Is there a role and purpose for coalition governments in the UK?

A very good friend of mine has emailed me recently to say that that he has joined the SNP. He is a supporter of an independent Scotland. He posed a very interesting questions, which I felt, is worth exploring a bit more. The members of the SNP were asked to vote whether to support a collaborative agreement with the Green Party. As we know, the agreement would create an overall majority for independence in the Scottish Parliament, push the climate debate and emphasise the importance of close cooperation with our partners in Europe.

It was really interesting to read that the SNP and the Greens decided to call it a cooperation agreement. In my view, there are very few differences and this was a tactical rather than a political move. We all know that both parties have a lot in common (referendum, green policies, attitude towards immigration), however there are also some differences. In Scotland, this arrangement might secure the second independence referendum, as the opposition will be out numbered. However, some would argue that this is not necessarily the best formula for “political harmony” as the country will be still divided into 2 camps.

As a Polish national, I am used to coalitions. I was growing up in Poland in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and I don’t remember a government formed by one party. This has changed only recently. Personally, I like coalitions. They bring different parties together, different solutions, ideas and policies to address some of the local and national issues. They “force” politicians to listen, compromise and dialogue. Coalitions are often complex political arrangement, which require patience and resilience.

When the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservative Party (which I supported), loads of people were convinced that the government wouldn’t last longer than 18 months. They did last 5, however the Liberal Democrats paid a huge price. With almost 60 MP’s between 2010-2015, the party ended up having less than 10 MP’s after the 2015 elections. So I do understand people who are sceptical about coalitions. I can also see coalitions usually favour bigger parties.

On the other hand, coalitions can give us an opportunity to look at different ways of doing things; the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have seen some moves in this direction – so in Wales we did have Plaid Cymru supporting a Labour minority administration on a loose partnership basis, on a subject by subject basis – and we also had the example of a Welsh Labour government appointing a Liberal Democrat AM (Kirsty Williams) as Minister for Education, with no formal ‘coalition’ as she was the single Lib Dem AM in Wales.

In the UK we tend to see coalition as compromise, a sign of weakness – but the reality is that there has to be working between members of different parties even in the UK Government. It is also important to listen to the inner voice, and seek to discern whether something is the right thing at the right time, or whether it may be the right thing but not the right time.

My overall thinking is that nowadays, when the polarization of political debate is becoming a norm, we might need to look at other models of governing our nations and communities. The current system is not working well, which in my view is especially visible in American politics, where there is no middle ground and many people, I feel, are left with a very few choices. For me the fundamental question remains the same? Is today, in the current state of political affairs, a good moment to do more together rather than separately? Is this a good moment, as Jo Cox once said, to look at things that unite us rather than divide us? Could a coalition government be a sign of strength and not weakness? A sign of an opportunity and hope? It is probably fair to say that there isn’t one answer to this question.

My personal wish is that we try, as much as and where possible, to seek opportunities for “building bridges of political dialogue and not walls of political divisions”, which are too often ingrained in our “political behaviours”.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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45 Comments

  • It is unfortunate that it is only in retrospect that we can see how much better the coalition govn was to the ones that followed it. Those worried about civil liberties re covid restrictions would be reassured if the LibDems were part of the current govn, too.

  • A very good friend of mine has emailed me recently to say that that he has joined the SNP. He is a supporter of an independent Scotland.

    The SNP want to leave one Union to join another. The only party currently campaigning for an independent Scotland is Restore Scotland:
    https://restorescotland.org/

  • @jeff

    “The SNP want to leave one Union to join another. ”

    But one union is not the same as another union.

    As an independent state, Scotland will be able to decide itself whether to apply to join the EU, as a member of the EU would be a sovereign state and as a sovereign state bale to decide whether to leave the EU in the future.

    In the UK union, Scotland was taken out of the EU against its electorate’s wishes and some argue is not even free to decide whether it should remain part of the UK union.

    So the SNP is campaigning for an independent Scotland but not an isolationist one.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Sep '21 - 1:16pm

    Wasn’t the Food Bank’s the result of one coalition idea?
    That’s proved to be one very useful idea to this government. I felt the idea lacking, very little other than cans, boxes and cereal.

