My ‘Super Thursday’ Lib Dem post mortem

A bad day for the Lib Dems, but not unexpectedly so. Call it sanguine, call it resigned…

Lib Dems Corby pressed

The party expected to get squeezed in Corby, and we were. I suspect we lost some ‘none of the above’ voters to Ukip and some left-leaning liberals to Labour (and many others who just didn’t vote). To forfeit our deposit by barely more than a dozen votes added an extra ignominy (although revived an old Liberal tradition). Though there is something practical we can do to lend a hand there…

PCCs – Lib Dems draw a blank

As for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, well these were never likely to be Lib Dem success stories. According to the Police Federation there were only two areas out of 41 which the party would have won even if we had polled at the level we did at the 2010 general election: Avon & Somerset and Dyfed-Powys (where the party didn’t field a candidate). It is certainly disappointing that the party didn’t manage even a solitary second place — based on the 2010 results we would have been in second place in 20 regions. However, the extremely low turnout, combined with the presence of strong independent candidates, makes it impossible to extrapolate any useful data about a future Lib Dem general election performance.

A potential cause for optimism for liberals (not necessarily Lib Dems)

The Police Federation estimated, based on recent opinion polling, that the Tories would win 21 PCC elections, Labour 20. However, the current scores on the doors are Tories 15, Labour 13 — and 12 Independents (Devon & Cornwall has yet to declare). This truly was a day for Independents, especially when you add in the success of new Bristol mayor George Ferguson.

Now I have to say I have a general suspicion of ‘Independents’ — many of them are anything but, are often disappointed renegades who feel they’ve not had the recognition they deserved from the political parties they used to belong to. Just slapping the label ‘Independent’ on a formerly partisan person with their own value-set does not make them genuinely independent (whatever that means).

HOWEVER… I have to confess to being left just a little bit impressed by the success of so many independents in these elections. Yes, some of the public probably just put a cross next to the box marked ‘independent’ in an unthinking knee-jerk kick against the mainstream parties.

But it doesn’t seem to me that’s the best explanation for their success — rather that small proportion of the public which voted seems to have taken the time and trouble to look up the backgrounds of the candidates in order to vote for who they thought would be the best qualified candidate. We may disagree with their choice, but I’m actually quite heartened that it wasn’t a case of voters automatically picking their usual party.

What seems to have happened is that the mass franchise electorate was whittled down to a perfectly formed selectorate: a few voters taking an active interest not being drowned out by the larger number of voters with minimal interest. I’m conflicted by this development. On the one hand, depressed that so few citizens used their right to vote (even if to spoil their ballot). On the other hand, encouraged that many of those who did engage have taken their responsibility seriously.

Of course come the next general election, when voters face the choice of electing their local MP and national government, we will almost certainly see a reversion to the norm: the public will return to mainstream parties. But every election which unwinds their usual partisan certainties stretches voter allegiance a little more thinly than before. And that’s a big, big challenge to the main three political parties.

* 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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60 Comments

  • and there is the hypothesis based on wishful thinking with no evidence to back it up.

    The alternative hypothesis based on votes cast is that the party is incredibly unpopular

    Whilst the first hypothesis is the belief of the leadership then you can forget any realistic chance of recovery.

    It seems also that these mid-term blues are disproportionately hitting one party – and the Tories would have cause for more optimism as the UKIP vote is probably very soft.

    What evidence is the these ‘Independents’ are liberals. One or two may be but there seems to be quite a lot of ex-Tories

  • ” However, the extremely low turnout, combined with the presence of strong independent candidates, makes it impossible to extrapolate any useful data about a future Lib Dem general election performance. ”

    Only if you have deliberately closed your eyes to the disaster around you for the last two and a half years.

  • I’m now looking to see what (and how expensive) the staff of my newly elected (and unwanted) PCC will be, and who will be on the police authority – no, sorry, the police and crime panel which has a limited, but potentially real influence on the man in question. How will they be selected? When will they meet? Will they talk to the people in their communities (rather more realistic communities than the PCC supposedly represents)? Will we know what they’re doing? And why not?

  • Gwent Police force area – solid Labour Valleys and four Labour and one Tory MP – elected an ex-copper (independent) over the Labour candidate. And would have done so on first-preference votes alone.

    One Newport ward (two Labour MPs, two Labour AMs, Labour-run council,) made national/international news for casting zero votes.

    Does that bode ill for Labour at the next General /Assembly/council elections? I doubt it.

    Maybe the Lib Dems at Westminster will be wiped out or maybe not. But you really can’t conclude anything from these elections, except that hardly anyone bothered to vote for anyone.

  • correction – Gwent area = FIVE Labour and one Tory MP

  • Paul McKeown 16th Nov '12 - 11:29pm

    Corby has never been won by the Liberal Party, by the SDP, by the Liberal Democrats or by an “Alliance” candidate. The seat was created in 1983 from parts of Wellingborough and Kettering. A National Liberal won Wellingborough in 1922. The Lib Dems and their forefathers have never even come second in Corby, although a Coalition Liberal managed to come second in Kettering in 1918. The Lib Dems and their predecessors have never come close to competing in these seat, not in a century.

