+++ Lib Dem special conference overwhelmingly approves Lib Dem / Conservative coalition agreement

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

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Just minutes ago, the Lib Dems’ special conference in Birmingham – convened by the party to give members the chance to give their views on the decision to enter into a government with the Conservatives – overwhelmingly approved the coalition agreement.

Estimates in the hall, where about 1,500 Lib Dem members debated the coalition, suggested that about 50 conference representatives voted against the motion endorsing the agreement: the rest of the hundreds eligible to vote were all in favour.

Here’s some of what Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, had to say immediately after the vote:

It is five days since I accepted the position of Deputy Prime Minister. Just five days, and we now know there will be no ID cards, no third runway at Heathrow, no more fingerprinting in schools without parents’ consent, no more child detention.

“Changes Liberal Democrats have spent months, years, campaigning for, are happening. Promises we were making to people on their doorsteps just a few weeks ago are becoming realities.

“Fair taxes. The income tax threshold is now going to rise to £10,000. That is this Government’s priority, not tax cuts for millionaires.

“The best start at school for every child. Extra money is now going to be targeted to pupils who need it most. That is a huge leap in creating a truly mobile society.

“A new, sustainable economy. The banks are going to be taxed, the bonus culture is going to be cracked.

“And instead of pinning all our hopes on financial wizardry in the City of London we’ll build a new economy where we rediscover our talents for building and making things again, with green industry given new prominence as we head towards a zero-carbon future.

“New politics. Fixed term parliaments – happening. The power of recall to get rid of corrupt MPs – happening. A clean up of party funding, a clamp down on lobbying in Parliament, an elected House of Lords – all happening.

“Our Freedom Bill is going to come off our leaflets and go onto the statute book, ending gross state intrusion into people’s every day lives.

“Patients, parents, communities are all going to have a much greater say over the decisions that affect them.

“And voting reform is going to be put to the British people, in a referendum in which Liberal Democrats will fight to deliver real change.

“I know the stakes are high – for me personally, as well as the party. But I came into politics to change things, and that means taking risks. Real, big change never comes easy.

“So it would simply be wrong for us to let this chance of real change pass us by.

“The chance to transform politics, the chance to hardwire fairness into our society, the chance to change Britain for good.”

You can continue to read the Lib Dem Voice’s team’s live-tweeting from Birmingham here.

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51 Comments

  • Living in hope 16th May '10 - 5:30pm

    How fabulous it is again to be a Lib Dem.

  • David Milsted 16th May '10 - 5:54pm

    I joined the Liberal Party in January 1974 and this is the day I’ve been waiting for: the day the mould was broken. We have arrived, and we are here to stay.
    Somewhere in Elysium, my grandfather (Life President of the Gladstone Liberal Bowling Club of Birkenhead, famed for its pie and pea suppers) will be opening a bottle of Bass and singing his favourite anthem:
    “Liberals rise, your day is breaking!
    England needs you in her making!”
    Now let’s get stuck in, and win that referendum.

  • Matthew Wilson 16th May '10 - 6:26pm

    I don’t understand why more members of the Lib Dems don’t think this is an awful idea. Whatever is said in the news conference in Downing Street’s garden, the Lib Dems and the Tories are idealogically incompatible. I think Nick looks like the cat who’s got the cream, they’ve offered him the prestige of the deputy PM and he’s sold his (and us Lib Dem voters) ideals down the river. Will never vote for Lib Dems again while Nick is the leader and I imagine many ordinary Lib Dem voters like me will feel the same.

  • No Matthew and don’t presume to speak for others!

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by people who didn’t vote for us saying they might in future and by the new recruits who are joining us since the election and the coalition deal was announced.

    That said there is much to do and we have to campaign for what we want – not leave it to others – although would be pleased if Labour is now going to support electoral reform…

  • And for the 50 that voted against, they’re already breaking out the ice picks in Cowley Street. Because apparently if you show dissatisfaction with what has happened, you get told to get lost and leave the Party (as is happening on this site). For ‘Liberal’, read ‘Stalinist’.

  • I am speaking for myself, and I suspect others when I say that I have no problem with people disagreeing with the agreement. None at all.

