Lessons of Coalition (17): The two biggest problems are betrayal and betrayal

ldv coalition lessonsLibDemVoice is running a daily feature, ‘Lessons of Coalition’, to assess the major do’s and don’ts learned from our experience of the first 3 years in government. Reader contributions are welcome, either as comments or posts. The word limit is no more than 450 words, and please focus on just one lesson you think the party needs to learn. Simply email your submission to [email protected] Today Alex Wilcock shares his thoughts.

The two biggest problems for any future coalition will be the breakdown of trust between the voters and the coalition parties, and the breakdown of trust between the coalition parties themselves. The Liberal Democrats have learned that all too well. We know the flashpoint issues for each that still say ‘bitterness’ and ‘betrayal’ to many: tuition fees and Lords reform. And we know we’ll have to find solutions to both problems if any future coalition is not to suffer the same poison.

Compromise or Betrayal?

Voters don’t trust parties to do what they promise. Most of all, they don’t trust us.

When we agreed to the Coalition in 2010 we all knew – and Vince said – that “It’s going to be bloody awful.” But it was the only option to get anything done, and we got a decent deal for government on paper. Unfortunately, that’s where the problems really start.

The Liberal Democrats constantly made clear what our priorities were before the 2010 Election, and three and a half of those four main priorities written on the front of our Manifesto were agreed for the LiberaTory Coalition. But instead of this being a big win after decades in the wilderness, we’re tarred as ‘sell-outs’. David Cameron protected himself by making his expensive but explicit promises cast-iron. Nick Clegg didn’t. We all know how that turned out.

If we can’t challenge the idea that any compromise is betrayal, no future coalition can work.

Agreements Are the Start, Not the End

Parties don’t trust each other to keep to their agreements. Most of all, we don’t trust either of the other two.

Both the letter and the spirit of the Coalition Agreement have slowly withered. The initial Agreement’s run out of steam while the party with the most ministers gets more day-to-day influence, but it’s more than that.

George Osborne’s anti-green agenda, Theresa May’s authoritarianism and Eric Pickles micro-managing every local council to his own bizarre prejudices are only the biggest examples of Tory Ministers simply chucking the LiberaTory Coalition’s founding principles in the bin. More openly, an increasing pack of hardcore Tory MPs are irreconcilable to the Coalition, to their own Leader, and to reality.

So what happens if the other party simply breaks the Coalition Agreement? The breaking point here was the Tory far right rebelling on Lords reform while Labour’s frenzied hatred destroyed their own principles to join them. It was a day that made it seem impossible for the Lib Dems to trust either party in 2015.

Is There Any Hope For A Future Coalition?

The Lib Dems can’t just hope for press, public or other parties to change their minds, though both Ed Miliband and David Cameron have begun to pull back from the abyss (one refusing the opportunity to bring down mostly-equal marriage, the other realising he’ll have to get his MPs to agree the next deal for them to stick to it). Neither is it enough for us to pose as the ‘middle’ with no big ideas of our own, a negative blandifying influence on the other two.

Here are three proposals for a start.

  • To help define ourselves and our bottom lines that we won’t sell out, pick an enemy. Announce we would not enter any coalition of which UKIP is a part, and mean it. UKIP are our opposite: openness vs insularity; diversity vs bigotry; looking to the future vs complaining their way back to an imaginary 1950s.
  • Make a small number of tightly focused, red-line expensive promises, but make money-saving more positive by promoting freedom as a principle and not wasting money on more security-state bullying.
  • Any new Coalition Agreement needs sanctions if a party doesn’t stick to it. How about for every Parliamentary vote lost due to one side’s MPs, that side loses a Minister to the injured party? It might concentrate their minds on a better deal in the first place.
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46 Comments

  • Erm. How about learning to be liberal?

  • Apologies for the flippancy, Alex – it was a frustrated remark following today’s news. I’ve little faith in the party leadership left, I’m afraid.

    For what it’s worth, you make an umber of very sensible points. One I would contest is the ‘pick an enemy’ proposal. UKIP claim to be libertarian. They’re not but they do occasionally espouse liberal/libertarian views. The Lib Dems shouldn’t be afraid to back them when they do so, though ideally they should be getting in there first.

  • Well, I don’t think we need to worry too much about entering into government with UKIP…! I just think we shouldn’t declare anyone an ‘enemy’ unless they’re beyond the pale.

    I suppose I’m saying I don’t dislike UKIP enough to advocate marginalising them. They have good things to say, they have bad. And it’s not racist to hate the EU (though some of them undoubtedly hate Europe).

  • paul barker 21st Aug '13 - 2:03pm

    Im afraid you lost me with your first point. UKIP wont win any seats in 2015, they wont even come close. As an enemy during The Euros next year – great. For 2015 they are as irrelevant as Respect.

  • Surely the biggest lesson is that the British public in general do not like compromise — they see it as weakness — and so they fundamentally do not and will not like coalitions.