    Why would anyone think there was a hope in hell of the LDs putting on a show in such a seat, whilst in government during the worst economic crisis in that century?

    Talk of how badly the LDs did here in the by-election is grist to the mill for the party’s enemies and to the discontented, but the truth is, it doesn’t give any indication as to how the party will do in seats in which it traditionally has done well.

    Oh, and the UKIP candidate will lose his deposit in Corby at the General Election in 2015, whilst the Lib Dem candidate won’t. Let UKIP bloviate for now. After all, it’s all its good for! It has 4000 fewer councillors than the Lib Dems and 57 fewer MPs. That isn’t going to change in UKIP’s favour in a month of Sundays! LOL

    Jill Hope should be applauded. For her courage, in what she knew was a hopeless venture.

  • Tom Morrison 16th Nov '12 - 11:42pm

    Completely agree with Paul! Jill was a fantastic candidate and reguarly wiped the floor with the other candidates at the various debates she attended. The small team that ran the campaign fought hard and to actually come within only 14 votes of the deposit with a high (for a by-election) turnout is testament to the effort put in.

  • Peter Watson 16th Nov '12 - 11:49pm

    @Paul McKeown
    “Why would anyone think there was a hope in hell of the LDs putting on a show in such a seat, whilst in government during the worst economic crisis in that century?”
    Because the coalition narrative has been that Tories and Lib Dems are clearing up Labour’s mess. If the voters are not believing that then what are the chances of a Lib Dem recovery by 2015?

  • “To forfeit our deposit …revived an old Liberal tradition”

    Yes, but the threshold was twelve-and-a-half percent in those days, not a measly five per cent!

    Apart from “a good candidate”, can anybody put forward a single, important, convincing reason why anyone should have wanted to vote Lib Dem in Corby?

    The Clegg Liberal Democrats are seeking a niche in British political life which has shrunk to vanishing point.

  • How’s Charles Kennedy’s health these days because we are in desperate need of a decent leader? Everyone knows Clegg is the problem, but are being to loyal, if he stays much longer the party will go bust just paying the lost deposites bill in 2015!

  • Cassie

    It was good to see ‘Independents’ winning but on a turn out of 15% with major apathy that is perhaps not a surprise. To then seem to blame Labour for the poor turnout is a little rich from a party whose Government proposed these ridiculous elections.

    Look at the ERS and electoral commission feedback as to what the problems were – I think you will find ‘the Opposition’ pretty low on the list.

    In the past this independent vote would have gone, in part at least, to the LD. As the article said you were well placed in 20 regions and to not even maintain any of those is surely an indictment of the leadership.

    I am astonished still to see this attitude that all will come good by 2015 – there is no evidence to support this from anywhere but still it seems to be the main approach of the leadership

  • Andy Boddington 17th Nov '12 - 7:11am

    Stephen

    You have come at your brief analysis of police commissioners with the wrong premise (and you are not alone in this). The assumption is that the PCC elections were a political affair and somehow reflect the state of the parties.

    I have talked to dozens of voters in South Shropshire, and listened to rather more at meetings and on BBC Radio Shropshire. What has been clear is that they don’t want the police commissioners at all. But if they must have them, then they must not be political.

    The Conservative and Labour candidates in West Mercia did themselves serious damage by repeatedly claiming they were “non-political”, while being overtly political in their presentations and leaflets. Here in Ludlow, the Tory brochure was delivered wrapped in a leaflet for local Tory councillors – a practice I know cost the candidate votes.

    But the Tories still lost despite the strength of their campaigning teams in the three West Mercia counties. Labour has almost no presence in much of the area so had no machine to put in motion. The Lib Dems were thankfully not involved. The independent Bill Longmore – Honest Bill as I call him – succeeded by hard graft and just being himself. And above all not ever speaking in politicised terms.

    People voted for the independents because they did not want political parties involved in policing. If David Cameron wanted these elections to succeed, he should have declared that they are non-political from the outset.

  • Seems all perfectly rational to me… the party retains its support where there are good local candidates – look at the recent local council elections. Where there is an opportunity to tell the party what it thinks of it nationally the electorate is putting across its message that it doesnt like what its seeing. Thats why the folk who talk up the local election results as evidence that we are not doing that badly really are so, so wrong.

    Coupled with the ‘well, we were never going to win that seat anyway so it doesnt matter’ line of argument and the ‘it doesn’t really matter if we dont put up candidates for a major electoral test across the country’ and the ‘who cares about lost deposits anyway’ – well whistle all you like but I think it points to very serious problems.

  • The Tory Party at least have Mrs Mensch as an excuse. Might I suggest that theLidDem leaders’ advice to ‘leftish’ voters to take their votes elsewhere (advice that seems to have been accepted) did the Party no favours.

