Coalition blues

Back in 2010 after a General Election that left our party with the balance of power in a hung parliament the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Conservatives.

Every section of the party overwhelmingly supported this move and after decades out in the cold Liberals were finally back in government.

The circumstances weren’t ideal given the dire economic situation, and for a party that faced the Tories as the main opposition in many areas, it was sure to be difficult electorally over the coming five years.

That said options were limited, Labour were the clear losers, and the parliamentary arithmetic made a deal with them impossible.

A coalition or confidence and supply arrangement with David Cameron’s Conservatives were the only realistic choices.

Liberal Democrats joined the cabinet, became ministers, and an agreement was concluded on legislative priorities.

Many said the arrangement wouldn’t last long, but in fact, it stayed the course for the full five years.

Yes, it was difficult at times, tuition fees, the AV referendum and the abortive attempts to reform the House of Lords spring to mind.

In the elections that occurred during that period our vote suffered badly, hundreds of councillors lost their seats, and we were punished heavily in the other tests of public opinion.

Winning the Eastleigh by-election was one of the few high points.

Then in 2015, we went down from 57 MPs to 8, and the experiment was over with the Tories getting back with a small majority.

Since then we have seen a bit of a recovery, but we are in many ways still coming to terms with that period when we were in government.

The discussion threads here on Lib Dem Voice often include references to some of the more unpopular things our MPs voted for while in the coalition, and our political opponents are quick to remind us of the same.

We need to move on.

So how do we do that?

Well, firstly we need a narrative that includes highlighting the positive things we achieved and acknowledging the ones that we feel that didn’t work out so well.

For example, raising the income tax threshold was a great policy, supporting tuition fees not so.

Secondly, we need to keep developing a policy programme for the future and establish ourselves as a radical alternative.

I am very keen on a new Beveridge type approach offering  Liberal solutions in the areas of employment, housing and welfare.

Both Labour and the Tories wanted to destroy us, they still do.

The good news is they failed we are in pretty good shape; our activist base is strong and membership growth.

The coalition blues are still there though, and now we need to banish them once and for all.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Martin Richards 2nd Jan '19 - 10:43am

    I agree, one cannot ignore what the Lib Dems achieved in government, the main problem for the Lib Dems was we did not have the experience of Labour and the Tories of selling our period in government to limit any loss in support (as we know Governments losing votes is generally the rule rather than the exception).

    To be able to offer ourselves as a stable and mature party in comparison to the main two parties as well as coming to terms with and selling our experience in Coalition is keen to regaining support.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Jan '19 - 10:56am

    Very well said David, for what it is worth I agree with everything you said it is time to move on from those coalition years. I was proud we were involved in government even if we made some mistakes in certain areas, as long as leasons are learned if a similar situation arrives in the future.??

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jan '19 - 11:17am

    “Both Labour and the Tories wanted to destroy us, they still do.”

    This sounds rather paranoid!! Sure, there is competition for votes. Other parties are trying to take votes from you, just as you are trying to take votes from them. There may be a bit of banter between the parties now and again. That’s how democracy works.

    Those of us who are interested in politics, in a wider sense, generally don’t want just one single party. I’d be quite pleased if the Lib Dems would take the remaining Blairites off our hands!

    And you can’t do that if you’ve been destroyed!

  • Steve Magner 2nd Jan '19 - 11:40am

    This is quite a good article but David is little naive if he things the matter is time for us to move on. We might have moved on but large numbers of voters have not – particularly young voters and students. It will inevitably be very many years before they do. After all how can you portray your party as a left of centre alternative and then side with the Conservatives. As well as who could forget Nick Clegg’s opening PPB of the 2010 campaign with his “No more boken promises”.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Jan '19 - 11:49am

    Might it be helpful to make an “audit” of the good the bad and the in between of our coalition years.
    Might an “audit” by HQ and an “audit” by the membership be interesting and useful?
    Might it benefit our democracy if all political parties presented audits of their times in power?

  • David Warren 2nd Jan '19 - 11:53am


    The abuse me and other Liberal Democrats got from Labour people during my time in Reading was a bit more than banter.

    As for the Blairites they aren’t going anywhere, they are still plotting to retake control of the Labour party.

    Which I predict they will at some point.

  • Neil Sandison 2nd Jan '19 - 12:00pm

    David Warren .Agree its time to move on and stop wearing those hair shirts of the coalition years .We should remind ourselves that both the main parties Labour and Tory supported tuition fees and the sudo-graduate tax was the best option we could hope to get through the house of commons . But our policy has moved on since then and the lifelong learning account is a step in the right direction and our workforce has to train and retrain to meet a new jobs market for products and services yet to be invented .Even in the coalition years we remained a reformists party and would have gone further if we were not held back by the Tories and their larger numbers of MPs .

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jan '19 - 12:15pm

    Peter Martin 2nd Jan ’19 – 11:17am
    Part of the Labour Party’s problem is the despair that some voters have in seats that Tories consider “safe”, including where I live.
    Did you see the cartoon of the PM singing Ould Lang Syne? (Alone).

  • Tuition Fees has almost left us wounded with small chance of a full recovery. See latest Opinium poll has us at 6%, that means less votes, less seats and more lost deposits.
    Just how do we move on, it is almost a decade of this situation.
    A charismatic leader perhaps, totally coalition history free, with no personal background issues.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Jan '19 - 12:36pm

    It is not just Labour voters who despair at being in safe seats I have lived in three areas where the Tories are very safely embedded, a democratic voting system is as far away as ever. My grandfather was reputed to have said that if they put a blue rosette on a cow they would still vote for it, as I am of advanced years you can tell how long ago that was. Nothing changes with regards to voting in our political system!!

  • chris moore 2nd Jan '19 - 1:25pm


    Hi Theakes,

    Why cherry-pick the worst opinión poll you can find?

    You have to look at all the recent polls to get a sense of where we are. Polls in December range from 6% to 12%. The average is around 9%.

  • Joseph Bourke 2nd Jan '19 - 1:53pm

    One of the key lessons to be learned should be that coalition government is not a Liberal Democrat government and having ministers in departments means supporting the policies of the government not acting as an internal opposition. Liberalism is a distinct and seperate ideology from that of either Conservatism or Socialism. There may be a convergence in policy areas at times, but there will never be a convergence of ideology with either of the main parties. With the current level of churn in British politics, hung parliaments appear quite a likely prospect going forward. If and when Liberal Democrats find themselves once again in a coalition govrnment that distinction needs to be maintained. Policy compromises need to be thrashed out in advance and communication based on how agreed compromises serve the national interest as against the interests of parties comprising a coalition.
    The small conservative majority in 2015 was as unexpected as was the full extent of the libdem collapse that led to Paddy Ashdown pledging to eat his hat. Had the loss of libdem seats not been quite so dramatic, Libdems would quite likely still be in coaltion and perhaps dealing with a very different Brexit scenrio than that which we face today.

  • John Marriott 2nd Jan '19 - 2:17pm

    Neither Tory or Labour really understand coalitions at National level. At local level the idea of NOC (no overall control) is better understood by politicians if not the public as a whole. Given how little power Local Government now has perhaps it’s not that surprising that many people may not be aware that the area where they happen to live might be administered by a coalition. I was a member of a ‘coalition’ administration in Lincolnshire from 2013 to 2017 and, did the sky fall in?

