5 reasons not to assume the FDP wipeout in the German elections will happen here in the UK

fdp germany logoAn amazing result for Angela Merkel, increasing her vote and almost winning an absolute majority for the conservative CDU in her third election. A dire one for the liberal FDP, eliminated from the German Bundestag after failing to cross the 5% popular vote threshold – from 93 seats to 0 in one go. Ouch.

Part of the fun of elections in foreign countries is cherry-picking the bits of confirmation bias that suit our own weltenschaung. “Liberal party wiped out after coalition with centre-right party, eh – you just wait til 2015, Mr Clegg!” I’ve even seen a couple of parliamentarians – John Pugh and Lord Oakeshott – make the direct link. So here’s 5 reasons why such glib comparisons don’t stack up.

1) First, and I really can’t stress this point strongly enough, Germany is a different country. I could stop there, but here are another four reasons…

2) The FPD stormed to success in 2009 demanding tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Four years of squabbling with their coalition partners followed during which time the FDP failed to deliver any major tax cuts. By contrast the Lib Dems have delivered on the party’s number one election pledge, raising the personal allowance to £10,000 and taking millions out of the income tax system altogether.

3) The electoral system is completely different. Though Germany has proportional representation, that 5% threshold is crucial. Two parties, the liberal FDP and the anti-Euro AfD, both failed to meet it by a whisker (some 16% of German votes were discounted because they were cast for fringe parties). The FDP fell from 14.6% to 4.8%; the equivalent fall in the UK would see the Lib Dems’ 23% translate to 7% in 2015. But (1) the Lib Dems are very unlikely to lose two-thirds of our vote. And (2) our success in 2015 will depend less on vote share than on seat retention.

4) Where did the FDP votes go? In the UK, the Lib Dems have hemorrhaged votes to Labour since going into coalition with the Conservatives. In Germany, the direction of travel was mostly in the opposite direction: the FDP shed some 2.1 million votes to the two centre-right parties, the CDU/CSU and AfD, but only around 460,000 votes to the centre-left, SPD.

5) You say Germany, I say Norway. In the Norwegian elections this month, the liberal Venstre party – which campaigned explicitly for an end to the Red-Green ruling government, now replaced with a centre-right government – saw its vote rise and its parliamentary representation boosted from 2 to 9 seats. The comparison’s kinda flakey, of course, but never mind.

So there you go: 5 reasons not to draw any serious comparisons between Germany and the UK. Of course, it’s not impossible that the same fate might await the Lib Dems in 2015 as befell the FDP in 2013. (Though I’ve got a lot riding on that not happening…) And I’m not saying there aren’t lessons to be learned; there always are. But be careful they don’t get lost in translation.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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58 Comments

  • Here we go again, it will not happen here etc.
    That’s what the Conservatives said in Canada when they were reduced to one or was it a massive two seats a few years ago. Complacency, complacency, I forecast it will happen here, LD down to less than 10, a virtual wipe-out.
    The Nick Clegg policy of seeking votes for a coalition seems doomed. Lets have something different by February 14,
    a new leader, a new strategy, anything to save the party, otherwise Mr Tall will be running round Trafalgar Square, Soho and Buckingham Palace without any clothes at all, eh that rhymes!!!

  • Not to mention the fact that the FDP is ideologically very different from the Lib Dems, sitting in some ways to the right of the CDU.

    The German result was all about shifts within the centre right vote and their interplay with Germany’s electoral system. IMHO the read-through to the UK is virtually zero.

  • “By contrast the Lib Dems have delivered on the party’s number one election pledge, raising the personal allowance to £10,000 and taking millions out of the income tax system altogether.”

    Er, sorry, but you haven’t delivered your number one election pledge, which, as I seem to need to remind you, was:

    “Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket
    • The first £10,000 you earn tax-free: a tax cut of £700 for
    most people
    • 3.6 million low earners and pensioners freed from income
    tax completely
    • Paid for in full by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit
    the wealthy and polluters ”

    You didn’t do this. You paid for it (when ‘it’ eventually arrives) by increasing VAT, a regressive tax.

  • Theakes

    ” I forecast it will happen here, LD down to less than 10, a virtual wipe-out.”

    That’s simply not going to happen.

    The only reason you would forecast such an outcome would be if you really wanted it to happen, for example if you were a Labour supporter just posting on Lib Dem Voice to try to wind people up. Now who would do a silly thing like that?