  • Surely it is wrong to field candidates in Wales and Bristol, as Independents, when they are, in fact, Liberal democrats. In view of the coalition decision not to send out details of candidates to enable people to make decisions, surely this is blatant dishonesty, or, at least, being economical with the truth.
    If this is the only way that the party can get voted for, this does not look godd for the future.

  • bazzasc > To then seem to blame Labour for the poor turnout is a little rich from a party whose Government proposed these ridiculous elections.

    Er??? Who is blaming Labour?
    My point was that NO ONE is blaming Labour for the result in Gwent, because given the low turn-out, that would be silly.
    That no one imagines the result in the PCC elections will reflect that in the next General/Assembly/council elections.

    Therefore, no one should be using the PCC elections to predict the demise of the Lib Dems either.

    >I am astonished still to see this attitude that all will come good by 2015

    Whose attitude? I presume not referring to my post – if it is, then it would seem you didn’t read any of it properly.

    Andy >The Conservative and Labour candidates in West Mercia did themselves serious damage by repeatedly claiming they were “non-political”, while being overtly political

    That went for Labour here. Loads of almost identical letters in the local paper criticising the independents and “that’s why I’m voting for…”, signed by Labour councillors, didn’t do him any favours, I don’t think.

    I think the independents picked up a lot* of votes that were just “anyone but Labour”: the second preference figures suggest that, for sure. And I’d imagine independents in Tory heartlands benefited the same way. It’s an interesting voting system – wonder why it was deemed good for these elections when the Conservatives who brought it in were so anti-AV?
    Then again, Labour brought in the list system for Wales’ Assembly elections, but kept FPTP for Westminster.

    * Well, when I say “a lot”……!!!.

  • Margaret – I think you may be confusing ‘liberals’ in the main article with Lib Dems.

    The two independents in Gwent were ex- coppers and standing entirely on that basis.
    As far as I know, neither was a Lib Dem plant cunningly in disguise!
    (One was accused by Labour of being a Plaid plant, mind you).

  • There’s not a lot to learn from the PCCs . Not only did independents do very well, but the way the vote was worked out was closer to AV than to the FPTP basis general election are fought on. But demanding recounts over a lost deposit in Corby looked a little desperate and unprofessional.

  • Dean Clarke 17th Nov '12 - 9:25am

    West Mercia: I coudnt vote Tory, would have voted Labour, but he wanted a war on drugs…. discredited and failed approach to problem. I and most of those who helped in my district elections would no longer consider themselves to be Lid Dem whilst considering themselves Lib.

  • Peter Watson 17th Nov '12 - 10:23am

    @Paul McKeown “Jill Hope should be applauded. For her courage, in what she knew was a hopeless venture.”
    This does make me wonder why candidates – for any of the major parties – stand in seats where they have no chance. Is it evangelical zeal or the more pragamatic promise of a safer seat in the future?

  • Matt Hemsley 17th Nov '12 - 10:45am

    I agree with Andy Boddington. I think there is a prevailing view across the country – no doubt shared by many Lib Dems – that our police should not become politicised. I think people have heavily voted Independent on that basis, rather than making an informed choice that the Independent was the best person for the job.

    In Surrey, I note the elected Independent has a background in private security. I have no idea what his views are on outsourcing specific police functions to the private sector, but perhaps he is more aware of the opportunities than many others. If he outsources a variety of functions, do we think this is what the people of Surrey voted for? This is a bit hypothetical as I don’t know the new PCC’s views, but an interesting point when again the prevailing view nationally is we don’t want our police service privatised (usually a fairly basic argument made without understanding the array of tasks that have the potential to be outsourced, but nonetheless.)

    In Avon & Somerset I used my second preference for the (victorious) Independent. I know little of her, except the fact her family bakery business went bust. Let’s hope she is better at the police budget sums!

  • Maybe the public are trying to tell us that politics and policing do not mix. Perhaps they read their history books with particular reference to nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945.
    Call me a scaremonger if you will but did the BNP miss an opportunity,? With the low turn out and the loyalty of their voters in areas where they did well at the general election they might have got one or two candidates elected . Then their PCC would have had the authority to persuader the Chief Constable to lay off policing their marches and what more…..?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Nov '12 - 12:53pm

    @ Dave Page

    Three by-elections.

    One in a seat which was marginal, and changed hands, at the last general election. The by-election results in the seat changing hands again, Of the two governing parties, the senior partner in the coalition loses the seat while the junior partner loses its deposit.

    Two in safe seats held by the main opposition party. In both, the defending party retains the seat. One is remarkable only for the derisory turn-out.

    If you were a journalist, which of these by-elections would you consider to be the most interesting?

  • In Manchester Central we came a very respectable second while the Tories and UKIP lost their deposits, and in Cardiff South we actually gained ground.

    Now I’ve heard it all – I really have.

    In Manchester Central the Lib Dem vote share fell from 26.6% to 9.4%, and the actual vote from 10,620 to 1,571.

