Kirsty Williams writes… nothing to fear from parties working together

As we know, 2010 was the first time a coalition cabinet had been formed in Westminster since 1945. This obviously marked an historic occasion. However, coalition is something that is far less unusual in the Welsh political system and I believe experiences taken from Wales can be of benefit to the party as we approach the next General Election.

Between 2000-03 the Welsh Liberal Democrats were in a coalition government and our achievements during those three years were substantial. In fact, much to Labour’s annoyance, in 2002 we were able to claim that over a hundred Lib Dem policies had been implemented. Six of the eight leading achievements of the Assembly government came directly from the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Unfortunately this success didn’t translate into votes. The party went into the Assembly elections trumpeting each and every-one of our achievements, but our vote remained static.

One of the lessons learnt from this is that we need to collectively communicate the same messages clearly, otherwise the public end up hearing nothing. In Government we are implementing a huge number of excellent Liberal Democrat manifesto commitments and of course we must talk about them. But we must remain focused about what our top achievements are and ensure the public knows about them as well.

It is for this reason that I think the party now has the right approach in spending the vast majority of its time highlighting our biggest achievements that matter most to people.

It is impossible to talk too much about the incredible work our party has done in raising the tax threshold. This is a radical tax policy and something that would never have happened under the Tories. People must know that in tough times the Liberal Democrats are cutting taxes, helping those on low and medium incomes the most. They must know that we achieved our number one priority.

Following this, we need to be talking about jobs, jobs and more jobs.
Of course the economic climate is particularly hard, but there are success stories to be told. Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats have doubled the annual number of apprenticeships created by the previous Labour government. We need to prove that we can be trusted and responsible with the economy. For this reason I welcome the recent launch of the party’s apprenticeships campaign.

We can also look at other parties’ experiences in Wales of coalition as well. From 2007 to 2011 Plaid Cymru were the junior coalition partners in the National Assembly. Plaid Cymru fought much of the 2011 Assembly election distancing themselves from their own government – the result was their vote went backwards and they lost seats. We must learn from this experience. We can’t fight election campaigns pretending that we are not in government. We must communicate what we are doing in government and we must do so clearly. Yes we must be distinct from the Tories, but we can’t spend our whole time picking and choosing what we like and don’t like. We have to be proud of our achievements in government and we must be willing to broadcast them. If Liberal Democrats aren’t willing to boast about our achievements, then who will? It is up to us.

Finally, we must prove that coalitions work. After all, coalitions can be beneficial by forcing politicians to work together by putting the country first before narrow interests. Political parties have to find what they have in common, rather than constantly fight over their differences – something that has been lacking in Westminster for too long.

People are wrong to say that due to compromises, nothing gets done in a coalition. The UK coalition government has made many radical reforms. In contrast, in Wales we have a Labour government, with no majority, that failed to pass a single piece of legislation in its first year in office. Such stagnation benefits no-one.

Not so long ago, both Labour and the Tories tried to scare the electorate about coalitions. Many predicted the coalition would collapse in the first few months. They were wrong.

Our legacy in this parliamentary term can be that we showed the country that it has absolutely nothing to fear from parties working together. Thanks to this coalition, the political landscape in the UK has changed for the better. We are currently part of that radical change and we must continue to play a part in changing Britain.

* Kirsty Williams AM is Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Douglas Nicol 8th Jul '13 - 8:38pm

    Any body who has any doubts about coalitions not working , only need to look at Germany the power house of Europe ,high employment seriously green policies and little or no problem with tax evasion .

  • Kirsty, you’re right but you also neglect to mention that what the Welsh achieved under coalition government such as person-centred health and social care was so progressive that England was and is continuing to play catch-up years later.

    The example of the lib dems in coalition in Scotland is also a painful precursor of what can happen next if the coalition itself is deemed to have failed. It means that no-one wins and now we have a minority government there.

    Interestingly, the most appropriate example of a coalition between the lib dems and the tories is best highlighted by the coalition holding power until recently at Birmingham City Council. Looking back, you can draw a lot of parallels in the political dynamics which ultimately led to a Labour landslide due to factos beyond the Libdems control.

    I think its right for the lib dems to want to be involved in Government. Its wrong in thinking the best form of engagement is co-option. There needs to be an honesty about what can be achieved, what are the lib dems there to do in this case and exactly at what point should they be ready to walk out. The trigger for exit is in itself the key thing missing in all the examples. Why stay for the sake of governing in a government that’s stopped wanting you.

  • Michael Parsons 9th Jul '13 - 12:10pm

    But – OK if a coalition is agreed before the election : popular front, possible heads of agreement etc. But one like ours cobbled together after the voting (and so which no-one could possibly have voted for) is a stitch up, a nasty exercise in back-room politics that keeps the voters as far away as maybe; even in our case fixing it so that we cannot clear them out when they really balls up, but are faced with a dead parliament for a full five-year term..

  • Michael, I’ve very supportive of a 5 year term, rather than one the PM can choose on a whim. Also, I’m fairly sure, although not positive, that a 5 year term was in the LD manifesto. So can’t see how that is any sort of nasty exercise. It is simply agreeing to implement a LD policy that over a million people voted for.

    Also Michael, ALL politics to some extent is ‘back room politics’. That is the case whether it is a coalition or not.

  • David Evans 9th Jul '13 - 3:34pm

    “People are wrong to say that due to compromises, nothing gets done in a coalition. The UK coalition government has made many radical reforms.”

    Unfortunately due to compromises, the wrong thing get done in a coalition. The UK coalition government has made too many fundamental errors and anyone who believes that what has been done in the last 3 years has done anything to promote Liberal Democracy into the future is fooling themselves, and sadly disillusioning even more of our supporters who despair at its incompetence.

    How many councilors have you lost in Wales Kirsty? How many voters in the 2011 Assembly elections? How many members? The national picture is dire. I hope with the tradition in Ceredigion and Montgomery you have firm foundations. We will need every one of you in 2015, to avoid Armageddon.

  • Michael Parsons 9th Jul '13 - 7:15pm

    Putting up with the same lot for five years was a silly idea ayway if we need a change – or do we hjave to ‘do aMorsi?’ The old radical cry was for annual parliaments, not protracted ones. As for the rest it depends who is in the back room, and what commitments they truly represent and stick to Do you think the Greek governemt is the unimpeded expresion of popular will? Perhaps you do!. I still say if any coalition is post-( not pre-) election then it is a scam.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Michael BG
    Simon R The restraints on government spending are not the amount they can borrow but the amount they should spend. It is too much money chasing too few goods...
  • Simon R
    Great to see the practical suggestions in this article, both for how to get more people and women from ethnic minorities involved in politics, and to get more p...
  • Simon R
    @Nonconformistradical: Sure, and you need to make sure the system being used is accurate. That's the responsibility of the developers of the system, working wit...
  • George Thomas
    New Zealand deal is worth between -.01 and +0.1 to the economy and puts farmers across the UK at a disadvantage which is especially worrying in places such as N...
  • Jeff
    Roland 21st Oct '21 - 7:34pm: …with the current downward pressure on oil consumption, we can expect there to be a glut of oil in the world market i...