    I do, however, object to nonsense like “I feel Betrayed”, “we sold out” etc etc. I am a Liberal Democrat, I want to see Liberal Democrat policies put into action. They are going to be, and for that I am very happy. I have no loyalty at all to the Labour party, and why any Lib Dem member would is totally beyond me.

  • Bruce Standing 16th May '10 - 6:42pm

    Half a loaf is better than no bread, so the coalition is to be welcomed.
    Could we have some clarification on the proposed voting reform? Is it to be Proportional Represention (by STV), the Alternative Vote, or ‘an alternative voting method’?

  • @Matthew – Tory and Liberal ideologies are incompatible, but the whole point of electoral reform is that people should have representative with similar ideologies to their own and then those representatives will be forced to seek compromise with the others – if you are opposed to coalition with other parties under any circumstances you are (implicitly) opposed to a fair voting system.

    Furthermore the deal Nick struck is an incredibly good one. It was described by Paddy Ashdown, himself an opponent of the deal, as being ‘80% our manifesto’. I don’t know if that’s quite true but we’ve blocked the worst things in the Tory manifesto, we’ve David Laws and Vince in financial oversight roles, we’re going to get movement on parliamentary and political reform (overseen by Nick), we’re going to get fairer taxes, more money spent on the poorest students, we’re going to get a fairer voting system, we may get real banking reform and it looks like we’ll save the human rights act. None of this would have been possible without a coalition deal so for you to pretend we got ‘nothing’ from the deal or that Nick has done it all for a ministerial car and we’ve somehow not noticed is insulting to Nick and frankly insulting to the party members as well.

    I’d have had to think long and hard about my continuing supporting the party had we not taken the deal but instead sat obstinately on the opposition benches watching the Tories pull us out of Europe, gerrymander the voting system to suit themselves, tear up the human rights act and give tax breaks to millionaires in the name of ‘clean hands’.

  • Could someone explain where we stand re-the passed amendments? Are they binding on the leadership, especially the top up fees one?

  • Matthew Wilson 16th May '10 - 6:49pm

    I apologise for making presumptions, though I can’t believe people who belong to a left thinking party would support a deal with the most right wing of the mainstream parties. I would like proportional representation, more involvement in europe, higher taxes for higher earners, more liberal immigration policy etc.. like most Lib Dems. If Cameron was truly serious about his opinions on what he wanted to do, pretty much everything on the list I have just given would be close to the bottom of his ‘to do list’! As for more people joining the party, it sounds like spin to me, have a look at this guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/15/liberal-democrats-grassroots-members. I see a future split in the party.

  • @Peter. I think, quite rightly, Lib Dem members who are enthused by the prospect of enacting Lib Dem policies and who were open minded to a coalition with either party that could deliver that, are fed up with people who viewed their party as just some lapdog appendage of Labour carping from the sidelines. Having a go back at these armchair cynics is hardly Stalinism.

    As a Tory who paid too much attention to the bigmouths who were saying the Lib Dems wanted exactly what the likes of Balls and Mandelson wanted – i.e. some quite open stitch up with the explicit intention of keeping the Tories out forever in the name of democracy – can I apologise and express the hope these bitter types go over to Labour soon where they have wanted to be all along.

  • I have to say that I have been rather dismayed by the impolite way that some posters here have responded to LibDem activists who harbour doubts about the coalition. This is a party which believes in pluralism, and we should be welcoming a wide range of views, not trying to hustle dissenters out of the door. Personally I feel that for the sake of political stability, which the country needs at the moment, we had no choice but to go into a formal coalition, but that doesn’t mean that I trust the Tories not to shaft us when the going starts to get tough. Had I been in Birmingham I would have voted in favour of the motion with a troubled heart.

  • Matthew Wilson 16th May '10 - 7:01pm

    @Duncan I understand what you’re saying about the future implications of AV, i would have fully supported a traffic light deal that would have been closer to Lib Dem sensibilities, but making a deal for a deals sake is silly. Who knows what nick has had to promise to behind closed doors. The tories have two main instincts: slash and cut. I don’t see this deal ending well and i think Lib Dem support could suffer as a result.