    In Cardiff South and Penarth the Lib Dem vote share fell from 22.3% to 10.8%, and the actual vote from 9,875 to 2,103.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 17th Nov '12 - 1:26pm

    Yet another lost deposit! Your only hope would seem to be for all your candidates to stand as so called ‘Independents’. Coalition is obviously bad for your health. (And no proportional representation or House of Lords reform to show for it either.)

  • I literally laughed my socks off when I read Dan Hannan’s comment that ‘Nigel Farage is surely now a more attractive partner than Nick Clegg’.

    The extent of UKIP activity in my county is to sit at home and read the newspapers, and they will struggle to find enough members to put forward 8 PPCs at the next general election.

  • In Bristol we went from running the Council to 4th place, why are local MP campaigned for the creation of directly elected Mayors at a time of National unpopularity is the biggest mystery of the whole sorry saga and one many of not forget. I am sure he is now happy for our removal from office to make way for an independent. With MP’s like him and Clegg I really feel for the survival of the party.

  • Did we expect to be squeezed by UKIP? Liberator has two excellent articles ,by Bill LeBreton and Lord Greaves. This result confirms the conclusion that we have been led back to the good old days and we will need to start again.

  • Giselle Williams 17th Nov '12 - 5:38pm

    Now I have to say I have a general suspicion of ‘Independents’ — many of them are anything but, are often disappointed renegades who feel they’ve not had the recognition they deserved from the political parties they used to belong to. Just slapping the label ‘Independent’ on a formerly partisan person with their own value-set does not make them genuinely independent (whatever that means).
    ————————–

    Does that statement include Winston Roddick, Liberal Democrat Member, who stood and won as an Independent?

  • Chris 9-10% in safe Labour seats compares reasonably well with our vote share in such seats in 1995-7 – 10% in Gwent, 8% in Barnsley East and 7% in Hemsworth.

    Similarly we polled 4.6% in Lab/Con marginal South Staffs which Labour gained in that period (though that was the low point of out performance in Lab.

  • The amount of delusion and refusal to open eyes and face reality by many posters on this site is shocking and sad. Our party’s “leaders” and those who seem willing to follow them off a cliff need to wake up and realise that the voters who we once relied on are gone and may never come back. I fear we could be reduced to a party whose MPs all fit in one or two taxis in 2015 and the very same people will still be telling us that is a good result. We need to face up to reality: the party and its leadership (if you can call it that) have lost the plot and thrown away decades of hard work in this coalition (a coalition which we are getting next to nothing out of). Sadly, I think the delusion will continue and, as usual, everyone else (Labour, the Tories, UKIP, the electorate, etc.) will get the blame instead of the party looking inward and realising our current predicament is of our own making.

  • Liberal Eye 17th Nov '12 - 6:34pm

    On PCC elections I agree with Andy Boddington. There was a groundswell of opinion against politicising the police with many, including myself, choosing not to vote or even spoil the ballot because the best way to register my displeasure was to do my bit to see the headline turnout figure as low as possible.

    For one police view of this ahead of the vote see this (a more recent post has a great list of humbug quotes that some politicians rightly desrve to have flung back in their face).

    http://inspectorgadget.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/pcc-elections-a-sad-and-sinister-week-for-policing/

    More generally, Thursday was yet another example of the rule that in local elections where there is a good team we do well but that the further away from ‘local’ it gets the worse the result. In other words, the national Party subtracts rather than adds value. Something for Tim Gordon to ponder I think.

  • “Chris 9-10% in safe Labour seats compares reasonably well with our vote share in such seats in 1995-7 – 10% in Gwent, 8% in Barnsley East and 7% in Hemsworth.”

    Which represented, respectively, changes in the Lib Dem vote share of +4.9%, -0.2% and -3.7%.

    Do you really think that “compares reasonably well” with these seats, in which the changes were -11.5% and -17.2%?

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Nov '12 - 10:12pm

    It’s extremely hard to draw anything positive from this. Whilst the evidence from PCC elections is unlikely to be in any way conclusive, there is nothing to be frawn from the results which can be good for us, nor from the by-elections or from any other of Thursday’s contests. Those who seek to disagree are confusing their high regard for hard working candidates (and I’ve no doubt these are good people) for the extremely low results.

    I am broadly in agreement with the decisions taken by the leadership in the past few years, but we have to accept that the electorate absolutely is not. As 2015 looms closer we need a total rethink. Mid-term blues this is not.

    The public hates politicians and we used to be ‘the real alternative’. Unless we can recover some of that edge then we are finished.

  • Paul in Twickenham 18th Nov '12 - 7:44am

    Nick Clegg was being interviewed after these dreadful results were announced and described them as “mid term blues”, but there is no law of politics that states that parties in government must enjoy increasing support as elections approach.

    Having spent the last three years delivering policies that have resulted – at best – in economic stagnation, it is now I suspect too late to turn this wreck around. The 7% national share registered last Thursday is probably a fair indication of the party’s future support at the ballot box, at least until the inevitable defeat of the coalition parties in 2015 when the Lib Dems can once again become a harmless conduit for protest against government.