  • John Marriott 2nd Sep '21 - 1:49pm

    The Lib Dems are supposed to be in favour of voting reform. If this were ever to happen, it’s quite likely that no party would hardly ever achieve a working majority. So, in the case of a hung Parliament, surely parties need to work together, as part of a formal coalition as happened at Westminster between 2010 and 2015 or the the form of confidence and supply as more or less happened between Labour and the Liberal Party in the late 1970s, and now appears about to happen in a more refined form between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party north of the border.

    So, if you support PR you had better get used to some kind of coalition government, no matter how unpalatable it might seem to the purists.

  • Natcen social research published the British Social Survey. The 2015 report focused on attitudes to coalitions. They were not positive with most participants expressing a preference for single party government https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32055110
    “Public enthusiasm for government by coalition is at its lowest in 30 years…But the NatCen British Social Attitudes Report found a majority of the 2,878 people it surveyed would not reverse cuts made by the current government.”
    Michael points to the polarisation of American politics (which led to the storming of Washigton DC earlier this year) and suggests we might need to look at other models of governing our nations and communities. Coalitions don’t really solve this issue, even in Poland https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210811-poland-s-ruling-coalition-collapses-as-pm-fires-deputy-ahead-of-key-vote
    What both the US and UK have are fairly robust institutions that serve to protect against the vicissitudes of different types og government. Preserving the independence and freedom of these institutions (including an independent judiciary and free press) is a vitally important aspect of democracy.

  • @ Helen Dudden “Wasn’t the Food Bank’s the result of one coalition idea ?”

    No, Helen. As a former Chair of a food bank in Scotland I’m sorry to say that Food Banks were not the result of one Coalition idea.

    Food Banks are independent charities set up in an attempt to help people suffering from poverty…….. though it is true that the number of Food Banks increased as a consequence of the Coalition Government’s austerity policies and welfare changes between 2010-15.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Sep '21 - 2:26pm

    Why would coalition governments not preserve the robust institutions that democracy depends on ? While not wanting to return to the old argument about the “Coalition” , in my “ever so ‘umble” opinion our country is crying out for a coalition of sensible, unifying politicians from any party before it sinks even further into a one party right-wing dictatorship and without the present bunch of self serving incompetents that we have to tolerate at moment!

  • I disagree with Martin and others that a more representative voting system implies coalitions. As Liberals we should be campaigning for STV which puts the choice with voters as to which strand of opinion they wish to support either within or without the constraints of Party. Historical precedent where STV has been adopted, in Tazmania for instance, suggests otherwise.

  • Brad Barrows 2nd Sep '21 - 6:09pm

    Just to correct one claim: “As we know, the agreement would create an overall majority for independence in the Scottish Parliament” Not true – the same overall majority for independence existed before this agreement was made. This agreement has not changed the number of pro-independence MSPs or changed the fact that they were all elected on a manifesto commitment of holding an independence referendum during this parliamentary term.Brad

  • Mike Falchikov 2nd Sep '21 - 6:15pm

    Why has nobody mentioned the Lab/LibDem government in Scotland which worked very well for more than 10 years? We managed to get STV for local government from that amongst many other good things.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '21 - 7:53pm

    The short answer is: yes.

    A longer answer: There was a grand coalition during the wartime years which worked reasonably well. We have coalitions at local and devolved national government level which also work reasonably well.

    At Westminster level the two major parties are coalitions in themselves. The Tory government of Cameron and Osborne was run by a different wing of the Tory Party to the current one. The last Labour government was run by the right wing of the Labour Party. If Jeremy Corbyn had won in 2017 it would have been run by the party’s left. Except that perhaps the right would have defected rather than return the favour!

    I’m not sure if this longer version answers your question any better than the original short one. Maybe its a “yes, but…”

  • Mike Falchikov 2nd Sep ’21 – 6:15pm………Why has nobody mentioned the Lab/LibDem government in Scotland which worked very well for more than 10 years? We managed to get STV for local government from that amongst many other good things………….

    Don’t mention the war!,,It’s a bit likr Orwell’s ‘Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia’… Currently, In Scotland. ‘We have always been against ‘totalitarian’ Labour and we have always been against our ‘Green Overlords’… “

  • Peter Martin 3rd Sep '21 - 10:06am

    We wouldn’t know it from reading LDV but there’s an interesting election campaign going on in Germany which, in case anyone has forgotten, is the leading country of the EU.

