By 48% to 19%, Lib Dem members prefer post-2015 alliance with Labour to continuing pact with Tories

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Post-2015, 48% choose Lib-Lab pact; 19% a Lib-Con pact; 13% prefer opposition

LDV asked: Assuming the Lib Dems do not form a majority/minority government after the next election, which would be your most preferred outcome:

    2% – A Labour majority government with the Lib Dems in opposition
    6% – A minority Labour government with the Lib Dems in opposition
    19% – A Labour-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement (ie, no coalition deal so free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)
    29% – A Labour-Lib Dem coalition (if stable majority will result and programme for government can be agreed)
    13% – A second Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (if stable majority will result and programme for government can be agreed)
    6% – A Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement (ie, no coalition deal so free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)
    3% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition
    2% – A Conservative majority with the Lib Dems in opposition
    11% – Other
    10% – Don’t know / No opinion

What do Lib Dem members want to see happen after 2015 on the assumption the Lib Dems won’t form the next government — that was the question we asked, and it’s produced an interesting set of results.

Overall, Lib Dems are not so scarred by the experience of being in government that they want to retreat to the ease and comfort of opposition: just 13% say that would be their preferred option.

But there is a big difference when it comes to preferences of which of the two parties with whom to form some kind of alliance. We offered identically mirrored options for both Labour and Conservatives. By a significant margin – 48%-19% – Lib Dem members prefer a deal with Labour to one with the Tories. Some 29% want a formal Lib-Lab coalition, with 19% preferring ‘supply and confidence’. Just 13% want a second full Lib-Con coalition, with only 6% preferring ‘supply and confidence’.

Two points stand out for me. First, the evident preference of our sample of Lib Dem members for a post-2015 option to include Labour, rather than the Tories.

Secondly, the preference for full coalition (48%) over ‘supply and confidence’ (25%) with whichever party — this strikes me as sensible, as I’ve always felt ‘supply and confidence’ involves pretty much all the pain of coalition for very little gain. The party would likely be able to have as much success pushing its policies as an opposition to a minority government as it would through ‘supply and confidence’.

A significant minority (21%) of members opted either for ‘Other’ or ‘Don’t Know / No Opinion’. Looking through the write-in answers they vary a lot, but most seem to group into: those who feel it’s far too early to say; those who said they were neutral and their preference would entirely depend on the election results (this is consistent with this result from our June survey, when most members opted for ‘Opening coalition negotiations with whichever party has the strongest mandate if a stable Commons majority will result’); and those who want constructive opposition to whichever party forms the next government.

Here’s a sample of your comments:

We should seek to work with whoever has the most seats first. I don’t particularly relish the idea of working with either of them right now.

Another Tory Coalition and I leave the party after working hard for it for 38 years! I would accept a Labour Coalition if PR by STV was Guaranteed.

We would not survive a second coalition with either of the parties. If we go for a second term with the tories or even imply we would then we are dead in 2015. If we say we will go into coalition with labour then we loose the other half of the party who couldn’t work with labour after the bile they have put out against us. We need a period to rebuild.

Why are we trying to second guess what an increasingly volatile electorate will do. Prepare for a hung parliament and talk to both possible partners. If the result is the same as last time would we spurn their overtures this time? To whose or what advantage?

Difficult one! We should have the balls to go into full coalition again, if the circumstances and opportunity present themselves and it would HAVE to be with the largest Party in terms of seats and votes. On the other hand, it might not be bad to be back in opposition in order to be able to regroup, reframe our policies,refresh ourselves and really make sure we learn the lessons for the next time we have an opportunity to be part of a coalition government.

We cannot change anything in opposition so it is important to have influence with ‘whatever flavour’ the electorate chooses hence coalition with labour or Tory is of equal value. Personally I prefer Tory’s limited economic ability to Labour’s proven economic incompetence.

Lib Dems in opposition – lets get the Short and Cranborne money back to put the party’s finances on an even keel again so we can move forward once more.

A second coalition will be very good for us. 1) It will being to make people realise that coalitions may be ‘The New Normal’ 2) It will give us a crack at governing during a recovery. I would prefer a Lib-Con coalition on policy grounds, but a Lib-Lab one to demonstrate that we are not any single party’s natural allies.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 500 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 6th August.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    20 Comments

    • Tom Snowdon 13th Aug '12 - 9:25am

      Obviously the choice is going to be steered by the post election arithmatic, and we should discuss will all relevant parties. The interesting thing is that members were asked what they would prefer to happen, and that produced a large preference for a working relationship with Labour. There’s hope yet, but only if the Lib Dem leadership listens to the members.