    A lot of the electoral damage is due to “circumstances beyond our control”. Global economic stagnation has resulted in this http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2012/11/20121115_EUVote.png interesting graph of support for governing parties.

    But a lot of the damage has been self-inflicted. Faced with the opportunity to put Lib Dem backsides onto the upholstery of ministerial jags the leadership abandoned our manifesto and voters, deciding that it we could only show that “coalition can work” by giving unwavering support to anything put forward by the government, no matter how illiberal.

    Only the hostile reaction of the Lib Dem activist base has prevented our ministers from quacking like Tories and waddling like Tories. Frankly, is it any wonder that we are on 7%?

  • Ed Shepherd 18th Nov '12 - 8:09am

    “Better Dead Than Red”? That’s slogan that makes me think of McCarthyism, witch-hunts and Cold War paranoia. It is a sentiment that has no place in modern democratic politics.

  • “Nick Clegg was being interviewed after these dreadful results were announced and described them as “mid term blues”, …”

    Trust Clegg to come up with something both glib and utterly fallacious.

    His “mid term” has been going on for about two years now. The question is whether there will be anything to stop it continuing until the next general election – and beyond.

  • The simple fact (as I see it) is that almost all your left of centre voters have now abandoned your party.

    Being a bit of a lefty who has voted LD in the past I now have no option but to hold my nose and vote Labour.

  • @Timak

    “Being a bit of a lefty who has voted LD in the past I now have no option but to hold my nose and vote Labour.”

    And you will regret it bitterly afterwards as the public finances fall apart and pressing problems facing the UK economy are not dealt with because Labour’s special interest group based politics forbids any solutions.

    Which bit of 1997 to 2010 did you miss exactly?

  • “Which bit of 1997 to 2010 did you miss exactly?”

    I’m tempted to ask which bit of 1979-1997 you missed, if you refuse to countenance anyone but the Tories being in power.

  • I came here to see the Lib Dem reaction, would they finally understand how unpopular their decision to ally themselves with the Tories was? How woefully ineffective in government they have been? The Tories have been able to have their rightwing dream government, privatising the NHS, increasing tuition fees, cutting public services, austerity, introducing secret courts, ripping up planning controls, and workfare for the unemployed.

    The Lib Dems? You got AV, which the Tories sabotaged, and pupil premiums. Pushing money around the education budget, which nobody but you cares about. Yet you still have this ‘London bubble’ delusion, that if only the little people, the simple ordinary people understood the brilliance of your project. Then they would all come back to you. How unreasonable of them not to vote the way you think they should.

    Lets try one more time to penetrate the bubble, the voters are not coming back. Stay in the coalition, and you best make sure you have a healthy bank account, because you will be loosing your deposits across the entire country.

  • David Allen 18th Nov '12 - 6:48pm

    One little afterthought about the police and crime commissioners. I’ll guess that some 5-10% of voters are in the Police or have relatives who are. I’ll bet that most of them voted. So, now they know that almost nobody else did. Next time, will the Police Federation learn the obvious lesson, stand a full slate of candidates, and make sure the police are the first UK business to be controlled by the Trade Union?

    Mind you, there is one other important group of stakeholders, with respect to PCCs, who could also intervene effectively in these elections, should they choose to do so. What percentage of the voting populace do we suppose might be actively employed in, or related to those employed in, our Crime industry?

  • David Allen 18th Nov '12 - 6:52pm

    PS, early canvassing experience:

    Man on Doorstep: “So, what are you going to do for the cwiminals, then?”

    Rookie Lib Dem: “Well, we would put more bobbies on the beat, and…”

    Man on Doorstep; “Nah, nah, nah. What are you going to do for the CWIMINALS?!”

  • “almost nobody else did. Next time, will the Police Federation learn the obvious lesson, stand a full slate of candidates, and make sure the police are the first UK business to be controlled by the Trade Union?”

    I thought that many industries are controlled by a trade union, such as law and medicine? Those industries operate closed shops that are very expensive to enter and aggressively protect the prvileges of their members. Lib Dems only ever attack unions organised by average workers not unions that protect wealthy professionals. I have nothing to do with the police and I voted for a PCC but to be honest I think the PCC role is an unnecesary expense. The PCC election have been a waste money.

  • RC. On the subject of ‘not missing’, I have not missed the bit between May 2010 to the present, no I look on with incredulity. You should be able to guess the ‘regret’ bit. Yes I voted LibDem in 2010, (and several times in my life actually). What more can I say?

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Nov '12 - 2:19pm


    Nick Clegg was being interviewed after these dreadful results were announced and described them as “mid term blues”,

    Yes – but they shouldn’t be. This is a government which is five-sixths Tory and one-sixth LibDem. So we shouldn’t be getting blamed for what it is doing, we should be making it clear that we are only a small part of it, it is a lot different from how it would be if we were the dominant coalition partner.

