Opinion: The case against Coalition 2.0

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/Hung Parliaments have become rather like buses for Lib Dems. For election after election we longed for one to come along. Now it seems a second one will turn up rather sooner than we might want it.

Another hung parliament doesn’t automatically mean another coalition involving the Lib Dems. And despite having been a firm advocate of coalition in 2010, I am very sceptical that Coalition 2.0 is in the interests of the party or liberalism.

I should state at the outset that while I’m predicting that the Tories will again have the largest number of seats – and probably Tory + Lib Dem MPs will make up a (slim) majority – most of my arguments are just as relevant to scenarios where Labour is in the lead.

This is my case against Coalition 2.0…

  1. It’s not 2010 – In 2010, a hung parliament was unfamiliar, the deficit was out of control and the markets were on edge. The country needed economic stability and a Government with a clear plan to get a grip on the deficit. While the Greeks are doing their best to create some déjà vu, it’s a different economic climate now and a hung parliament should not generate panic.
  1. We have proven we are serious about national government – Had the Lib Dems turned down the first opportunity in decades to participate in national government, we would have rightly been dismissed as a protest party which wasn’t serious about national politics. Having governed once, the wasted vote argument will no longer wash and shouldn’t be an issue again for a generation.
  1. We need to be serious about local government again – I supported this coalition because I wanted us to be a party of national government, as well as local government. I now fear we are in danger of becoming a party that’s only interested in national government. Community activism and local councillors are the life blood of the party, and we have lost a lot of blood. I fear further erosion of our local base, particularly if we do a deal with Labour. It isn’t a price worth paying for clinging onto a couple of seats in Cabinet. Losing your local roots is bad enough if you have proportional representation (see the German FDP) – it could be a death warrant in a first-past-the-post system.
  1. Our potential partners are unattractive – With the imperative of deficit reduction, it was relatively easy for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives to agree a coalition agenda. It doesn’t feel like that now, and the widening gulfs on Europe, tax/spend and civil liberties look difficult to bridge. While there is some policy overlap with Labour – including wealth taxes and house-building – the chemistry doesn’t feel right. They are unable to grapple with the reality of balancing the books, they have a very poor leader and their tribalism suggests they are unsuited for coalition.
  1. We may not have enough bums on seats – A balanced coalition requires able Lib Dem Ministers in most departments, with an eye on every controversial initiative being advanced by the bigger party. If we lose a lot of MPs, we might not have enough left to make it work. It hasn’t been great having no Minister in the Foreign Office for the last couple of years. Imagine if we didn’t have anybody in Health or the Home Office too. That’s not a partnership, it’s a small support band.
  1. We can make a difference outside government – A minority government – Conservative or Labour – is likely to look first to the Lib Dem to do deals, in preference to UKIP or the SNP. So we should be able to influence legislation and get a bottom line from each Budget. If we play our cards right we may get credit for advancing liberal priorities and sticking to our principles. And we could escape the blame for every tough decision that has to be made by any government.
  1. We need to refresh ourselves and our offer – Let’s face it, the party is going to lose votes and MPs at this election. Nick Clegg has achieved a massive amount as DPM, but it’s hardly controversial to recognise a leadership change is likely in the next parliament. It thus seems perverse for Clegg to take us into a fresh five-year coalition, when his successor and the party might want to pursue a different strategy. A new leader will need to build their profile and convey our distinctive liberal identity. I can’t see how they can do that from within a coalition.

Ironically enough, either a Tory or a Labour minority government may need us a lot more than we need them. A coalition could be the only way the Tories can get the EU referendum they crave, while Labour will need some political cover if they are forced to end their deficit denial. But if we want a liberal voice in future parliaments and governments, it is better to sit this one out.

 

 

* James King has been a Lib Dem activist for over 20 years, and is based in Hampstead & Kilburn constituency.

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54 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 9th Feb '15 - 12:38pm

    I think we should have ended the Coalition years ago. In 2010 the Tory party wanted to be green, decentralise power, support civil liberties and even support social justice.
    It didn’t take long for that to change. Instead of detoxifying their image they have toxified ours.
    Lib dem supporters might not like us in Coalition with the Tories, but they would respect us if we stood up to them on NHS reforms and benefit cuts and many other issues.
    Now what on earth do we expect to gain in another Coalition with the Tories? It seems pointless to me for many of the reasons given in the article.
    The Tories are simply to right wing.
    I do not see similar problems with Labour, except perhaps over civil liberties and the rheotic that they currently have on being tough on immigration and benefit claimants. That could stop us, but a Coalition with Labour would not be so hard over policy. It would be hard given their tribalism, so we might have to say no to them.
    The consequences of saying no is that we have little say over government policy. But we can focus on rebuilding the party, and let not underestimate how important that would be.

  • Strongly agree with the general conclusions of the article. We should be very willing to negotiate with a minority administration to help it pass a budget, but a formal coalition would not be the right direction for this party at this time.