    • There is simply more convergence on key issues. Also labour, if they backed, a Lib Dem policy as a government would push it through. I know some people will mention the Lords reform debacle, but in truth the proposals were compromised to accommodate The Conservative Party and unfortunately this gave Labour the tools to act as an opposition party.
      But clearly, there’s not that much love for the Tories amongst the lib Dem’s party members, and I would argue its voters, so maybe the leadership should take stock. Also I suspect that the Lib Dem s will recover some of it’s support once the coalition is over.

    • Liberal Neil 13th Aug '12 - 12:52pm

      There are so many ‘it depends’ involved in this that I can’t choose one option over any other at this stage.

      In particualr it depends on the outcome of the election and, if there is another balanced parliament, it depends on what each of the other parties is willing to offer.

    • It would be very interesting to see what the results would be if the LD MPs were asked the same set of questions.

      @George Potter – I absolutely agree, if there is a second LD/Con coalition then the LDs might as well merge with the Tories, as the public will see that a vote for the LDs is effectively a vote for the Tories (mind you I know a few people who feel that way already).

    • Clarification:

      I wrote: “the public will see that a vote for the LDs is effectively a vote for the Tories”

      I should have written: “the public perception will be that a vote for the LDs is effectively a vote for the Tories”

    • uglyfatbloke 13th Aug '12 - 2:34pm

      Post-election arithmetic has to be the key, but there are complications. If the coalition unravels neither Labour nor the Lib-Dems will want an election any time soon. A GE under current circumstances would damage the Tories, but Labour would lose a lot of seats in Scotland – more so if it looks like the Tories would win anyway – and the Lib_ems stand to lose virtually everything. Orkney and Shetland are safe because Carmichael is well-respected here and Ming will keep NE Fife is he stands, but he may retire and if so the gnats will most likely come from behind and snatch it.
      In the West Country, Northern England and Wales there will be a price to be paid for a coalition with the Tories whether it has been effective or not. If the Lib-Dem vote shrinks to 10 or 12 % – and it may well – there will only be a dozen or so MPs left, as was the case in the 70s. OTH there might well be 25 gnat MPs, making them the 3rd party, which was very nearly the case from 1974-79. That would be very difficult for things like committee membership quotas and broadcasting.
      Alternatively, there may be no GE until after the Scottish referendum. ‘Better Together’ will pretty surely continue lose ground so long as it is led by Darling and things will just get worse if Cameron, Miliband, Osborne, Brown etc. take a larger role. Who would be a better choice? Obviously not Lamont (and certainly not Davidson after his behaviour on Newsnicht), but Charles Kennedy and Ken MacIntosh might make a decent fist of it. If not, the gnats will win and that will have implications for the electoral math of England and Wales.

    • Charles Beaumont 13th Aug '12 - 3:05pm

      As all have rightly observed, it comes down to the numbers. But as I pointed out here (www.libdemvoice.org/with-all-constituencies-declared-labour-has-an-overall-majority-29753.html) Labour is far less likely to need a coalition. Labour’s vote is geared in such a way that they are always more likely to get an overall majority. I think it very important that we as a party understand this – whatever individual preference in ideological terms someone might have, the probability of Labour being within reach of government but without an overall majority is much lower. My view is that Labour knows this, hence its policy of destroying Clegg personally even when he is proposing policies they broadly support (AV, Lords Reform etc.).

    • Simon Hebditch 13th Aug '12 - 4:40pm

      I have consistently advocated a realignment of the left which presupposes a potential alliance with Labour if the electoral arithmetic works out. We should be in discussion now and developing a possible draft Coalition agreement to see if it is possible. At least two pre-conditions will be needed. First, that a refreshed Lib Dem party leadership will be elected to take forward this change and, secondly, that the Labour Party is sufficiently transformed to enable a radical left alliance to prosper.

    • David Allen 13th Aug '12 - 6:22pm

      I wonder what Nick Clegg makes of all this.

      Paul Ryan, who plans massive tax cuts in the teeth of a recession, is rightly identified as a far right candidate for the US vice presidency, whose policies would be bound to decimate services. Nick Clegg’s first major policy declaration, long before the Coalition, was “Big Permanent Tax Cuts”.

      Next, Nick Clegg somehow managed to convince us all that a policy of offering Coalition first to the party which would come top in the forthcoming General Election was just a natural and unexceptionable thing to do. It was, however, completely at odds with the strategy every previous Lib Dem leader had adopted. Every previous leader had insisted that their hands should in no way be tied, that they would be free to negotiate with either side to get the best deal, etc. When Clegg made his statement, Cameron was consistently a few points ahead of Brown in the polls. It was pretty obvious, in hindsight, what the statement meant.