    Clegg’s using the term “mid-term blues” is a continuation of the strategy he has been using since the coalition was formed – of making out the Liberal Democrats have more power in the coalition than they have, of making the Liberal Democrats take an equal share of blame for the government’s policies despite having much less than an equal say in determining what they are. By using the term “mid-term blues” he’s suggesting it’s a LibDem government, the LibDems are suffering because of that. How difficult is it to get across the message that with only one sixth of its MPs it’s NOT A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GOVERNMENT? It’s what the people voted for in 2010 and in 2011 when they voted in support of the electoral system which gave it to us by twisting representation in favour of the Tories and against the LibDems – a Tory government with a little bot of LibDem influence only when that influence doesn’t contradict Tory policies.

  • The reason that voters appear to blame the LibDems much more than the Tories for the various unpopular stuff coming from government is that in past times the voting public were led to believe that the LibDems were the ‘nice guys’ of British politics. And who can blame the public for that. Over the years the Liberals and then the LibDems cultivated an image of a liberal, progressive, civilized, well-mannered and thoroughly likeable bunch. How does that fit with the the Tory policies so often pursued by government over the last 2.5 years (with the LibDems often giving the appearance of real enthusiasm for those policies)? The answer can be found, I would respectfully suggest, in the Corby by-election results. This, I think was predictable. Whatever the logical and selfless reasons the LibDem had for joining the Tories in this coalition, I believed in May 2010, as I do today, that it a very risky move, to put it mildly. The Tories are a grim old bunch, and to be associated with their grim, idealogically-driven works was not a good move. So, what can be done to turn around things so that the LibDems gain popularity before the next election. I don’t know.

  • Matthew Huntbach. You make the point that “NOT A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GOVERNMENT”. I know this and you know this; but you (and I) really can’t blame the public for getting the impression that the government is, well sort of 50/50. From it’s inception the Coalition has appeared an equal gathering. Prime Minister/Deputy Prime Minister – an even split. The “Quad”, two Tories and two LibDems, again 50/50. There are times when LibDem Ministers and spokespersons pop up on our TV screens as much as top Tories, good for them but it all does rather give the impression that the government is a joint effort, (‘joint’ here meaning ‘equal’). In fact the Coalition is far from ‘joint’, as you correctly point out, it is 6/1 Tory/LibDem. But the impression of ‘equality’ of Tory/LibDem reponsibilty is incredibly powerful, because the voting public appears to blame the LibDems at least as much as the Tories for unpopular goverment policies. That was always going to be the Coalition’s great risk to the LibDems, whilst being very convenient for the Conservatives. The only answer was not to have joined.

  • Peter Watson 19th Nov '12 - 11:52pm

    @BIGDAVE “The only answer was not to have joined.” Light the blue touchpaper and retire. ;-)
    Oh dear. Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I agree with you. But that comment risks triggering the arguments about how things have panned out in the parallel universes where we made different choices.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Nov '12 - 3:31pm

    BIGDAVE

    Matthew Huntbach. You make the point that “NOT A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GOVERNMENT”. I know this and you know this; but you (and I) really can’t blame the public for getting the impression that the government is, well sort of 50/50. From it’s inception the Coalition has appeared an equal gathering.

    Yes, I know. And from its inception, I have been posting here, again and again and in increasing anger, my belief that those who have pursued this presentation of our public image have made a huge mistake. I am not blaming the public for having this impression, I am blaming the leadership of this party and those responsible or its national image presentation.

    You can check my record – from May 2010 I have begged and pleaded the party high ups to change their tack, not to use this “equal partners” tactic, because it is not working (or when it fist started, I made clear my belief that it would not work), it is destroying the party I have given my life to.

    Well, they haven’t listened, have they? They have done the opposite, haven’t they? But I was right in the first place, wasn’t I?

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Nov '12 - 3:37pm

    BIGDAVE

    The only answer was not to have joined.

    No, I have argued elsewhere why I feel this would have had just as bad consequences.

    Joining the coalition was always going to damage us, but we should have embarked on a damage limitation exercise by making clear that circumstances (i.e. the electoral system and the way people voted) forced us into it, it is a long way from our ideal, and actually we can’t expect to get much out of it apart from a slight amelioration of the worst of what the Tories want. We should above all have avoided looking so word-beginning-with-sm-and-rhyming-with-rug (I put it this way because LDV won’t let me use the word) about being in the coalition. I said this as soon as it was formed, despite reluctantly accepting its formation. Our leaders did the opposite – and look at the consequences.

  • Matthew Huntbach. I was, and I am still of the opinion that the Tory/LibDem Coalition was and is a disaster in the making (electorally) for the LibDems. The ideological and emotional ‘heart’ of the LibDem membership is miles away from that of the Conservatives. For much of the last 30 months the LibDem MPs have supported policies that (in my opinion) were anathema to your membership and a majority of your voters, who looked on with incredulity and some anger. Presumably the LibDem leadership and MPs felt that voting for measures that were at variance with the party’s stated policies and beliefs was a worthwhile price to be pay for being in the Coalition and therefore ‘in government’. I would argue that the (possible) electoral destruction of the party was far too high a price to pay to be ‘in government’. The obvious way to avoid this would have been to steer well clear of a formal arrangement with the Tory Party – an outfit not known for its magnanimity or charity.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Nov '12 - 10:24am

    BIGDAVE

    Presumably the LibDem leadership and MPs felt that voting for measures that were at variance with the party’s stated policies and beliefs was a worthwhile price to be pay for being in the Coalition and therefore ‘in government’.