    In any case, I get the impression that Labour would find it easier to go into some sort of deal with the SNP.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 12:51pm

    Good post with a number of good points James. I am happy to go along with this as reasonable approach for our party, its revitalisation and long term survival.

    Reclaiming Liberalism and its vehicle is a vital task for us early in the next parliament. Only when this is complete will we be fit to take part in a coalition without being at serious risk of destroying our party in the process.

  • An interesting article from James King. But I suspect that the lack of enthusiasm for a second coalition setting in because a Tory lead government looks less likely. The imperative for forming one in 2015 are little different to forming one as they were in 2010. Deficit reduction has stalled, borrowing is still going up, growth predictions have been reduced because of a lower than expected performance in the last few months and it is pretty difficult to claim that the political situation either at home or abroad is more stable than it was in 2010 . A lot of the Conservative and Liberal coalitions economic plans were based on continuation of the present course up to 2018 which suggest that they were dependent on the Conservative party retaining about the same number of seats. Looking at the present predictions this looks unlikely.
    I can see a case for sitting things out, but I can also see why some people could think that what sometimes gets called the Right of the Lib Dems are trying to retain influence over the Party after failing to persuade the electorate. If the claim is that the political situation forced the Lib Dems to form a coalition to give the Country a stable government then this more true now than it was then. Would we be drawing the same conclusions if were in the same position they were five years ago, because it looks like a lot of the electoral campaighn is based on continuity.

  • paul barker 9th Feb '15 - 1:38pm

    While I disagree with points 5 & 7 I go along with the general argument, now is the time to look after The Party first. However I dont think anything has changed about our strategic goals, encouraging The Tories to split & replacing Labour. One of the questions we should be debating is whether joining any proposed arrangement helps split The Tories &/or hurries Labours decline.
    Theres no doubt that being in coalition has deepened Tory splits & sent their right-wing mad with frustration; just look at the ConHome survey of members priorities. The effect of the coalition on Labour has been to hold them together, so far & a 2nd agreement with The Conservatives might do the same.
    Its going to require some hard thinking, right now my preference is to stay in opposition & let others take the blame.

  • Isn’t this something where we can’t plan too much until we know the composition of the next parliament? Where we can do something that is radical and different — and Liberal — is to be clear about putting the national interest first, and doing that in a way that makes it clear to the public that this is what e have done.

    On top of this there is the thorny question of the proposed Europe referendum, with rumours that the Tories will want this in 2016. It would be very much against the national interest to leave the EU, and vital that any coalition doesn’t harm our contribution to that debate. The snag is that I can imagine scenarios where being in coalition would make it harder to campaign on that issue, but I can also envisage situations where being in coalition would ease do-operation with europhiles among our partners… so this too could be a case for coalition or a case against.

  • Julian Tisi 9th Feb '15 - 1:59pm

    I think this is a good article and I agree with many of the points, especially 4 (our potential partners are unattractive) and for the reasons James sets out.

    But I disagree completely with the conclusion. As a party we should never hope that we don’t get into power, because it’s only by having power that you can change things and stop others changing things in the wrong way. The next government is going to be just as hard as this one. Yes, we could abdicate responsibility,allow others to take unpopular decisions and bask in the glow and electoral advantage that being in opposition would bring – as Labour have done since 2010.

  • Julian Tisi 9th Feb '15 - 2:02pm

    … but it would be wrong to allow this to happen. Of course this may be all academic – we may not be in a position to be in coalition. But if we are, I don’t think we should rule it out just so that we can “refresh” ourselves in opposition.

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 2:05pm

    Yes, I generally agree with all of these points although I think 2) can be overplayed and 1) ignores that a perceived national or international ‘crisis’ could happen very easily, such is the uncertain nature of global economics and politics.

    But let’s imagine that the LibDems do gain 38-45 seats (I’m NOT saying we will, but we might…) and no other ‘minor’ party gets more than 20 seats and there is either a Tory-Labour dead heat or a very clear ‘nearly-winner’.

    In such an event it’s very likely that there will be external pressure on the party to do a deal with someone, and angry rhetoric if we ‘refuse’ to do so, after 2010’s precedent. All unfair manfuactured emotionalism, of course. Under that scenario, it would be easier to ‘walk away’ if Nick Clegg had been forcibly ‘decapitated’ as the vacuum would require due process to be worked through to be filled (and I’m not saying I want him to be forcibly unseated, either…)

    I do really think it would be nice to have the party rediscover what it is about, be able to think about it for a bit and not be everyone else’s whipping boy for a bit, but ‘it’s the LibDems’ fault’ is a fixed narrative it will take a while to address, and events may not give us the breathing space we could do with.

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 2:07pm

    sorry I meant ‘retain’, not ‘gain’. Gaining 45 seats would mean having 100ish MPs total, in which case we would all be pinching ourselves and probably being investigated for electoral fraud.