    FPTP was supposed to deliver ‘strong and stable government’. It’s failed to deliver that on enough occasions in recent years to make you wonder whether it is really past its sell-by date. If we ever do get PR in national elections then, if the European scene is anything to go by, we had better get ready for coalitions, in most cases made up of two parties; but occasionally of more. Provided we have something like the 5% ‘Sperrklausel’ that the Germans have, we should avoid the multi party chaos that is the Israeli Knesset.

    So, with a modern voting system in a modern parliamentary democracy, not one based on the rivalries of the 19th, let alone, the 20th century, the public might then be prepared to think in colour rather than in black and white. How many times did I hear people say after the 2010 general election that they never ‘voted’ for a coalition? Well, since I started voting in national elections in 1970, the only government I have ever got that I could have claimed as my own was actually the one that was announced in the Downing Street Rose Garden nearly nine years ago.

    Coalitions can be a messy business both at local and national level; but they can deliver if compromise is given a chance to make itself heard and its members play the game. The next few months at Westminster could see a form of coalition/consensus emerge that might just take Brexit by the scruff of the neck and save us all from a possible economic Armageddon.

  • Phil Beesley 2nd Jan '19 - 2:25pm

    theakes 2nd Jan ’19 – 12:29pm: ‘Opinium poll has us at 6%, that means less votes, less seats and more lost deposits.
    Just how do we move on, it is almost a decade of this situation.
    A charismatic leader perhaps, totally coalition history free, with no personal background issues.’

    If you think that you are right in your beliefs, you don’t change your beliefs.

    You can’t change your beliefs because that makes you nothing.

    You can change policies a bit (within constraints of belief) and you can change strategy and tactics.

    Strategy is a potential change. It makes a long term difference.

    Serendipity is the game changer. Chance was the game changer for Jeremy Corbyn. But he doesn’t understand the cards that he holds and he wouldn’t know how to play a royal flush.

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Jan '19 - 3:44pm

    I think the only way we can move on is to accept that the electorate did not like us in government. I think the cause of this wasn’t just down to broken promises but because we proved to be just like the two main parties in our attitude to government. The broken promise on tuition fees was the first sign of this, but the main problem was hubris. Our MPs mostly loved being in government and adored participating in its old traditions rather than saying we will not conform to this antiquated way of working.
    I thought we didn’t believe in all the trappings of power but apparently we do. I always valued our rebelliousness, our refusal to kow tow, but as far as I could see we were kow towing to the Tories all over the place and seemed to trust them, when any of our local Councillors knows through bitter experience that they shouldn’t to do this. Our MPs thought we were better prepared for Coalition negotiations than the Tories while they were, in fact, trying to destroy us. The impression given was that we were best friends with them and rather in awe of the fact that we were.
    I know we tried to reform the voting system and the House of Lords but those sacred cows of our party have never been that popular and in the middle of a recession seemed to be based on a total lack of awareness of the problems which many people were experiencing.
    Unfortunately most people aren’t interested in policy detail but go by impressions given by a politician’s attitude and hard work. We get the hard work bit, but sadly most of our MPs seemed to be blown away by the glory of it all and forgot the old Liberal warnings about power.
    We have made some gains at local level but we are still in the doldrums nationally. Could that be because we conduct ourselves differently in local politics, seeking to consult and involve local people? Why don’t we do this at national level as well? We could use our experience of government to change the way it works, for example the attitude of the Home Office towards immigrants and refugees. For most people national government is remote, unwieldy and uncaring. Our MPs should pledge to change that just as we have tried to do with local government.

  • John Marriott 2nd Jan '19 - 4:16pm

    David Raw’s point about the ministerial limos and peerages is, of course, a valid one. As I said, not only do Tory and Labour Parties not understand coalitions, neither, it would seem, do the Lib Dems either.

    First of all, there was the relatively short (some may argue disastrously short) period it took for the two parties’ representatives to put together a programme. A similar exercise took Belgium’s parties nearly a year not that long ago and only last year Germany’s months to get something together, which, even after a few months, is showing strains. Secondly, it was clear that any ‘give or take’ from either side was usually ‘give’ from the Lib Dems and ‘take’ from the Tories, some Coalition Ministers, notable amongst them being the current PM, more or less carried on, according to some sources, as if they were still in a single party government. And yet, something that few gave a chance of seeing out its first year managed to survive for the whole of the Fixed Parliament, a piece of legislation, which Itself I personally would class as an achievement of the 2010-2015 Coalition government, along with the raising of income tax thresholds, the Pupil Premium, Free School meals, the last three, I believe, first seeing the light of day in the 2010 Lib Dem election manifesto.

  • We won’t move on because this party has never accepted they were wrong to go into coalition.

  • David Evershed 2nd Jan '19 - 4:26pm

    Realistically the Lib Dems can only aspire to another coalition.

    We need to educate and prepare our supporters in the need for compromise that such coalitions require.

    The Conservatives supporters seemed more prepared to accept the compromise of the coalition with the Lib Dems than vice versa even though we claim to have achieved 70% of our 2010 manifesto in coalition.

    Are Lib Dem suppoters so naive as to think we get everything our way when we are a minority in a coalition? They need to be taught Realpolitik.

  • Chris Moore: I recall that Opinium was as accurate as any in the week of the 2017 General. Like the party I am lost and bewildered. It used to be 30 days and nights in the Wilderness but 9-10 years with no light yet at the tunnel end!

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Jan '19 - 4:54pm

    As I said earlier as long as we learn from our mistakes in the coalition there is no reason not to do it again after all there is little or no chance of forming a government on our own in the near future,unfortunately so it makes sense to at least try again to implement some Liberal Democrat good sense into government policy. Mind you it had better be soonerrather than later a far as I am concerned and if earlier posts are the norm we might never agree to it

  • Paul Sample 2nd Jan '19 - 4:55pm

    Difficult to claim to be a radical AND in co-oalition with either of the other two main parties today. Liberals should avoid pacts. We should have learned a little from history.

  • Innocent Bystander 2nd Jan '19 - 5:06pm

    To offer a new narrative a party needs such a narrative in the first place. If you stopped 1,000 voters and asked them what the LibDems stood for about half would say that they were against Brexit but wouldn’t be able to guess at anything else and the other half would deny ever having heard of the party.
    To argue whether the polls say 6% or 9% seems somewhat sad. Polls aren’t the same as real elections anyway. Polling day could be worse as next time the big two will be highly polarised and many voters will not risk a wasted vote.
    The majority of contributors to this site seem to be advocates of big-time wealth redistribution and Keynesian borrow, spend and hope for a miracle.
    If that’s the doctrine, then shout it out because try asking your family and friends what exactly they think the party stands for and see what they say.

  • Some people actually have “got over” the coalition. Over the last three months there have been three principal authority by-elections in the Oxford area where that party has scored in excess of 60%. Only one of these was in OXWAB. If the voters in those areas still hate us because of the coalition, tuition fees, Nick Clegg, etc, then it is somewhat surprising that we broke the 60% barrier, something that was considered an optimal achievement even during the Ashdown/Kennedy years. (The “0” is quite correctly placed, Theakes.) Perhaps our leaders should be looking very closely at Oxford and applying their findings elsewhere in the country.