    OK, BIGDAVE, please put your money where your mouth is. What would YOU tax to pay for what is having to be cut right now?

    Now, the point is there’s a lot I dislike about this government, it’s making a bad situation a whole lot worse, but I’m not going to pretend that if the Liberal Democrats actually had won a majority at the last general election all would be marvellous, the economy would be booming, there would be no tough economic decisions to make. Part of the problem now is that when the Liberal Democrats HAVE suggested more ways to raise tax money to pay for government spending, they’ve been shouted down and misrepresented no just by the political right but also by the Labour Party.

    I’ve made it very clear that the impression the LibDem leadership has given – as a deliberate tactic – of being very pleased with itself to be “in government” was an absolute disaster, it comes across so badly, in just the way you suggest. Yet I am also aware we have to work with what the people of this country voted for, and like it or not they voted for a Conservative government.

    “Oh”, you may say, “but only 36% of them actually voted Conservative”. Yes, but those who voted Labour voted for a party that supports our current electoral system on the grounds it’s best to have the distortion that usually gives us single party government from whichever party got the most votes. In May 2010, that party was the Conservatives. In May 2011 we had a referendum on this issue. Not only most Conservatives, but many prominent Labour Party people called for a “No” vote on electoral reform, arguing we should keep our current electoral system on the grounds that it’s a good system because it distorts representation so that it usually gives us single party government from whichever party got the most votes. In May 2010, that party was the Conservatives. People voted “No” by two-to-one. That is, they voted for the principle we should have a Conservative government now. If there were any Labour Party people who opposed this idea, I don’t remember them making their views heard.

    As I have said, thanks to the distortions of the electoral system, as backed, two-to-one by the British people, we have a Parliament where the alternative was either the current coalition in which the Liberal Democrats have only a small influence, or a Conservative minority government in which the Liberal Democrats would have no influence (just throw a few billion at Northern Ireland to get the Ulster Unionists to support them, easy-peasy, unlike LibDem votes, their votes aren’t going anywhere else, and NI has its own public service system so the Unionists can happily vote for the cuts in the rest of the UK without repercussions back in their constituencies).

  • @Mathew Hunthach. Points taken. First let me start by totally disagreeing with you insofar as “the people of this country voted for, and like it or not they voted for a Conservative government”. Our electoral system is old, creeky and unfair (I am a supporter of PR, I don’t know which variant – there are so many) BUT the result of the last general election was anything but a green light from the electorate for a Conservative government. In a dog’s breakfast of an electoral system, the result itself was a dog’s breakfast. No party won; no party therefore had a legitimate mandate, the Conservative’s with 307 seats, were the biggest party but with no overall majority that 307, of itself, under our electoral system was useless to them. It certainly was not a request from the electorate to the Conservatives to form a legitimate government.

    As for the United Kingdom’s finances (the ‘deficit’) I have some firm views. First let me say that I have paid a lifetime of taxes, both PAYE and as a self-employed sole trader. It has never occurred to me to avoid paying a single penny of tax – I have no special love for forking out to the taxman, BUT I consider that paying tax is a very necessary duty – a price to be paid for civilisation.

    So, to tax and reducing the deficit. I would raise the Standard Rate to 28p (no I am not joking, this is still lower than most of continental Europe), but the standard tax-free allowance would be £15,500. The higher rate of income tax would be 70% and would start at £45,000 income. On income above £190,000 the rate would be 90%. Corporation tax would be 25%. I would change the United Kingdom tax avoidance culture from ‘good luck if you can get away with it’ to ‘you’re going to prison’. For PAYE and self-employed tax avoidance I would make penalties much more severe.

    It would not be difficult to simplify company and financial regulations so that ‘x’ tax MUST be paid by ALL companies operating within these islands – wherever they are based, on paper, on the planet. Any attempt to ‘get clever’ and find a way around such a law would carry a minimum five-year jail sentence, with an unlimited prison sentence for actual company tax avoidance. And those liable for such treatment would be CEOs and all directors and executive board members. These regulations would apply to all companies – public and private – with a turnover of £90,000 or more a year. No company would be allowed any form of financial secrecy from HMRC – family owned, publicly quoted, venture capital or whatever. I estimate that many billions of pounds of tax would be recouped from many major and well-know companies, and from many more who operate in the ‘financial twilight’.