      Now that it is Labour who are a few points ahead, look forward to Clegg saying that he would be happy to make a coalition deal with whichever side makes the best offer.

      Clegg alternates between ideologue and consensualist. When he wants to seize an opportunity, he acts the ideologue, as he did when rushing through the Coalition agreement with Cameron. When things turn against him, he goes all consensualist, and quietly hangs in there waiting for his fortunes to change. That’s what he’s doing right now, and it may well work for him, because no single event will persuade our party not to leave him in place for a bit longer. That’s how Brown survived to fight the 2010 election, and it’s how Clegg will seek to survive and fight the 2015 election. And then turn back to ideological, and start pitching for his place in a Tory led government.

    • Malcolm Todd 13th Aug '12 - 7:12pm

      Yeah, except Clegg didn’t “offer Coalition first to the party which would come top in the forthcoming General Election”. He said that that party would have “the first right to seek to govern either on its own or by reaching out to other parties”. Which not only strikes me as “natural and unexceptionable”, but is the way that countries with a tradition of no-majority parliaments and coalition governments generally operate. It certainly doesn’t mean the Tories were “offered” a coalition first. As is well known, the LDs were indeed simultaneously negotiating with Labour — even though the politics and the parliamentary arithmetic both made it pretty obvious to most people that there was virtually zero chance of getting a workable coalition with them.
      You’ve accused Clegg & co of rewriting history often enough (and often rightly) — don’t do the same yourself.

    • Talk about ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’! At least a dozen Labour figures publicly kyboshed a Lib-Lab coalition deal, which could have prospered, but only with 100% discipline. Half the PLP campaigned against a modest change to the voting system, and then the leadership failed to come to the LDs’ aid over the Lords reform programme motion. There’s a sizeable chunk of the PLP which is as reactionary as the Tory party. If there is no Commons majority in 2015, take advantage of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which removes the fear of a snap election 6 mths later, stay outside, and vote issue by issue.

    • Malcolm,

      You’re right, “offer Coalition first” is a slight over-statement on my part. Clegg in fact said that “a party which has both most votes and most seats is entitled to support”. This falls slightly short of a pre-election promise to agree a coalition with that party.

    • ‘gnats’ ? Not a very respectful way to refer to the next 3rd party in Parliament. My money’s on either a Lab-SNP government of sorts, or possibly a Tory-Ulster Unionist one, but we’ll see.

      btw, not sure we have yet had a balanced parliament, we have so far had unbalanced ones delivered via FPtP, which occasionally result in no one party having a majority of seats, Terminology, but to me using ‘balanced’ in the context of the current mess simply risks goving it an air of respectability it doesn’t deserve.

    • David Rogers 14th Aug '12 - 7:41am

      96% of respondents want to see something other than a majority Government, either Labour or Tory…..

    • - some valid points made by all, but JUP’s point is the one we should do something about.. much of what happens is out of our hands, but altering the public’s perception of us shouldn’t be. Though it has to be said, the result will be largely what the media deliver, and we underestimate their power and influence every time! They constantly play see-saw with two parties, only mentioning any other when they have to(it happened again last night on Newsnight, ok it was only Toby Thingy, but he wasn’t corrected), as they and so many on here see our politics as replicating the US.
      The gambit for Clegg should be:
      1)to work up the exposure of the coalitions which effectively the Labour Party and the Tory Party both are, ie that the front benches are occupied by 5 different interest groups, but that only one of them has at its heart a set of principles and an interest in the public they represent. That Tory and Labour are split from top to toe on any number of issues, and have to run this veneer of being ‘broad church’ when in fact they are held together internally in pursuit of power as their key principle.
      2) That as the only Party (of the 5)with the country at heart, we should be making clear that we are the party that should be the Government. That we have shown, with few (albeit exceptional), mistakes that we do have sound judgement and comprehensive well structured policies. That come the election, if we don’t get a working majority we will deal with individuals and groups of MPs, from whatever gang they belong to, signing up to work with us to achieve our commitments to the British public.
      We must stop assessing ourselves against other people’s criteria, and make it clear that we are unique and that we have a vision. We could do worse than referring to quotes from our constitution at every opportunity, so that the public understand where we are coming from.

    • A lib Dem leader should surely seek to enter coalition with whichever party allowed us to deliver the broadest range of our policies and principles. What the recent LD Voice poll shows us is that 1/3 of the party are broadly in the faction of the right of the party from which the current leadership is drawn and two thirds are on the left.

      This being repeated across activists and voters refelects the exponential decline in the party’s electoral fortunes as keen activists from the left are deactivated by the right leaning actions of the leadership.

      There is simply no point in campaigning for the Lib Dems for many people if what the Lib Dems deliver is the policies of the current coalition.

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