Opinion: why the voters are right to be annoyed, but not at the Lib Dems

So, another week, and more policies announced that are definitely not Liberal Democrat in origin. Particularly one close to my liberal heart on the issue of paying for University education. Now that debate will rumble on and on, but I want to look more closely at whether the Lib Dems did indeed “sell out” on their principles, or whether they were forced to, by an age old, broken electoral system that was built for the bygone era of the two-party dogfight.

Cast your mind back to the General Election. Here are the vote/vote share figures:

Conservative: 36.1% (10,703,954), Labour: 29% (8,609,527), Lib Dems: 23% (6,836,824).

But the seat figures show a different story:

Conservative: 307 (47%) Labour: 258 (39%) Lib Dem: 57 (8%)

So , basically, both Conservative and Labour votes are being over-represented in Parliament by about 10% each, and Lib Dem votes are being under-represented by about 15%. Also, consider our representation in the Government. Out of the total Conservative and Lib Dem votes, the Lib Dems represent about 40% of the people who voted for one of the two coalition parties. Yet our seat representation in it makes up about 15%.

And it’s in those two key areas, percentage of coalition power and Commons power, that distinguishes how much influence we have in this Parliament in terms of policy making. Which goes some way to explaining why the voters are, in whatever way, annoyed. Despite the fact we are punching well above our 8%, the way the 23% see it is that they voted Lib Dem, yet they get hardly any Lib Dem policy in the coalition agreement.

So it is not the Lib Dems who are the villain. It’s the way we elect our Parliament. Our power has not been sold out by Clegg, Cable et al, it’s been diluted by the system of old. No wonder electoral reform has stalled so much over this century, as it gives the two main parties a guaranteed long term schedule of government followed by wound licking in opposition, but very little forward planning in terms of policy. Our Government representatives are simply fighting tooth and nail to get some of our policies onto the statute books, which I’d say is a pretty thankless task, considering how much dog muck is being thrown at them for both the policies they’ve got in, and the ones they’ve had to woefully leave behind.

So, if you want to see more Lib Dem policy, and want your vote to actually count for a change, then help make a start by voting Yes in the AV referendum. That will start to level out the parties Commons power, and if we are in Government after 2015, we will be able to have much better go at it. I hope I see you there.


Matt Smith is the outgoing Chair of Liberal Youth Wales and the Lib Dem Prospective Assembly Candidate for Cardiff North at the upcoming Welsh Assembly Elections.

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29 Comments

  • I don’t really buy it this time. The Lib Dems didn’t need to embrace tuition fee increases, they could at least be abstaining given how much they campaigned and pledged against them. It really does seem like they don’t care.

  • You’re argument doesn’t hold water I’m afraid. The system may be broken but by forming the coalition with the Conservatives you have given them the authority or power to do exactly what they are doing.

    If you stick to your principles and the promises you made to those that voted for you, why aren’t you removing yourselves from the coalition? Simply because you are enjoying whatever scrap of power and influence you can from the situation.

    If I’m wrong, then disband the coalition. Leave the Conservatives to go it alone, better yet, join with Labour and actually work for the Country (I’m willing to wager your yearly salary they’d be open to your suggestions now).

    Of course you won’t do any such thing, will you? Because you sold out.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Nov '10 - 3:32pm

    “And it’s in those two key areas, percentage of coalition power and Commons power, that distinguishes how much influence we have in this Parliament in terms of policy making.”

    And yet if the Lib Dems were going to do what they promised, and vote against a rise in fees, it wouldn’t get through the Commons. Funny, isn’t it?

  • Mike(The Labour one) 5th Nov '10 - 3:38pm

    Is your whole schtick really based around the vague wish that it’s *this* time your leadership is lying to you and not before the election? Who was Clegg compromising with before the election when he says he secretly changed his mind about the speed of the cuts?

    We all said at first that Tony Blair was being pushed to do things he didn’t want to do, compromising with circumstance and international powers and economics he couldn’t control. Just like you lot, we were wrong. Blair’s regrets are that he didn’t go far enough in the wrong direction.

    Clegg will be fine no matter what. He’ll go back into European politics or align himself with the Tories officially again, along with the rest of the Lib Dem powerful.

  • Yeah, damn stupid, ungrateful voters. Let’s just do without them next time.

  • Social Dave 5th Nov '10 - 4:06pm

    I fully agree with Neil. The Market Liberals are selling us out.

