Coalition Years – The Good, The Bad and What of the Future

I wanted to do an article on the coalition years by looking at what we did well, what we could have done better and the consequence post-coalition. I want to make it clear that I was not in favour of an alliance with the Tories and would have preferred to have supported the Tories on a case-by-case basis (a bit like the DUP) with the main proviso that we get PR (and not a billion pounds) first before offering support. I would not have advocated joining the government because it’s difficult to critically question your partner in government and take credit for your policies. I wouldn’t quite go as far as holding up furry handcuffs as Linda did (I believe) in Birmingham but I felt it was a mistake to go into coalition with the Tories simply because they cannot be trusted.

Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers and other senior ministry proved their high calibre in government. They did a great job and were easily equal to any Tory minister. Our party brought forward some excellent initiatives that have benefited this country: the Green bank, pupil premium, increased support for mental health patients, same-sex marriage legislation and reducing the threshold where you start to pay tax to name but a few achievements.

Thirteen years of Labour government marginally increased pensions whereas we, led by Steve Webb, introduced the triple lock on the state pension. In the five years we were in government we built more homes than labour had done in the last thirteen years. Other achievements can be seen in an article written for LDV by Robin Bennett dated Friday 19th May 2017:

In my opinion, we made a number of strategic mistakes during the coalition. One of the biggest was to unsuccessfully take the press on (especially when the other two parties were backing off). The media in this country is very tightly split based on loyalty and politics. A consequence for us has been that the print media have almost ignored us. The impact of that has been gradual, other news media have not reported what we have been doing and saying. Our message is not getting through to the general public. I regularly hear on the doorsteps “But what are the Liberal Democrats doing on…”. Our effort to deliver a liberal message is not being listened to through mass media, although we get a limited hearing on Brexit.

We did not take a long-term view when we went into coalition. For me the most important single change to secure was PR, and we didn’t. If we had secured PR, we would today have had a sizeable presence in Parliament, and for me, all wrongs would have eventually been righted from this single change.

We failed to project the liberal view repeatedly and align those views with our policies when we were in government. Consequently, the public still asks what does the Liberal Democrat party stand for? We failed to inform and educate the public on liberalism.

We did not distinguish our achievement from those of the Tories nor did we publically challenge them to establish in the public mind that we were two different parties, yet of equal calibre. The long-term consequence of that is we are seen, incorrectly, as a junior partner in our time in government (or that is what I hear on the doorstep).

Although I wasn’t for the coalition, I acknowledge what we achieved and our challenges. However, it’s time to draw a line under that and look to the future. The future development of this party should be based on a long-term plan, ten to fifteen years hence. Realistically, it will take five to 10 years to re-establish ourselves, Brexit will be a boost, but we need to be wary of false dawns. Many issues need to be addressed for example our image, funding, a clear liberal message to back our policies, re-establishing our base after it was decimated from the loss of so many councillors and increased minority representation at all levels of the party. Lots to do.

* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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  • John Marriott 12th Sep '18 - 10:42am

    At last, someone who is prepared to see the positive out of the 2010-2015 Coalition Government. Yes, with hindsight, ‘Confidence and Supply’ might have been the better option; but we are where we are, as they say.

    You see, if you want PR you are quite likely to get Coalition governments. So, if you are offered a deal, surely you need to put up or shut up. Politics at any level isn’t for purists. It’s about ‘give and take’. It’s just a pity that Cameron’s lot tended to ‘take’ rather than ‘give’, which includes claiming credit for raising tax thresholds, for example. But at least it happened.

    Clearly the seven days it took to form the new government back in 2010 showed the inexperience on these islands in how you build coalitions. With a more realistic time frame, perhaps more could have been ironed out and some mistakes avoided. Despite its obvious faults, given a choice between what we’ve got now and what we had for most of the Coalition years, I know which I would choose!

  • While I agree with the OP on the errors we made in coalition, I do not agree that Confidence & Supply would have been a better option. We’d have got even less influence yet still have taken the flak for Tory policies. Definitely we should have demanded proportional representation (and without a referendum).
    Comparison with the DUP is comparing apples and Oranges (pardon the pun). The DUP has a big advantage over us in its ability to hold a Tory government to ransom, because of its detachment from mainland British politics and not being in competition for votes with the Tories. Also its vote is intensely tribal; DUP voters are not going to switch to Sinn Fein because they are dissatisfied with the deal the DUP gets. We were right to go into coalition in 2010 (but wrong about how we executed it). We were equally right to refuse any sort of arrangement with the Tories after 2017 — it would have killed us ff completely.

  • Everyone would like to draw a line under the coalition Tahir. The trouble is that it is not for us but for the electorate to draw that line.

    The high-rise estates I used to represent in Walworth/Peckham are taking a very long time to forget. They have an awful lot of coalition “treats” to draw a line under: bedroom tax, benefits’ freeze, week waits for new benefit claims hence the foodbanks, abolition of health in pregnancy grant, abolition of education support allowance, cuts in legal aid, universal credit which disempowers women by treating household income as one.

    Our new leader has some wrongs to acknowledge and some apologies to make and then we will have the foundations for a new start.

  • The claim that the Coalition built more homes in 5 years than the Labour Government did in 13 appears not to tally with the facts. According to figures in the House of Commons Library the average number of house completions per annum under Labour was 154591. Under Cameron’s coalition it fell to 127000 on average, the lowest since the Baldwin administration of the 1920s. Neither of these figures are much to boast about
    In terms of pension increases the real terms increases adjusted for inflation are broadly similar at £82 and £85 per annum.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Sep '18 - 11:54am

    I totally agree with Ruth Bright that it’s for the electorate to draw the line, but it should be for the members to draw a line too. I agree with you that the policies you list were not the policies I thought our party should support. I could understand that the reduction in government spending required by the economic theories supported by our leaders at that time might require those policies, but surely austerity has carried on for far too long without achieving very much.
    Members should be given the opportunity to state their views on this and to decide whether or not to carry on with austerity. I’m hoping that some of the policy papers coming to conference will, in effect, decide this but this is too vague.
    We need a members’ vote on the general principles backed up by information on the pros and cons. Then our leader can make a clear announcement. If we find ourselves on the losing side then we might have to carry on fighting for the deprived in a different way.