  • Hummm – are the Lib Dems in politics to change things? Being in Government or Grandstanding?
    Everyone who voted (for Coalition at Birmingham in 2010) knew, or should have… that being the smaller coalition partner hasn’t served the Liberal Party well in the past and would likely be ‘bad’ for the party. Of course no-one guessed the many ‘own goals’…Laws….Huhne……. Student Fees ( mis-handled ) , AV (complete *******), no/little credit for the many good things.
    The only ‘worst case scenario item’ I had down that hasn’t happened was a ‘split’ of the party (.. well I guess there is still a few months to go!!).
    The country is a better place because of the Lib Dems, economically & socially than had there been a Tory or Labour majority party. But politics like life isn’t fair.
    As a non member I would again vote for an agreement of Lib Dem involvement in Government
    , even that meant the ‘death’ of a Liberal party for many years.

  • Didn’t stop the Tories & Cameron ref AV …….’It would be very much against the national interest to leave the EU, and vital that any coalition doesn’t harm our contribution to that debate. The snag is that I can imagine scenarios where being in coalition would make it harder to campaign on that issue’

  • Neil Sandison 9th Feb '15 - 2:34pm

    The Liberal Democrats stood up and were counted at an important point in history when the country was in economic crisis .Our interevention has helped stablise the economy as we have done so on a number of occassions in the past.
    This was not a popular thing to do but was in the nations interest .
    We have proven we can govern but now we need to rebuild liberalism and democracy in this country .Both of the old parties did their very best to stifle enhancing the mandate of democratic ligitimacy We will all regardless of party be punished by low voter turn outs because our citizens feel disengaged from the body politic.The voters will decide if a further coalition is required , The largest number of seats in parliament will decide who has the majority to govern

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 3:01pm

    matt (Bristol)9th Feb ’15 – 2:05pm

    Matt, re your ‘But let’s imagine that the LibDems do gain 38-45 seats … ‘

    I’m glad I came to this following your retain/regain clarification. I would have been having serious concerns regarding your drinks having being spiked. As it is, I just think you had one to many 🙂

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 3:13pm

    Stephen, I am no psehological genius. But my point was rather to point out that I suspect many LibDems are secretly hoping that if we have to do badly in 2015, whilst we would still like a hung parliament.
    a) we don’t do badly enough to be a laughing stock (ie too much below 30)
    b) but we do do badly enough that we are out of serious contention for coalition
    or
    c) someone else does well enough that we are not the only serious contender for a coaltion.

    All I am saying, is, be careful what you wish for…

    I am only drinking coffee and tea and I don’t think any Russian dissidents have been near it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 3:15pm

    Neil Sandison9th Feb ’15 – 2:34pm

    “The voters will decide if a further coalition is required”.

    Hmmm. I rather think the lottery that is the FPTP electoral system will decide if any single party has enough seats to govern on its own. One of the few things of which we can be certain is that that party will not have a majority of voters (and absolutely not of the electorate) supporting it.

    The electoral maths may indicate that a majority government OR a coalition OR a confidence and supply agreement OR a minority government might follow.

    Whatever the result, this party should not be the captive of mathematics or personal ambition.

  • I pretty much fully concur with this article. Had we refused a coalition in 2010, a second election would have followed within months. With Lib Dems shorn of financial resources and Labour both politically and financially unprepared, the Tories would very likely have gained a majority. Suggestions that support for Lib Dems might have been enhanced are very delusional. We would have been seen to have refused the chance and put Party before the economic welfare of the country. Once in a coalition it was important to demonstrate that it could last a full term, though the choice of five over four years is questionable. We no longer have to prove that a coalition can function.

    The difficult issue is how to pitch the coalition issue in the run up to the election. I do not think it tenable to state that we are not interested in a second coalition whatever the terms, even though in practice, given the present and historical position anof both Labour and Conservatives this is more or less the case.

    Although a banal truism, to say that it is up to the electorate is fair enough, as is to say that we are looking to maximise our influence in the next parliament. We can also say that we have amply demonstrated our willingness to negotiate, however in reality, I can see very little that either Labour or Conservatives could offer that would justify a new agreement. In 2010 the clincher was voting reform: voting reform, proportional representation, needs to be strongly presented in our manifesto, but I see minimal or no prospect that it could be a central factor this time around.

  • “…and their tribalism suggests they are unsuited for coalition.”

    Sweet Jesus, have a listen to Clegg ! Every. Single. Thing. Is. Labour’s. Fault !

  • Martin B
    That’s right Labour have a lot to answer for.

  • Richard Whelan 9th Feb '15 - 5:44pm

    My view is this. We should wait to see the final composition of the new House of Commons and reflect on the results over the weekend 9th to 10th May. On the Monday, 11th May, the Federal Executive and the new Parliamentary Party should meet to consider options. Only after this meeting has taken place, should our negotiation team be mandated to be negotiations with other parties.