  • Matthew Wilson – the Guardian article was a shoddy piece of journalism in my view. The article was written and then some thin evidence was found to support the argument. I’m sure you would like to see the party split, and locally there may well be the odd place where it does, but personally I don’t think it will happen.

  • If the CDU and SPD of all parties could have a relatively successful coalition in Germany, the Conservatives and Lib Dems can have a good one here. I’m sick of trolls on the Guardian and other sites lambasting this because they’d rather be with Labour, the same party that ruined the UK.

  • Matthew Wilson 16th May '10 - 7:18pm

    Tony- Don’t get me wrong, i would HATE a split in the party. I’ve voted liberal all my life – because i’m a true liberal and because i want a Lib Dem government. In a perfect world it would be great to see liberals in all the cabinet positions, but they aren’t! The vast majority of positions are held by right wing toffs. Do you seriously think when the poo hits the fan and the big decisions need to be made on spending and the economy, that our PM or our chancellor George Osbourne will give a monkey’s what Vince or Nick are telling him to do? I think not.

  • @Parasite

    “As a Tory…express the hope these bitter types go over to Labour soon where they have wanted to be all along”

    Well, you would say that wouldn’t you. Since ‘as a Tory’ that would make a National Liberal style merger so much easier!

  • Andrew Suffield 16th May '10 - 7:25pm

    Because apparently if you show dissatisfaction with what has happened, you get told to get lost and leave the Party

    No, that’s just when you say “I don’t like this because my political ideology is based on hating Tories and this deal puts manifesto promises ahead of attacking them”, since that’s completely incompatible with the clearly stated core values of the party – and also pretty nuts.

  • @ tonyhill: I completely agree that no Lib Dems should resort to personal insults or dismissive put-downs, but I have to say that a lot of that sort of thing is coming from the anti-coalition lobby at the moment. Most of them are probably Labour trolls but some are genuine Lib Dems who feel disillusioned.

    Some real LDs who are unhappy with the coalition have argued their case rationally and without resorting to insults or wild claims. But others have started shouting about “betrayal” and “selling out” and “30 pieces of silver” etc. This is pretty insulting stuff especially considering how strongly most Lib Dems I know hold their principles and ideals. I can understand why the people it’s being directed at get more than a little annoyed! We should be inclusive and tolerant of all views within the party, but it’s unrealistic to expect people who are being accused (unfairly) of tossing aside their principles not to lose their temper once in a while…

    On a lighter note, great news about today’s vote! The mood at conference seems to reflect what I’ve heard in person from fellow Lib Dems – though I doubt the Guardian will want to hear that, and I don’t doubt they’re desperately running around the conference venue right now trying to seek out to 3% or so who voted against.

  • @MarkWilson “I can’t believe people who belong to a left thinking party would support a deal with the most right wing of the mainstream parties.”

    I can’t believe that people who supposedly support Proportional Representation, plural politics and equality, would rule out working with any party? I didn’t realise that working together in a multi party government system meant “yes but only if it’s with who we choose”… that’s not how democracy works.

    PR has always required compromise and working with others, and the goal is not, as most people seem to think, to just get your own way as much as possible, but to provide the best government for the people. This includes things like stability, fairness and taking in to account what they have said they want to see. Of course the Lib Dems want to push their agenda, because they feel it is in the best interest of everyone, but the people have spoken.. and they said “err, we kind of like that.. a bit, but we gonna stick with those we know thanks” We have to work within that, and, much as it pains me to say it, the Conservatives were more open to doing so (for whatever reasons altruistic or selfish).

    No-one has been hoodwinked in to this, the Lib Dems have been quite open about their support of PR and euro-style coalition governance, if people didn’t comprehend what this really means it’s not exactly the party’s fault, everyone was happy to fight for it and argue for it whilst it was a remote ideal, now it’s a reality people seem less inclined to get their hands dirty to try and change things.

  • Liberal Neil 16th May '10 - 7:30pm

    Delighted with the result, only wish I could have been there too.

  • @ Matthew –

    that our PM or our chancellor George Osbourne will give a monkey’s what Vince or Nick are telling him to do?