    Even on the basis of the current UK Polling Report average we’d get 24 MPs, and that ignores completely the marginals polling by Ashcroft that has found a substantial positive effect in Lib Dem/Tory marginals and a strong positive incumbency factor for sitting Lib Dem MPs. I’m still betting on 45 MPs minimum.

  • Unlike RC and Stephen, my views would be that I would like there to be a “read-through”, but I agree with both that there are sufficient differences in the situation to make it apparent there is no simple read-through. Where there is an underlying issue, though, is that Nick Clegg’s politics seems to have been based on an attempt to create an FDP-Lite. Such a project would seem to have been strangled at birth. The FDP result this time was not just poor, it dipped below the threshold for the first time ever. There is little doubt that the Lib Dem result in terms of vote share in 2015, could be the worst since 1979 – which even with so many different factors, would still look superficially very like the FDP performance this time.

  • @theakes – you forecast the Canadian scenario will happen here?

    You mean: that after a devastating election where the Lib Dems are wiped out we will quickly return and win a majority in national elections?

    LOL. 😀

  • “that ignores completely the marginals polling by Ashcroft that has found a substantial positive effect in Lib Dem/Tory marginals”

    No it hasn’t. It found that the Lib Dem vote share had dropped by 10 points in these constituencies. The only reason the results didn’t look disastrous was that the Tory vote share had dropped by 9 points.

  • Never going to be a direct read through but there’s a big lesson on the danger of infighting they ditched their leader mid term and further to even more damaging infighting ended up running this election with 2 figure heads – the guy who became the new leader and the guy who wanted to be the new leader.
    Other than that where previously Merkel’s party could formally transfer part of its vote to FDP (any party could do this but the CDU/CSU to FDP pattern was well established) to prop it up & keep it in parliarment it wasn’t possible due to changes in electoral law. Plus tactical voting along these lines backfired very badly in one of their regional elections when a good CDU candidate (David McAllister) lost out a Green-SPD coallition. All of which I find interesting but of no relevance to the UK system

  • “But (1) the Lib Dems are very unlikely to lose two-thirds of our vote.”

    Something of that order is what a number of the polls are indicating, so the possibility can’t simply be dismissed out of hand.

    Granted that the polls in Lib Dem/Tory marginals indicate a loss less than that as a proportion of the 2010 vote, though still quite a substantial one. It looks as though the fate of these seats will be very much bound up with how the votes on the right are shared between the Tories and UKIP. Can you count on UKIP retaining the protest vote it is attracting now, in a tightly fought national election with the possibility of Labour returning to government?

  • The analysis I want to see is of the extent to which the FDP is a ‘sister party’ to the UK Liberal Democrat party. I have always assumed that in practice we are closer to the SPD, but that the EU groupings do create odd associations. In fact I hope we will welcome an CDU-SPD grand coalition as evidence of the value of such broad spectrum coalitions in challenging economic conditions.

    My German colleagues point out that Mrs Merkel can have lost this election! In a mirror of the UK 2010 result, a ‘red-green-red’ government is, theoretically, a possibility. Such a government of SPD, and ex-communists and other far left types would have a narrow majority, be highly unstable and likely to precipitate a strongly negative economic reaction. The view is that this is unlikely to happen and if it did would be catastrophic for the standing of the SPD. I think it is fair to say Lib Dems here have suffered from our association with the Cameron’s Conservatives, but would have suffered at least as badly if we had been seen to prop up a very unstable Gordon Brown led Labour dominated coalition.

    Some tell me that the FDP are old style free marketeers and lack the Social Liberalism that has been the hallmark of the Liberal and Lib Dem parties in the UK. But as Stephen says, there is a strong tendency for people to cherry pick for confirmation bias.

    I do not know exactly why Germans turned away from the FDP, however it is clear that it was not due to the unpopularity of the larger party in the coalition. Au contraire, so it seems. My German colleagues explain that the FDP were seen as trouble makers within the coalition, making too many objections and over stating their status. They also were prone to in-fighting. There may be lessons for the Lib Dems, but I think overall we have achieved a reasonable balance (though many of us are dismayed by some of the specifics).

    The general issue that concerns me is that of achieving a clearly defined identity. We need to be sure that voters have access to a distinctive image of what Liberal Democrats stand for (there are clues in the name!).