    We might expect Lib Dems to take more interest in what goes on in in Germany and the EU. Especially as their next Govt will in all likelihood be a coalition and the voting system corresponds closely to the kind of PR system which Lib Dems are arguing for.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Sep '21 - 10:19am

    @ Hireton,

    “… as a sovereign state (able) to decide whether to leave the EU in the future.”

    Yep. This is the theory according to the Lisbon Treaty. The practicalities for countries like Greece and Italy which use the euro, though, mean that leaving is ultra difficult. As Yanis Varoufakis is fond of saying the EU is, at least when use of the euro is included, like the Hotel California. You can check out but you can never leave.

  • The Canadians appear to be moving towards a Conservative government in three weeks time. The Trudeau minority affair has hit the rocks, unless the NDP vote declines like the Greens in Germany.?
    Will calling this election be seen as one of the worst mistakes by a politician this century?
    It is interesting that the German FDP in coalition were almost wiped out. Next time round they refused it and have clearly benefited.

  • All governments are coalitions irrespective of whether the voting system is FPTP or some form of PR but FPTP forces these to be ‘internal’ coalitions – that is within parties – while PR supports ‘external’ ones – that is between different parties.

    With FPTP there is a big premium on a party’s ability to manage the inevitable stresses. In recent decades Labour has done this poorly with near civil war between Blairites and Corbynites. Conversely, the Tories have historically managed their internal coalition well which is why they are far and away the most successful party of the post-WW2 era. Lib Dems have done it worst of all and paid the price at the polls.

    The key to the Tories’ historical success is that the party is organised to pick winners as leader but only stays with them for as long as they are winning. The leader is granted enormous power (including to set the policy direction) but only for as long as they are supported by the majority of MPs so thy must work to find compromises. In turn, MPs’ support for the leader depends mainly on their re-election prospects. This approach to organisation means that the party as a whole stays close to its half of the electorate plus when, as inevitably happens, high-functioning narcissists appear on the scene the organisation is reasonably robust against them using the party for personal advantage.

    But… the emergence of a wedge of Brexit ultras means traditional Tory strengths are under stress as never before – see OXWAB. An effective opposition could destroy them for a generation.

    Conversely, Lib Dems don’t handle their internal coalition well. MPs are theoretically mandated to follow policies set by activists at Conference. Organising that requires a central bureaucracy which, in practice, largely calls the shots. Also, the development of policies in different silos means there isn’t a coherent overarching policy direction – aka narrative. You can support high inward migration OR sustainability – but not both. It also means there is little push to find acceptable compromises (a core skill in government) and apparently no sanction if the leader goes off-piste – see 2010-15.

    In short, Lib Dems are organised for political hobbyists but run by an unaccountable bureaucracy and so are not fit as party of government.

  • John Marriott 3rd Sep '21 - 2:49pm

    @Peter Martin
    I write now as a ‘critical friend’ of the Lib Dems, of which I was a member for many years (as LDV devotees probably know!). Call me cynical if you wish; but things like the German election require an amount of compromise that most LDV contributors feel unable to espouse.

    I do, however, have to draw to your attention, when it comes to a system of PR, the fact that most Lib Dems seem to favour the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which, although not easy to understand, doesn’t seem to worry the voters in the Irish Republic. The German system is a bit more like what Lord Jenkins proposed back in 1998, which your mates in Labour promptly kicked into the long grass. In the Bundestag roughly half the seats are elected by FPTP, while the other half are elected by the De Hondt method from regional lists, as we used to elect our MEPs. The Lib Dems’ German sister party, the FDP, often referred to over here by commentators as the ‘business friendly party’, usually gets its MPs, if it can surmount the 5% popular vote hurdle, from the second category; but I’m sure you knew that.

    To all those people, who say that coalitions are a disaster, it might be worth noting that, since the German Federal Republic was established in 1949 all its governments except for one have been coalitions, the exception being the CDU/CSU government of 1956 to 1959. From an economic point of view at least, it hasn’t done that badly overall, including managing to finance the rebuilding of the former German Democratic Republic after reunification, which didn’t come cheap.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Sep '21 - 3:39pm

    @ John,

    I agree that coalitions aren’t necessarily a disaster. But they can be!