    (This, I suspect, is what was behind the huge defeat of AV: not concerns about its expense, not anything about some people getting more votes, but simply the practical point that it was more likely to lead to hung parliaments was enough to turn two-thirds of the country against it).

    That being the case, the best the junior partner in any UK coalition (who inevitably be the ones perceived to have compromised more, and so be more hated: the UK hates weak politicians) can hope for is simply to survive to the next-but-one election; to not become an irrelevance for a generation.

    (And singling out UKIP would make the Lib Dems a laughing stock — it would be like saying you wouldn’t form a coalition of which the MRLP is a part and expecting people to ever take you seriously again).

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Aug '13 - 4:10pm

    How is refusing to work with UKIP a good idea? The public are the kingmakers, not the Lib Dems. Plus, it could lead to a situation where UKIP ministers and policies enter government, and ours don’t.

    Regards

  • “But it was the only option to get anything done”

    I have to question this. A minority conservative government might have been better as it would have allowed Lib Dems not to have to go along with non-progressive ideas. Why is this not considered?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '13 - 4:40pm

    We’re attacked for making compromises, yes. But the problem is, it goes both ways. If were to establish sticking points and say “No coalition agreement unless these are met” or set up some system whereby we force the other party to sack its ministers, as you suggest, would we be praised for sticking to our principles? No. We would be condemned for playing silly political games, told we were putting the state of the country in danger over issues that only we care about, told to grow up and ask responsibly.

    The reality is that politics HAS to be about compromise. However much we draw red lines around policies that we consider very important and say we would not budge on them in any coalition, we will not be able to force the other parties to vote for them if they are resolutely opposed to them. The classic example is electoral reform. We believe that it is an extremely important issue, and our discussion of potential coalitions often includes the suggestion that we should not enter one unless it agrees to support electoral reform. However, the other parties are firmly opposed to it, and the electorate thinks it an obscure and abstract issue that only Liberal Democrats care about, and that mainly out of self interest. Putting our foot down on electoral reform, I’m afraid, would be written us as us being petty, acting like “typical politicians” obsessed with trivial issues and putting self interest above the interests of the country.

    So, to me, the real issue here us that we should not have been so starry-eyed about coalition in the first place. We should not have gone on and on about being “in government” and looking so pleased with ourselves about it. We (or rather, our leaders) thought that would make people admire us and win us support on the grounds it would make us look grown up and responsible and finally lose any remaining trace of the “beards and sandals” image. Instead, it just gave the impression that all we cared about was getting those jobs for our leaders “in government”. We should have made clear from the start that this was a compromise, necessary because of the reality of the balance in Parliament, but far from our ideal, with what we could get put of it very much dependent on what the other much bigger party in the coalition was willing to give – which inevitably is only those aspects of our policy they agree with, or at least are not actively hostile to.

  • It may be that a minority government may have to be considered if the next parliament gives no overall majority, not only as a rebound from the present coalition, but because it is likely that whatever happens in terms of seats, there is likely to be a sharp reduction in the overall LD vote.

    Of course the greater likelihood is that one of the two larger parties will have a majority. Whatever happens Liberal Democrats will need to assert a strongly Liberal identity.

    This is the main lesson from the coalition that I would take. I do not feel that Clegg and other ministers are giving anything like sufficient emphasis to Liberal (and democratic) principals. Liberal principles should be invoked in all parts of government and in all government actions, even or perhaps particularly, when these principles appear to be compromised as in this case there is a greater need to explain both to the party and the electorate.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Aug '13 - 5:05pm

    Alex I agree that if we enter any negotiation not prepared to walk away then we will get a bad deal. We must always be willing to say no or pull out. I just don’t agree with the enemy approach, but would say that if we decided it was a good idea then it would also want to see an enemy from the far left too, such as Respect.

    As it stands, I think UKIP in the Home Office, Foreign Office or the Department for Work and Pensions (covering welfare) would be terrifying, but I think Nigel Farage would do a decent Job in Business. I’m not just triangulating here.

  • A minority government does not mean that the conservatives would have had it all their way.

    They would actually have to convince a majority of MPs on each issue and this could have resulted in austerity being rejected..

    Why do you reject this view?

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 5:42pm

    Voter is right. In coalition, we have influenced only the minor issues, like the income tax threshold, which the Tories have been happy to go along with. In a confidence and supply arrangement, we would have influenced major issues.

    Exactly how we would have or could have played it can only be conjectured. If we had refused to support or abstain on everything, we would of course have risked fresh elections (before the 5-year fixed term had been introduced, at any rate). But if we had refused support on some specific big issues, where we could feel confident that the public would support our case, the Tories would just have had to grin and bear it.

    Tuition fees would have been the first big issue to emerge! I think we could quietly have told the Tories that, while we weren’t going to achieve our election pledge of getting them scrapped, we were not going to accept the Browne report or anything like it, and that an excuse should be found to retain the status quo “to enable time for additional research” or whatever.

    It wouldn’t have been plain sailing, it wouldn’t have avoided all the problems, it might perhaps have caused us to lose some of our support. It would have been much more courageous, principled, and effective than what we did do. And the public know so.