  • Paul in Twickenham 23rd Sep '13 - 11:38am

    Stephen – as someone who has spent a large proportion of my life campaigning for the election of Liberal Democrats I hope that you are right. Certainly the electoral system here acts in the party’s benefit by virtue of the incumbency effect. However the FDP is wiped out. It was the junior, Liberal-ish coalition partner of a Conservative party and while its partner has benefitted from the perceived stability of the economy the FDP has been destroyed.

    While there is always a danger of overplaying comparison I despair of the panglossian bravado routinely displayed on this website. Apart from thinking that it’s different here and that it will be all right on the night, how exactly does the party turn around its current dire situation?

  • RC: I have been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat voter, supporter, member and funder since 1962!!! Have supported the coalition vigorously. Okay. I have canvassed at so many by elections I have lost count, I have delivered early morning leaflets till I have been blue in the face, have been a councillor, chair, secretary etc . The position now is far worse than even 1979, we are no longer a national party., finances are in the doldrums, local parties are breaking or broken up in many places, we cannot finds candidates for local by elections, it is desperate, and as such it calls for desperate measures before we are well and truly wiped out. The Tories will have a field day at our expense, once the UKIP vote contracts as it surely will at the general, not next year of course when they will wipe the pants off all of us. WE HAVE TO GET REAL, ADMIT WE ATE AT A DEAD END AND MOVE ON IN ADIFFERENT WAY, PROMISING MORE COALITION IS NOT A VOTE WINNER ANYWHERE AND SAYS WHY A CHANGE AT THE TOP AND STRATEGY IS MORE THAN NECESSARY.

  • Theakes – “PROMISING MORE COALITION IS NOT A VOTE WINNER ANYWHERE AND SAYS WHY A CHANGE AT THE TOP AND STRATEGY IS MORE THAN NECESSARY.”

    So, tell me exactly what the alternative to coalition is. Are you seriously suggesting we are going to get a majority by ourselves?

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Sep '13 - 12:34pm

    I get that the German constitutional process is toootally different and the FDP is not directly comparable with the LDs.

    However, many people concerned with the party have expressed concerns that the current leadership have in some ways been touting the FDP as a sort of model for the LibDems, so raising concerns about FDP wipeout is somewhat legitimised by this.

    Also, I am sure many longterm LD advocates and voters will feel an actue irony in the current attempts to circle the wagons around a partially-carried out tax policy (a good policy, a sound policy though it is) whilst relying on the vagaries of FPTP to give the party incumbent’s advantage and the possibility of retreat to the sanctuary of ‘safe’ seats.

    This should be embarassing. Has the party of proportional representation and constitutional reform got so used to slugging it out in an imperfect system that it now relies on the system for survival? I’ve never been so convinced by PR that I wouldn’t consider alternatives, but the party should regard safe seats as an injustice, not salvation.

  • I think the Lib Dems have been more similar to the Greens in Germany – my “twin” in Germany was at one time an active Green, and we share many attitudes. My view is that the Green Party has not grown as it has in Germany and some other European countries in Britain, because of the practical green policies and attitudes of Liberals and then Lib Dems. We were there first in Britain. I think we are seriously in danger of losing that vote, as well as the more “traditional” radical left vote. The FDP at the time of Genscher etc was rather more economically left, but has moved a lot in the last 20 years.

  • Matt – We always struggle electorally with PR systems. We have become so used to campaigning on personality, and “local team” and downplaying our national credentials that PR is difficult. It’s all about Daily Mail readership!

  • Tabman: Seems to me whatever way we go we have s… prospects. The tide is completely against us and watching a lot of comments here its as if we resemble King Canute. However we have got to try something different, if we wish to remain a national party, even of minor significance something has to give. A new leader would be a start, a fresh face, some fresh thought and a platform where we could leave the coalition and have a clear voice at the next election.
    Coalitions, even in Europe, seem to be less attractive than they used to be Overall I feel the coalition has significantly benefited, but it becoming time to move on, with that we may just have a scintilla of a chance.

  • Nick Barlow 23rd Sep '13 - 2:07pm

    Tim13 – I think the key difference between the two Green Parties is that in Germany the ‘realists’ won the debate about the future of the party in the 80s/90s while over here, it was won by the ‘fundamentalists’ (though it was easier for the realists to win a debate in a country where the electoral system gave them a chance at power).

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 2:57pm

    Stephen Tall

    By contrast the Lib Dems have delivered on the party’s number one election pledge, raising the personal allowance to £10,000 and taking millions out of the income tax system altogether.