    On the question of German reunification, maybe you can explain why unemployment had to rise sharply for over a decade “to pay for it”? I would have expected there would be lots to do to stitch the two parts of Germany back together and that the limitation on the process would be the number of available workers to do the job?

    Possibly we could have expected some short term unemployment in the East but 10-12% for Germany as a whole, for over a decade, would indicate there was something else going on.

    https://www.theatlas.com/i/atlas_6jMmUEQte.png

    The neoliberals/ordoliberals in Germany were concerned that the Govt were spending too much money and were therefore running a deficit. Rather than just accepting this was inevitable they started to unnecessarily squeeze and slow down their own economy by imposing unnecessary tax rises and spending cuts to “pay for the reunification”.

    They made unnecessarily heavy weather of the whole process.

  • A great original comment. The only reason people are against coalitions is they have been told only ONE thing – they are hung parliaments – by people wishing to be perjorative. Then the LDTory coalition that nearly killed many. You can support inward migration or sustainability but not both?? Who says? Scotland needs immigrants, so do we, to keep going. Vetinary, health, agri, technical workers.
    And when are the Lib Dems going to realise what a cruel, never to be forgotten coalition of austerity it was. Ask any single mother. In Dems seem to be absolutely oblivious to poverty and basic needs that must be dealt with first, and not very clued up on facts. I think every MP councillor and doctor should be a social worker for 5 years before being allowed to stand. Why we haven’t got the euro I don’t know. Countries can call their currency what they like, but to maintain it to keep the shiny backside brigade in business instead of joining and getting protection from fluctuating exchange rates that only speculators like is crazy.

  • Barry Lofty 3rd Sep '21 - 4:25pm

    Whether Gordon is right in his reasons why the Conservatives are successful at winning elections, is up for debate, but where I agree with him is when he states that an effective opposition could and should have put this present administration under far more pressure over its mismanagement of the country on so many levels.

  • Germany has overcome severe economic challenges with its post-war coalitions and reunification of East and West Germany. It is a country that has been scarred by the destruction of war, hyper-inflation and political turmoil in living memory.
    While its trade surplus negates the need for budget deficits (at least until the onset of the pandemic) to offset the accumulation of surplus domestic savings, such external imbalances do create problems for its trading partners including Greece. Conversely. Greece does benefit from a stable currency and access to International finance that would not otherwise be available to it.
    The Eurozone remains a work in progress, but the Common Covid recovery fund is an example of the kind of fiscal solidarity and convergence that the EU aims for.
    The EU has yet to reach agreement on common protection for bank deposits and will need to consider some common counter-cyclical arrangements going forward, that can act as automatic stabilisers during downturns. These may include programs such as an EU component of a community wide unemployment insurance scheme and EU level youth employment and training programs i.e. the social pillar of the European community.

  • John Marriott 3rd Sep '21 - 7:42pm

    @Peter Martin
    I don’t think many of us over here realise just how much behind the GDR was. I first visited the east when I and two colleagues from my department accompanied a party of students to Berlin in the mid 1990s. Our visit to Potsdam was a real eye opener. Once across the Glienicker Bridge (where prisoners were exchanged between east and west during the Cold War) we appeared to be in the 1930s, with advertising painted on walls of crumbling buildings flanked with cobbled streets that looked out of that era. The modern face that the GDR tried to present to the world disappeared as soon as you left the main road. Despite its many sporting achievements, many achieved by mass doping, and its social order, the GDR was at best a second world country.

    Despite the shedloads of Deutschmarks and now Euros spent on raising living standards to that of the west, the eastern Länder are still a source of concern. Ironically, despite their communist past, it is here where the right wing AfD gets much of its support and where economic progress has been the hardest to achieve.

  • Peter Martin 4th Sep '21 - 6:57am

    @ Siv White,

    “And when are the Lib Dems going to realise what a cruel, never to be forgotten coalition of austerity it was.”

    “Why we haven’t got the euro I don’t know.”

    It would have been even worse austerity with it. We would have had control over neither our monetary policy nor our fiscal policy. We have been like a local council without the tools needed to fix problems in their area.