    I could go on but time and space impede me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Nov '12 - 12:59am

    BIGDAVE

    First let me start by totally disagreeing with you insofar as “the people of this country voted for, and like it or not they voted for a Conservative government”. Our electoral system is old, creeky and unfair (I am a supporter of PR, I don’t know which variant – there are so many) BUT the result of the last general election was anything but a green light from the electorate for a Conservative government. In a dog’s breakfast of an electoral system, the result itself was a dog’s breakfast. No party won; no party therefore had a legitimate mandate,

    Sorry, I thought I have explained my argument, but you seem to be ignoring it.

    The people of Britain voted by two-to-one to oppose the introduction of even the small electoral reform that is AV. They voted “No” by two-to-one after a “No” campaign whose main line was that the current electoral system was good and should not be changed because it distorted representation in favour of the biggest party and against third parties, this generally resulting in a government of just one party which could do what it liked due to having a majority of seats.
    Some of those voting “No” were Tories who liked the idea of the current electoral system generally giving a big advantage to the Tories and having resulted in so many recent elections in the Tories having a majority of seats even though they did not have a majority of the votes.

    But many of those voting “No” were Labour supporters. They voted “No” saying they did not like having a coalition government, they did not like the Liberal Democrats and they liked the idea of an electoral system which always worked against the Liberal Democrats distorting their representation downwards so that we generally ended up with a government of one party. That is, these Labour people voted for the principle of having a pure Conservative government now. Because that is the ONLY way the line “I am voting ‘No’ to AV because I don’t like Nick Clegg and I don’t like coalitions” can be interpreted. The Conservatives won more vote than Labour in May 2010, so if you don’t like the idea of coalitions and like the idea instead that representation should be distorted to give a majority to one party even if it did not gain a majority of votes, that’s what that idea gives you in May 2010 – a Conservative government.

    Although the May 2010 general election did not quite deliver a full majority to the Conservatives it twisted representation in just the way the “No to AV people” said was its best feature, so in fact led to a situation where a Conservative-dominated government was the only possibility. Sorry, anyone who says “I don’t like coalitions, I prefer governments of just one party” has ALMOST what they say they want now – a government that might as well be pure Conservative seeing what it’s doing. The ONLY logical way of interpreting the line “I prefer distortion in a way that gives all power to one party even if it did not get a majority of the votes” – which was the MAIN point of the “No to AV” campaign, made forcefully by its Labour supporters just as much as by its Conservative supporters, is that these people who voted “No to AV” should be REJOICING at Nick Clegg supporting the Conservatives, because that takes the situation closer to what they say is best – decisive government of just one party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Nov '12 - 1:25am

    Now I am labouring the above point to make my real point. Which is that it is LABOUR who in opposing electoral reform is the true proppers up of the Conservative Party because in this way they ensure we will have Conservatives governments when we do not have Labour governments. Opposing AV means forcing people to vote either Labour or Conservative in most places because to do anything else is to run the risk of “splitting the vote” and letting in whichever of these you least like.

    Of course I realise that many people voted “No” to electoral reform not consciously realising that they were in effect voting “Yes” to the current government, but the point needs to be made because people must be got to realise what a bad mistake they made by rejecting electoral reform – that is, if they don’t like the government we have now.

    You say that the May 2010 general election result was a “dog’s breakfast” because no party won a majority. So, would you therefore be much happier if the Conservatives had won a majority of the seats and so we had a pure Conservative government right now? Because if you say it is a “dog’s breakfast” when that did not happen, it very much suggests you would regard it as much better because not a “dog’s breakfast” had the Conservatives won a majority.

    All it required for the Conservatives to win a majority would have been for the Liberal Democrat vote to be a bit more spread out. That would have happened had the Liberal Democrats not concentrated so much effort onto a relatively small number of constituencies. So we could have had exactly the same party shares of the votes as we did have, but the Conservatives having a majority of the seats. By the argument you have made above, and by the arguments the “No to AV” people have been making that would have been all fine and dandy. You would be saying the Conservatives won a mandate, they had a right to form a government in 2010 and do what they want for the net five years.

    So, why should it be absolutely fine and wonderful and democratic for us to have a pure Conservative government now even though all parties won the same number of votes as they actually did, just because those votes were distributed in a slightly different way? Because that is the logic of “No to AV” and its Labour Party supporters as well as its Conservative Party supporters – that what went wrong in May 2010 was that the distortion did not work well enough, it did not distort the representation in the way they say is such a good thing, oh what a pity we did not have a pure Conservative government which we would have had if the system had done the job we say makes it such a good system. So these people – anyone who voted No to AV because they don’t like coalitions – should be cheering Nick Clegg every time he supports the Conservatives and makes this government almost a pure Conservative government and booing me every time call on him to stand up more against the Conservatives and make this a “dog’s breakfast” government which is little bit Liberal Democrat rather than pure Conservative.

    I am sorry that so many people in this country lack even the most basic logic to be able to understand this point, and seem to find no problem in holding two completely contradictory ideas in their heads:

    1) Coalitions are bad, it’s better to have an electoral system which distorts representation in favour of the largest party and against third parties in order to avoid them.

    2) This government is bad because it is too much like a pure Conservative government and not enough like a coalition government with some Liberal Democrat influence.

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