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. Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll run last Thursday and Friday.

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 more than 20 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? I asked this same question just over a year ago. And again last week. 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)

    9% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition

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

    1% – A second general election in 2010

    1% – Other

    1% – Don’t Know

Strikingly, these figures are near-identical to a year ago. Exactly the same proportion, a sturdy 62%, would still have opted for Coalition with the Conservatives if we could turn back time (though doubtless with lessons learned from the mistakes we made first time round). And exactly the same significant minority, 20%, would have preferred to avoid it through a Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement. As I wrote last year:

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 9% 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 sample of your comments…

• I still think it was the right decision. The problem lies not with the decision but with our failure in the early days not to realise that people in the UK don’t understand coalitions in the same way that many people in mainland Europe do. Plus the printed media who were disgruntled about the Tories not running the show.
• I think a lot of what we wanted to achieve was kyboshed by the Tories superior political machine – AV and Lord’s Reform. I can see why we wanted to be “in government” however we’ve suffered very badly for it and poll ratings do not seem to be improving.
• None of the other options are remotely realistic: we would either have suffered equally (as in a confidence-and-supply agreement) whilst achieving very little, or Cameron would simply have called a second election.
• The problem with confidence and supply is the minor party has no real say in policy. The coalition will / has caused us pain (and will see a haemorrhaging of votes) BUT has given experience of government and has helped neuter the Right. We never fully recovered from the Student fees issue and that will be our albatross up to and through 2015. The best we can plan for now is damage limitation and a rebuilding post the election.
• I support the coalition – but we should have been more realistic about the day to day working of government. We got policy wins, but we failed to get process wins. We should have paid more attention to making our achievements more visible.
• we had no choice
• a Lb-Lib coalition was not sustainable and we have achived more (depsite the pain) in coalition than we would have had we sat on our hands.
• This government has been disastrous for the country and the most egregious actions it has taken were without a mandate. Disgraceful and shame on Lib Dem ministers.
• We said that we were not afraid of coalition government.This was our opportunity to show we meant it. We have learned lessons and would approach it differently next time.
• Coalition, yes, but we should have done things differently (e.g. we should have said we’d vote against any tuition fee rise)… that is obviously said with hindsight, of course.
• Definitely. Just regret in terms of Comms we were naive
• It has been a successful government which has achieved a lot, especially in the area of pension reform. Sure there are things I don’t like – but I probably wouldn’t have liked everything a purely Liberal Democrat government would have done.
• A deal of one sort or another with the Tories was the only option apart from walking away. However, a confidence and supply deal would very likely have lasted just long enough for the Tories to call a election as soon as the polls favoured them.
• We have been very naive in our dealings within the coalition. In 2010 I wrote to Nick Clegg (I didn’t expect an answer – nor did I receive one)stating that although I was in favour of the coalition we must make sure that we did not get ‘shafted’ by the Conservatives. Sadly, this is exactly what has happened.
• Not ideal but more effective and more stable than a Tory minority govt. Labour were a shambles at the time and would not of been capable of forming a sensible govt. They may be better now.
• Though I detest the Tories and all they stand for. I rather be in their camp and be able to stop some of their more outrageous policies. Though we should of stuck fast on tuition fees and on policies that have created a Country “OFs, and HAVE NOTS”. AT ground zero we are going to be slaughtered because we allowed the Tories to take us too far right, which have harmed and dramatically increased suicide in our Country. We have to take some of the blame for the non-caring attitude, the increase in disability attacks. We have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt, that we still care for people more than big profits.
• In favour of coalition if Nick Clegg was competent – however he is not – so best option minority conservative admin
• We had to find out what being in coalition would be like. Also the country needed the stability this brought. Coalition with Labour would have been preferable but they were not ready to recognise the extent of changes needed to turn Britain around. Never the less, coalition with the Tories has been very unpleasant.
• There was no alternative if we wanted to be in government for the first time since WW2
• Coalition to stabilise the economy. Should have brought down the Government after AV or failure of Lords Reform.
• I believe this option would have brought stable government and still allowed our party to be differentiated from the Tories in the eyes of the general public.
• It was a rotten choice.
• Coalition has provided what PR should have done and as I’m on the right of the party coalition with the conservatives, while uncomfortable at times, has been worthwhile.
• I am appalled by the social policies or rather lack thereof by the Tories also by the lack of credit given to LibDem compromises and advancements.
• Any other choice would have given the impression that Lib Dems aren’t serious about politics
• We should have held out for PR and if Cameron hadn’t given us that we should have walked away. I never believed the line about that bringing the markets crashing around our ears.
• There was no other option that would have provided a stable government. We put country ahead of party. We will get no credit for it.
• The only way to achieve some of our policies

