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Place That Lib Dem Face

Michael Crick | 12:29 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Newsnight high command didn't provide me with enough time last night to give you the full results of our survey of the best post-war leader of the Liberal Democrats, and its two forerunner parties, the Liberals and the Social Democrats (SDP). So here is the detail...

We managed to poll more than 100 Lib Dems here in Bournemouth, and the resulting rankings were:

1. Paddy Ashdown, Lib Dem, 1988-99
2. Jo Grimond, Liberal, 1956-67
3. Charles Kennedy, Lib Dem, 1999-2006
4. Nick Clegg, Lib Dem, 2007-
5. David Steel, Liberal, 1976-88
6. Roy Jenkins, SDP, 1982-83
7. Ming Campbell, Lib Dem, 2006-07
8. Jeremy Thorpe, Liberal, 1967-76
9. Clement Davies, Liberal, 1945-56
10. David Owen, SDP, 1983-87

Paddy Ashdown was way out in front, while Jo Grimond only very narrowly beat Charles Kennedy into third. David Owen's last place was pretty emphatic, though I don't imagine he minds that much.

We've also polled 39 political academics, members of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties group of the Political Studies Association. Their rankings were slightly different:

1. Paddy Ashdown, Lib Dem, 1988-88
2. David Steel, Liberal, 1976-88
3. Jo Grimond, Liberal, 1956-67
4. Charles Kennedy, Lib Dem, 1999-2006
5. Roy Jenkins, SDP, 1982-83
6. Jeremy Thorpe, Liberal, 1967-76
7. David Owen, SDP, 1983-87
8. Ming Campbell, Lib Dem, 2006-07
9. Nick Clegg, Lib Dem, 2007-
10.Clement Davies, Liberal, 1945-56

So the academics take a rather more historical perspective, giving credit to David Steel, who took the party nearest to government, under the 1976-78 Lib-Lab Pact, and also to his predecessor, the flamboyant Jeremy Thorpe, who polled more than six million votes in the February 1974 election, before he was beset by personal scandal. And the academics seem to have little respect for either Nick Clegg or his predecessor Ming Campbell.

Both surveys were taken before Nick Clegg's £30 pension gaffe.

It's also interesting to note that only two of the 10 above men were English.

Next week Labour. That should be even more interesting - a case perhaps of Replace That Face.


  • Comment number 1.

    The lack of comments on this blog says it all. Nobody cares about the Lib Dems.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have just seen the latest MORI polls on Channel 4 news: Conservatives 52%, Labour 24% and the Lib Dems 12%. As labour support melts away, so does support for the LibDems, who are down a further 4%. Further proof that nobody cares about the Lib Dems!

  • Comment number 3.

    It is a pity your reporting did not strive to inform people a little bit more than 'Nick Clegg's posturing that day'.

    You could have asked questions about the connection between transnational capital head lobbyist Lib Dem Lord Iain Valance, and how much Lib Dem policies are connected to his key transnational capital function.

    Vince Cable is certainly connected but you missed that too.

    I have to wonder what use several days of reporting of posturing is, to the public that wants to be informed, with no critical analysis whatsoever.

    Poor job?

    If the Lib Dems are a softy front for big business, what are you doing supporting that image?

  • Comment number 4.

    Without any doubt, Charles Kennedy gave the Lib. Dems. the best chance of any success at all that they've had in a very, very, long time.

    They, however, decided to do away with him at the hight of his and their success, which was nothing less than amazing.

    The very best leader that they've never seemed to want, is Vince Cable; again amazing.

    However, as others have written here, no one seems to care about the Lib. Dems..

  • Comment number 5.

    To all those who ask, "Lib Dems, who cares?", the answer is Labour and the Tories!

    Over and over and over again, we propose a policy and the other parties rip it off.

    Policies such as:

    - Devolution for Wales and Scotland
    - PR for european elections
    - Public choice in public services
    - Nationalisation of Northern Rock
    - Equalisation of the age of consent
    - Closer supervision of financial markets (Vince Cable is a tea-leaf reading genius by the way!)

    And as if that wern't enough, we stood shoulder to shoulder with Churchill in the war cabinet in 1940 when members of his own party wanted to do a deal with Hitler, we propped up Callaghan's government from March 1977 to Autumn 1978, we shared power in Scotish Parliament.

    Beveridge who was the architect of the modern welfare state and Milton Kaynes who went to the US to secure the money for post war rebuilding were both Liberals.

    As for comments about polls... what a crock. We go through this cycle constantly as we did in the last parliement, and we finished up with a larger vote and more seats than in 2001, and we will again. Mid term polls are not reliable. When the SDP was formed we had mid term poll rating which would have translated to 600 seats in parliament. 12% is nothing to be concerned about.

    In 2010 pick up a copy of our manifesto and tick off the policies as they are co-opted and you'll see exactly who care!

    Here endeth the rant!

  • Comment number 6.

    There seems to me no question that Paddy Ashdown is the greatest post-war Liberal leader. He more than doubled the number of seats in 1997 and is a straight talker and charismatic.
    Jeremy Thorpe is hugely underrated as a leader- its a shame all anybody ever remembers about him is his trial- not the fact that he secured the Liberals over 6 million votes in 1974 elections.
    Jo Grimond was also hugely successful.
    Charles Kennedy will also be remembered for his huge appeal to flouting voters and his straight talkning style.
    David Steel was a rather average leader and he gave in to the social democrats too much during the Alliance years.
    Clement Davies struggled to build the votes up and actually lost the party seats so he was a pretty weak leader.
    Ming Campbell was decent and sincere but didnt have the straength to really lead the party.
    As for Roy Jenkins and David Owen, I dont really understand why you've included the SDP, but if you really have to, you've actually missed one out- Robert Maclennan who lead the sdp from 1987 up to the merger!

  • Comment number 7.

    Why no mention of Robert Maclennan? No-one seems to have noticed this.


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