Opinion: Can the Liberal Democrats survive another coalition?

We already know how hard a coalition is with the Tories. So what would happen if we get another choice of forming a coalition with this Tory party or Ed Miliband’s Labour at the next general election?

At the moment, perhaps the most likely scenario is a coalition with Labour with less Liberal Democrat MPs. On the plus side Ed Milliband will be wanting to put his new ‘radical’ (maybe) mark on Labour’s story in power. Now this is something we can help him with. We have learned a lot from our coalition with the Tories. We will also prove to the electorate that we are not an offshoot of the Tory party, although some Labourites will return to their belief that we are an offshoot of Labour.

In this coalition I believe we will have a job of holding back the authoritarian tendency of the Labour party. We will have to fight that battle as hard as we can. Otherwise we will lose our Liberal distinctiveness in this new coalition. We would also have trouble dealing with poverty. Labour believe in throwing money at the poor while we believe in giving the poor a hand out of the situation rather than making them feel a bit better off.

In a coalition with Labour we would need to avoid Labour not allowing us to implement some of our policies. Labour will believe that Lib Dems have come home to Labour. We will need to remain progressive and ensure Labour are more so (than they are at the moment). There would be just as many challenges in a coalition with Labour as there are with the Tories.

Scenario 2 would be the Tories, again. By now we understand each other, we can work together. The problem is that this will look really bad with the electorate. It will install the idea in many minds that the Liberal Democrats are on the side of the Conservative party. We will give the impression that we are perhaps a right-leaning party rather than a left-leaning one.

The Tories are, of course, more likely to have less MPs than they do now and if this is the same for us then the coalition will be more fragile and open to attacks from the Tory right and unhappy Liberal Democrats. Negotiations would be much easier, as will the working relationship. The danger from a second coalition with the Tories is from the electorate rather than the Tories themselves. If the electorate didn’t understand why the Liberal Democrats are a party of a coalition and what we stand for they certainly won’t after this coalition. Unless….

Unless?

Firstly, let’s understand that we will lose some voters forever especially if we are in a coalition again with the Tories because many Labour voters will find it hard to support us.

So with fewer MPs do we have less power? Well, maybe at first, but as the coalition continues, then no. It all depends on the numbers. If it is still our vote that ensures legislation is passed or not and if we still have MPs in key ministerial positions then we will have almost the same influence as we enjoy now.

What we need to do in any second coalition is remain distinctive, we need to change the system so the Deputy PM or Ministers can have open discussion defining where each party is coming from and make it clear that we, along with our partners have agreed a way forward. We need to demonstrate what difference we have made. We need to be better at communicating and reacting to the test of government.

Dazmando blogs at Bracknell Blog.

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5 Comments

  • I also think the prospect of another Coalition is limited, though the LDs will have to hope the gamble forced upon them does work and they can recover lost support and/or gain new support to still have an appreciable number of seats to make one possible, but I’ve thought that even if one were possible next time, the LD leadership would prefer not to have one.

    They wouldn’t want another coalition with the Tories because it would be even easier than now for people to claim the Lds are just Tories as well (I know people are angry at the Coalition, but that claim is just preppsterous) but if they went into Coalition wit Labour, even for sensible reasons and in a professional business arrangement between parties for the national good, you had better believe the accusations that the LDs are just a bunch of unprincipled opportnuists with no true goals beyond power would be advanced.

    On the other hand a coaltion with Labour would put an end to the idea the LDs are naturally tory partners, as this coalition has shown that, closer to Labour in many areas or not, the LDs are willing and able to work with who they must, butI can see many MPs, in that situation, arguing remaining separate as a better option.

    “We need to demonstrate what difference we have made. We need to be better at communicating and reacting to the test of government”.

    This is the key of course. There are no doubt masses of people who either voted LD last time or have considered it at some point who will regard what the party has done as making it impossible to support them ever again, but far too often the most vitrolic I come across seem tohave no conception of what the LDs have actually done (and the right wing of the tories feel the LDs are getting far too much), and so they are not able to make a proper judgement of whether the trade off between tory and lib dem policies has been worth it. If they still say no, then fair enough, but communication needs to be better, and I say that as someone who is not a party member, nor necessarily guarenteed to vote LD next time.

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