    Obviously, it is up to Vince when he stands down. However, I would prefer him to fight the next election so that we have a wider choice of candidates from whom to choose his successor. Both the current leading contenders were involved in the coalition. Someone who was not even an MP at the time might be a better option. Preferably someone who can shout and enthuse a bit.

  • David Warren 2nd Jan '19 - 6:29pm

    Difficult to see how the Tories will look post May.

    They could elect a Brexiteer as leader but given the make up of their parliamentary party that is far from certain.

    Labour are easier to predict Corbyn will almost certainly hold on until the next General Election and present another left wing manifesto.

    We are going to need strict targeting to hold our current seats and hopefully gain some more.

    In the meantime we can continue rebuilding our local government base.

    On policy/philosophy perhaps it’s time for a modern version of Grimond’s ‘The Liberal Future.’

  • David Evans 2nd Jan '19 - 7:06pm

    Sadly, yet another piece from the nice and well-meaning wing of the party (which these days is sadly most of it) wishing and sadly deluding itself and others into believing that things are fundamentally just fine, we are in pretty good shape and now we are turning the corner.

    However, these views still do not compute when compared to the facts, which are
    We are the fourth biggest party in a first past the post democracy
    We allowed our reputation to be destroyed by our leaders and most of our voters at the time stopped voting for us and still haven’t returned.
    We went from being trusted, and in an odd quirky British way admired for having principles and ability, to being despised or at best despaired of by voters, who have now moved on to simply totally ignoring us (as do the media).
    We have only one policy that the public know of (or more accurately a significant minority of the public know of), and if Theresa May gets her way (and based on our lack of success over the last two years) that one policy will totally cease to be relevant as far as the rest of the country is concerned except for the few true believers on 29th March.
    The story of our electoral success is largely a fiction, where we pretend to ourselves that a few council by-election victories (many, many less than even in indifferent years pre 2010) are a triumph and a sign of recovery.

    And now we get yet another selective version of history, that ignores almost all the bad bits, while pretending we must come clean on them. So let us deal with them, one at a time:

    “After decades out in the cold Liberals were finally back in government” – actually in 2010 the Liberals were already in government in vast swathes of the country. We controlled Liverpool, Newcastle, Rochdale, Sheffield, Stockport, Hull, South Lakeland, Burnley, Cambridge, Eastleigh, St Albans, Three Rivers, Watford, Chesterfield, Caradon, Durham, Eastbourne, Hinkley & Bosworth, Lewes, North Norfolk, Northampton, Oadby & Wigston, South Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, West Lindsey, Richmond, Sutton. We also had a share of power in a great many others.

    That was real Liberal Democrat Power – delivering good Liberal Democrat policies and fighting for their local communities.

    I would say more, but facts take up a lot more space than convenient illusions, and I am already close to the 500 word limit for comments.

  • Nom de Plume 2nd Jan '19 - 7:14pm

    @David Evans

    If May takes us out without a deal on March 29, we will be more relevant than ever before.

  • Paul Barker 2nd Jan '19 - 7:21pm

    I was an enthusiastic supporter of our participation in The Coalition, obviously I was wrong. We ought to be clear that we made a mistake & determine not to repeat it.
    Taking part in any future Coalitions should be dependent on several conditions. Most important is that a Majority of the MPs backing the Coalition should back Liberal values & be enthusiastic about Reform across the board, including PR & Devolution.
    No more Coalitions dominated by conservatives either Red or Blue & NO Referenda, ever.

  • David Becket 2nd Jan '19 - 7:24pm

    Are we ever going to recover? Let us face the public do not like coalitions. It does not matter that we helped to provide a better government than what we have seen since. That is logical, but a vast proportion of the english public is not logical, if they were we would not be facing Brexit. Scotland is different, the SNP have a strong following, hence there ability to overtake us in number of MPS. Our party looks boring, and does not inspire, but if it did inspire would it make any difference in this anti coalition environment? I doubt it.

  • Rolling back up about a dozen comments sorry, but Joseph – is there a reason we need a referendum to change the voting system for electing the House of Commons? Insofar as I know, we didn’t have one to give women the vote, or to give poor people the vote, or to bring in D’Hondt lists for Europe, or to change the voting age, or to bring in STV for local elections in Scotland, or to abolish the University seats, or… you get the idea.

  • One key factor in the 2015 GE was that during the campaign the medias result projection from nearly every opinion poll was for an Ed Milliband premiership proped up / controlled by the SNP. These projections played into the Tories hands and were one of the factors resulting in a significant increase in the Tory vote here in the westcountry where many people feared such an SNP/Labour administration. In my opinion this was a bigger factor than Tuition fees in the loss of all 14 Lib Dem seats in this part of England. After all if voters disapproved of Coalition Tuition Fees policy why did support for the Tories increase?

  • Nom de Plume 2nd Jan '19 - 7:51pm

    @Joseph Bourke

    Section1, paragraph1:

    “It would be easy to blame the current state of British Liberalism on
    the Coalition of 2010-15. Certainly, many of the Liberal Democrats’
    short-term difficulties stem from that government’s unpopular
    policies, and more importantly, from the party’s decision early in the
    government to submerge its separate identity to ‘show that coalition
    This is where the Liberal Democrats went from 57 to 8 seats. Although for some the coalition with the Tories may have been too much in itself. (Although I always treat polls with caution, there was a big drop in polled support soon after the formation of the Coalition)
    The rest of the booklet is philosophy and policy.

    “coalition was the inevitable result” Coalition was not inevitable. It was the result of a number of specific decisions.

  • Nom de Plume 2nd Jan '19 - 7:55pm

    @ Mike Read

    No recovery in 2017.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Jan '19 - 8:02pm

    In 2010, for the first time in my lifetime, it was possible for the Lib Dems to go into government. We had always said we wanted to be in government, that was our modus vivendi. Only in government could we implement any of our policies.
    Imagine what would have happened if we had said that no, we didn’t want to responsibility of government, we preferred to remain on the sidelines in opposition. That would have been a total killer for our governmental ambitions, because all our opponents – with total justification – would have been able to say ‘LibDems are not serious about government, when they had the chance they funked it’
    Had we taken the supply and confidence route, we would have got precious few of our policies into law and would have been blamed for keeping the Tories in power. Comparison with the DUP is simply not relevant, because they are a small regional party that doesn’t even stand in the overwhelming majority of UK seats.
    So take your heads out of the sand, extol the successes we had in government and openly accept that we made mistakes. But David Warren is right, we have to move on. Heaven knows there are plenty of real issues to put forward radical solutions for!!!

  • Nom de Plume 2nd Jan '19 - 8:11pm

    @Mick Taylor

    We got precious few of our policies into law. Being “blamed for keeping the Tories in power” is a bit better than being blamed for being the Tories.

    Incidentally, I also supported the Coalition at the beginning. I am a bit wiser now.

  • The UK political process is broken. The only thing that could have justified the coalition was a commitment to a new voting system, it wasn’t achieved and therefore entering the coalition was wrong. There are no if or buts about that, no we must educate our membership to tagalong, no, well our leader was the deputy PM, no policy that was either rolled back or claimed by the Tories justified a policy of coalition if fundamental change in the political process was not achieved. Well political change wasn’t achieved so chalk the coalition up to an abject failure and make sure if it happens again our leadership remember they have one job and only one job.

  • @Sue Sutherland – excellent post. You make all the points that I was going to make, and better than I would have!

  • Mike Read,

    the SNP polling was a significant factor in SW London as well causing the loss of Vince Cable and Ed Davey’s seats in 2015. Fortunately, this was reversed in 2017.

  • ‘m so sorry to still be reading, after almost 4 years, such a thread.

    The coalition years were an unmitigated disaster for this party and the country.

    My reading most of the responses tells me that we have learned NOTHING from the coalition;. In 2015 (and in the years running up to it) the country passed its verdict on our party and our performance.
    The thread seems to ask the electorate to remember the good we did; there was precious little of it when you consider the broken promises, the NHS debacle, secret courts, bedroom tax, Universal Credit, and the list goes on.

    How to proceed? “Sorry, we got it completely wrong” fo;;owed by, “Those who led us have gone” would be a good start.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jan '19 - 10:19pm

    “Back in 2010 after a General Election that left our party with the balance of power in a hung parliament …”
    The biggest problem for Lib Dems in 2010 was probably that the parliamentary arithmetic did not really leave the party with the balance of power and it seemed unprepared for that scenario.

  • David Warren 2nd Jan '19 - 10:32pm

    The result suited Nick Clegg and the people around him perfectly.

    Polls correctly indicated that the Tories were likely to be the largest party following the election and they were his preferred coalition partners.

    On the Daily Politics Matthew Parris said that if Nick Clegg did a deal with Labour he would eat a Daily Politics mug!

    Parris knew what he was talking about.

    Nick had a project which failed, it failed because he was trying to move what is basically a centre left party to the centre right.

    He also underestimated the Tories.

  • John Marriott 2nd Jan '19 - 10:42pm

    Like Mick Taylor, I refuse to rubbish the 2010-2015 Coalition government. As for the British public not liking coalitions all I can say is that they have hardly been served that well by single party government in recent history, when none of those governments could command even half the votes actually cast.

    How we persuade a majority of our fellow citizens that there is a better way – and don’t appear to be doing it purely for selfish reasons – is the real challenge for those of us who believe in the kind of democracy that reflects a variety of opinion, is bolstered by common sense rather than ideology and is rooted in compromise.

  • Joseph Bourke 3rd Jan '19 - 12:00am

    The decline of the Edwardian Liberal Party is often attributed to wider societal changes that overwhelmed the Liberal Party of those times: violence and revolution in Ireland; the rise of trade unions and the labour movement; and votes for women.

    After the splits of the 1920s Herbert Asquith wrote that ‘there is only one way in which liberalism can be killed and that is by suicide’.

    The Labour party of today draws as much support from graduates is it does from manual workers and the Conservatives have gathered much of the UKIP vote and a significant working class leave vote.

    Recognising how politics has changed with the rise of the SNP as the 3rd party and the redrawing of political loyalties around Brexit and across generations; and crucially what to do about it, is of far greater import to future development of the party then the record of the coalition government.

  • The lib Dems had a disproportionate number of public sector workers, disabled people, and low income families amongst the voters. The coalition was very bad for these groups. There was also a very strong anti war/Blair component to the vote. Libya and Syria undid that. In short the Lib Dem party was perceived as clobbering Lib Dem voters by large numbers of Lib Dem voters, thus they stopped voting Lib Dem. The core vote, it turns out, is on the small side.

  • According to David Laws Danny Alexander was still keen to reduce the Welfare Budget.
    Jo Swinson introduced zero hours contracts.
    This is rarely mentioned -shame

  • I think the Lib Dems going into Coalition was a brave decision and was necessary to show that the Lib Dems are serious about government rather than merely protest. Also, it gave the country 5 years of stable government, unlike since. Coalition is about compromise, I’m afraid. I agree that the agreement was put together too quickly, but that was under great media pressure, if I recall.

    Where it went wrong, in my view, is that the Lib Dems were naïve about the duplicity ands ruthlessness of the Conservatives e.g. they unfairly took the credit (and still do) for raising the Income Tax threshold and were forensic in their targeting of the Lib Dem seats in the SW in 2015 i.e. thanks for your help, now we’re going to kick you in the head

  • I agree with Joseph’s analysis that the Tories recent success with the working class leave voters is far more significant than the Coalition record. I am convinced that even if the Coalition had scrapped Tuition fees and never brought in the Bedroom tax my “safe” LD seat (Yeovil) would have still fallen to the Tories in 2015.

  • BRIAN D 3rd Jan ’19 – 8:53am……………
    According to David Laws Danny Alexander was still keen to reduce the Welfare Budget.
    Jo Swinson introduced zero hours contracts.
    This is rarely mentioned -shame……………..

    Have we forgotten the LDV claim that 75% of the coalition policies were LibDem. Danny Alexander spent more time in the media defending every benefit cut than did Osborne.

    Add to those Vince Cable’s introduction of tribunal fees for employees making claims against employers, reducing employment ‘red tape’ regulations, granting widespread exemptions for Health and Safety regulation/inspection and wanting labour market ‘flexibility’ as well as scrapping of the Working Time Directive.

    All, in all, we seemed determined to ‘out-Tory the Tories’ And there are still those who ‘refuse to rubbish’ those years.

    Shame indeed!

  • I voted for a coalition at the special conference in Birmingham, as did most other members there. I thought I was voting for an arrangement which would ensure that the country avoided economic collapse. We were doing it for the good of the country, I thought. There would be a serious effort to control a difficult situation. I found little opposition to this at first when I was about my business as a councillor.
    However it soon became clear to me that a politically motivated Tory analysis of the situation was accepted. The answer it seems was to take off the people who had least, while our party indulged in irrelevant ideas like the referendum on the alternative vote.
    So there was a great deal of opposition then to us. Every street had people who would tear up our leaflets with great ceremony.
    It is now clear that the measures taken to deal with the lack of control on the manipulations of the world’s financial institutions have resulted in increased inequality and poverty.
    Many of course left the party following these events.
    If we do not adopt a financial analysis more in keeping with reality, then it doesn’t really matter what happens to the party.
    At the moment we are poorly equipped to campaign on the problems which will be caused by the next financial crash, probably in 2019 or perhaps 2020.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Jan '19 - 10:17am

    My life was too hectic and too peripatetic to follow politics closely prior to the coalition. I continued to vote Liberal democrats out of custom and habit because I had great respect for local Liberal Democrat candidates. They were good people.

    The problem came when the Liberal Democrats became part of government. Not because one cannot deal with compromise, a belief in co-operation rather than competition, demands compromise, but because the party in government, or at the least the government ministers became high profile and we could judge their behaviour when they achieved national prominence more clearly.

    If there are those who still believe that what the Liberal Democrats enabled has been less devastating to the fabric of our society than what little was achieved, I beg to differ.

    @ Glenn,
    I do not share your cynicism.