    We did NOT go into the election as a low tax party – we were pledging fairer tax, not lower tax. The pledge about increasing income tax allowance was clearly balanced with a pledge to manage it by increasing taxation elsewhere, which we have not managed. Contrasting this, we COULD have kept our pledge on tuition fees by slashing the number of university places – I have heard rumour that we were coralled into supporting the abolition of subsidy of tuition fees by this being put as the cost.

    Stephen – those at the top of our party, responsible for its public image MUST learn that the super-salesman approach isn’t working. Our electors think we have failed them, and any attempt to use “it’s all wonderful” language to try and convince them otherwise just makes things worse, because they look round and see it’s NOT all wonderful, it’s much more like the sort of Tory government many of them voted LibDem not to have rather than what they imagined a LibDem government would be like.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 3:08pm

    Ideologically, I think we are in a WORSE position than the FDP.

    The FDP had established a clear ideological position, and there was political space for it. There was space for it because the “Christian” aspects of the CDU push it to the political centre on the economic scale, leaving a right-wing space the FDP filled. In the UK the Conservative Party has become much more a purely economic right-wing party.

    Ever since I have been a member of the party, the posh end of the right-wing press has been pushing the idea that we should become what they call an “economic liberal” party – and trying to change the word “liberal” so that’s what it is supposed to mean, arguing that there was a big untapped vote source out there for that sort of politics. “Throw out the beards and sandals, the old style activists who hanker after a sort of wishy-washy socialism, and you’ll soar in the polls” they’ve said. Most of the electorate believes we have done just that, and it has brought us nothing in terms of more support. I believe this in part because there’s little demand for such a party outside a small social elite in this country, and in part because the Conservative Party has already captured that market.

  • Liberal Neil 23rd Sep '13 - 3:57pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – “The pledge about increasing income tax allowance was clearly balanced with a pledge to manage it by increasing taxation elsewhere, which we have not managed. ”

    Your comment probably does reflect the perception but not reality. In fact the top 10% of earners are contributing significantly more tax than they were and the government has made a good start at closing loopholes.

  • Martin Pierce 23rd Sep '13 - 5:00pm

    Hate to be a pedant but correct spelling of ‘weltanschauung’ is as here. Btw I agree with Matthew Huntbach.

  • Re: Weltanschauung — the spelling is easier to rememember if you understand how it is put together. It’s Welt “world” + an “on, at” + schau “look” + -ung, a noun ending, like the English gerundial -ing.

    Schau-en is “to look”; an-schauen “to look at, to view, to examine”; Anschau-ung “looking at, view”; Welt-anschauung “world-view.” In German the word Weltanschauung is always capitalised because it is a noun.

  • Reason number 6: Lack of local base .The FDP did even worse in terms of the first vote (2.4%) which is for the constituency than they did in the second vote (4.8%) for the party list. They have almost no areas of strong local support, instead they came to rely on second votes from CDU supporters keen to prop up their coalition partners. This is completely different to the Liberal Democrats whose have been hugely successful in building areas of local support.

    Reason number 7: Right/left spectrum. Lib Dems are to the left of the Tories. The FDP are to the right of the CDU. They were competing for the hard-right, mildly eurosceptic vote. Key to their downfall was the emergence of the eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland party which robbed them of around 500,000 crucial votes (the largest proportion of AfD voters came from the FDP). If anything, a more apt comparison could be made with UKIP who have also positioned themselves as a libertarian, anti-green party on the hard-right side of the political spectrum.

  • I think the lessons to be learned from the FDP wipeout — and yes, it’s determined by the Bundestag’s 5% entry threshold, but to be under 5% of the votes would be bad enough by itself — are not about the Liberal Democrats’ immediate future in 2015 or even 2020, but about the longer term. The FDP used to be a liberal party, using the term broadly; but from the early 1980s on it joined its fortunes to the CDU/CSU, shifted to the right, and lost any distinctive liberal identity, outside of that segment that misleadingly equates liberalism with “free-market, pro-business” ideologies.

    Obviously, it took 30 years from this shift for the FDP to reach its nadir. Perhaps that’s how long it took for the generation of people who reflexively, ‘tribally’ voted FDP to die out. So there’s a long-term lesson for the Liberal Democrats there.