  • An interesting post on the coalition years but still no acknowledgment of what the party got wrong in my view. Yes, there was a financial situation to deal with but the LibDem MP’s were willing partners in promoting and introducing highly damaging policies.

    People and communities will take a long time to forgive the actions of LibDems in government. The worrying thing is that nobody at the top of the party including the MP’s seems to feel they did anything wrong or recognise the damage and misery they caused for individuals,families, and communities.

    I’ve given up suggesting a general acknowledgment or statement recognising this should be made by party. It will never happen as the individuals who were part of it don’t believe they did anything wrong.

  • David Sheppard 12th Sep '18 - 12:43pm

    I was one of the 3 thousand approx. That voted for the coalition at the meeting in Birmingham.I did so on the basis of trusting our leadership they did do some good things that I am proud to be able to point to as Tahir says above, but we were wrong. It was the wrong thing to do by our voters who didn’t want us to do what we did. I deeply regret voting for it now.

  • Yet another article blaming ‘perception’, rather than facts, for the way we, as a party, are viewed post coalition.
    I agree with Ruth Bright’s opening sentence and, if you want a ‘snapshot’ opinion consult the reader comments io today’s Guardian article by Vince Cable on ‘restoring fairness and opportunity’ .
    Remember this is the newspaper with a readership mostly sympathetic to this party; I shudder to imagine the response in the Telegraph/Mail, etc.

  • I was a strong supporter of The Coalition at the time, obviously I was wrong.
    The point about the Past is that its fixed, unalterable, all we can do is talk about it. We should certainly decide never to enter Coalition as a Junior Partner again but apart from that I dont see the point of endlessly re-fighting past battles.
    I dont actually believe that most Voters care much about The Coalition, the main reason sympathetic people dont back us is because at 9% we dont seem to matter. In the words of an old song “we are here because we are here”.

  • The decision to enter coalition was overwhelmingly ratified by a vote of members in special conference.

    On welfare reform much of the issues of the membership were focused on poor implementation/execution rather than the direction of policy itself as evidenced by conference motions at the time I find that hard to reconcile with a call for the individuals who were part of it to ignore any good achieved and simply apologise for their work in government.
    John Marriott sets out the obvious including the fact that is we get PR we may have to do it again.

  • Lorenzo Charin 12th Sep '18 - 2:03pm

    Assuming Tahir gives us common sense is proving correct, he does.

    I am of the same view of colleagues who realise the coalition also did things good and bad, yet fail to see this rehash of apology and handwringing, as the necessary answer.

    Nick Clegg apologised for tuition fees years ago. Ed Davey on immigration here. Others could too, including Vince. But have any stopped to think the participants see that as a period of great difficulty but the exercise of real ability, in making for actual stability. The period since in both parties and all our nations, has been division and fiasco.

    I am centre left on many things but see the right and left drift in politics as a disaster.

    This party failed not because it’s politicians was at the centre of government. This party failed not because it’s policies were at the centre of the spectrum. It failed because it went along with some right wing claptrap, and was shafted by the fake news that the Tories had completely changed.

    The era now is one for new and positive ideas and attitude.

    Self flagellation is good for nobody but those with self love mixed with self loathing.

    Not very liberal nor Liberal Democrat.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Sep '18 - 2:10pm

    Overall I was proud that we participated in the coalition, it was good to witness Liberal Democrats taking part in national government and contribute to some worthwhile decision making. Yes looking back and being wise after the event we could and should have been much tougher and demanded more for our cooperation. It does seem strange when people say they cannot forgive the Lib Dems when the party that instigated most of the policies they
    abhor is still in power, at the moment??

  • Steve Trevethan 12th Sep '18 - 3:04pm

    Might we help ourselves, our party and our nation by issuing a clear and honest “report card” on our performance in government?
    Might the regular issuing of such “report cards”, which include the good, the bad and the in between, raise standards of performance, self-appraisal, political discussion and public assessment?

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '18 - 3:19pm

    expats: Right, because a handful of Momentum-supporting keyboard warriors are representative of the public as a whole. If you say so….

  • David Westaby 12th Sep '18 - 4:11pm

    Might I also encourage a look at Vince’s very progressive article in the guardian and then glance at the comments. There is no doubt there is a cabal out there primed to abuse . Perhaps as libdems we should all be pro active and counter with our own positive stance. A time to call out the abusers from both ends of the spectrum

  • I agree with Ruth and Sean.

    The key issue is that voters have lost trust in the Lib Dems because of their actions in government. That is why the party is on 7%. It really is that simple.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Sep '18 - 5:18pm

    ” For me the most important single change to secure was PR, and we didn’t.” Me too. Choose a good system and go for it.
    PR does not mean better public relations,
    nor does it mean party list elections for our experienced electors.
    That was suitable for South Africa emerging from apartheid with its focus on the leaderships, but there are better ways elsewhere.
    Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote except for Westminster elections, which might, hopefully, be an easy change for MPs.
    Scotland uses STV (not to be confused with a television station).
    Trade unions use STV.
    The important point is that the voters should understand what is happening in order to trust that their votes count and therefore matter, while minimising distortions.
    This is as important as the election reforms of 1918 and 1928 for men and women.