    I share your distrust of the Conservatives, but I have more faith in Nick and Vince (not to mention David Laws) than that. They’re not stupid, and I think accusations of “power going to their heads” etc are totally unfounded (I’m not saying you’re making those accusations, just to be clear, but others are). They’re fighting for as many Lib Dem policies and decisions as they can possibly get. So far they seem to be getting a pretty good deal considering we only have 57 MPs to bargain with. Give them a chance to show they can influence the government’s direction.

  • Scott Hutchings 16th May '10 - 7:36pm

    I think that at the end of the day the coalition agreement that the Liberal Democrat team sealed with the Conservatives is a good programme for government, it means that Liberal Democrat policies are now going to be implemented rather than discussed at party conferences or promised in endless manifestos. This aliance with the Conservatives could actually work and if the referendum on AV succeeds then the likelihood of a hung parliament at the next election is much higher than under FPTP, meaning that the coalition between the two parties could continue into the next parliament. By marrying liberalism and the centrist elements of conservatism you can create a moderate centre to centre-right government and isolate the hardcore right-wing of the conservatives (which are estimated to range from 20 – 50 MPs) and the left-wing of the Liberal Democrats that are closer to the Labour party and would rather work with them. I know this sounds controversial but that fact is that since Nick Clegg become leader and in the years leading up to this the party has slowly moved rightwards away from the more social democratic thinking towards a more traditional market-based liberalism best encapsulated in the Orange. The social democratic wing of the party that was inherent from Paddy Ashdown up until Menzies Campbell resigned is much weaker, although there are still strong remaining elements of this wing within both the parliamentary party and activist base. Basically what I am trying to say is that the party is in coalition with Conservatives, it could work very well and it could become a more permanent fixture in the future and could potentially see the Liberal Democrats become a long-term partner to the Conservatives helping to keep the government on a more centrist line and away from radical right-wing politics.

  • My apologies Matthew – I misread you.

  • Joe Donnelly 16th May '10 - 7:52pm

    I don’t understand how people like Matthew Wilson and others really ever expected PR to work? Did you think we would always be in a coalition of the Left? I also do not understand this obsession with Labour, personally I dislike Socialism as much as Conservatism! Liberalism is completely different from both ideologies, it does not even fit on the political spectrum particularly well, thats why you hear journalists saying we have hippy left wing policies on the one hand and then we are right wing on other issues. All I know is that for the first time in 65 years, there are true Liberal voices in cabinet putting forward Liberalism.

  • paul barker 16th May '10 - 7:56pm

    Can I just remind both Labour Trolls any genuine LDs who want to join them that Labour has shown no remorse over the slaughter in Iraq, they have blood on their hands.

  • It was brilliant to sit in the conference and see the motion almost unanimously passed – a great, emotionally stirring day for Lib Dems.

  • I was at the NEC today (which is not in Birmingham, but in the Metropolitan District – and constituency – of Solihull, as we were reminded by the local MP!!) and I’m wondering what on earth the people who claim dissentors are being driven out of the party are trying to say.

    Speaker after speaker emphasised that the party was, and should remain, welcoming to people who might have doubts.

    By the way, back in 1981 – at the last Lib Dem Assembly I attended (until today !) – I was one of the 140 or so who voted against the alliance. But I was never made to feel uncomfortable about remaining in the party.

  • John Emerson 16th May '10 - 8:21pm

    “PR has always required compromise and working with others”

    Very true. But any coalition agreement after PR would be one of equals, (or something close) unlike the current situation where we are most definitely a junior partner. Also, After a PR change, the Tory party would have had to change for the long-term, (as would labour). With a demonstrable change, then yes, the tory party might become welcome coalition partners, but I simply do not believe the Tory party have changed much, look at Cameron’s mocking of our immigration policy. In any case PR is now off the table for at least twenty years, either the referendum (assuming it goes ahead) will be won, and we will have AV and hence voting reform will be ‘done’ or it will fail and about a twenty year gap is usually required between referendums.

    Nick Clegg, set out 4 test before he would agree to enter a coalition. Two of those tests were fairer taxes and voting reform (PR). These have not been met, nor would they in the foreseeable future by a Tory party ( or, in the case of PR, for that matter ther labour party). Hence I viewed a coalition with the tories at this time to be a near impossibility, so yes, I do feel ‘hoodwinked’.