    It is important that no rash decision is made which we will later come to regret. Cool heads and time is what we need above all else. If it takes 50 days to form the next government so be it. That’s, after all, how long it takes in most other European countries where deal-making after an election is the norm. We could be in a situation, where the largest party is between 50-55 seats short of an overall majority and where the formation of a minority government is unviable. In such circumstances, we have to act responsibly and do what is right in the national interest.

  • paul barker 9th Feb '15 - 6:16pm

    In normal times I too would be in favour of the Party spending as much time as it can in Government, but these arent normal times.
    If the Tories get their Referendum then members/MPs at all levels will be campaigning alongside people from other Parties & against each other. Labour hung together for 5 years after they tried that approach but that was at a time when Parties outside the Big 2 were vastly weaker than now.
    Labour MPs are already pushing 3 different manifestos, its hard to see how they can avoid meltdown at some point.
    This could be just the time for us to return to Opposition, rebuild the base & pick up didillusioned supporters from the Labour/Tory duopoly.

  • Seth, just one point – confidence and supply deals don’t necessarily deliver anything much either, the Lib-Lab pact during the seventies being a case in point.

    Perhaps a 30-odd MP party can leverage confidence and supply more effectively than a 13 MP one could. Perhaps we’ll find out. But either way, we will not have more influence on policy from outside government than we do now. Instead we’ll trade in much of what influence we do have for the freedom to block things that the second party also disagrees with.

  • Ernest Potter 9th Feb '15 - 6:47pm

    Very excited to chat to Emily Brothers on Saturday in Sutton … I`m very likely to switch back to Labour now – although I may stay Lib Dem for the locals.

  • I never thought I would say this but ” I agree with Paul”. It looks as if we are going to be hammered left right and center and will have nowhere enough MPs to form a credible coalition partner. We can then sort out our policies, attitudes and not be hamstrung with the old guard from the Lords. We need a period of calm reflection and renewal, not least is proportional representation the right way to go. In the present scenario it could have eliminated us from the Commons just as has happened to the Free Democrats in Germany.l We may have some real hard choices to make as to what we want from the future.

  • Having gone through this, it would seem that matt (Bristol) (9th Feb ’15 – 3:13pm) gives the right response! If the electorate’s vote results in a hung Parliament and the LibDems have sufficient MP’s to influence who forms a government then the only question the LibDems need to ask themselves is: do we wish to step up to the mark like we did in 2010 and share power or do we want to “cut off the nose to spite the face” and risk being seen as an irrelevance for a generation?

    Simples!

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 7:46pm

    @ Seth
    “Despite the coalition’s rhetoric, the deficit has grown, not shrunk, since 2010.”

    And now for the facts:

    – Public Sector Net Borrowing (the ‘headline’ measure of the deficit) was £157 billion in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government. The forecast for 2014-15 is £91 billion. I’m pretty sure £91 billion (though still a huge level of annual borrowing by historical standards) is a lower figure than £157 billion.

    – Because real GDP has grown over this period, the deficit has fallen more sharply when expressed as a proportion of GDP. It was 10.2% of GDP in 2010-11, 5.6% of GDP in 2013-14 and is projected to decline to 5% of GDP this fiscal year.

    – According to the IMF, the UK has achieved the largest improvement in the structural budget balance of any country in the G7. The cyclically-adjusted deficit peaked at 10.3% of GDP in 2010 and was 3.8% of GDP in 2013 (the last year it has published out-turn figures for).

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 7:53pm

    Typo: It was 2009-10 when the deficit-to-GDP ratio peaked at 10.2%. As I said, it is now just above 5% so has been halved as a percentage of GDP.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 8:56pm

    Roland, I’m not saying I necessarily WANT the party to be in government in 2015. Personally, I think there are some big issues of direction to be sorted out. If the SNP do the surge thing and look like the obvious coalition partner for Labour, then our blushes are spared and we can work out what we stand for other than the Coalition’s raft of mixed blessings and how to communicate that in a clear way — which is somewhat overdue.

    But instinctively I feel that hoping you fail so someone else can be criticised for succeeding is a) cynical and b) gives the initiative to other people who might surprise you…

    If we were in government, we would need to give the public a convincing narrative for why we were in government.
    If we could have been in government and weren’t, they’d want a convincing narrative for that, too. ‘We didn’t feel like it’ doesn’t cut the mustard.

  • @ Caracatus
    “the deficit is still out of control and I personally don’t care much for ‘the markets’.”

    Oh well, that’s all right then. As I pointed out by citing the relevant figures, the deficit has fallen substantially whichever way you measure it. It is still far too high. If you believe it is “out of control” then it is hard to be sanguine about parties (and I mean all of them) that have yet to set out how they intend to bring it under control.