  • Two thoughts, one practical and one practical and one cultural.
    1. Sometimes I wonder if politicians think formal risk assessment is for other people – check out your local licensing committee! I am sure risks and benefits dominated the pre-coalition conversations but what was written down blow by blow?
    2. With the rise of social media, a rolling news cycle etc. rapid response can so easily prevent necessary careful thinking. What is wrong with taking a month or more to form a coalition? In other circumstances why should losing Prime Ministers have to get the removal process done and dusted by Monday because the media insist?

  • Jack Graham 12th Sep '18 - 5:41pm

    There is a preoccupation that the present woes of the LibDems are due to their actions whilst part of the coalition.

    Does anybody ever consider that the lack of support is simply because the majority of the electorate have no interest in the policies of the LibDems on EU and Immigration as cases in point, and the LibDems have made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in what the electorate think of these issues.

    Time has moved on, the LibDems used to get the bulk of the protest vote, even if the voter had not interest in LIbDem policies. That is no longer the case, the vote the LIbDems get it the vote of those who hold similar views, and that is about 7% of the electorate.

  • Innocent Bystander 12th Sep '18 - 5:53pm

    I have always held a different view to LibDem orthodox. I don’t believe the coalition was the reason for the collapse. The LibDems did well when Blair moved Labour firmly to the centre and those who wanted a left of centre stance voted LibDem especially with the very sensible left wing views of Kennedy.
    When Miliband pulled Labour back to left many deserted the LibDems and returned to their natural home. There has been no improvement in LibDem fortunes not because of memories of the coalition but the left is occupied by a party that could plausibly form a government.
    Most of this debate is futile as = how will the party get to the left of Labour? The policies are now indistinguishable to an impartial observer and attempts to ‘stretch’ a difference are very strained and desperate.
    I don’t see a recovery unless Labour changes back to ‘New Labour’ somehow leaving space for a LibDem agenda.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 12th Sep '18 - 5:55pm

    One of the reasons that I wrote this article is because I read in the comments section so many negative remarks. I agree we made mistakes but it’s time to move on. Our opponents won’t give us any rest bite, why should they. The narrative for us to move it on to what is important today and look to the future. It will take time for people to engage but once they feel they are flogging a dead horse they will. If we are Liberals we should be free-thinking if we are free-thinking we should be looking ahead.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep ’18 – 3:19pm,,,,,,,,,,,,David Westaby 12th Sep ’18 – 4:11pm

    So, there is a cabal of ‘Momentum’ supporters criticising the LibDems…

    Ah, that explains why we still have single digit support; thank you both for enlightening me..

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '18 - 7:05pm

    expats: You’re a bit behind the times — the most recent opinion polls put us in double digits.
    And yes, Momentum supporters do tend to be very anti-Lib Dem, because we stand in the way of the pure class-based two-party politics in which they thrive. This is why in 2017 Labour/Momentum campaigned strongly in many Lib Dem targets, resulting in the Tories either retaining or even (in Southport) gaining them. In Tory-LibDem battleground seats, Momentum prefer the Tories to win.

    Innocent Bystander: Not sure on what planet you think Lib Dems are to the left of Labour. Perhaps if we showed some enthusiasm for Venezuelan socialism and some hostility to the EU as a “capitalist club” we might get there.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '18 - 8:53pm

    Innocent Bystander: One of the bright spots in this year’s local election results was Haringey, where Momentum took over the ruling local Labour Party. We made 6 gains from Labour, mainly in wards where where Momentum-backed candidates stood. This does not suggest that the Lib Dems are trying to outflank Labour on the left; rather, that where Labour has been taken over by the hard left the Lib Dems can take the sensible centre-left vote.
    Apart from differences in policy and political philosophy between us and the Labour left (of which there are many), the meta-politics of the two groups are also very different. We Lib Dems have no truck with Momentum’s intolerant approach to politics, Leninist leadership cult or rigidly class-based political anaylsis. Aside from a small (but vocal) fringe, the Lib Dems have no interest in outflanking Labour on the hard left.

  • Innocent Bystander 12th Sep '18 - 10:26pm

    I hear what you say but that fringe hereabouts is indeed vocal. I am not sure that local politics is a sure guide to the national scene and there is no sign of the ‘sensible centre-left’ moving this way (yet).
    Also, although I agree Corbyn has Venezuelan leanings, I suspect that both that, and Momentum, will be kept well in the background during any campaign. Certainly reading McDonnell’s economic plan it seems (especially on employment rights) to be identical to LibDem policy and he has been at pains to reassure that he is pragmatist not Marxist. What he would do in Number 11 may well be much different.
    So I am not sure you will campaigning against overt Marxism (I stress overt) and their stance will be very softened (but the LibDems can’t move theirs much to the right and will thus overlap).
    I anticipate a very polarising election with Labour and LibDems saying pretty much similar things on tax, employment rights, welfare and wealth redistribution and actually suffering even more hurt on polling night as voters won’t risk a “wasted” vote (forgive me).
    But my main point was that the LibDem breakthrough (or lack thereof) is not a fault of the coalition history but this fight for ‘differentiation’ from Labour.

  • Innocent Bystander 12th Sep '18 - 10:34pm

    ” Macron style centrist party in the UK”
    Macron strikes me a being Thatcherite not centrist at all and he can only be placed in the “centre” if Marine le Pen is on the other pole.

  • When Tahir told us he was going to do a piece in Coalition, I for one was very hopeful. I hoped that at long last there would be a considered article looking at coalition, the good, the bad and the indifferent.

    In particular, I hoped that it would take an interest in what we need to learn as a party so that we can break out of our current low poll ratings (6-11% this month) and find out what we need to change to get those 15% of the population that used to regularly support us to vote for us again. Or alternatively, for those who believe that those mainly left of centre voters who voted Lib Dem are gone for good, what other group of liberal leaning voters who haven’t voted for us in the past are we going to have to appeal to and how?

    Then we can get back to the important bit of trying to build that free open and fair society.