  • Vince Cable should have said:
    “Look if the Lib Dems were in charge we’d phase out tuition fees by doing X, however we aren’t and we don’t have the power to do that. Given a choice between Y, suggested by the Tories and our proposals a compromise of Z has been reached. We aren’t at all happy with it, and dearly wish we had enough power to do it our way, which we sincerely believe would be better. If we do get elected outright we pledge to change it to X in the future.”

    Vince Cable did say the equivilant of:
    “£50k debt for students is entirely progressive and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. It is fundamentally fair and frankly we were in cloud cuckoo land to think that universal free education was good for society. Look after number one baby!”

  • @ Andrew Tennanf

    I don’t believe for a second that Labour were doing the Country any good either. It is my opinion that the system is so completely broken that the only way we can hope for better representation in the future is for a complete change to be made.

    This doesn’t alter the fact that politicians are always quick to blame the voters, as has been done here. As I say, if the Lib Dems believe so strongly in policies they have they shouldn’t support the Conservatives. The Conservatives cannot Govern without the support of the Lib Dems & if they don’t agree with the direction the Conservatives are taking us or the manner in which it is being done then make the stand.

  • And yet if the Lib Dems were going to do what they promised, and vote against a rise in fees, it wouldn’t get through the Commons. Funny, isn’t it?

    Really? Has anyone anywhere seen or heard that Labour have said they will vote against the proposed changes? It would be quite an odd thing for them to do given they commissioned the Browne Report with the frame of reference of a reduction of 80% in the Government to university tuition

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Nov '10 - 4:42pm

    “Really? Has anyone anywhere seen or heard that Labour have said they will vote against the proposed changes?”

    Yes, of course they have. Where have you been – in Outer Space?

    Shadow Business Secretary John Denham said Labour would vote against the proposals – saying that it was unfair that the cost of degree courses was being put on to students.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11677862

  • @Anthony Aloysius St
    That’s wrong, surely?

    Labour were the ones who initially ensured “that the cost of degree courses was being put on to students.”

    They were the ones who asked Browne to come forward with his proposals.

  • Just realised that we are getting PR out of the Coallition.
    We have 8% of the seats.
    Opinion polls are giving us 8% of the vote.

    Sorted.

    ;-)

  • So the voters shouldn’t be annoyed with you because the electoral system means that everything you said before the election,indeed everything you have stood for over the years became null and void the minute you entered into the kind of coalition government you have long said would be such a boon. Let’s face it, you have been tried and you have been found wanting. All the euphoria about spurious “new politics” has been revealed to be so much bluster to cover up the fact that it’s just old politics with some new orange clad kids in the ministerial cars. We get precisely the kind of savage Thatcherite policies the Tories unleashed last time, you get a vote on AV. Well done

  • As a voter, and one that voted LibDem I have more than a right to be annoyed, I have a right to feel betrayed!

  • Mike(The Labour one) 5th Nov '10 - 9:08pm

    Is that Andrew Tennant or an imposter with the same avatar? Anyway, equalisation of constituencies = good. Not when there are 3.5 million people left unregistered it isn’t.

    It isn’t the reversal of any Labour gerrymander. This is second phase of a Tory gerrymander that started with the Poll Tax.

  • Yet again we hear the fundamental misunderstanding about what negotiation is all about.
    It’s not about voting percentage and it’s not about number of seats.
    It’s about having something that the oter person needs far more than you do.
    The bottom line is that without Liberal Democrat MPs support Cameron could get nothing through.
    NOTHING.
    That Nick has turned that position of strength into this present sorry state of affairs is down to Nick.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Nov '10 - 12:19am

    If you stick to your principles and the promises you made to those that voted for you, why aren’t you removing yourselves from the coalition?

    Because that would deliver a Tory policy on tuition fees. Currently we have a compromise proposal which makes poor students pay less and rich students pay more. The Lib Dems certainly could quit the coalition, and then we’d get the Tory proposal, which is for everybody to pay more and poor students to not go. Why are you so eager for this to happen?

    The bottom line is that without Liberal Democrat MPs support Cameron could get nothing through.
    NOTHING.

    Oh, nonsense. Without Lib Dem support, Cameron would be forced to get every bill through by bribing individual MPs from other parties on selected issues local to their constituency, so we’d get mostly Tory policies and a lot of pork barrel projects, which is the last thing the country needs right now.

  • This entirely misses the point of the voters anger. It is not that the Lib Dem policy is not being implemented, it is that many MP’s are going to break a pleadge they williungly took as individuals to vote against a rise in tuition fees.