    I have no problem working with the conservatives, especially on issues on which we agree, but also making some compromises (on both sides) on issues we do not. However there is a difference between working with and joining a coalition. We had that choice.

    Although not the only issue, I see little upside for our party. If the coalition goes well, the tory party will get the lion’s share of the credit and most likely a majority in the next parliament. However we will get the blame (Labour will make sure of it) if the coalition goes badly. Our party will almost certainly shift to the right, with a combination of left-leaning voters/members leaving, having to defend the coalitions (right-leaning) policies from attacks from the left, and losing some left-leaning constituencies.

    I think one of the problems shown on these boards, (if they are representive of the party as a while) is about a third of the party is completely delighted with the coalition, about a forty percent of the party is wary, fearing the worst but feel there was little choice but for the coalition, and remainder who see this as a bit of a nightmare come true. I can only see the friction between the first and third parts of the party getting worse.

  • I really am amazed to keep seeing people who come on to blogs and post that the Lib Dems have betrayed the public and sold out, then get totally out-debated after offering no serious argument as to why, and then start whinging that people are being mean to them!

    I mean, after accusing people of betrayal and then offering no rational argument of why it is so; after accusing Conservatives of being evil and then moaning about being victimised and prejudged; after saying that it was a sell-out because it didnt include PR and then refusing to behave as PR would demand after every election… how on earth to you people expect to be treated? If you want to be treated like rational and sincere Lib Dems then why not try acting like them…

  • If any LibDem members are unhappy about liberalism being sold down the river by Nick Clegg and others who were in the SDP, then there is a home for them in the Liberal Party – http://www.liberals.org.uk …..

  • sorry there is no “s” – its http://www.liberal.org.uk ….

  • Cllr Steve Radford 16th May '10 - 10:23pm

    For a progressive party it would have made more sense to invite Labour and Nationalists to form a coalition , the if labour walked away the public would have understood better the lib Dem dilemma.

    The truth will come home that the Tories dont want redistribution of wealth to the less well off but the reverse. This is not the place Liberals should be

  • Steve, did you miss the bit when Labour didnt offer a serious deal, and at the same time when a load of Labour heavyweights came out and rubbished the whole idea of a Lab-Lib coalition?

  • Robb Davey,

    (1) Nick Clegg was never in the SDP.

    (2) I was in the SDP, and I am opposed to coalition with the Tories. Ditto Charles Kennedy.

    (3) The so-called “Liberal Party” is a network of misfits and losers no-one in their right mind wants anything to do with, and it barely functions outside Tue Brook.

    (4) Don’t you think your appropriation of the word “Liberal” is downright dishonest?

  • Tony Greaves 16th May '10 - 11:23pm

    And for the 50 that voted against, they’re already breaking out the ice picks in Cowley Street. Because apparently if you show dissatisfaction with what has happened, you get told to get lost and leave the Party (as is happening on this site). For ‘Liberal’, read ‘Stalinist’.

    I don’t think it was 50, a handful – less than 30 in my view. But I couldn’t see all corners of the hall. But the atmosphere was wonderful and there was simply no recrimination against dissenters. When I appealed for tolerance and understanding and reaching out to those members who are full of anguish and doubt about their own future, I got a big round of sympathetic applause. The idea that there is a Stalinist mood in the party is silly nonsense.

    The truth is that we are all living in fear and wonder over what we have done, combined with a determination and commitment to make it work – and to come out of it stronger and more successful as a party.

    Today was an occasion we will remember with joy. As a party we have asked our conference and got their verdict and support. Contrast with Labour which could not even negotiate on behalf of all its MPs and the Tories who have still to properly face their MPs and have no intention of calling together their party. We are stronger and richer for today (except I suppose financially).

    And what a feat to get 1500 people in a hall outside Birmingham at 4 days’ notice.

    The one downside: which buffoons in the press office decided to keep out the press and TV? We have thrown away the opportunity for four hours of the best publicity for an open, democratic and respectful party that we could ever have wished for. And what an opportunity (thrown away) for involving the other 60,000 members of the party who could not get to Birmingham today. This coalition can succeed – but unless the party centrally overhauls its media operation and attitudes we have no chance.