    Sadly, this article gives us none of those things, but instead is a rehash of so many previous articles over the last three years – Here are a few good bits. Here are one or two minor points. Let’s get over it and move on.

    However, as I have pointed out on many occasions in the past, it is the public who are not moving on. Still after three years where we have clearly had the most coherent policy on the most important issue facing our country and with a Tory and Labour party in civil war, we are still not back to the levels of support we had after the Richmond by election.

    Those in the party who still want us to move on have no answer to the simple question “Where to?”

    Until we answer that, we are still going nowhere.

  • Tahir Mahir i welcome that you were prepared to make the original post and then to return to explain why and acknowledge some of the comments.

    However to move on you need to draw a clear line under the past. The process should surely be to say that Lib Dems achieved some good things, and openly say it. Then scientist however ” we ” got some things wrong and are sorry. Then go on to say in recognising this we will develop policies that address the needs of people in terms of housing, education, financial and employment security etc. I know I’ve put it in a very simplistic and not very cohesive way but it could be a way forward.

    I note you agree that in coalition some mistakes were made but unfortunately I don’t think many others involved at the top at the time do not. Yes remember the good achievements and try to build on them but acknowledge and address the mistakes by developing policies that matter built on liberal principles.

  • Scientist ???? Think meant acknowledge

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Sep '18 - 12:58am

    David Raw

    Nice comment, acting like he did you are correct, but you get the point ? The Grand Old Man was a hero to Thatcher, much I have read about her recently, I can see why. She thought , according to many close to her, that over the years, less government would mean that more people in their own individual and community ways, might be more generous, she apparently was saddened to see a greedy society, so patriotic and rather positive about individuality, and with strong and moderate Christian beliefs, she thought freedom and more cash in pockets would lead to a generosity of spirit, not “Loadsamoney.” loads of charity.She also, as a young minister in the government lobbied for Mandela to get prison, not to be hung, and never said he was a terrorist, but that the ANC, exhibited many signs of typically terrorist organisations. I disagree with her on much and campaigned thus, but she was a better person than many think, of this I am certain.


    Macron is centre if compared to le pen and msr Melenchon, the latter left of Corbyn.

    All his reforms are based on a view to help not hinder the egalite they value, he thinks the society his heading for bankrupcy if not checked, he is Thatcher, Blair, Trudeau, combined.

    See my comments re BBC, your hilarious piece welcomed.

  • Looking to the future I think Gordon Brown makes some cogent points in his guardian article warning that we are in danger of sleepwalking into a crisis.
    While Philip Hammond is tinkering with fuel duty and John Macdonald is trying not to talk about nationalising the financial sector and much else,perhaps Vince can step-up and explain what needs to be done to ensure the banking sector doesn’t plunge us into another great recession.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '18 - 8:07am

    This article does not really address the biggest problem for the Lib Dems following Coalition: a collapse of trust in the party.
    The obvious example is tuition fees. Most people don’t have a preference for one system over another for funding university education. But they do remember Lib Dems saying one thing and doing another. This was compounded by the party defending the system they introduced as if it were better than what they previously wanted. So voters learnt that Lib Dems can’t be trusted to do what they say they will do and that that what Lib Dems say they will do might not be a good idea anyway!
    Voters understand what George W. Bush nearly said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. And it’s a vicious circle: to demonstrate that voters can trust the party, the party must first gain the trust of voters.
    That dilemma is what underpins the calls of some Lib Dems for a better acknowledgement or apology by the party for the problems caused by Coalition government (Clegg’s awful effort over tuition fees was not the way to do it!). It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it would show voters that the party understands and is working to address its shortcomings so deserves a second chance, a bit like the advice given to alcoholics that admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

  • John Marriott 13th Sep '18 - 9:25am

    This has been an interesting thread, with a great deal of sense from many sides. Let me take a different side, namely that of Joe Public.

    As I said in my first contribution, if we ever do get PR, coalition government may no longer be the exception so it’s time electors took a more mature and, indeed, pragmatic approach to election ‘promises’. As someone, who has never got the MP and government that he wanted I’m used to disappointment. When the final result was known in 2010 and we got a hung parliament and a proper peace time coalition government, I heard a lot of people repeating the mantra, “we didn’t vote for this”. Too true, and I bet you didn’t find any fairies at the bottom of your garden either!

    Peter Watson talks about the “collapse in trust in the party”. That’s the fault of the party, any party for that matter, that says to the electorate; “Vote for us and we will..” when it should really be saying is; “Vote for us and we will try to…”. Pledging to abolish tuition fees is still trundled out as the main reason why the party’s support tanked. Apart from the fact that I do not agree with tertiary education with no financial strings attached, it says more about the gullibility of public and certain politicians to think that utopia was really just round the corner, or, in the case of the latter, to try to curry favour with a certain demographic. As David Raw, in his original Yorkshire incarnation, might say, you don’t get “owt for nowt!”. (Sorry, David, for any offence.)

    So, is it time for all Election manifestos to contain a government health warning and a crash course for the public in ‘reading between the lines’? As they tell you when buying property, “caveat emptor”. Perhaps the same needs to apply, when you place that cross on your ballot paper, or, in the age of PR, that #1 (or#2 for that matter).

  • Doug Chisholm 13th Sep '18 - 9:27am

    Just want to agree with Peter Watson.
    Political reality demands that we apologise / regret the Coalition period.
    Not only do the vast majority of progressive voters feel betrayed by us – they are suspicious that we would repeat the same mistake again.

    Coalitions can work. In Scotland we had 2 terms of coalition with a suppine Labour party which didnt affect our standing with more conservative voters.
    The problem with Cameron-Clegg was that Cameron & Osbourne took it as an opportunity to destroy the LibDems – and rather ironically gave the Brexiteers the upperhand. Be carefull what you wish for.