    “Countries can call their currency what they like, but to maintain it to keep the shiny backside brigade in business instead of joining and getting protection from fluctuating exchange rates that only speculators like is crazy.”

    You have this the wrong way around. Speculators like it when countries try to fix their currencies at higher than their market value. This is why the UK govts of the 60s had a problem, and later in the early 90s when the Nigel Lawson tried to tie the pound to the value of the DM. He came a cropper on Black Wednesday. Later when the pound was allowed to freely float again the economy fared much better.

    Iceland came out of the 2008 GFC very badly and the value of its currency collapsed. It was a blessing in disguise, because this helped the Icelandic economy recover very quickly afterwards. Greece which was stuck with the euro, came out equally badly but could not recover at all.

  • Peter Martin 4th Sep '21 - 7:43am

    To try to get back on topic, we are likely to see something like the following from the German Elections:

    SDP 24%, CSU/CDU 21%, GREENS 17%, FDP 12%, AfD 11%, LINKE 7%

    It will be interesting to see how a working coalition can be formed from that. SDP plus Greens plus Linke , maybe? But still 2% short

  • James Fowler 4th Sep '21 - 8:50am

    Great original post and many constructive comments. At some point I really hope to a see a larger Lib Dems working in government with either a moderate Labour or a moderate Conservative party again.

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '21 - 10:30am

    @Peter Martin
    At the risk of getting drawn into your web, your interest in German politics comes as a refreshing change from the usual stuff about currencies and taxation, Greece and Australia😀!

    Times certainly have changed in the Bundesrepublik. After the 5% rule was introduced for the second General Election in 1953, which swept away most of the smaller fringe parties, that were mainly survivors from the 32 from the Weimar days, the choice for West German voters was pretty straight forward; it was either CDU/CSU, SPD or FDP. while the KPD was banned, right wing tastes were catered for by the ‘Reichpartei’, which, by the 1960s had morphed into the NPD, which caused a stir not long after its foundation in nearly surmounting the 5% hurdle and actually gaining representation in the Federal Parliament during the economic crisis of 1965-66.

    But I digress….. back then the feather that tipped the balance one way or the other was the successor to the old Centre Party, the ‘business friendly (our definition not theirs)’, the FDP. Usually relying on regional list votes, this party, certainly until the 1990s, proved fairly reliable coalition partners for the other two, although the latters did share power together from 1966 to 1969, before the SPD finally gained power, with the help of the FDP, which heralded a decade at least of ‘Ostpolitik’ under the formidable combination of SDP Chancellors Willi Brandt and Helmut Schmidt and their FDP Vice Chancellors and Foreign Ministers, Walter Scheel and Hans-Dietrich Genscher respectively.

    Today, the situation is very different. There is now a plethora of parties, most capable, but not always, of getting over 5% of the popular vote, hence the dilemma facing the German voter. Despite that, I have so far not detected much of a clamour for FPTP.

    My guess is that, after the dust has settled, there will be negotiations about forming a Federal Government, which might take some time to resolve – but probably not as long as it took the Belgians a few years ago. Meanwhile, life will go on, especially as the kind of decisions that affect most people are mainly made a regional level. Who needs a government anyway, many might ask!

  • nvelope2003 4th Sep '21 - 10:40am

    Coalitions might be good for the nation but they have been disastrous for the Liberals every time. Maybe party members have a death wish. If the party finally collapses they can give up the struggle with a clear conscience.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Sep '21 - 11:27am

    [email protected] If coalitions are good for the nation shouldn’t that be good enough, after all in a democracy isn’t that what any political party would want, anyhow, given our present electoral system, it is maybe the only way the Lib Dems will be able to have any influence on national policies.

  • Hireton 2nd Sep ’21 – 1:03pm:
    As an independent state, Scotland will be able to decide itself whether to apply to join the EU, as a member of the EU would be a sovereign state…

    Once in the EU, Scotland would cease to be independent or sovereign.

    …Scotland was taken out of the EU against its electorate’s wishes…

    The question on the ballot paper was this…

    Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

    It wasn’t ‘should Scotland remain a member of the European Union…?’

    People in Scotland voted along with the rest of the UK for the whole of the UK to leave the EU.