    As for your attitude to the markets, unfortunately the British government can’t afford to be so indifferent. It might if it were running a surplus, but given that it’s still borrowing to the tune of £90 billion this year it has billions of reasons to care about the credibility of its policies in the eyes of its creditors…

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '15 - 10:33am

    James King

    Hung Parliaments have become rather like buses for Lib Dems. For election after election we longed for one to come along. Now it seems a second one will turn up rather sooner than we might want it.

    I think this attitude is part of the problem. This continual idea that we “longed for” a hung parliament, perhaps because of the power it would give us, or perhaps because of the nice jobs for a few of our leading members is damaging. The reality is that experience from no-majority local councils in this country and coalitions in others, many of us rather dreaded the prospect.

    This is not, as it is likely to be put (and has been put by the leadership in response to internal criticism) that we are unrealistic people who are “afraid” of power or “don’t want to get our hands dirty” or things like that. No, it’s simply because experience suggests that parties in that situation rarely get much out of it and are often severely damaged by it. When going into the coalition we should have been aware of this, and thus been very careful to put up defences against the inevitable attacks that would come our way. Instead, we did the opposite.

    May 2010 put us in just about the worst hung parliament situation we could have been in. Our negotiating power was severely diminished by the fact that there was only one realistic coalition we could have been involved in. The poor state of the economy meant that opting for the unstable situation of accepting a minority government and taking its policies as they came (which I had favoured in the past) would have been seen as dangerously irresponsible and playing political games while the country burnt. We had performed much worse than expected in the actual vote – our vote well below predictions coming from the boom in support we had early in the campaign, so it was fairly clear we were on the way down and would be the major losers if another general election was called soon (apart from the usual problem of having spent all our money so not being able to afford to campaign in it). And, of course, the usual effect of our electoral system made us much smaller in terms of MPs in comparison with the coalition partner than we were in terms of votes.

    The idea that we were “longing” for a hung parliament is based on the notion it would have given us a huge influence. The reality is that it doesn’t. Experience across the world and in local government here shows it doesn’t work that way – small parties holding the balance tend to be damaged by the situation, taking the blame for unpopular things they have had to support as necessary compromises and getting none of the credit for popular things or things that worked. The only real card we had to play to win a round was pulling out – and we threw that one away right at the start.

    All we could really do in this coalition was swing the balance within the Tories when it was fairly even, and get through a few policies that many not have been major things but weren’t things the Tories were too bothered about, or things they would have gone for themselves but perhaps with lower priority. Under those circumstances, I think we have done what could be expected. But the problem is that the “longing for coalition” assumption built up hugely unrealistic expectations, with many seeming to suppose we could somehow get the Tories to drop all their policies and adopt LibDem ones, and accusing us of “betraying our principles” when that did not happen.

    My own belief is that we should have pulled out of the coalition over the Lansley NHS reforms. These were explicitly against what was in the coalition, and even many Tories now are admitting they were a mistake. This is where we SHOULD have said “No, we have compromised on many things, but if you try to make us compromise by accepting this, we end the coalition”. In fact it was very clear that our party members wanted us to oppose those reforms, I myself went as a delegate to the Gateshead conference hoping to get it to do that. Our leadership did not listen to us. For me, that was the turning point in moving from an active but critical member of the party to one who can no longer give active support for it while the current Leader remains in place.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '15 - 10:35am

    Me

    explicitly against what was in the coalition

    Sorry, the word “agreement” should have been after that.

  • matt (Bristol) 11th Feb '15 - 10:59am

    Matthew Huntbach – ‘longing’ for a hung parliament is indeed, overstating it.

    But -and ignoring for a minute issues related to power-grabbing and ‘the balance of power’ – I think it’s fair to say that as a party that believes in greater proportionality of voting, many libDems were intellectually prepared to defend the greater number of hung parliaments and coalitions that might result from that reform, rather than the ‘landslide parliaments’ (my phrase) of the mid 80s and later 90s – indeed the inherent unfairness of the Tory then Labour landslides turned many towards electoral reform.

    Maybe this in turn fostered a belief in the 90s and more recently that the actual fact of a hung parliament (with or without a coaliition) might create the circumstances where time and space could be gained to argue for electoral reform?

    “But the problem is that the “longing for coalition” assumption built up hugely unrealistic expectations, with many seeming to suppose we could somehow get the Tories to drop all their policies and adopt LibDem ones, and accusing us of “betraying our principles” when that did not happen.”

    In fact I wonder if many people were hoping for the LibDems to implement hypothetical Lib-Lab coalition proposals in a LibDem-Tory coalition government… But when there was a lot of loose talk about for eg cooperatives, mutuals (mutuallising Northern Rock, the Post Office, etc, etc) some of those hopes were although somewhat doome to fail in retrospect, not based entirely in fantasy. The ‘Big Society’ was the rhetorical (cynical) Tory tool that opened many people (including me) up to some of this unreality.