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • 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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    28 Comments

    • True but don’t forget all the people who have left the party.

    • Stephen, which of these statements from our piece here is correct? I am guessing it is the first but you see why people might be confused?

      1……..Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll run last Thursday and Friday

      2……..1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.

    • Eddie Sammon 8th Oct '14 - 11:17am

      Or: “Je ne regrette pas rien ?”. You know your audience. 😉

      I am surprised by the high level of support for the coalition given everything we know now.

    • I still feel we had little or no choice over the matter, my support for the coalition was and remains one of practical necessity than anything else. We’ve done some great things, we have taken a beating – but the election gave no other option and I’m glad we didn’t duck out of what was, in my view, or duty in supplying stable government at a time of global financial panic. I fear what would have happened to a non-stable government when the Euro-crisis struck in 2011…

    • Caracatus 8th Oct ’14 – 11:50am
      It called the sunk cost fallacy –

      I thought for a moment this “sunk cost fallacy” was a reference to blazing ships off the coast of Scotland with a load of nuclear waste.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-29531395

    • matt (Bristol) 8th Oct '14 - 12:43pm

      Please note it seems from the comments printed above that a significant minority of people who feel it was morally right to go into coalition in 2010 still feel it was mishandled and in any case was always going to be damaging to the party. There is a nihilist, self-sacrificial, self-denying feel to some of the comments.

      I don’t think know whether it could be said that a majority of people in this survey, or the party like the coalition with the conervativies, just that a significant plurality feel it was the least worst option available at the time.

      Whilst probably admirable, even if true (and how can we prove it? we can’t), this is not something you can put on an election poster for 2015. ‘Join The Liberal Democrats – We Killed Our Popularity, Our Identity And Our Unity Attempting To Find The Least Worst Option For The Country’. Catchy, no?

    • Watching Andrew Neil destroy Lib Dem senior spokespersons this week has been frightening. God knows what will happen at the General Election. Visited the dentist this morning, we started talking about tax, he said he cannot forgive the Lib Dems over what , yes you have guessed it Tuition Fees. I still reckon it will he 10 -15 seats next May, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if we had not entered the coalition we would probably have lost up to 20 seats in a second election and the Conservatives would have had a majority. In continuing opposition we would probably have regrouped and now be polling 20% plus again. Then tomorrow the two by elections, will the party get 3,000 votes altogether? Probably not as much as that, but the ever reducing party will carry on regardless.
      What is this about the party owing the Scottish police £800, 000 for policing some recent conference? Also can someone tell us what the daily attendance figures have been this year?.

    • John Roffey 8th Oct '14 - 1:19pm

      @ matt (Bristol)

      Yes – Tim Farron’s ‘People vote with their eyes fixed forward, not looking over their shoulders. They are not interested in the past, they are interested in the future. Their votes depend on what happens next, not what happened last’ – is particularly apt in this regard.

      If you remove any reference to the past [which isn’t going to garner votes] – there really isn’t very much for the Party activists to engage potential voters with on the doorstep. A mental health initiative, that cannot be afforded, is hardly going to single out the Party for support when its main rivals have immigration and the environment and climate change.

