Je ne regrette rien? Would Lib Dem members have voted for Coalition knowing what we know now?

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Since the Coalition began, I’ve been asking the question about whether members support the party being in coalition with the Conservatives. Pretty consistently, across 16 separate surveys, around 80% have said yes. But I realise this question is, to some extent, skewed by the fact that we are where we are. Some members who are deeply unhappy with the way the Coalition’s panning out acknowledge that the party has little choice but to try and make it work.

So I thought I’d pose a counter-factual. Imagine, knowing what we know now, you could rewind to May 2010: what would you have supported with the benefit of hindsight? Here’s what you said…

62% would have supported the Coalition in May 2010 – even knowing what we know now

Had you known in May 2010 what you know now about how the Coalition has worked and what it has achieved, which one of the following options would you have supported?

    62% – Coalition with the Conservatives

    20% – A Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement (ie, no coalition deal so no Lib Dem ministers and with MPs free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)

    7% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition

    6% – A Labour-Lib Dem coalition (if agreement could have been reached)

    3% – A second general election in 2010

    1% – Don’t know

A sturdy 62% of Lib Dem members in our survey would still have opted for Coalition with the Conservatives if we could turn back time (though with lessons learned from the mistakes we made first time round).

However, that leaves a significant minority who would have preferred to avoid it. The most popular second option is a Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, backed by 1-in-5 members.

Of course we don’t know how that would would have worked out had it been tried. My guess is not happily. The party would have got pretty much the same amount of electoral pain for propping up a Conservative government with precious little opportunity to influence from within. Soon enough the Conservatives would have engineered an excuse to pull the plug on the deal and triggered a second election (after all, there would’ve been no fixed-term parliaments act) which would’ve seen the Lib Dems viciously squeezed. It’s possible we would’ve ended up retaining more MPs than we will in 2015; but at the price of not having implemented (m)any of our policies in government.

I think a similar scenario would’ve played out in the event of a minority Conservative government, too, favoured by 7% of members. And very few people think a Lib Dem-Labour deal was a realistic goer (even though it’s the preferred option of more than half our members).

Here’s a selection of your comments:

In May 2010 there were few choices available. The only stable outcome was a tory/lib dem deal.

We could not have afforded another GE and we would have lost seats if it had been held.

A limited arrangement solely to address economic crisis, existing for a max 2 years, then another G Election

We had no choice. It doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

But confidence and supply should have come with a Fixed Term Parliament Act as a condition.

in any of the other case there would have been a second election and we would have been hammered

Going back on our tuition fees pledge has seriously damaged our party. If coalition wasn’t possible whilst keeping our promises, we should have taken confidence and supply.

I still think we had to do it – but it was always going to be a poisoned chalice!

We prevented a worse outcome for the country. A more astute leadership than Clegg would have avoided many of the pitfalls.

a coalition is still the right answer but the way it is handled needs to change entirely

Hang on a minute- nothing else was possible mathematically!

But with better negotiation and a clearer strategy to differentiate and eventually to disengage.

The idea that a Labour/Lib Dem government could have happen is clutching at straws. We made our bed and we failed under Clegg and Co to make the best of it, looking back all the time gets you nowhere, learn from the success and the mistakes for the future

There was no alternative in 2010. There remains no alternative.

But with an opt-out for libdem MPs who had promised not to support an increase in tuition fees.

Election result and world conditions made stable govenment crucial. I disliked it from the start, and still do, but that’s what the electorate landed Parliament with.

Coalition was the best (least worst!) option on the table. It has been our awful management of the coalition since that decision over flash point issues (fees) and issues not covered in the Coalition Agreement (NHS).

Although I’ve been disappointed by many things about the coalition, and some of the other options look tempting with hindsight, I’ve no reason to think that any of them would have brought fewer opportunities for disappointment. We did ‘have a choice’ but no good one.

Had not realised Clegg and Alexander would go native and accept the right wing Tory economic analysis
We have helped ensure the best possible government this parliament given the outcome of the 2010 election through our actions.

Labour (258) plus Liberal Democrats (57) = 315 – to gain a majority a Government needed 323 votes out of the 644 (650 – 5 Sinn Fein and the Speaker) so such a coalition would have needed support from smaller parties – only the SDLP (3) and possibly the Alliance (1) could be relied on. Who would want a Government dependent on the SNP, DUP, or even Plaid?

Lib Dems could have a confidence & supply on issue-by-issue basis including the budget. We were not in a strong enough position to demand the changes that were needed to clear this crisis: make those who caused it pay for it.

It was the best of a lousy set of options.

But we should have played the negotiations better, and gone for STV at locals without referenda over AV at all.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Just over 600 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 23rd July.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    11 Comments

    • Defenestrate Clegg 14th Aug '13 - 9:18am

      Presumably a lot of members who would have answered that they are not happy are now ex members, part of the 34% that have dropped out of the party since 2010 ?