    What do we want another coalition with the Tories ? No thanks.

  • David Laws produced a very good book on the coalition years. In it he stated that Danny Alexander was still keen to cut the welfare budget in 2015. His economic policy was endorsed by the 2013 Conference despite an SLF motion supporting economic stimulus which the ambitious Farron described as “crackers”.

  • Peter Martin 13th Sep '18 - 9:50am

    @ JoeB,

    “….time has moved on and class based tribal politics has given way to identity and issue based politics, so protest votes become largely irrelevant”

    This sort of thing is often said. But we all should know it’s not true, at least as far as England and Wales is concerned, from our own experience. If we find ourselves visiting friends who might happen to live in a wealthy, well kept leafy suburb we’ll know without having to ask that the local MP will be a Tory. On the other hand if we’re visiting a poorer part of the world where we have run down estates and tower blocks…..

    There might be a few exceptions, here and there, where Lib Dems have made a breakthrough. Usually it’s been as a result of a protest vote at a previous bye election, which has been able to be built upon, against one of the two established parties.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Sep '18 - 9:50am

    Might we help the economy and increase our support by adopting a policy of mandatory prison sentences for those found guilty of financial crimes such as those which contributed to the 2008 crash and still continue?
    Similarly, the adoption of the “Nuremburg Priniple” whereby crimes committed by an organisation, such as a bank, are traced back to the people responsible and they are personally punished?
    Please see also the article by Mr Brown quoted by Joe B.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Sep '18 - 9:59am

    Innocent Bystander: If by “hereabouts” you mean this forum, then I don’t think it’s any more representative of the party or the public than the comments below a typical newspaper article.
    I think there are two broad categories of left-inclined voter. There are the ones you describe, who may have voted for us in the 2000s because of our stance on the Iraq War and similar issues, but as you say are now happy with Labour under a properly left-wing leader. They are lost to us, perhaps forever. And to be honest, they were never natural Lib Dem voters anyway; they’ve just reverted to type as trendy lefties for whom a liberal is a yellow Tory. But there are also the moderate centre-left voters who tend to flit between Labour and Lib Dems. They’re less bothered about the Coalition, which is rather in the past, but are put off by the Marxism and general political nastiness that currently characterise Labour; they also tend to be strongly pro-EU. These are the voters that swung to us in Haringey. Of course being able to get these votes does require us to be known to the electorate, and we happen to still have strong local organisation in Haringey. I agree with Paul Barker above: our biggest struggle in most of the country is reminding voters we still exist. I also don’t think the Coalition is that much of an issue anymore among the wider electorate. It certainly doesn’t come up much on the doorstep where I live (Kingston). The ones for whom it’s still an issue (and who are demanding an “apology” for it) are the ones who are never going to vote for us anyway, and are principally using it as an excuse. The trouble is that no apology will ever be good enough for them, and any such apology will open us up to mockery and derision. The narrative will be “Lib Dems can’t be trusted — look they’ve said so themselves.”

  • Peter Martin
    I agree. A lot of the notion of a changed world is based on wishful thinking and the weird belief that the people living in it had undergone some sort of transformative revelation . There’s a lot of talk about a post war liberal world order, but really the version we’ve been fed only dates back to the collapse of the USSR and has not actually delivered on it’s promises. The only goods thing to come out of the coalition was the freedom of people in same sex relationships to marry. Everything else was ether a repeat of Blair’s global follies or free market dogma.

  • Doug Chisholm 13th Sep '18 - 11:13am

    I dont think anyone is suggesting a Nick Clegg style apology – which is indeed open to mockery.

    What is needed is a political re-boot – where we acknowledge the mistakes of he past (tutition fees, bedroom tax etc) – AND promise a new agenda. That means no coalitions, deals, compromises with the Tories.

    Serious politcal parties do adapt – witness New Labour, Cameron, Corbyn.

    Our problem is that we havent adapted our agenda – but in fact are still pursuing the SAME agenda as we accepted in coalition. That is why we need to break with the past – and talk about what we do differently.

    Differently from the coalition – becuase that is when we screwed up and committed electoral suicide just at the time when we were most needed !

  • Innocent Bystander – if you actually read Macron’s platform, you will realize that he is far from a Thatcherite. Someone who supports a “Buy European Act”, tougher foreign takeover laws on non-EU businesses, and to boost EU-wide R&D spending is not a Thatcherite. These things are actually more interventionist than most of Libdem policies. On the other hand, a Thatcherite is a dogmatic laissez-faire nut that should be discarded from the party.

    I think in the next election we should put economic policies beyond everything. As Trump said, “it’s the economy, stupid” and he was right here. There would be no Hitler without the Great Depression, without it he would have been shut down.

    For the economy, we can begin with this:
    UK ranks close to the bottom of OECD countries for economic investment, both public and private. This means, our economic policies for the next election must involve boosting both public and private investment in our economy.
    Hope that you guys will actually read this article, since low investment is one of the root causes of all our economic problems.
    This article is quite pro-Brexit, but there is one point that is true: “Britain is one of the least mechanised countries in the developed world”. I have repeatedly advocated for policies that boost the level of automation and mechanization for manufacturing industry.

  • Peter Martin 13th Sep '18 - 12:05pm

    There’s a lot of navel gazing going on here. To put it brutally, “the reformist left is losing it’s customer base” ! The customer base is still there though. Just as it always has been. Until you recognise that, the so-called “moderates” of the Labour Party and LibDems are going to be struggling to make headway.

    This article is mainly about Germany. If social democracy is dying there, what hope is there for the rest of Europe?

    @ Glenn,

    I think you’re probably right. I’m not against social changes such on same sex marriages, but the centre left used to be economic change and more equality for everyone too. That commitment was jettisoned some time ago as all parties veered to the right.

    That’s why they are’t doing too well and why the left under Jeremy Corbyn is doing much better than anyone expected.

  • Peter Martin,

    navel gazing is what we do in the run-up to every Libdem conference. I think the Guardian article you link to makes sense in writing:
    “Historically, social democrats rose to power in tandem with a rising working class. Now, this once mighty force is shrinking along with manufacturing as a share of GDP. In the past 50 years, that portion has roughly dropped from 35% to 15% throughout the west. To put it brutally, the reformist left is losing its customer base, and it shows in all recent elections.
    It is also losing its unique selling point, which is redistribution and the all-providing state. Take Martin Schulz, the SPD’s hapless candidate for chancellor. His message was “social justice” – taking from the rich to help the poor through taxes and benefits. But today’s German workers are middle class, and the highest tax bracket bites at €50,000 – the salary of an upper-level teacher or skilled worker.”

    A party with aspirations to govern has to have a platform that gains the approval of a majority of voters. For me, Robert Skidelsky’s recent article making similar warnings to that of Gordon Brown highlights three key issues:

    1. Stop risky lending by banks by instituting controls over the type and destination of loans they make.
    2.Fiscal policy needs to based not on “fine-tuning” the business cycle but by maintaining a steady stream of public investment in housing and infrastructure amounting to at least 20% of total UK investment, to offset the inherent volatility of the private economy.
    3.Tackle wealth inequality. If too much wealth and income is concentrated in too few hands, the consumption base of the economy becomes too weak to support full employment, high or low. This requires not ever higher rates of income tax and redistribution of incomes, but addressing the affordable housing crisis and the issue of hyper-inflated land values.

  • Why invest when you can pillage the world for skills. Ok we are struggling to import EU skills but I’m sure no one will complain if the skills come from Asia or Africa. O the irony the skills will now be of a darker hue. I fear i may have accidentality stubbled on the Moggist wing of the Tory parties clever plan, rename immigration to skills and then trumpet “We have successfully imported 320 thousand key skills in the last year, successfully addressing our skills shortage”.

  • Jack Graham 13th Sep '18 - 1:51pm

    @ Frankie
    ” I fear i may have accidentality stubbled on the Moggist wing of the Tory parties clever plan”

    I fear you have just exposed your ignorance of the centuries of skilled migrants coming into our economy, and skilled Brits leaving our economy to work overseas, long before it became fashionable amongst the ignorant to claim that our economy would collapse without the open immigration of parsnip pickers and Big Issue sellers.

    What you seem to be conflating is immigration of hundreds of thousands of no skilled workers, with skilled workers, moving about all over the world. As a skilled British radio engineer, I have spent nearly half of my life working in places as diverse as the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern Africa, and Canada,f including several countries in Europe, long before the EU.

    To be honest your rhetoric is nothing but political soundbites, clearly bereft of any first hand knowledge of the subject.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Sep '18 - 1:58pm

    David Raw, I do not defend the iron lady, I explain what I have read. Due process requires defence, a discussion, is a very and by most accounts, always, different matter.

    I have read in reputable accounts all I wrote. It is possible all you read is also true. She may well have at one point thought a small whits only separate state was what would have been the only solution for racists who would not integrate even at gun point. Her public rebuke of Botha, whom she loathed, and against apartheid, which she disliked, says all is possible, from a very and varied personality. In private, before the sentence she did lobby for his not being hung. On the boat people, I have read none of that, perhaps it is so, who knows.

    Your tendency in a rather off hand way, to presume if something was before my time, I know nothing or do not have an ability to interpret reading, is strange.

    I have a degree in history in politics, studied at Heythrop, Queen Mary, and LSE, was on the marches against Thatcher’s policies, and apartheid, in the eighties, and am only letting you know I look at things in a way that is fair, something which makes me over the years more of a liberal and Liberal than many I know.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Sep '18 - 2:05pm

    David Raw

    If you go to or google it , with my name, and the title of an article I wrote this July, Smile Freedom, a centenary tribute to Nelson Mandela, you can read of my experiences in the Labour movement then, and the influence and friendship shown to me and youthful friends, by Peter Hain,ex Liberal our candidate pre his entry to parliament.

  • Peter Martin 13th Sep '18 - 5:25pm

    @ JoeB,

    The quote you make is naturally one to suit your rightish political perspective. However, if you carried on you’d have seen:

    “But today’s German workers are middle class, and the highest tax bracket bites at €50,000 – the salary of an upper-level teacher or skilled worker. These folks do not look forward to more taxation – not in a country where the government takes in almost half of GDP”

    Maybe some of them are. But not those in ‘mini-jobs’. Things have moved a long way from what Germany was in the 60s. You’ll know that, from an economic perspective, that there’s no need for German workers, skilled or otherwise, to be taxed so much. That should appeal to a rightish POV. So what would happen if the German Govt reduced the rates of personal tax and VAT? Normally in a currency issuing country like the UK or the USA there could possibly be an inflation risk. This can’t happen in Germany which isn’t a currency issuer. There may be an increase in imports due to the increased domestic demand but that would be a good thing. The German Federal Govt could easily manage a small budget deficit. Their borrowing costs are tiny. There would be a lot of scope for the SPD to win back support by explaining this and benefit the workings of the EU generally.

    This is, of course, just for Germany. But the centre left has just about disappeared in France, Italy and many other EU countries too, and that’s NOT because the working classes consider themselves too good to vote socialist. They are switching to the far right because the ‘progressive left’ has deserted them and not the other way around.

    I’d suggest the situation in the UK is more like that in France than Germany.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Sep '18 - 5:27pm

    Perhaps for most white collar criminals the sentences do not have to be long to be effective?
    Perhaps more shorter sentences might be more effective than those which enable the prisoner to learn and manipulate the system?
    Perhaps prison is an expensive form of dangerous tertiary education which indicates that greater practical encouragement of positive forms of tertiary education is a better investment?

  • Steve Trevethan’s honest list of “contributed to the crash” criminals would include an enormous number of people who took out cheap loans or mortgages based on over-inflated house prices. Their highly-remunerated co-conspirators at the banks couldn’t have done it without them. As a solution it would highlight how widespread guilt is in society for the problems we face – much like prosecuting everyone who turns their central heating up rather than put on a jumper for conspiracy to cause global warming, it would be justice but probably a rather unpopular form of it.

  • The thing about free movement is that it only goes back to directive 2004/38/EC and does not coincide with a period of economic success, but is in fact a near contemporary of the banking crisis. The other thing about the mass movement essentially itinerant farm hands is that the result of failure and downturns. People up-sticks to pick vegetables in muddy British fields because the of economic awesomeness of the EU. They do because they are poor. Pretending otherwise is like reading the Grapes of Wraith as an ode interstate travel. The point being that the mass movement of people is not as sign of freedom and openness, but of failure and desperation.

  • Should read “don’t up-sticks and move”

  • @ Frankie
    “Bless Jack”

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!!

    As for the rest of your response, thank you for confirming that you have no understanding of the subject.

    1. Don’t pick the parsnip
    2. Find local labour, hard to do in many areas, there are far more appealling jobs
    3. Automate but we havnt got a economy that works like that.

    1. You clearly don’t know that most root vegatables like parsnips are machine harvested. For somebody who likes to think he is a comedian, you clearly don’t understand humour. Oh well never mind.

    2. Pay local labour a wage that reflects the realities of feeding and homing a family, and there will be plenty of takers, just as there were for decades before it became fashionable to import cheap labour from the EU. You clearly are not somebody who learnt the merits of hard work by potato picking in the school autumn half term.

    3. See 1

    Big Issue, why do you assume I read the Daily Mail, I know you probably read the Beano, but what has that to do with the discussion.

    It is a matter of record that BIg Issue selling is dominated by ‘self-employed’ Romanians, using it as an in to claiming in work benefits. As far back as 2011 30% of BIg Issue sellers were Romanian, with every market town in the country having a Romanian female in traditional costume dropped off each morning by minibus, and collected in the later afternoon. I don’t know where your Big Issue friends live, but they are certainly not typical.

  • Alas poor Jack the facts don’t support you. who was to know parsnips don’t pick themselves

    British farmers have been forced to leave thousands of pounds worth of vegetables to rot in their fields, because of a drop in the number of farm workers from the European Union (EU).

    James Orr, whose farm outside St Andrews produces potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, said his farm suffered a 15 per cent drop in the number of workers between August and November.

    “We simply could not harvest everything, and as a result we left produce in the field to rot,” he told Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper.

    Alas poor Jack who was to know your link for the Big issue is form 201, don’t you have anything more current it is 2018 you know? Still let us paste some of your link

    Bird hits back at recent criticism about the rise in Romanians selling the magazine, who now make up nearly 30 per cent of vendors. “Romanians are probably some of the hardest working people in Britain right now, but they are half-citizens, so they have some rights but not many, which opens the gate to all sorts of illegal practices and abuse.”

    He adds: “We know some of them are on the fiddle and we know we work with some horrible people but we don’t hide things and we work with the police, with the Borders Agency, but Big Issue is an open system, like the NHS, which makes it open to abuse.”

    I really think you need to have a word with who ever is giving you your cut and paste material Jack, it isn’t current it isn’t in many cases even right. Parsnips pick themselves you are a hoot.

  • P.s Jack you can’t work children excessively any more it’s illegal

    School holiday rules

    During school holidays 13 to 14-year-olds are only allowed to work a maximum of 25 hours a week. This includes:

    a maximum of 5 hours on weekdays and Saturdays
    a maximum of 2 hours on Sunday

    During school holidays 15 to 16-year-olds can only work a maximum of 35 hours a week. This includes:

    a maximum of 8 hours on weekdays and Saturdays
    a maximum of 2 hours on Sunday

    which given the 24/7 pace of picking with long hours isn’t really a help. Still if you wish to return to the days of your youth and help out the poor farmers the following link might help.

    I suspect you’d be shocked at the pay rates and the hours but perhaps not, after all you are “somebody who learnt the merits of hard work by potato picking”.

  • I supported us going into Coalition. What I hadn’t realised was that the Coalition Agreement included a commitment for all our MPs to break their word; their pledge to vote against all increases in tuition fees. No one raised this at our discussion at the Regional Executive, where I assume you were present Tahir. What I hadn’t expected was Nick Clegg would not take and follow advice from those party members who had experience of Joint Council Administrations. What I hadn’t expected was the leadership ignoring the membership and giving the impression that those who didn’t like what they were doing in government should leave the party. What I hadn’t expected was for our MPs to agree and implement anything which wasn’t in the Coalition Agreement. What I hadn’t realised was that we would agree to increase VAT by 2.5%. Any discussion of the Coalition years has to include these failures.

    Tahir, you are good at describing the few successes – The Green Bank, same-sex marriage, triple pension lock and increasing the Personal Allowance. I think there were other good green policies regarding solar panels and the buy in tariff.

    Tahir, you are correct that we didn’t “project the liberal view”. We failed to set out what the liberal view was and how we wouldn’t compromise on liberalism unless it was in the Coalition Agreement. It was a huge mistake to make Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury and to go on TV to defend the cuts.

    Perhaps you did identify the biggest mistake which was each party should have taken ownership of its own policies and not defended the other party’s policy and policies being announced in Parliament by a Minister from the party who came up with the idea.

  • @ Frankie

    The first question you need to answer is, is there a free market in the crops that James Orr grows. If he can only sell his product at a fixed price he will be less willing to pay the market rate to get enough workers to pick his whole crop. The other possibility is that he wouldn’t react to market forces and he just refused to pay the market rates.