    But there’s another lesson as well, which is that no matter how loyal you are to your coalition partner, you can never trust them. In this last election Angel Merkel, showing her trademarked ruthlessness, threw the faltering FDP under the train. She saw the chance to grab for an absolute majority in the Bundestag, and to permanently seize vote share from the FDP, and was not going to miss it because she felt any loyalty or gratitude to the FDP for propping her up in power. I don’t suppose there are many Lib Dems who are under the illusion that David Cameron — or his potential successors as Conservative leader — feels any warm fuzzies toward the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, the Lib Dems were together in opposition with the Tories for 13 years, and by 2015 will have been in coalition for 5. Should, by some chance, that coalition continue for another 5, there’s a definite danger of Liberal Democrats convincing themselves that the Tories owe them something. This is a viewpoint the Conservatives will never share. That, I think, is the second lesson.

  • Graham Evans 23rd Sep '13 - 8:28pm

    The history of the FDP is far more complex than suggested by many of the above comments, in that for most of the post-war years it has been in government. In the decades after WW2 it was normally in government in coalition with the CDU/CSU as only once, under Conrad Adenauer, has one of the so-called “Volkspartei” (CDU/CSU and SPD) achieved an absolute majority. During the course of the 1965-69 parliament the FDP left the coalition over budget issues, resulting in a Grand Coalition. During their time in opposition the FDP , under Walter Scheel , moved towards the idea of forming a coalition with the SPD after the 1969 election, resulting in Williy Brandt being installed as Chancellor. The coalition with the SPD continued until 1982 when the FDP left the coalition. After the 1983 election the FDP returned to coalition with the CDU/CSU. Their alignment with the CDU/CSU continued (albeit during the Schroeder years in opposition) until 2005 when the rise of the Greens and the Left prevented the emergence of any simple big-party/little-party coalition, necessitating a new Grand Coalition. The FDP thrived as the official opposition and this partly explained their achieving almost 15% of the vote, whereas in earlier years they had sometimes struggled to get over the 5% barrier, relying on their coalition partner to “lend” them second preference votes. The key problem which the FDP faced this year was the failure of the CDU/CSU to play this game, after it went awry in the NRW regional elections. While there may be philosophical similarities between the German Free Democrats and the British Liberal Democrats (though I would argue that the FDP is a far more strongly libertarian party – even if their is no word for this in the German language – their reliance on PR to achieve representation in the Federal Parliament means than they have totally failed to build up any significant level of support within individual constituencies. FPTP may have disadvantaged British Liberals, but as PR elections in the UK have shown, the very system which Liberals criticise may actually be their salvation in 2015.

  • @Paul: “Right/left spectrum. Lib Dems are to the left of the Tories. The FDP are to the right of the CDU. They were competing for the hard-right, mildly eurosceptic vote.”

    This is true; and yet one can hear voices calling for the Liberal Democrats to compete with UKIP for the votespace to the right of the Tories. As for whether the Liberal Democrats of 2013 are to the left of the Conservative Party — probably they are, but who can guarantee that that will be true of the Lib Dems of 2015 or 2020? After all, all that is needed to position the Lib Dems parallel (at least) to the Tories on a left-right spectrum is a shift no greater than that which has taken place between 2007 and the present.

  • “…and yet one can hear voices calling for the Liberal Democrats to compete with UKIP for the votespace to the right of the Tories.” Would you like to provide some evidence for that, or is it all in your imagination?

  • Graham Evans 23rd Sep '13 - 8:38pm

    @David-1 ” She saw the chance to grab for an absolute majority in the Bundestag, and to permanently seize vote share from the FDP, and was not going to miss it because she felt any loyalty or gratitude to the FDP for propping her up in power.”

    This is nonsense. There was very little chance of the CDU/CSU achieving an absolute majority. Even they were surprised by the result. Because the FDP have been eliminated as a coalition partner, Angela Merkel will have to do a deal with the SPD. After their last experience of coalition with Mrs Merkel, the SPD will demand a much higher price than the FDP would ever have expected.

  • @Graham Evans: You describe the outcome accurately enough, but the fact is that Merkel, in her pre-election remarks, deliberately and openly sabotaged FDP attempts to gain the 5% threshold through second votes. Perhaps this was not due to political calculation; perhaps Merkel simply doesn’t like the leaders of the FDP; but in any case, it will now complicate her political life in the manner you describe.