    One of the things I once admired about the party was that I believed that it was the party of enlightened self- interest, not narrow self -interest. The question for the party is why it has lost support from many who know the difference.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '19 - 10:27am

    It needed to be stated from the start that the coalition had to be formed because, thanks to the distortional representation system, it was the only stable government that could be formed. There were not enough Labour MPs for a Labour-LibDem coalition. The distortion meant that LibDem MPs were just one sixth of the coalition, rather than two-fifths as they would have been with proportional representation. As such, the LibDems would only be able to have a minor influence on what would essentially be a Conservative government.

    This wasn’t stated. Instead, the opposite impression was given. That was disastrous, and plenty of us told the party’s leadership at the time – and we were ignored.

    As expats puts it the “claim that 75% of the coalition policies were LibDem” was an obvious ridiculous thing to do. It gave the clear impression – which most of those who used to vote for us now believe – that we were just telling lies about what we stood for before we entered the coalition, and in reality what we really stood for all the time was extreme right-wing economic policies. Actually, the statement was that 75% of LibDem policies had been implemented, which is subtly different, but as I said at the time, no-one would see that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '19 - 10:27am

    On tuition fees we should have made it clear what the real problem was – there was no way we could force the Tories to increase taxation, and so if there had not been these tuition fees instead there would have to be even bigger cuts to enable university tuition to continue to be directly subsidised. That would have included huge cuts in universities. Accepting tuition fees, but insisting everyone should be entitled to loans paid off only when income reached a certain level, and written off later in life if not fully paid off was a compromise. In reality it meant what people would pay would be little different from what they would otherwise pay directly through taxation had the Tories been willing to increase taxation. Note that we did NOT agree to the high interest rates that the Tories added to the loan system later, which in my opinion turned it from something I could just about accept to something that is unacceptable.

    The UK university system was saved and has prospered, because of the LibDem acceptance of the tuition fees system. As a university lecturer, I feel sure I would have lost my job in the big cuts had the LibDems gone the other way. The point that needed to be made but wasn’t was that this was NOT our ideal, but it was a sad necessity given we were in a government where five-sixths of it were people whose main policy and electoral promise is to keep tax low.

  • chris moore 3rd Jan '19 - 10:44am

    @ Theakes.

    Hi Theakes,

    There were nine opinión polls in December.

    One, the Opinum one you quote, had us below the 2017 result. One had us on 7%, the same as the 2017 result. the other seven had us above the 2017 result. Recent regional polls suggest a modest recovery as well.

    All the best. Don’t despair!!

  • Innocent Bystander 3rd Jan '19 - 11:22am

    I realise my opinions won’t resonate here, but I have a different perspective. The ‘catastrophe’ was, in my view, caused by a lurch to the left in the Labour party when the Blairites were replaced by Miliband and Old Labour. That pulled a lot of your left leaning voters with them and the threat of Miliband/Sturgeon perversely pulled another set of more centre types in the opposite direction. Although I anticipate being howled down, tuition fees had a miniscule effect and only gave your former voters a moral excuse (psychologicaly) to vote out of fear of the blues or the reds.
    I have to say you are making the most heavy rod for your own backs now. The party stance appears to be “In government we were pathetic and easily bullied weaklings and failed. We should now make some very public grovelling apology.”
    Eh? The public wants weaklings and failures now? When did they signal that? When did they ask for the apology? Do you think ‘forgiveness’ is a voter emotion?
    My advice is to tell those who repeatedly shine a spotlight on LibDem failures to consider doing the exact opposite.
    This nation needs a new political dynamic. I always hoped the LibDems might be it but grovelling in the dirt won’t cut it. Stop apologising for pity’s sake.

  • Sandra Hammett 3rd Jan '19 - 11:57am

    The problem as I see it is that we haven’t publicly drawn a line under the coalition years, instead we mutter amongst ourselves, complaining about our lack of media exposure, we need to broadcast both our successes AND our failures, tell the electorate that we have learned from the experience and are utterly sincere in not failing them again. After that we can present a fresh ideas and new leader, promising a brighter future.

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '19 - 12:10pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    The ‘real problem’ with Tuition Fees was ‘pledging’ to abolish them in the first place. It’s ironic that so many Lib Dem candidates were prepared to sign up to what, I believe, was an NUS initiative, thinking, possibly cynically, that they would never have to deliver, which is a bit like Cameron promising that EU referendum thinking the same thing. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?

    Perhaps, in the age of coalitions, parties should have a list of proposals, some that they would enact if they happened to be a majority as well as those with which they would be prepared to compromise in the event of their possibly being in coalition negotiations. As the Stones famously sang; “You don’t always get what you want…but sometimes you get what you need”.

  • Mark Blackburn 3rd Jan '19 - 12:43pm

    As someone who was a candidate in 2010 and did sign the pledge, I would say that was an entirely reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. Party policy was against tuition fees, I personally was against them, and the campaign office endorsed PPCs signing the pledge. The most under-used word above is ‘trust’; regardless of whether we went into coalition or not, regardless of how we performed in Coalition, we were seen to have abused people’s trust – because we did. This was exacerbated by all the hype in that campaign about us representing the ‘new politics’ and keeping promises. No wonder we’re not trusted, even now – trust is lost in an instant, and takes a long time to regain. To move on, we have to properly acknowledge and apologise, disassociate from those responsible for the breach, and find dynamic leadership untainted by the Coalition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '19 - 1:39pm

    John Marriott

    The ‘real problem’ with Tuition Fees was ‘pledging’ to abolish them in the first place

    Sure, so what would people have thought had we kept that pledge – and accepted massive cuts to the number of university places in order to be able to pay for it?

    I’ve no reason to suppose that Liberal Democrats were not honest and would not have pushed whatever tax rises would be needed to pay for full funding of universities. But it was simply impossible to get the Conservatives to agree to that, given that THEIR main pledge was to keep taxes down.

    So, this is what needed to be stated in the first place – that it was a coalition in which we were only a minor part, and so there was no way we could get everything from it that we would get if we were in complete control of the government. All we could really do was shift things a bit towards what we would prefer if there was a fairly even split about it in the Conservative Party.

    But the leadership of the party didn’t do that. They allowed the silly belief to continue that a small party in a coalition can get whatever it wants. And allowing this silly belief to carry on has carried on right up till now. The party leadership never stated clearly what a coalition actually means, and how our ability to influence it was pushed right down by the distortional representation system which gave the Conservatives five times as many MPs as the Liberal Democrats even though they only had one and a half times as many votes overall.

    The idea that if instead of saying this, we just turned our attention to talking about nothing but Brexit, as if opposing that was the only thing we cared about, and that would lead to people forgetting all about everything else and supporting us because of the Brexit issue was daft. Daft, daft, daft, we have been wrecked by our leadership.

  • Danny Alexander’s passionate defence of the Bedroom Tax and his full blooded support of some vile Tory policies made me disgusted that I voted Lib Den and helped them prop up Cameron…just can’t get over that .

  • Joseph Bourke 3rd Jan '19 - 2:18pm

    Innocent Bystander and Matthew Huntbach get to the heart of the issue. One of the weaknesses of the party political system is the development of policies to enhance electoral appeal to targeted sections of the electorate rather than the often less appealing trade-offs that are confronted in government. Campaigning in poetry but governing in prose as the adage goes.
    Tax increases and spending cuts had already begun under Labour with VAT back-up to 17.5% and plans to raise it to 18.5%; the top rate of tax increased from 40% to 50% and planned cuts in public spending “deeper and tougher” than Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s.
    The coalition made mistakes, particularly in the first couple of years, but sustainable economic growth was restored and unemployment was significantly reduced by 2015 from its levels in 2010. Welfare reforms have been poorly managed and undercut by withdrawal of funding, an unnecessy sanctions regime and poor administration.

  • Chris Bertram 3rd Jan '19 - 2:31pm

    We have already tried the apology strategy for tuition fees. Remember how that worked out? Widespread ridicule and laughter. So it’s “No” to apologising in the terms that some posters would have us do. “Look at the Lib Dems, they’re apologising for existing”, our opponents will say. There is no better way to make us look very silly indeed. Apologising for having the courage to take on a part in Government would look like an admission that we think that we’re not up to that level of responsibility. Let’s not go there.

    But we *can* reflect on our time in coalition. We can accept that there are things that didn’t go well, and suggest ways in which we would do it differently next time, while at the same time reclaiming *our* successful policies from the Tories. We can perhaps remind people of the ways in which the Tories were duplicitous, if we think we can do this to our own advantage. We can also rebut the oft-made suggestion that a coalition with Labour would have been possible – it simply wasn’t. And in private, we must war-game situations like 2010 again and again to ensure that we are properly prepared. If we were caught with our trousers down, that was our fault and our fault alone. Never again.

  • @ Mark Blackburn

    Thank you for your post setting out the context of the tuition fee pledge and pointing out that we lost the trust of the electorate with our broken promises. You are also correct in your solution. It would be a great idea if all our MPs you voted for the increase in tuition fees stated that they would stand down at the 2022 general election.

    In 2010 I thought going into coalition with the Conservatives was an OK thing to do. I didn’t realise that the coalition agreement didn’t allow our MPs to keep their tuition fee pledge and I didn’t realise it meant we would support some benefit cuts and that we signed up to the Conservative economic policy which was always going to fail as it did with it being reported we had returned to recession by the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 (caused by the coalition government).

  • Sandra Hammett 3rd Jan '19 - 3:28pm

    Completely agree with Chris Bertram, but this reflection must be done publicly or it won’t matter a jot, our audience needs to be the whole electorate not just preaching to the converted. If Sir Vince Cable was to, on his departure from being leader, make an honest examination of the party’s fortunes he may at the very least put the party back on an even keel for his successor.

  • [A practical enquiry: would someone please tell me what the difference is, between black names above, and blue? And is it the case that highlighted names are the only responders who are paid up members of the party — or are some or many blues and blacks members who prefer not to say so?]

    I agree with the complaints that there is too much breast-beating above. So I agree with those urging us to turn about and look ahead. In a time of such parliamentary turmoil uncommitted voters come an election will surely be looking for parties and policies that look forward, with positive and possibly new ideas that get to grips with the three areas highlighted by David Warren’s starting-piece: A Beveridge type approach to employment, housing, and welfare.

    I believe most of the awkward squad of ‘populists’, many of them very articulate, are enraged by what they see as the dishonesty and the snootiness of left, right, and centre too now, which have brought us to this dire pass. It is a hard and blinkered mind or heart that would not sympathise. If matters are to improve for the despairing populists and for the LDs the two groups must find common cause. In other words, their cause is ours, and it is their votes that will win the next election.

    As for coalitions, why not , for the next election only, a pact between all parties to unite against the tories : an Anti-Tory- Alliance? There would be only two promises on the ATA manifesto: 1. to enact electoral reform installing PR; 2.
    To call another election in which the various parties would resume ‘normal’ relations, competing to secure seats by the new PR system and thus form a truly representative cross-section of the electorate and the consequent first ever democratically representative House of Commons. There would of course be plenty of conservative members elected , and they might well be part of the inevitable coalition: but they would not be able to keep all the goodies for themselves any more, I believe. This idea, I realise, has been laughed off before now: but what else is there to laugh about?

  • I think it is worth pointing out that scrapping tuition fees was not an NUS pledge but part of the Lib Dem 2010 General Election manifesto:

    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.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '19 - 7:03pm

    @ Michael BG
    What you write following “In 2010 I thought going into coalition with the Conservatives was an OK thing to do” seems to suggest you believed the coalition would mean the Conservatives dropping their key policies and instead taking up our policies.

    The reality is that there is no way the Conservative would increases taxes. To do so would be breaking their pledge as to what they were all about. Without taxes being increased, there was simply no way universities could continue being funded directly by government, except much bigger cuts elsewhere in things like benefits.

    So why is it that people seemed to suppose that a coalition that is five-sixths Conservative would involve just the Conservatives giving up their policies and taking up Liberal Democrat policies? Particularly given that there were not enough Labour MPs to make a Labour-LibDem coalition viable, so the LibDems did not have the bargaining strength of being able to say “We’ll go into the alternative coalition if you don’t give in to us”.

    The strength was all with the Conservatives, because if the only coalition that could be formed was not, they could say “thanks to the existence of the Liberal Democrats, Britain cannot have a stable government”. The Conservatives would be given minority government, blamed the Liberal Democrats for any problems, and called for another election to get rid of the Liberal Demcrats – and in all this, Labour would have supported them.

    So why did we as a party never say this sort of thing to explain what happened?

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '19 - 7:53pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I know that some may accuse me of skiiing slightly off piste; but I’m not sure if you quite understood what I meant by mentioning tuition fees. At the risk of being shot down in flames, I have to say that I think that far too many of our young people go to what I would term traditional universities, or ‘to uni’ as it seems usually to be called these days. This little phrase speaks volumes of how ‘education’ has become a commodity to be traded with many universities themselves appearing more obsessed with the bottom line than with delivering degrees with the kind of surrender value that sets the recipient up for a meaningful career. Mind you, in a free society, who am I to deny them their dreams?

    I’ve nothing against funding future future teachers, nurses, doctors etc., but on condition that, once qualified, they agree to work for at least four years here before even considering plying their trade abroad. If not, it should be pay back time. For the rest, if they insist on studying more esoteric subjects, I see no reason why they shouldn’t take out a loan, which most will never need to pay back anyway. Paying tuition fees does not seem to have deterred students from taking the plunge so far. Let’s leave it like that and spend any extra taxes on providing high value vocational courses that we shall surely need if we are to cope post Brexit.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Jan '19 - 9:06pm

    @ John Marriott,
    A system similar to your suggestion that those studying vocational courses should be required to work in the Uk fo 4 years or pay back money has been in place India for many years.

    When doctors join a medical College they are required to sign a bond. This requires them to work in rural areas that have difficulty attracting doctors. The length of time differs from state to state. If the bond is not met, they must pay the college a substantial amount. It means that unattractive, under-doctored rural areas have a supply of new PG doctors for whatever length of time that is stipulated in their bond.

    At the moment, the idea of leaving to work abroad after graduation is incentivised given the loans that young doctors will need to pay back iin student loans f they remain in, the UK, or indeed consider returning home having gained experience abroad.

    As for your other point, if the rationale for the introduction of tuition fees was to provide adequate funding for universities given the greater number of people going to university, where is the sense in that, given that in many cases the student debt will have to be written off further down the line?

    The idea that a graduate in a market flooded with graduates who have completed courses of variable quality will continue to earn more than non graduates flies in the face of common sense.

    Personally, I find the decision to turn universities into marketplaces and students into units of consumption regrettable, and probably in the long term, foolish.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    in our 2010 manifesto we stated we would raise £4.62 billion from tax avoidance measures. There was nothing in the Coalition agreement about making any cuts to benefits, in fact there was a commitment to maintain working towards ending child poverty by 2020.

    I think you will find that the Coalition government did increase taxes. One I particularly remember is the 2.5% increase in VAT which was one of the causes of sending the economy into negative growth at the end of 2011 and zero growth at the beginning of 2012.

    We had 57 / 363 of the MPs and rounded as you say one-sixth of the MPs. However, we had half the power. The Conservatives couldn’t pass anything without support from another party. That is the nature of political negotiations. They knew this and so during the negotiations they treated us as equals. It would appear from the book ‘22 days in May’ that the Labour Party did not. What should have happened was everything both parties agreed on would be implemented (such as scrapping ID cards and introducing the pupil premium). David Laws was surprised that they could agree things which were in only one of the party’s manifesto. This should have been on a one for one basis. Then on the economy a compromise should have been agreed between their huge cuts and our modest stimulus.

    David Cameron had made promises during the general election and he made sure the Coalition government didn’t break them, we should have done the same on tuition fees. However, Nick Clegg and David Laws made the pledge but didn’t believe in it and that was a major problem.

  • One thing with tuition fees that is overlooked is that the NUS pledge was to oppose rises in the then ~£3000 tuition fees while the manifesto went further with a policy to phase them out completely.

    As a student at the time of the 2010 election it appealed to me to have the party pledge to vote against rises in tuition fees because that was something that could be done in or out of government. I didn’t expect the country to elect a Lib Dem majority although there was that brief moment after the first leader’s debate where it looked like the party could achieve >100 MPs.

    I didn’t expect the Lib Dems to persuade the Conservatives to abolish fees but I did expect them to honour their pledge to oppose a rise.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan ’19 – 7:03pm………………
    The strength was all with the Conservatives, because if the only coalition that could be formed was not, they could say “thanks to the existence of the Liberal Democrats, Britain cannot have a stable government”. The Conservatives would be given minority government, blamed the Liberal Democrats for any problems, and called for another election to get rid of the Liberal Demcrats – and in all this, Labour would have supported them……………

    Matthew, We’ve disagreed on this before and I still disagree with your assessment.

    Cameron was hanging on to the Tory leadership by his fingertips. He had just failed to win a majority against the most unpopular government in recent history; would he bet his future political career on a “single throw of the dice”? I doubted it then and his cowardice when facing awkward decisions since 2010 have only strengthened my belief. After 5 years of coalition this party lost almost 50 MPs and Cameron could still only muster a majority of 12(?) and that majority lasted only 2 years.

    I believe that our failure in coalition had little to do with numbers and much to do with the ‘real’ political belief of or leadership.

  • Neil Sandison 4th Jan '19 - 2:06pm

    It really is time to get our heads out of the past and begin to live for the future .I want to see that new liberal movement flourish and for Liberal Democracy to start to bring forward a new agenda of lifelong learning, a sustainable and circular economy that respects the only planet we have ,support for freedom of movement to take up educational ,research ,and employment oppertunities .The defence of indevidual liberities against an increasingly authoritarian state. Transport systems that work within the ability of commuters to pay operated as mutuals and not as state or private monopolies and health and social care properly funded and not just played lip service to but to a standard our population deserves .So lets move on .

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jan '19 - 2:48pm

    One of the things a proper constitution would provide is protection for small Parties. It’s too easy for the larger ones to steam roll their policies through with virtually no scrutiny. The HOL does help to counteract this though lacks legitimacy. The Party system is partly to blame with the whips too powerful as is of course our electoral system of voting.

  • @ Neil Sandison

    The question is – how do we move on? Perhaps the Liberal Party didn’t move on from the Asquith-Lloyd George split until 1956. That is 40 years. The Conservative Party really didn’t move on from the 1846 split until 1874 when it won a majority. Has the Conservative Party moved on from the 1997 splits and issues? Perhaps not. They only managed a majority of 10 in 2015 and lost it in 2017. By 2005 they had a leader who had not been in parliament when they were last in government. By 2010 they had changed their image. I don’t recall them talking of their achievements in government during the 2010 general election. I also don’t recall the Labour Party talking of their achievements in government during the 1997 general election.

    We need to accept there are no achievements we can boast of from our time in government. Scrapping ID cards was the most liberal thing we did (it was also in the Conservative manifesto). The Green Bank was a good thing, but it has been sold off. Increasing the Income Tax Personal Allowance was a good thing, but we are not a tax cutting party. The Pupil Premium was not a unique idea to us. Free school meals was never party policy until Nick Clegg got the money for it.

    However, the negatives from our time in government need addressing. We need to have policies to overturn all the bad things we supported and our leading MPs who supported them need to be replaced. Then we can move on and hopefully the public will look at us without seeing us tainted by the Coalition government.

  • David Warren 4th Jan '19 - 5:01pm

    @Michael BG

    I don’t think you can compare the Asquith/Lloyd George split with the coalition of 2010 – 2015.

    The result of the split in the early part of the century was effectively three Liberal parties for a time and then two. Inevitable outcome being electoral meltdown.

    By the 1950s they were only 6 Liberal MPs, only one of whom had beaten a Conservative opponent.

    In Bolton and Huddersfield seats were only one due to an electoral pact with the local Tories.

    Many Liberal associations were effectively moribund.

    By contrast in 2010 the coalition agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by all sections of the party and we stayed united throughout.

    Arguably the party was dragged to far to the right by a leader whose brand of liberalism was a minority within Lib Dems.

    That combined with a certain amount of inexperience and naivety on the part of some in senior positions contributed to our problems.

    That said we are moving on again pretty much united.

    Membership is growing and I think we will do well in the forthcoming Local elections.

    We also stand to benefit from the many problems in the Labour party.

    In fact there are already a steady stream of people switching to us because of Corbyn.

  • David Evans 5th Jan '19 - 7:17am

    Having seen responses to my first post and the rest of the article, it is clear that most posters are still wedded to the “Move along there. Nothing to see here, and nothing more to do about it all,” school of historical messaging. Sadly, that approach simply means that it is the party itself still refusing to move on, refusing to face up to its problems. Instead we cling to the same old mantra of “Everything that could have been done was done, every lesson that could have been learned has been learned and every change that was needed has been made. Now things are clearly getting better and better.”

    It simply isn’t true.

    So let us look at a few more errors and the true facts behind them.
    1) “In the elections that occurred during that period our vote suffered badly, hundreds of councillors lost their seats.” No. In May 2010 we had 3,944 councillors. After coalition we had only 1,810. That is a loss of 2,134.

    So we lost thousands of councillors, not mere hundreds. In May 2011 alone we lost 840 councillors and losses piled on losses over the entire period, sending a clear message to the party leadership that things were going catastrophically wrong. A message our leading figures assiduously ignored for five years.