    In the link you posted there are a lot of the wage rates of £7-£8 an hour; with a National Living Wage of £7.83 and the work being carried out at night, it doesn’t surprise me farmers find it hard to find temporary workers at so meagre rates.

    If they were paying £16-20 an hour perhaps they would be able to find the workers they need.

  • @Michael BG – you are correct my caution wasn’t raised at the regional executive ( I was vice-Chair then). There was almost a euphoria about us in government, when I mentioned my reservations in general conversations people weren’t really interested / listening until it became clear we backed away from our pledge and than some apprehensive started to creep in. I don’t remember but we must have discussed the coalition as a whole and it’s impact on the region.

    Sent from my iPad

  • Peter Martin 15th Sep '18 - 8:42am

    @ JoeB,

    Germany as a long term net exporter has never needed to run other than small deficits. That briefly changed when Germany was unifying in the 90s but its back to ‘normal’ now. Sucking away euros from where they are needed in the EU to where they aren’t needed. ie the bulging coffers of the Bundesbank.

    As a net exporter the German central bank always had to create DMs , in pre euro days, to satisfy the demands of their exporters. They earn dollars and pounds but needed DM to pay their bills. That’s why Germany has a surprisingly high National Debt.

    Of course it is important to think about creating wealth for the future but the here and now of the present shouldn’t be overlooked in the process. OK so we invest now to create some wealth in the future? So say we invest in a plant to produce tractors or whatever. What are we going to do with those tractors as they roll off the production line? We need to ensure we have enough paying customers!

    We can’t all be Germany. We can’t all sell more to others than we buy from others.

  • JoeB – “1. Stop risky lending by banks by instituting controls over the type and destination of loans they make.
    2.Fiscal policy needs to based not on “fine-tuning” the business cycle but by maintaining a steady stream of public investment in housing and infrastructure amounting to at least 20% of total UK investment, to offset the inherent volatility of the private economy”

    Agree. There must be controls over lending to consumer loans, mortgages and other speculative activities. Priority should be given to manufacturing and technology firms.

    20% of GDP is still below OECD average, but is far better than currently.
    UK ranks close to the bottom of OECD countries for economic investment, both public and private. This means, our economic policies for the next election must involve boosting both public and private investment in our economy.

  • John Littler 15th Sep '18 - 5:05pm

    Whatever the minutae of progressive policy achieved under the coalition; and there was a lot in Industrial, energy, workplaces, tax allowances, pension increases and social policy; the vast majority of the public are only able to recall maybe 1-3 large items and when there 3-4 massive turkeys coming down the line, the red lights should have flagged them up as “don’t go near”.
    The policies unfortunately now associated with the LibDems by most voters are:

    Trebling of Student fees
    Privatising the Royal Mail
    The so called “Bedroom Tax”

    The moment the LibDems agreed to contradict the Tory Student finance policy, whatever the improved details were applied ( exemption below £22k ), the die was cast and not just with students, but their parents and even grandparents were also impacted and furious.

    The howls of anguish about the above are now less raw, but it is 8 years since the start of the coalition and 3 general elections ago and the polls are between just 6%-11%

    This should act as a lesson for whatever can now be salvaged from probably the worst time the LibDems could ever have gone into coalition and with the worst ever Tory Party in modern times up to then. To implement cuts to a £170bn p.a. budget deficit during the worst financial crisis since the 30’s, with a deep recession just had to be bad.

    While I am at it, why did no one put a list of LibDem coalition achievements together?

  • Peter,

    Government spending in Germany is generally higher than in the UK at circa 44 percent of GDP in 2017 . Government Spending averaged 46 percent of GDP from 1991 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 55 percent in 1995 following reunification (when it ran a deficit of 9.4%) and a low of 43 percent in 2007.It’s average deficit in that period was 2% to 3%. The country ran a balanced budget in 2014 for the first time since 1969.

    Debt to GDP was 65% in 2008 rising to 81% in 2010 and returning to 65% in 2017.

    German household savings greatly exceed the capital investment needs of private firms and public sector investment is currently inadequate to utilise the surplus, hence they are a large exporter of capital.

    I think the problem for Germany may come as the population ages and the current high savings rate goes into reverse as a much greater pensioner proportion starts to spend there savings. The hundreds of billion Euro target 2 balances held by the Bundesbank (and still growing) are a claim on the future productive capacity of the Club Med Eurozone members, who are experiencing similar demographic trends to that of Germany i.e. ageing populations.

    Germany may have to reconsider balanced budget targets that lead to under-investment in public infrastructure needed to increase the productivity of a smaller workforce trying to meet the demand for goods and services of an expanding number of retirees.

    The same demographic trends can be seen in the UK and the same basic principle applies. If equal or greater levels of output are to be produced by a smaller workforce than adequate levels of productivity enhancing public and private investment are necessitated.

  • Peter Martin 16th Sep '18 - 8:40am

    @ Joe B,

    “…….public sector investment is currently inadequate to utilise the surplus, hence they are a large exporter of capital.”

    I seem to remember you telling me that I shouldn’t assume which is cause and which is effect. So, therefore, we shouldn’t just drop in words like ‘hence’.

    I would just ask why Germany deliberately runs a surplus, both in its current account and Govt budget account in the first place? The asymmetric traffic of euros creates the conditions for needless austerity in the rest of the eurozone.

    Don’t the Germans realise they they are destroying the EU in the process?

  • Sandra Hammett 17th Sep '18 - 10:00am

    The shame of it is that the first step, an honest evaluation of the past 10 years by the leadership, could so easily be achieved, drawing a very public line under our past but learning from it, and move on, offering a true alternative to warring Labour and Tories.

    It is a lack of trust that is stifling our electoral success, and when we can’t even be honest with ourselves, well, can you really blame the wider public for doing likewise?

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