    @tonyhill: 1) No, I would not, because I don’t want to enter an argument over personalities; 2) No, it is not in my imagination, though I do not believe those voices are in any way representative of the Liberal Democrats as a whole.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 9:41pm

    Paul

    If anything, a more apt comparison could be made with UKIP who have also positioned themselves as a libertarian, anti-green party on the hard-right side of the political spectrum.

    I think you will find that very few of those who say they will vote UKIP are aware of this. It gets vote from people with an emotional “back to the past”. However, it is the right-wing economic policies of governments from Thatchers onwards that has caused the huge change in society that people who say they want to vote UKIP want to reverse. So people who vote UKIP are voting for what they are against – but thy don’t see it, because UKIP pretends it is just an anti-foreigner party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 9:55pm

    Tim13

    The FDP at the time of Genscher etc was rather more economically left, but has moved a lot in t lahest 20 years.

    Yes, there was a time when it was considered one of the continental liberal parties more close to us, unlike e.g. the Dutch VVD which always seemed much more like our Conservative Party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 10:02pm

    Paul

    They have almost no areas of strong local support, instead they came to rely on second votes from CDU supporters keen to prop up their coalition partners. This is completely different to the Liberal Democrats whose have been hugely successful in building areas of local support.

    Yes, but our Leader and those close to him who have media influence have been busy rubbishing this, saying that all we were doing when building areas of local support was attracting “protest votes” or “borrowing votes from Labour”. So they want to abandon this, and seem to have gone out of their way deliberately to antagonise party activists with the idea that instead we shall win votes on the basis of our national image from people impressed at seeing Mr Clegg standing at the despatch box being “in government” and wanting to vote for what the sort of policies associated with the current German FDP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '13 - 10:17pm

    Stephen Tall

    In the UK, the Lib Dems have hemorrhaged votes to Labour since going into coalition with the Conservatives. In Germany, the direction of travel was mostly in the opposite direction: the FDP shed some 2.1 million votes to the two centre-right parties, the CDU/CSU and AfD, but only around 460,000 votes to the centre-left, SPD.

    Yes, but as you said “Germany is a different country”. The FDP has already, long ago, established itself as an economic right-wing party. It hasn’t shed votes to the left because any such votes it had have long gone already. So this is very different from the Liberal Democrats who were seen as a party of the centre-left, in some aspects to the left of Labour, right up to the last general election.

    The CDU/CSU isn’t the exact equivalent of our Conservative Party. As I’ve said, it has a lot more of the social aspects which in Continental Europe tend to get called “Christian”. These derive to quite a large extent from Catholic social teaching, in particular Rerum Novarum – go and look at its Wiki page and see how much of that is anathema to the UK Conservative Party. In the UK, this way of thinking actually used to be what the Liberal Party was about, with its roots in Nonconformist Christianity.

    Merkel and the CDU/CSU just don’t have the elitist aristocratic image that the UK Conservative Party has because they don’t have its descent from the party of the aristocracy. So the FDP votes that have shifted to it HAVE shifted to the left, the FDP was the rightmost party in the German Parliament.

  • I do like the expression “Panglossian bravado” aka Paul of Twickenham.
    The fact is that Germany is a country almost bound to deliver a coalition and the Liberals didn’t make it .Britain is a country that very rarely delivers a coalition and we behave as though we are bound to be part of one after 2015. The strategy of circling the wagons and appealing only to the percentage currently considering voting for us must be carefully and rigorously bench tested . No room for complacency.That ‘s all.
    We need to ask though why MORE aren’t considering casting a vote for Liberalism . Do we not recall those pre-2010 polls that showed huge numbers would vote for us if they thought it would not not be a wasted vote and we could actually end up in government ?

  • @Tabman

    “Are you seriously suggesting we are going to get a majority by ourselves?”

    Promising Coalition is stupid because it concentrates on process not content. The people of this country are interested in what a Party stands for and what it has achieved. Process is the last thing on their minds. By all means accept it as an inevitability when pressed but if its all you have to ‘lead’ with then you are dead in the water.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Sep '13 - 12:38am

    I have long suspected that a party that combines right-wing economics with left-wing social policies would be about as popular as the Financial Times and share the same base. The FDP’s wipeout does little to quell this suspicion.

    I have a little libertarian seed inside me that grows and shrinks to different levels, so sometimes I appear to endorse the same strategy, but overall I’m much more comfortable with centrism, which is also our party’s current strategy and coincidently: Angela Merkel’s!

  • Reason No6 – Nick Clegg

  • Bill le Breton 24th Sep '13 - 9:54am

    John Pugh, above, applies the scalpel with the skill of a William of Occam.

