Surveying the poll-itical landscape

The opposition is in trouble. At least, according to a GBC opinion poll it is.

The poll gives the GSLP/Liberals a better than two-to-one lead over their main rivals, the GSD, with 36% and 16% support respectively. A hypothetical party led by independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon is on 6%.

The results must have come as a welcome shot in the arm for chief minister Fabian Picardo as he prepared to deliver his “One year before Brexit” address on television.

The pie chart excluding undecided voters must have pleased him even more, as the alliance’s advantage increases to a huge 34 points.

It’s precisely in the high proportion who haven’t yet made up their minds, though, that the underdogs find comfort.

The leader of the GSD, Keith Azopardi, said that: “with nearly 40% of voters undecided the GBC opinion poll shows there is all to play for before the next election”. He declared it was “early days” in the party’s rebuilding and renewal work, adding that he drew “many positives” from what he sees as the GSD’s consolidation after a period of instability.

For Ms. Hassan Nahon, meanwhile, the “massive percentage” that has yet to be persuaded how to vote is proof “that there is an appetite for new ideas and for a new way of doing politics in Gibraltar”. She promised to do her best to provide that option looking forward.

Now I don’t wish to rain on Keith’s or Marlene’s parade, but recent history suggests their optimism may be misplaced. In April 2015, seven months before the general election, a GBC poll had the “undecideds” on 31%, which grew to 35% in another survey just three weeks before polling day. That didn’t stop the GSLP/Liberals romping home with a 68% share of the votes to the GSD’s 32%, the largest margin of victory since 1992 when the GSLP secured its second term of office with 73%.

A lot can happen between now and polling day, but it’s already evident that the present day opposition has its work cut out to prevent the alliance from winning its third election in a row.

I’ve mentioned the chief minister’s televised statement on Brexit. Understandably, given the trepidation that there is locally about our eventual departure from the European Union, Mr Picardo’s message was upbeat. He highlighted the “excellent progress” in discussions with the UK and the “relationship of trust” that’s developed between his and Theresa May’s government since the EU referendum. But he also pointed out that Gibraltar has been let down in the past by the United Kingdom.

In its 28 March letter to Brexit Secretary David Davis, the House of Lords EU Committee voiced many of Gibraltar’s concerns and sought numerous assurances from the British government. It noted that the UK “has a moral duty to defend and represent the interests of Gibraltar in the Brexit negotiations” and asked what reassurance Mr Davis could give that it would continue to fulfil this moral responsibility “during the Brexit negotiations and beyond”.

The Lords’ letter was certainly a morale booster. However the very fact they had to write it indicates that the UK’s support cannot be taken for granted. As the chief minister said in his address, we must remain “eagle-eyed”: alert to any weakening of HMG’s “unshakeable” commitment to the Rock.