    Taking the Independence and EU Referendums together, over 20% more Scots voted for Scotland to remain in the UK than voted for the UK to remain in the EU (2,001,926 votes to 1,661,191 votes).

  • Brad Barrows 4th Sep '21 - 1:01pm

    @Jeff
    Forgive me correcting your unfair use of figures – you compare the number of votes to remain in the UK/EU to imply greater support for Scotland remaining in the UK than for Scotland remaining in the EU. If you compare the percentage of the vote, Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the EU but by 55% to remain in the UK.

  • Barry Lofty 3rd Sep ’21 – 4:25pm………… an effective opposition could and should have put this present administration under far more pressure over its mismanagement of the country on so many levels……………

    Sadly, in the ‘modern’ UK it’s not about mismanagement it’s all about personalities, or rather one person; Boris Johnson..The nation decided to vote for the ship’s comedian to captain the ship and, at least for the next four years, we can just hope that the ‘wreck’ will stay afloat..Competent officers have been replaced by a supporting cast of clowns none of whom the captain will sack no matter what..

    The media and, largely through the media, the public are still supportive.I hear, after every cock-up, my Tory friends repeating the mantra, “He’s doing his best in difficult times”; forgetting/ignoring the fact that these ‘difficult times’ are largely self inflicted..

    Covid has been a terrible affliction nationwide/worldwide but, for Johnson, it has been the lifeline that has kept the failures of Brexit, housing, social care, etc., from the scrutinity they merit.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Sep '21 - 1:35pm

    Anne [email protected] Absolutely, I agree!!

  • Barry Lofty 4th Sep '21 - 2:03pm

    Apologies, for adding the “e” to your christian name Ann!

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '21 - 3:34pm

    @Jeff
    The voting in the EU referendum in Scotland was Remain 62% Leave 38%. Your sentence is rather ingenuous. Pollsters are perfectly entitled to draw the conclusion that the majority of Scottish residents voted to stay in the EU even though, overall, the result was in favour of leave.

  • @ Siv White,

    “You can support inward migration or sustainability but not both?? Who says?”

    The UK’s population reached 68 million in 2021 (but rather more when undocumented illegals are counted). Even on official figures that’s a rise of over 30% since 1960. How is that rate of increase sustainable?

    As for more immigrants to work in health, agriculture, technical roles etc. we could instead train our own people. We should provide anyone with training for any job they have the talent and ambition to do. At the same time boring jobs should be progressively automated creating a strong home market for innovative firms. Jobs that are hard or impossible to automate (e.g. care of the elderly) would instead command higher pay.

    Such an aproach would be a key plank in a new social contract that would enable most to stand on their own feet with a good income and security. That in turn would do much to reduce the stress too many suffer which has to be a big factor in, for instance, mental illness.

  • @ Ann Bailey, @ Barry Lofty,

    It has indeed become all about personalities and not about mismanagement.

    And it’s not as if the mismanagement isn’t an issue with the voters. Even the right-wing Daily Mail columnist Andrew Pierce asks, “Why doesn’t Boris shuffle his jokers out?” (the title subtly suggesting Boris isn’t a big part of the problem). But readers aren’t fooled; the most popular comment is, “Boris is incompetence personified” with 1855 upvotes to just 55 downvotes – that’s over 34 to 1 against Boris.

    34 to 1 against in a tabloid and neither Labour nor Lib Dems can make headway!?

    So, it’s about personalities only because none of the opposition parties have a critique of the mismanagement, no vision, no alternative plan. I am particularly disappointed with the Lib Dems who are stuck in a rut of their own devising and unwilling to reform their own dysfunctional management – see Thornhill.

    And yet the opportunity is there – I remain convinced that Lib Dems could win the next election outright given decent leadership and a new approach.

  • @jeff

    “Once in the EU, Scotland would cease to be independent or sovereign.:

    It would be sovereign and independent as it could exercise its independent and sovereign right to leave.