    The ‘Coalitions good, Majority Governments bad’ *attack* line is the last refuge of the Clegg/Reeve new core vote strategy, which was based on the prospect (proffered by pollsters John reminds us) that, “huge numbers would vote for us if they thought it would not be a wasted vote and we could actually end up in government.”

    This is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the growth of the Liberal Democrat community. The leadership believed in the sufficiency of ending up in government, hence their desire to show managerial competence in government and the early rejection of differentiation.

    Over at Liberal England, Jonathan Calder expresses it thus; “The Liberal Democrats (post 2010) were left to answer a new question for Westminster politics: how does the junior partner in a coalition maintain its identity while acting as a responsible party of government?” http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/crisis-what-crisis-my-leicester-mercury.html

    Anyone who has campaigned to win a council or parliamentary seat from a distant second place or a third knows how to build a core vote. It is not done overnight. An often begrudgingly ‘lent’ vote is obtained first and the transformation of the relationship with the voter is built over time by gradually dismantling the old stereo-type to replace it with a confident and open-eyed partnership. Neither Clegg nor anyone in his team have ever done this.

    The motivations behind a first vote for a Liberal Democrat campaigner (on a single issue, on a local issue, for tactical reasons) were just those rejected, spurned and perhaps even despised by Reeves (and should we deduce by Clegg and those competing for the leader’s attention and patronage?)

    Again, councillors know that an overall majority more often than not comes via a period in a form of ‘coalition’. Those that go on successfully to make the move from minority to majority know how to win new ‘lent’ votes’ whilst deepening the relationship with a growing number of the committed. It is a process of liberal community building (and emancipation). The trust that is established is based on a true empathy between campaigners and the people.

    May 2010 was not a time to experiment with the pursuit of a new core vote, which of course was a deliberate attempt to ‘change’ our identity (rather than to maintain it – see Jonathan above). In late April 2010, one in four of those who were about to vote were in this relationship process with their local Liberal Democrats. Now it may be as few as one in ten.

    Being part of Government was the great opportunity to take the next steps in building the Liberal Democrat community across our nations. Most council groups manage to move forward in similar circumstances. That says a lot.

  • peter tyzack 24th Sep '13 - 11:11am

    there’s always one who wants to blame Nick Clegg.. (or are you just another person trying to wind us up?) Nick was chosen by one-member-one-vote and has served us very well. So well, in fact, that(you people who love polls) he has more support from his membership than either of the other two.
    He looks and sounds more like a PM in waiting than either of the other two, and whilst logically we won’t get an overall majority he should at least talk the language of seeking to form a govt. Openly saying that he is seeking another coalition sounds weak to the general public, as they don’t understand how our voting system dumps on the third party(no need for a 5% threshold) otherwise they would have voted for AV.

  • Tony Dawson – we are not “promising coalition”. Rather, its a mature pitch to the electorate which states “rather than pretend we’re going to win outright, we will no longer insult your I intelligence. We will set out the positives that come from the political reality, namely that our Liberal principles will be used to temper the authoritarian tendencies of the other two.”

  • @Simon Shaw: “And if one’s hearing is faulty one can hear all sorts of things.”
    No, if your hearing is faulty you hear nothing at all, and you imagines that the crowd is cheering you when they are actually hooting you down.

  • @Simon Shaw: “And if one’s hearing is faulty one can hear all sorts of things.”
    No, if your hearing is faulty you hear nothing at all, and you imagine that the crowd is cheering you when they are actually hooting you down.

  • Richard Dean 24th Sep '13 - 1:35pm

    If one cannot hear the words “not” and “wont”, things tend to take on a different hue! 🙂

  • Richard Dean 24th Sep '13 - 1:37pm

    As for myself, I always hear “can’t” as “might be able to”

  • Michael Parsons 24th Sep '13 - 2:11pm

    Clegg’s scheme – having staged a coup along with his little group of Orange Book supporters – will be to lead the remnant of his party into the Tory fold – like Simon (that ” worm and snake”) did to the Liberals in the 1930’s depression, thereby destroying them.

    If Liberalism wants to exercise influence, it needs to speak up for itself and ditchClegg: after all, it is UKIP that sets the pace in much debate these days by doing that, without yet winning a single MP seat! But then they do have a fairly convincing point as long as we support an EU which lets the bankers loot and smash one economy after another, having first landed them with watered stock.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Sep '13 - 3:44pm

    peter tyzack

    there’s always one who wants to blame Nick Clegg.. (or are you just another person trying to wind us up?) Nick was chosen by one-member-one-vote and has served us very well.