    Tony Greaves

  • I agree with Tony Greaves on the barring of the media from the conference. I wasn’t able to go, but would have liked to watch it later. Someone presumably thought that it might bring bad publicity. In that case why hold it?

  • I was utterly appalled at the way a key question (about whether PR should be a prerequisite for a deal) was kept off the agenda. It was truly grubby and smacked of very old-style politics. The pro-agreement people who say that today was a marvellous exercise in democracy are seriously wrong – it was the very opposite. We talk of the new politics but we certainly don’t exercise it internally.

  • If you wanted Labour in government, why didn’t you vote Labour?

  • @ Tony Greaves:

    This coalition can succeed – but unless the party centrally overhauls its media operation and attitudes we have no chance.

    Truer word was ne’er spoken… We’re good at the ground war but the air war remains an area of real weakness for us. Nick’s a great communicator but he can’t do it by himself without backroom media-savvy support.

    If the Conservatives are looking on in envy at our grassroots consultation process, then we should be looking on in envy at their media operation. Hopefully someone, somewhere has a plan to get to grips with this as a matter of urgency?

  • Kevin, the country is on the edge of an economic abyss – if the Lib Dems then said “all we care about it electoral reform” the public would rightly destroy us for not taking their futures seriously.

  • Afterthought 17th May '10 - 1:20am

    Many of us who are happy at the current situation (New Politics is a reality) would also have loved to have a pact with a humbled Labour party as our first option. But guess what? Labour big-wigs shot it down because they were more concerned with being leader of the opposition rather than the good of the country.

    Simultaneously, David Cameron put an irresistible, non-Thatcherite offer on the table. Clegg didn’t strike a deal with the Nasty Party, he struck a deal with David Cameron. Time will tell whether it was for good or for ill, but if it was for good, what will the left-zombies say then!

    Oh, you zombies will be supporting progressive changes like PR, right? Right?!?

  • I think the figure was closer to 2000 in the hall, there were 2000 seats out and I did not see huge numbers of empty seats and there were lots of people standing at the front and sides. The hand count I got of people voting against was between 10 and 15.

    It was a great and united conference.

  • “A great, emotionally stirring day for Lib Dems.”

    Then your emotions are leading you into dangerous territory, and I say that as a supporter of the deal, not an opponent. There is a mood of unbalanced, febrile euphoria abroad. No doubt it is a psychlogical reaction to the roller-coaster of the election, where we soared, plummeted, and then finally seem to have snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of defeat.

    Yes, we must do our damnedest to make this work. Yes, we are right to try to work with a party whose aims and beliefs are very different from our own. It will not be easy, it will not be an unalloyed triumph, we are not guaranteed to emerge smelling of roses. The big risk is that we will lose our identity and coherence, and that people like the Greens and a resurgent (dishonestly, yes, but that’s life) Labour party will steal away much of our support base. It will be an uphill struggle to avoid that risk, and a euphoric mood will be grossly unhelpful.

    In particular, comments such as “but hey, we’re all Orange Book liberal conservatives now” are unhelpful. We are not. Our support amongst the wider public is for the ideals of our leadership over the recent past period – Steel, Ashdown, Campbell, and Kennedy too. Plus a very strong campaign by Clegg, but it really wasn’t focused on the Orange Book. Our supporters will be looking to us to stand our ground and prove that we make a difference!

  • Mboy, maybe. But my complaint was about the rigging of the agenda.

  • Andrea Gill 17th May '10 - 7:39pm

    David Blake – it was a conference for Lib Dem members to discuss and debate the decision and vote on various amendments, not a press conference. Having said that, I do hope that some of the speeches were filmed or recorded as I, sadly, was also not able to attend at such short notice.

  • Cllr.Dev Dodeja 23rd May '10 - 4:01pm

    I joined Liberal Democrat party in 1996,as i was fed up with two party system running our lives,and wished that one day Labour and CONSERVATIVE WONT GET OVERALL MAJORITY.And this time its happened,and I am sure will be good for the nation ,as the two parties were getting away with their whims.Situation is critical and we run out of money,so to rise cash privatisation and sensible cuts is on the table.

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