  • nvelope2003 6th Sep '21 - 4:45pm

    Barry Lofty: Actually with hindsight peace time coalitions have not been good for the nation because most of the benefits were rescinded by the Conservatives once they got a majority by claiming the credit for them and thus destroying the Liberal Democrats which as a life long Liberal I consider a trajedy and a disaster partly because it led to us leaving the EU on poor terms with consequences which were predicted and are now becoming apparent.
    In 1918 Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals had over 130 MPs and Asquith’s non Coalition Liberals less than 30 but when in 1922 the Conservatives ended the Coalition L G’s party got 59 MPs and Asquith’s more than doubled their total and in 1923 elected 159 MPs
    If the Liberal Democrats had refused to join the Coalition in 2010 as Labour has always done it is possible that they might have become strong enough to stop the Brexit disaster but we will never know.

  • Jayne mansfield 6th Sep '21 - 5:27pm

    @ Gordon,
    For my sins , I have also been been reading the Mail online since we went into lockdown. I also read the comments. I can confirm what you are saying.

    I also agree with your comments in the penultimate paragraph.

  • nvelope2003 8th Sep '21 - 11:51am

    Gordon has made some very good points but no one seems to understand the value of a party of protest. The Whigs and their Liberal successors were the party of protest against the established order represented by the Tories and then the Conservatives but as the broadcaster Ralph Wightman pointed out in the 1950s we have 2 Tory parties, the Conservative Tories and the Labour Tories both representing the established order and anxious to preserve their part of it. He said you could have a Tory Socialist but you could not have a Liberal Conservative as this was a contradiction in terms as they are opposites – or were then. Unfortunately the Liberal Democrats have become a sort of watered down Socialist/Social Democrat party prepared to form a coalition with whoever has sufficient MPs, apparently preferably the Conservatives, to make it work and the public showed what they thought of that in the 2015 election and subsequent elections. They had a small boost in 2019 because they were the only one of the traditional parties to protest against the decision to leave the EU although the issue was not handled well and many potential supporters were more worried about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party taking their money away than the more distant prospect of life outside the EU.
    Although we have what is probably one of the most incompetent and inefficient governments in recent history, there is no sign of any revival in Liberal Democrat fortunes. Apart from a few good results achieved by exceptional local individuals most candidates are lucky to get 5% of the votes on the usual low turnout. Yet all we hear is discussion about electoral reform and how and with whom we should form a coalition when we should be shouting our protests about what is going on and what we intend to do about it.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Sep '21 - 4:22pm

    Our voting system is the issue not whether we cooperate. Under the present system the only way to defeat the Conservatives is by cooperating at the ballot box. I agree coalition governments are good and PR encourages them. So to take the argument sideways an excellent reason to support PR is so we have more coalition governments. Selling that is another matter.

  • nvelope2003 9th Sep '21 - 12:36pm

    Peter Hirst: What is your evidence that coalition governments are good when the evidence seems to be that they are not and have always resulted in the destruction of the smaller party at the subsequent General Election. It is unlikely that the Conservatives or even Labour will introduce Proportional Representation as it would not be in their interest to do so and the present Government is trying to remove it in areas where it actually exists. I find this unrealistic attitude deeply depressing. However hard it may be progress will only be achieved by accepting the facts as they are, not as we would like them to be.
    Cooperation at the ballot box depends on other parties being willing to engage and then the voters actually following their advice which is very difficult to achieve as voters have different reasons for voting for one party rather than another. The Liberal Democrats should be a pragmatic party of protest which refuses to engage in coalitions although that does not mean they should not vote for a particular Government policy or bill when they think it is right to do so. There is nothing wrong with making a virtue out of necessity, especially if you have no other realistic option as seems to be the case with the Liberal Democrats.

  • My comments refer to the UK Parliament in Westminster. Different considerations may apply in the devolved administrations although it may depend on which party forms the Government. Liberal Democrat support for a Labour Government seems to be less damaging to the Lib Dems than if they supported the Conservatives which many people, but apparently not all, might consider fairly obvious. However, many traditional Labour supporters seem to have drifted to the Conservatives because they like Boris Johnson and Brexit but some people, including a few Conservatives, have moved to the Greens because they have more easily understood policies on the environment than the Liberal Democrats and plenty of publicity from Extinction Rebellion.
    It will be interesting to see how long the traditional Conservative right will put up with Boris even if he is good at winning elections for their party especially if the revival of the Social Democrats in Germany spreads to Britain as it often does in the form of the Labour Party, unless woke policies make them unattractive.

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