  • Good points. I disagree with just two. Ed Miliband is a poor Leader of the Opposition but he was a rather good minister (much better than his glossily insubstantial brother) and it’s quite possible he’d be a better Prime Minister than opposition leader. And while I’ve seen plenty of Labour tribalism, they’re not all incapable of co-operation and there would be a case for trying to break down that tribalism. If they finished ahead of the Tories and we turned our backs, the clear message would be that the Lib Dems loved getting into bed with the Tories but not Labour. It would be better to try, set the bar quite high and be willing to say no.

    Another point rather in your support is that it’s quite possible the SNP will get around the same number of seats as us or more. Factor in Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Northern Ireland seats and we could easily have a situation in which neither Tory plus Lib Dem nor Labour plus Lib Dem reached a majority. In that case there would be little advantage in a minority coalition over a one party minority government.

  • Matthew Huntbach “My own belief is that we should have pulled out of the coalition over the Lansley NHS reforms. These were explicitly against what was in the coalition, and even many Tories now are admitting they were a mistake. This is where we SHOULD have said “No, we have compromised on many things, but if you try to make us compromise by accepting this, we end the coalition”.”

    I agree with you 100%. I and many others would have forgiven Nick Clegg for the Tuition fee issue, and continued my membership, if he had put a stop to the NHS Reforms. THAT’s exactly what I would call ‘ stopping the worst of the Tory excesses’.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Feb '15 - 7:41am

    matt (Bristol)

    But -and ignoring for a minute issues related to power-grabbing and ‘the balance of power’ – I think it’s fair to say that as a party that believes in greater proportionality of voting, many libDems were intellectually prepared to defend the greater number of hung parliaments and coalitions that might result from that reform

    Yes, that’s why I defend the coalition. I don’t like what it’s doing at all, but if we are going to have multi-party politics something like this is inevitable. What the coalition is coming out with is about what one would expect from the balance of the two parties within it. The line that attacks us on the grounds of supposing we are in full agreement with all its policies is a ridiculous one, multi-party politics cannot work like that. We ought to be off the hook of “letting the Tories in” by the fact that it was the only realistic coalition, Labour implicitly recognises that when it doesn’t offer an alternative coalition, it is illogical of then to attack us for “letting theTories in” when if we didn’t the only alternative would be a coalition with them, so they are as much to blame as us for not allowing it to happen.

    So how come we can’t get this message across? I think we are stuck with what happened at the start when the “love-in” image gave the impression we thought it all wonderful and just what we really wanted rather than a “miserable little compromise” that we were forced into by the reality of the situation. Given that what has happened since then was inevitable, we ought to have been well prepared for it in advance. Instead our leader from the start did everything he could to make things worse.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Feb '15 - 7:45am

    matt (Bristol)

    The ‘Big Society’ was the rhetorical (cynical) Tory tool that opened many people (including me) up to some of this unreality.

    It was clearly shallow propaganda from the start. I was astonished that so many people outside committed Tory supporters took it seriously. It was very obvious in May 2010 that the Conservative Party was an ideological extreme right economics party, far to the right of where any Conservative government in the past has been.

  • Peter Watson 13th Feb '15 - 8:34am

    @Matthew Huntbach “So how come we can’t get this message across?”
    I think it is more than just the love-in at the launch of the coalition.
    This coalition is 85% Tory so its policies are overwhelmingly Tory. The way that some Lib Dems defend coalition policies as a good thing in their own right despite contradictions with the party’s previous positions (for example, recent criticisms of the notion of reducing tuition fees) all reinforces the impression that Lib Dems are 85% Tory as well.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Feb '15 - 9:29pm

    Peter Watson

    The way that some Lib Dems defend coalition policies as a good thing in their own right despite contradictions with the party’s previous positions

    Yes, that’s a point I’ve made myself, many time – the tendency to present compromises reached in the coalition as if they are wonderful and what we wanted in the first place is very damaging.

    However, it does seem to be the case that one something is started, initial announcements about it tend to stick in people’s minds, even if actually they soon were disproved or become irrelevant. That is why I think the Rose Garden love-in start to the Coalition was particularly damaging, because it has stuck in people’s minds, and it’s proved very hard to break from it, even when the leadership HAS stood up against the Tories, the public don’t seem to see it that way because they still think in terms of “Rose Garden”.

    As another example of this, the SDP was founded in 1981 as a “Labour Party Mark II”, a split of the Labour Party, going for what were Labour votes. It fell away from this in months, the sign was when it started demanding the Liberals give it “winnable seats” meaning not formerly strong Labour seats, but seats which had an existing strong Liberal vote. Polls showed it support came equally from former Conservative as well as former Labour voters. Yet to this day it is written up as having “split the Labour vote” and having “let Thatcher win”, which only makes sense if you suppose – wrongly – that it stuck to its aim of being the Labour Party Mark II throughout.

    (for example, recent criticisms of the notion of reducing tuition fees) all reinforces the impression that Lib Dems are 85% Tory as well.

    I think this is VERY unfair. The issue is not the reduction of tuition fees, it’s that Labour has not said a thing about how it’s going to pay for it. It looks like in practice they will just reduce the amount of money going to universities. As someone who works in a university, I assure you, I am VERY scared of the prospect of a Labour victory after that, because it is highly likely to mean massive cuts and I lose my job. If you think I am “85% Tory” for saying that, well, you are wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong.

  • Peter Watson 14th Feb '15 - 9:26am

    @Matthew Huntbach “The issue is not the reduction of tuition fees, it’s that Labour has not said a thing about how it’s going to pay for it.”
    When Labour announces their policy we will know how/if they plan to make up any shortfall in university funding. But most of the recent debate seemed to ignore the overall level of funding and was largely about the “fairness” of £6000 vs. £9000, with Lib Dems having moved from wanting to scrap fees to suggesting that fees of £6000 are too low. £6000 is the level of fees that Cable and Clegg assured us would only be exceeded in exceptional circumstances, so does that mean that Lib Dems planned the sort of massive cuts you fear Labour would introduce? And Lib Dem policy is apparently still an “aspiration” to scrap fees. It seems that the only party guaranteeing the level of funding you support is the Tories and that just feels wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong! 😉
    It seems to me that you produce the sort of graduates that industry wants and will pay good salaries, so ultimately your funding will come from the graduates themselves via repayment of their loans whilst less “useful” (must be a better word than that) courses producing less employable graduates will be funded by the taxpayer as student loans are not repaid. Increasing tuition fees under the loans scheme seems to amplify this effect of government funding going to the least “useful” university courses, and that also feels wrong.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 10:14pm

    Peter Watson

    When Labour announces their policy we will know how/if they plan to make up any shortfall in university funding.

    Ha ha ha ha ha, what a hoot! You really believe that? Ho ho ho.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 10:19pm

    Peter Watson

    But most of the recent debate seemed to ignore the overall level of funding and was largely about the “fairness” of £6000 vs. £9000, with Lib Dems having moved from wanting to scrap fees to suggesting that fees of £6000 are too low. £6000 is the level of fees that Cable and Clegg assured us would only be exceeded in exceptional circumstances, so does that mean that Lib Dems planned the sort of massive cuts you fear Labour would introduce?

    I am not an official spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. I am just about still a member of the party, but so discontent with its leadership that I am doing no campaigning activity for it and giving it no donations. So I am hardly the best person to be asked to defend the leadership, am I?

    When this policy first came out, I did actually write a whole article, from my position of having worked for many years as my university department’s admissions tutor, in which I predicted the idea that it would result in market competition and prices being pushed down was nonsense. I predicted and said why I predicted it, that almost all fees would go up to £9000. I was right, wasn’t I? And if Clegg and Cable said what you say they did (actually I think all the Tories said it as well), they were wrong, weren’t they?

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 10:21pm

    Peter Watson

    And Lib Dem policy is apparently still an “aspiration” to scrap fees.

    Indeed, I would very much like to see this happen. Of course, it relies on the people of this country also being willing to pay the taxes which would cover the cost. Which they don’t seem to be willing to do.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '15 - 10:28pm

    Peter Watson

    It seems to me that you produce the sort of graduates that industry wants and will pay good salaries,

    Well, yes, so I do. Just this week I sent a list of the people who got good marks in my module to a recruitment agency who tells me there is a desperate need for the skills I teach, and are very grateful for these lists I send them – with jobs almost guaranteed for all on them.

    Er, oh, I see, when you wrote “you”, you didn’t mean me personally.

    so ultimately your funding will come from the graduates themselves via repayment of their loans whilst less “useful” (must be a better word than that) courses producing less employable graduates will be funded by the taxpayer as student loans are not repaid. Increasing tuition fees under the loans scheme seems to amplify this effect of government funding going to the least “useful” university courses, and that also feels wrong.

    Well, isn’t that the same as when universities are funded by taxpayers in general? If they result in people who get good jobs, those people will pay tax on their earnings and that will subsidise the rest? So why the moaning when it seems to be not much different from what we had before when you look at it closely?

  • stuart moran 14th Feb '15 - 11:25pm

    Matthew

    I understand why you are concerned about university funding but I am not sure you attacks on Labour are entirely justified

    The problem with your argument is that, at the moment, tuition fees at the higher level contribution to the HE budget is approximately ZERO. As they are not paid up-front then all university funding comes form taxation or borrowing. At some point we anticipate some money coming back in from tuition fees but that is not a known value and in essence the taxpayer will always have an unknown liability for the funding. The estimations made on repayment levels have already been shown to be optimistic from the outset and we will see how much of the tuition fees get paid back sometime in 10-20 years or so.