      There is nothing on offer that is going to stem the steady loss of support through until May. If the Party does want to reverse its fortunes NC must step down, or be removed, and a new leader, not committed to further coalition, but prepared to manage it as an independent Party with new and relevant policies – paid for by taxing the multinationals who have been so enriched by successive governments.

    • The Lib Dems could have called for a grand coalition including both the Tories and Labour; a selfless act which would have maximised benefit to the country while not exceptionally benefiting Lib Dem MPs. Clegg could have been Sport minister. I notice that this option is never given.

    • David 1
      Despite my banging on about it incessantly!

    • Of course the libdems would still go into coalition even if they new what they know now, why? Because it’s all about POWER.

    • I wonder what the view of the dozens of Lib Dem MPs who will have lost their seats this time next year will be?

    • matt (Bristol) 8th Oct '14 - 4:03pm

      John Roffey, I am glad you seem to agree with me, but thought we were discussing whether LD supporters thought the 2010 coalition was the right thing to do – I don’t remember discussing policy, or whether Clegg should go…

      For what it’s worth, I still can’t see we’re going to be very credible going into coalition with Labour, or very likely to get anything meaningful apart from brickbats and infamy out of another coalition with the Tories. Whilst it’s not ideal, confidence and supply with either side may be the only option that allows continued semi-meaningful influence and is at the same time intelligently communicable to the public and avoids further attrition to our own sense of our identity and values.

      Your suggestion of pushing left and moving back to be a largely purerly campaigning party of opposition and protest (which is not intended to be a pejorative phrasing) is not itself risk-free, which you don’t seem to recognise – and the Greens are now squatting on that territory; how do you propose to evict them (credibly)?

    • David Allen 8th Oct '14 - 5:08pm

      Repeatedly asking the “was coalition the right choice?” yes / no question acts to deflect attention from the alternative view, “It might have been, but not the way we did it.”

    • David Evershed 8th Oct '14 - 5:55pm

      The Lib Dems did the right thing for the country by going into coalition even though they were always going to lose support from those who hate the Conservatives more than they love Lib Dems.

    • Tsar Nicolas 9th Oct '14 - 7:00am

      I am intrigued by what exactly ‘the country’ consists of, as in Tthe Lib Dems did the right thing for the country.’

      I know very few people who are better off since 2010, but very many who are considerably worse off. Are the former the people who constitute ‘the country’ and the latter not?

    • matt (Bristol) 9th Oct '14 - 9:25am

      “I am intrigued by what exactly ‘the country’ consists of, as in Tthe Lib Dems did the right thing for the country.’”

      Tsar Nicholas, you will notice that my version of that was ‘attempting to find the least worst option for the country’.

      I’m not myself prepared to state – and I’m not sure at all how many people would – with hindsight that what happened was ‘the best thing’, and I wouldn’t have been keen to overuse that phrase at the time. I just don’t think Clegg and Co should be dammned for seeking coalition in principle, even coalition with the Conservatives. They can probably be criticised for how it has worked, but that is different and even then he is not in the driving seat – Cameron is.

      I think you should also remember that the Tory rhetoric and policy proposals at the last election were dressed up to look more like they cared for the interests and cohesion of the country as a whole rather than the interests of a subset of the nation, which is what I now take Cameron’s ‘trade-union for hard-working people’ politics-of-envy-and-spite flimflam to mean.

      OK, maybe we could have seen through that, but the only other option on the table, Gordon Brown, had not won as many seats, and was not doing anything like an impression of someone who could unite the nation.

    • David Evans 9th Oct '14 - 11:56am

      Remember, Nick bounced us into coalition in May 2010. The dates were

      6 May – General Election
      11 May – Coalition agreement reached, by Nick’s team
      11 May – Cameron announced as PM and Nick Clegg as DPM
      16 May – Special Conference

      Now who could vote against it, a deal agreed by supposedly our best negotiators and effectively already implemented? A deal where the alternatives were walk away from coalition or tell the dream team to go back to David Cameron to ask for more. I couldn’t go that weekend, so sadly I couldn’t vote against. But I gather 50 did, including David Rendel. The final key date was

      20 May – Full Coalition agreement posted on LDV. I presume conference reps had it beforehand, but it would be nice to know how much in advance they got it.

    • Matthew Huntbach 9th Oct '14 - 2:29pm

      David Evans

      Now who could vote against it, a deal agreed by supposedly our best negotiators and effectively already implemented?

      Many people who later were very critical of the coalition at the time thought it was a good deal. The article from the late Simon Titley reprinted in the latest Liberator is an example. Simon correctly predicted much of how the coalition would go down badly, but back then he writes saying the actual coalition agreement gave us more than we could expect.

      So I don’t think you can necessarily blame Nick Clegg for just bouncing us into it. However, he has certainly done a lot to mishandle it since and make what was always going to be a difficult situation much more difficult. He seems to have gone out of his way to undermine the “sad but unavoidable compromise” stand that should be used to defend it and give the impression instead that all the compromises we have been forced to concede were really what we secretly wanted in the first place.

    • David Evans 9th Oct ’14 – 11:56am

      6 May – General Election
      11 May – Coalition agreement reached, by Nick’s team
      11 May – Cameron announced as PM and Nick Clegg as DPM
      16 May – Special Conference

      20 May – Full Coalition agreement posted on LDV.

      David can you remember the date of the announcement of the TOP DOWN REORGANISATION OF THE NHS , that was specifically ruled out in the Full Coalition agreement posted on LDV. ???

      It was also ruled out in the Conservative Manifesto and the Liberal Democrat Manifesto.

      The Coaition Agreement was torn up within weeks to allow Top Down NHS reorganisation. This was even before tuition fees or new nuclear power stations.

      Those who agreed to, or acquiesced to the Coalition Agreement in May, were sold down the river within weeks.

    • David Evans. — to save you looking it up,   I will answer my own question — it was July.   

      The Coalition Agreement that party MPs and members had agreed to in late May was over in July.  

      From the History of the NHS (link below) —

      In July 2010 Andrew Lansley published his White Paper.    The major themes built on the internal/social market model.  

      It had taken 50 days to bring forward proposals, compared with ten years for the Conservative administration in 1990 and six years for Labour in 2002.  David Nicholson, the Chief Executive of the NHS, said ‘nothing in the system is left untouched.’ 

      There had been no warning in speeches, manifestos or even the coalition agreement of the scale of the change.  

      http://www.nhshistory.net/chapter%207.htm#Health_Policies_under_the_Liberal/Conservative_governmen

    • Peter Watson 9th Oct '14 - 8:41pm

      @JohnTilley “can you remember the date of the announcement of the TOP DOWN REORGANISATION OF THE NHS”
      You must have missed the memo: there was no top down reorganisation of the NHS. It was billed as a bottom up reorganisation, with Clegg and Lansley being the biggest bottoms driving the changes.

    • John – I don’t think it is accurate to say that there was no plan for a top-down re-organsiation of the NHS in the Lib Dem manifesto. Scrapping Strategic Health Authorities and introducing elected local health boards is a pretty major change!

    • @JohnTilley 9th Oct ’14 – 3:03pm

      “It was also ruled out in the Conservative Manifesto and the Liberal Democrat Manifesto.”

      I don’t think it was, both Parties were planning major reforms which could easily be classed as “top down”, for that reason I always thought it was a fairly dumb commitment.

    • If Nick Clegg had made a speech in the Rose Garden in 2010 like he did last Wednesday then there might have been the scope to maintain a credible identity for the party seperate from the coalition.

      What Clegg did was the precise opposite and in the following twelve months gave a number of speeches emphasising the alleged similarities between liberalism and conservatism.

      Coalition in the economic climate was never going to be easy. Any government of whatever hape was never going to be easy. But Clegg has undoubtedly made it much worse than it might have been, with the strong likelihood that the party will not recover to pre-2010 levels in my lifetime (I am 57 and not planning on dying any time soon).

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