity David Cameron has had regarding his green credentials, there has not been any translation yet in the Tory fortunes. Of course, by definition, if there is an increased Lib Dem "core vote" there must therefore be a smaller pot of potential new voters for the Tories to attract. This means that when the Tories, or even Labour, hit relatively good times in future, there is no prospect of either ever reaching 40 per cent or more of electoral support.

I have no doubt Mr Cameron has no option but to continue with his emphasis on the green agenda. His focus groups will have told him it clearly rates highly with younger voters. And he has certainly outwitted and outsmarted Gordon Brown, whose stiff speeches on the environment last weekend in the United States contrasted appallingly badly with the compelling photo-opportunities created for the Tory leader in Norway. Thanks to Mr Cameron, all parties will be required to put the issue on the same ranking as tax, public services, and the state of the economy. But it may just be that the more salience Mr Cameron gives to the green issue, by moving it to the top of the political agenda he is acting as an unwitting press officer and recruiting sergeant for the Lib Dems.

The most compelling finding in the ICM poll was the response to the question: "Which party would do more to protect the environment?" Lib Dems led the Tories with 29 per cent compared with 22 per cent - Labour trailed with 17 per cent. This lends weight to spokesmen at Lib Dem headquarters claiming to be progressively more relaxed about the Tory leader stealing their agenda. Every time Mr Cameron mentions the subject, they are convinced that, as a consequence, they are provided with more broadcast opportunities for their own green messages.

Lib Dems also believe they have an advantage over the Tories in being able to focus voters on their policies requiring "tough choices". Voters will be sceptical of green policies that try to imply no one will be a loser. Mr Cameron's latest forays into carbon emissions appear to suggest a pain-free option where cars will still be freely driven and unrestricted cheap air travel still defended. Lib Dems have just enough voter market share and are just far enough away from power to be able to make a virtue out of their credibility by promoting painful green policies. Mr Cameron, by comparison, can only do green politics so long as it doesn't hurt voters. That looks incredible.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Web Developer

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

Read Next
lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17  

To punish Putin for the MH17 disaster we must boycott Russia 2018

Jack Gilbert

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor