Conference season is nearly upon us and Nick Clegg is flexing his liberal muscles as he limbers up to engage with party activists. Writing in the Guardian, the Liberal Democrat leader issues a strident defence of human rights laws in the face of growing clamour from David Cameron’s lot to water down legislation that emanates from Europe. Incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law is a “hugely positive step”. Many Tory backbenchers would be inclined to disagree.
It is all part of Clegg’s attempt to carve out more of a Lib Dem voice within the heart of government following his painful drubbing at the polls in May. And the evidence suggests that such broadsides are beginning to pay off: this month he enjoyed an uptick in approval ratings among the party, after hitting all-time lows at the beginning of the year.
More than half – 55 per cent – of his own party’s supporters are now satisfied with his performance, while the dissatisfaction ratings are also well below a third, according to figures released this week by Ipsos/Mori. At his all time low in February, 43 per cent of his supporters were dissatisfied with him.
Meanwhile, the party also enjoyed a 4 percentage points increase in voting intentions, with 15 per cent of adults polled saying they would vote Lib Dem.
But Clegg should not be popping the champagne quite yet. Gideon Skinner, research director for Ipsos Mori, says it is still too early to discern whether this is the beginning of a revival, particularly since the phone hacking scandal distorted July’s figures with a big spike in support for minority parties.
“It is too early to say whether this is just a one-month figure over summer or the start of his reversing his downward trend we have seen since the election,” says Mr Skinner. “I will be looking at September and October to see if this is a sustained recovery.”
At the height of “Cleggmania”, the Lib Dem leader enjoyed high approval ratings, with the general public giving him a 68 per cent approval in April 2010. He may never get back to those dizzying heights, but a good conference could at least turn what now looks like a blip into the beginning of a trend.