    Labour can just saying they are cutting fees – the funds going to the universities should stay the same because there is ZERO contribution from tuition fees to the budget

    I am sure there is some accounting trick that pretends that the tuition fees money is already counted as being banked …..

    I agree with Peter the only party you should support on the basis of this policy is the Tory Party – both your own party and the Labour Party are anticipating a reduction in tuition fees and you seem to have reached the conclusion that any reduction to tuition fees equates to a big cut in HE funding – based, I may add, on absolutely no evidence that will happen

  • Peter Watson 14th Feb '15 - 11:53pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    “Er, oh, I see, when you wrote “you”, you didn’t mean me personally.”
    Actually, I did. From the snippets of information I’ve picked up on this site I have to conclude that we need more university lecturers (and politicians) like you.

    “So why the moaning when it seems to be not much different from what we had before when you look at it closely?”
    Because I voted for a party that wanted something different from what we had before (and which criticised other parties and appealed for votes on that basis ) but which seemed quickly and enthusiastically to endorse a contradictory position without explaining why the old one was so bad. Tuition fees per se are no longer much of a reason to choose one party instead of another (and never were for most voters), but the inconsistency/incompetence/dishonesty of Lib Dems (not you!) over tuition fees is a reason for many to no longer choose their party (and is why it’s still an issue to which Labour will happily return despite their own lousy record).

    I think there’s a debate to be had about what the country wants from university education and how it should be funded (and I probably lean towards an illiberal view that some degree subjects and institutions are more worthwhile and deserving of state funding than others) but just like with electoral reform, it is bitterly disappointing that Lib Dems in government seem to have made progress in this area harder to achieve.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '15 - 7:16am

    stuart moran

    I agree with Peter the only party you should support on the basis of this policy is the Tory Party – both your own party and the Labour Party are anticipating a reduction in tuition fees and you seem to have reached the conclusion that any reduction to tuition fees equates to a big cut in HE funding

    Sorry, I just don’t understand what you are saying at all.

    As you say, at present, “all university funding comes from taxation or borrowing”. Isn’t that what opponents of tuition fees want? When you write “Labour can just saying they are cutting fees – the funds going to the universities should stay the same because there is ZERO contribution from tuition fees to the budget”, no that is not the case. If tuition fees are cut from £9000 to £6000, and there is no top-up subsidy, then the amount that universities receive in government borrowing goes down from £9000 to £6000. That’s rather drastic isn’t it? I don’t understand your argument that says because the government borrowing is done in a disguised way it doesn’t matter. It does matter – it could mean I and my wife lose our jobs in the cuts that would get made.

    The point is that the £9000 is what it actually costs. It didn’t bring more money to universities. The Tories and right-wing LibDems may have supposed it would have led to competition and drive prices down, but it is fairly obvious why it didn’t. Neither I nor my wife have had big pay increases, in fact our pay has gone down in real terms because pay rises in academia have been at below inflation rates. But at least we have not seen the huge cuts and losses of jbos that have taken place in local government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '15 - 7:53am

    Peter Watson

    “So why the moaning when it seems to be not much different from what we had before when you look at it closely?”
    Because I voted for a party that wanted something different from what we had before (and which criticised other parties and appealed for votes on that basis ) but which seemed quickly and enthusiastically to endorse a contradictory position without explaining why the old one was so bad.

    Yes, I have myself been saying again and again and again ever since the Coalition was formed that the tactic of making out that the compromises that have had to be made are wonderful and give us what we really wanted in the first place is hugely damaging. From the start we should have made clear that this is essentially a Tory government. With just one sixth of government MPs, the Liberal Democrats can have only a minor influence, they cannot force through anything that is fundamentally against what the Conservatives want.

    It’s like the AV thing. All these attacks on the Liberal Democrats made on the assumption that because they were endorsing AV they had abandoned their previous support for STV and this was a betrayal, when the reality was that the small compromise of AV was as far as the Tories would go. It didn’t mean that all LibDems had abandoned their belief that STV was the best system. Why is it that intelligent people like you and stuart don’t seem to be able to get that point? Well, ok, I can see – the disastrous “it’s all wonderful” image making about the Coalition of the Liberal Democrat leadership. But why do you assume that I go along with that and think the compromises reached are better than what we wanted in the first place, when I have said time and time again that I am so unhappy with the way this “it’s all wonderful” image making undermines the arguments I would make in support of the party that I can no longer actively campaign for it?

    The point I am making is NOT that the current university funding system is the best thing possible. No, my point is that it’s a compromise that, if you look at its underlying effect is a lot more like what opponents of tuition fees wanted in the first place – universities funded by taxation and borrowing. The compromise HAS saved universities from the sort of big cuts that have been inflicted on local government.

    The point I am making about Labour is that they are hoping to do well by people being disgusted by the cuts, without saying anything much about how they would raise money to avoid having to do the same themselves. We need honesty in these things – if people want government services, then they must be prepared to pay the tax that is needed to pay for them.

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