    2) “Yes, it was difficult at times, tuition fees, the AV referendum and the abortive attempts to reform the House of Lords spring to mind.” Yes the standard three that are always referred to as if that was all that mattered – we really have to get out of the mindset that coalition failed because of the things that went badly for the Lib Dems as a party.

    What went badly for the people of this country was much worse – Cuts to legal aid, Benefit cuts, The Bedroom Tax, the support for Secret Courts (driven through by Nick who ignored two votes passed against it in Conference), Removing housing benefits for under 25s, the Hostile environment for immigrants, Windrush, ATOS re-assessments of disability benefits, and of course Universal Credit.

    There were not just difficulties, but a series of absolute catastrophes to the poor and the destitute in the UK, a group sadly too rarely written about on LDV.

    If we are to move on, we have to raise our game, not just on the traditional personal liberties loved by so many Liberals, but also on the communal liberties that are denied to the poor, the disabled and the destitute.

    Without that, Liberalism is nothing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Jan '19 - 7:45pm


    Matthew, We’ve disagreed on this before and I still disagree with your assessment.

    If the Liberal Democrats had received an unexpectedly high vote in the 2010 general election then, yes, the belief that they might do even better if another early general election was called might have stopped that.

    But the Liberal Democrats did unexpectedly badly in the general election. The Cleggmania claim that the LibDem vote was going up thanks to Clegg was shown to be wrong. Normally the LibDem vote did go up from where it was in the polls at the beginning of the general election to what was received in the actual election. In 2010 it went down. The reason it went up at the start was actually much more because LibDem activists had done their usual job of putting out lots of material just before the election officially started, and much less due to Clegg seeing so wonderful as the media pushed it.

    So the LibDems were actually in a terrible situation, because whatever happened after that would not be good for them. Pushing the idea that it was a wonderful result for them because of the power it gave them was daft. Anyone who looks at how coalitions with small parties newly in government work would see what generally happens – they find that actually they can achiever very little, and mostly they get all the blame for the unpleasant things the coalition does and none of the credit for things that went down well.

    Clegg should have listened to those of us who told him this. He should have made it clear that a five-sixth Conservative to one -sixth LibDem coaltion was far from our ideal, and we would achieve very little of what we really wanted. He should have made it clear that the main reason we were forced into this coalition was the disproportional representation system supported by Labour and the Conservatives. Instead, he did none of this, and thus caused a difficult situation to become even more damaging.

  • David Warren 6th Jan '19 - 12:33pm


    I agree with you 100 per cent but we can’t change the past.

    We can however do the right thing going forward. As my original article said we need to acknowledge past mistakes and move on.

    Supporting UC in its current form was the wrong thing to do.

    Lets put together a new Liberal policy and campaign for it.

  • David Warren 6th Jan '19 - 1:40pm


    As a lifelong Reading FC fan I get your point.

  • David Raw 6th Jan ’19 – 1:11pm……………@ David Warren The trouble is, David, that usually the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour…………….

    The wider electorate seem to believe that. Sadly, as this thread shows, many in our party still don’t.

  • David Warren 6th Jan '19 - 4:14pm


    I hope Reading play Huddersfield next season but we have to stay up first!

  • Dennis Wake 6th Jan '19 - 6:24pm

    Yes the coalition, like previous ones, was a disaster for the Liberal Democrats and the public perceived them as not up to the job but the two larger parties both have leaders who are generally considered to be inadequate and have made a complete hash of the most important issue facing the country for many years yet they are both at higher levels of support in opinion polls than for a long time and the Liberal Democrats are still struggling at about 7 – 9 %, about two thirds lower than in the elections before the coalition. Incompetence is not usually a reason for withdrawing support on that level. Maybe there is another reason ? Listening to the public it seems that many of them are tired of the Liberal outlook. The Liberals used to enjoy a high level of public goodwill and opinion polls often showed that they would get 50% of the vote if the voters thought they had a chance of winning but that has gone completely and people speak with contempt and even hatred for liberal policies. They seem to prefer extremist policies instead – expelling immigrants, support for disruption, no deal Brexits etc. Any attempt at logical argument is treated with derision by many so I can see no chance of any revival until these attitudes can be proved misguided.

  • Sean Hyland 6th Jan '19 - 7:17pm

    Sorry but past behaviour is no indicator of future behaviour. Speak from professional experience.

  • Neil Sandison 6th Jan '19 - 11:07pm

    We really have to stop beating ourselves up .Sure there are lessons to be learnt from the past but we cannot afford to live there .Lots of new candidates are coming forward who know the history but still see us as a principled party that plows its own furrow.
    We live in an age where increasingly voters are more plural and where success is issue led .Historians can write different interpretation of the past but only we can turn around our fortunes in the future.

  • Dennis Wake 7th Jan '19 - 3:38pm

    Apart from the general decline in support for Centre/Centre Left parties throughout much of Western Europe the most probable reason for the failure of the Liberal Democrats to recover is the drift of Eurosceptic working class voters to the Conservatives and left wing ones (including some former non voters) to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, along with the protest vote.
    The rather feeble conduct of the Liberal Democrats during the Coalition and their avid receipt of undeserved honours afterwards did not help but the policies of the Coalition were quite popular with many people, though perhaps not with the ones the party wanted to retain. However their effects were not immediately felt in many cases and often only showed up after the 2015 election. Europe does not seem to have done the party much good either except in South West London. Unfortunately there seems to be no end to this issue and it will continue to delay recovery for possibly many years. Even many Remainers do not really like the EU – they just fear leaving, often for reasons which are not valid.

  • David Warren 8th Jan '19 - 8:25pm

    I don’t agree with that analysis.

    Of the Lib Dem MPs that were elected in 2010 a high percentage were in seats where Labour finished a poor third.

    That was also the case in many target seats.

    A lot of those were lost because voters who had supported us tactically refused to do so in 2015.

    I campaigned in Guildford in last General Election and that came up a lot.

    The way back is policy development, community campaigning and restoring our place as the progressive alternative to the Conservatives.

  • Dennis Wake 9th Jan '19 - 9:29am

    David Warren: The Labour Party has been the Parliamentary progressive alternative to the Conservatives since 1922 when they replaced the Liberals following the end of the Lloyd George coalition with the Conservatives. In the 2010 election the Liberal Democrats lost 13 seats to the Conservatives but gained 8 from Labour which lost a much larger number of seats to the Conservatives. Those seats where Labour was a poor third were most unlikely to elect a Labour MP and many of them showed very little increase in Labour support in 2015 (although there was some increase in 2017) but they did show a big increase in Conservative or UKIP votes in 2015 particularly in the West Country. Maybe some of those who voted tactically for the Liberal Democrats just stayed at home or voted Green. Many may have also voted UKIP in 2015.

    It is clear that the parties who have made opposition to leaving the EU a prominent part of their agenda, the Greens, Lib Dems, SNP have not gained support except in a few places such as SW London and possibly Northern Ireland but not nationwide. The Labour Party continues to be the major force in British politics for the moment despite its poor leadership and policy splits. The Liberal Democrats would need a dramatic collapse in support for the other 2 parties and a charismatic new leader to change that as there does not seem to be much demand for Liberal policies

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