    Those of us with experience of difficult local government situations knew how difficult this would be – junior coalition partners tend to get all the blame when things go wrong and none of the credit when things go right. It was also very clear from local government experience that Labour’s reaction would be to throw mud, and accuse us of “propping up the Tories” as if we could somehow have managed to get them to drop all their policies and adopt ours, but chose not to. We also knew very well that an unstable minority government would result in us being blamed for our very existence in creating that situation, and Labour and Conservative uniting in an early general election to get rid of us and get back to “two party politics”, and they did indeed show us the sort of lien they would use when they united in propping each other up in the AV referendum.

    Clegg was left in a very weak position following the 2010 election. I don’t blame him for not being able to get much out of the situation, but I do blame him for so badly handling it. His continual boasting about being “in government” makes him look so self-satisfied, as if a job for himself was all he really wanted. The contrast between the impression he gave at the start of being almost an equal partner with Cameron, and the reality of being able to have only a minor influence in a predominantly Tory government gives the impression that he is very happy with all these right-wing Tory policies, that they are what we wanted in the first place. The “panglossian” publicity material coming from part Head Office makes it all worse, because when people see this “it’s all wonderful” stuff, and contrast that with the huge difficulties most people in this country are experiencing with loss of earnings power, cuts in services, and difficulty getting a decent job, it actually makes them angry.

    All that was needed was a more downbeat presentation of what happened, one which explained that our position was a little disappointing for us, we would not be able to do much because the people of this country and the electoral system gave us a mainly Tory government. Clegg was told by knowledgeable people that’s what he should have done – just be careful not to get caught in the obvious traps ahead. Instead of that, he dismissed his critics, and went marching off into those traps, and he used quite abusive language to dismiss his critics, accusing them of being scared of power, or of being only interested in protest votes, or the like. Apart from Vince Cable and Chris Huhne he has been partisan over his choice of people to work with him, picking all those who wouldn’t challenge him. Huhne managed to self-destruct, Cable has been rather nastily briefed against – all this shows Clegg doesn’t really have that liberal instinct which respect honest debate and welcomes constructive criticism.

    Sorry, he’s been a bad leader.

  • It is time someone responded to the idea that Nick Clegg could make the Liberal Democrats into the new Liberal National Party (1931-48 National Liberal Party 1948-68). In 1931 the Liberal Party split three ways over the National Government and free trade (protectionism) with the nominal leader of the party not joining the National Government. After the General Election the nominal leader was no longer recognised by the majority of the MPs elected as Liberals and so a new leader emerged and a leader in waiting led those who stayed in the National Government.

    It therefore seems unlikely that Nick Clegg could lead the whole party into merger with the Tories (of course it is unlikely that he could remain party leader for 37 years, which is how long it took for the Liberal National Party to merge with the Conservatives. Of course someone may say that it only took the Liberal Unionists 26 years to merge with the Conservatives!)

    The Liberal Democrats I predict will never merge with the Conservatives because the membership will never vote for a merger with them.

  • David Evans 26th Sep '13 - 2:25pm

    So the FDP started as a slightly left of centre liberal party, but its leadership moved steadily to the right during a long period of coalition with the right of centre Christian Democrats. On one occasion several ministers defected to the Christian Democrats. It steadily lost its local bases and failed to win any constituency seats after 1994. In its period in power it became ever more centralised and it completely lost its local campaigning base.

    It was finally killed off when its coalition partner decided to campaign against it.

    But were different because
    1) They are German,
    2) It failed to deliver its main pledge!
    3) The electoral system is different,
    4)The FDP lost almost all its left on centre voters a long time ago, so only had right of centre voters left to loose,
    5) In Norway, the liberal opposition campaigned against the left wing government and gained seats?

  • Simon Banks 27th Sep '13 - 6:21pm

    Of course it’s not going to happen here. But there are lessons. Germany may be a different country, but despite world wars it’s actually a pretty similar one. We can learn from German federalism, for example, and the sensible refusal to see manufacturing in Europe as old hat. There are lessons for us from the fate of the FDP. The consequences of not delivering on at least some of your pledges is one. The punishment that comes if you lose your heart and your distinctive liberal message is another.

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