    It’s a question of trust and individual integrity, not PR and political systems. If anything more people I know are against the move to AV because they feel that it would strengthen the Lib Dem’s and they are not happy with the reality of coalition government if it means being lied to. This will, I believe, turn into the biggest political own goal of recent history.

    Picture the next election campaign, every Lib dem candidate will be faced with reporters asking why if they could not keep their word after the last election should they be trusted by the electorate not to do so again.

  • charliechops1 6th Nov '10 - 8:12am

    Isn’t it simple, really. If a party believes that it will never be elected it can hold daft, irrelevant, and extreme views. Who cares, really. Government’s have to act. To sign a pledge which commits you never to increase university fees is easy, and simplistic. Let’s buy some student votes. Now its the real thing. Well, we can do the opposite the electorate have short memories. But are then you entitled to parade the party as the refuge for principle and high ideals? I think not.

  • I suggest that you, and the rest of your party should read the following quotation every hour of every day, and enjoy your frolic of power until the next general election, when I and many more will enjoy not voting ever again for the LibDems, regardless of the electoral system. “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.” ‘Unpricipled.’ ‘Old Politics.’ ‘Say one thing out of power and then do the opposite in power.’ etc. ect. etc. I am a vey ex-LibDem voter.

  • Leekliberal 6th Nov '10 - 10:39am

    DaveN who says ‘I and many more will enjoy not voting ever again for the LibDems’ over tuition fees is presumably not ever going to vote for the Labour Party who introduced tuition fees after having given a commitment in their previous manifesto that they would not do so!

  • An honorable attempt to justify some of the recent decisions.

    Don’t get me wrong i will continue to support the party but i
    do wonder about Nick Cleggs’ motives.

    A common criticism of coalition is it gives to much influence
    to smaller partners.

    There are good examples of this in Germany, Italy and Israel
    where deals take a lot of negotiation.

    The coalition deal here was done really quickly which begs
    the question of how hard a bargain the Lib Dem negotiating
    team drove.

    Tuition fees should have been and still must be a line in the
    sand because of the pledge that was given.

    Breaking it makes the Lib Dems look like the other two parties
    and will tarnish our reputation badly.

  • @ Matt Smith
    “So, if you want to see more Lib Dem policy, and want your vote to actually count for a change, then help make a start by voting Yes in the AV referendum. That will start to level out the parties Commons power, and if we are in Government after 2015, we will be able to have much better go at it. I hope I see you there.”

    So why the very visible ‘No to AV’ adverts on this site? The ‘Yes’ campaign seems non existent.
    Sorry but I have seen now how the Lib Dems operate. Say one thing and do another. Why would I believe that you would be any different in 2015? I think we need more than ‘a better go of it’, that just insults the intelligence.

  • “Oh, nonsense. Without Lib Dem support, Cameron would be forced to get every bill through by bribing individual MPs from other parties on selected issues local to their constituency, so we’d get mostly Tory policies and a lot of pork barrel projects, which is the last thing the country needs right now.”

    That is nonsense indeed.
    Explain to us how, say, Tuition fees would get through by this cunning use of all powerful bribes ?
    It wouldn’t. You are talking out of your rear end.
    You appear to have mistaken our system for the U.S. one.
    Put simply, there aren’t enough MPs who would break Party ranks because Cameron fell well short of a majority. It wasn’t one or two more seats he needed to get a majority of one, it was twenty.

    Without a majority a British Prime Minster is stranded and useless.
    He would be finished very soon thereafter.
    When John Major still had a theoretical majority of one his Government became a joke and a byword for ineffectual uselessness.

    Without a majority Cameron would have to propose Bills that all three Parties could support or take his chances at another election with the polling against him. We KNOW that’s the last thing he wants or he would have done it already and he wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to form a coalition if he didn’t fear the consequences.

  • Anyone who thinks that with 57 MPs the Lib Dems could have forced the Tories to adopt more or their policies is frankly deluded:

    1) Because of the numbers, no alternative deal was possible with Labour, so removing a major bargaining chip from the Lib Dems;
    2) After the election, the Liberal Democrats and Labour were basically bankrupt. Without the coalition deal, the Tories (with money from Ashcroft et al.) could have forced a fresh election very soon afterwards. With the financial markets in turmoil, they could very likely have forced an outright win by telling people Britain needed stability.

    It really makes me livid how critics of the Lib Dems are now rewriting the history of the last six months to twist voters’ opinion against them.

    Basically the Lib Dems were dealt a dreadful hand by our deliberately rubbish electoral system.

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