    • I agree 100% with this analysis. Anyone who says there was an alternative is deliberately ignoring the consequences of what those alternatives would have been.

      The fact is, we were in a very difficult situation, and we have mostly made the best of it. The problem is, we have failed so far to communicate what exactly we are doing while in power, most of which is entirely unknown to the general public outside the politicosphere.

    • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Aug '13 - 9:41am

      Indeed. I think the situation the country would be facing now would be much worse had we not gone into full coalition. I am a bit shocked that 20% of people think confidence and supply would have been a good idea. Let’s be clear what that means. We would have been obliged to vote through their budgets with little influence on them, and back them in votes of confidence in the Commons. We wouldn’t have had any ministers doing good things like Jo Swinson on parental leave, saving the post office and payday lenders, or Lynne Featherstone on violence against women. I suspect in that sort of arrangement, the Tories would have been much less likely to listen to reason on the Scottish referendum situation and may have gone for imposing a referendum from Westminster which would have gone down so well in Scotland…

      If people think that a confidence and supply arrangement would have insulated us from the backlash of the last 3 years, they may like to look back to the 1970s when the Liberals suffered for years fort he LibLab pact.

      We did not have anything like a dream option for our first chance at government in 80 years, but we had to take it. WE did the right thing and have done lots of other good things since. We certainly haven’t got everything right. We shouldn’t have touched an AV referendum with a barge pole. More importantly, secret courts and immigration reforms, along with some aspects of the welfare reforms are just plain wrong. We’ve made this government much better than it would have been. Just remember, the Tories wanted to cut inheritance tax for the rich. We made them cut income tax for low and middle income earners. Some may complain that that was the wrong policy. It was, however, straight from the front page of our manifesto, as was the Pupil Premium and much more investment in the green economy and renewables than you would ever have seen under the Tories.

    • Caron – re confidence and supply, I don’t really buy it that we wouldn’t have any influence over budgets. Surely it is the same as in coalition – the Tories have to negotiate with us to be sure of getting the budgets through, knowing that if we decide to vote against, it effectively brings down the government?

      Generally though, I think the Lib Dems would have backed the Tory deficit reduction budgets.

      But we wouldn’t have had to vote for tuition fees, and we wouldn’t have had the humiliation of the AV referendum.

      And we wouldn’t have been open to the (probably fair) charge of sacrificing our principles for ministerial cars.

      I agree, we have made the government better than it would have been, but at what cost? Hundreds of councillors seats and (probably) half our MPs in 2015.

    • Dave – high-minded to put the country before the party – but let’s be realistic, that’s not what the Tories or Labour do – to them it’s power at all costs. And where have our principles got us – take a look at the polls.

      A Lib-Lab coalition is our best chance of governing for the medium to long term, as a majority of our voters – like it or not – are centre-left rather than centre-right.

      As an aside on the deficit – I don’t think the £75bn cuts mooted by a Tory adviser in 2010 would have become reality – but most voters are closer to the Tories than Labour on deficit reduction, and the Lib Dems should be too.

    • A lot of the unhappiness with The Coalition stems from the fact that so few opposed it at the special conference. I cant help thinking that many Libdems who were always against the idea actually abstained or stayed away rather than be completely honest about how they felt.
      I cant see the same thing happening again, any future proposed Coalition would see a lot more open disagreement & a much bigger vote against. That would , paradoxically make divisions easier to handle.

    • @WILL MANN
      Although I agree with your sentiments, we have to examine why Labour would wish to deal with us in 2015. It presumes (a) they would need to, (b) that we would have enough MPs to make it viable, (c) that bad blood would be forgiven and (d) almost certainly an effective change of leadership in the Lib Dem party.

      On counterfactuals, they are almost impossible to improve by definition … but no coalition, the Tories would have formed an administration, called another election within 6 months, won an outright majority – largely at the expense of us losing seats … I could easily have seen 20+ seats moving from Lib Dem to Tory under this scenario. For all the problems of the coalition (let’s be honest many caused by miss-steps in our own party) where we are now is a much better place indeed,

    • Michael Parsons 15th Aug '13 - 1:54pm

      Shielding the country from the consequemces of Tory rule is pretty silly as a policy, don’t you think? whatever benefits you imagine, the LibDems will disappear under Clegg as the Liberals did under Simon as a result of his 1930’s Depression coalition; and no it wasn’t better; nor can there be a “high-wage recovery” until we break the hold of the foot-loose vulture capitalism that has wrecked social care and improvement for the mass by instituting a low-wage race to the bottom. Thatcher at her worst (and she had her better moments too) was not able to do what Clegg is making possible.

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