  • @Alex
    see what David Allen said

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 6:07pm

    On the question of austerity – Yes, Labour have been all over the place. That’s not the point. Osborne has also been all over the place. The choices presented in 2010 were between Osborne screaming blue murder about the need for panicky cuts directed primarily towards things like welfare which he has always wanted to cut anyway, versus the Darling approach requiring planned and substantial cuts but not panic or social vendetta. Darling also made the better prediction of how fast the cuts could be.

    That said, I don’t think that as the small party holding the balance in a hung parliament, we could have had much influence on Osborne’s austerity policy. Not a lot more, indeed, than the minimal influence we have had from our Coalition position.

    Given that situation, I think we could have made a rational calculation how best to use the power available when holding the balance. Given that we could not greatly affect economic policy, the best thing to do would have been not to try to do that at all. We would have explained that “confidence and supply” meant giving the Tories their chance to see what they could do with the economy. They would get all the credit if they rescued the situation, and all the blame if they didn’t. Meanwhile, we were being responsible by giving them the stability they had asked for.

    Then when the Tories came up with sudden wobblers like Lansley’s NHS, we could have jumped up in horror, and pointed out that a minority government shouldn’t be allowed to push through major initiatives like that, which couldn’t command a majority in parliament.

    That’s how we would have made our impact, if we had chosen that route.

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 6:22pm

    OK Alex, I’ll engage with your “three proposals for a start”.

    “pick an enemy. Announce we would not enter any coalition of which UKIP is a part”

    Well, valid but hardly critical point. Of course we couldn’t work with UKIP. Simply “not working with UKIP” wouldn’t resolve the massive problems we have encountered working effectively with the Tories.

    “Make a small number of tightly focused, red-line expensive promises”

    This one comes closest, in my view. Getting a partner to concede a big tangible Lib Dem goal would make coalition real. Not easy though. The partner can simply say “it’s my red line that we’re not going there”. So, making pledges in advance isn’t the way (and we should know that!). Negotiating a big single item might be. And let’s not make it self-serving, like AV, next time. Let’s make it principled, like an immediate expansion of renewables and a ban on tax breaks for fracking.

    “How about for every Parliamentary vote lost due to one side’s MPs, that side loses a Minister to the injured party?”.

    Oh dear, we’re playing silly beggars and fantasy politics here, aren’t we. Sorry, hope you can see I’m aiming to be constructive, because on that idea, I can’t be.

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 6:35pm

    Alex, on your three proposals, I have given you one yes, one very qualified yes, and one no. You have rubbished everything I have said and engaged with none of it. Who is unable to be positive, pray?

  • Sometimes in life, the best solutions are still not very good. We still do not have very good treatments for cancer (for example).

    My answer to a breaking of the agreement would be that the government should fall. Sometimes you have to take the long view. I have no confidence in austerity as sound economics. So I will be looking to vote at the next general election for a party that agrees with this. If this is a vote for the greens, then so be it. If the libdem party really wants my vote, then they will have to take this into account

  • @David Allen
    I must stick up for the lib dems here and say that I do not regard the push for AV as self-serving. For me, it was encouraging but ultimately frustrating given that the referendum was not passed

  • A Social Liberal 21st Aug '13 - 7:00pm

    Alex

    You know very well that Labour have espoused cutting the deficit at a slower rate which would have allowed for the capital projects spending which could have helped the economy grow. You also know that Vince also advocated reducing the deficit more slowly and similarly going much further than the coalition on capital spending.

    I suppose, in mitigation, you bought the coalition line that the books were much worse than was thought. But that line was well and truly argued against when Alistair Campbell on Question Time said that the state of the countries finances was placed in Parliaments library before the election AND HUHNE CONCEDED THE POINT by his silence.

    Voter is somewhat naive in his comment about austerity, but it need not have been so bad as this coalition would have it. In your reply to him you rail wildly (and without any basis in fact) about Labour spending its way into a record deficit. I advert you to the words of Ramesh Patel who said, in the Huffington Post :-

    “Firstly, the much banded about 2010 deficit of over 11% is false. This is the PSNB (total borrowings) and not the actual budget deficit which was -7.7% – OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook March 2012 page 19 table 1.2

    Secondly, in 1997 Labour inherited a deficit of 3.9% of GDP (not a balanced budget ) and by 2008 it had fallen to 2.1% – a reduction of a near 50% – Impressive! Hence, it’s implausible and ludicrous to claim there was overspending. The deficit was then exacerbated by the global banking crises after 2008. See HM Treasury. Note, the 1994 deficit of near 8% haaaaaah!

    Thirdly, the IMF have also concluded the same. They reveal the UK experienced an increase in the deficit as result of a large loss in output/GDP caused by the global banking crisis and not even as result of the bank bailouts, fiscal stimulus and bringing forward of capital spending. It’s basic economics: when output falls the deficit increases.

    Finally, the large loss in output occurred because the UK like the US have the biggest financial centres and as this was a global banking crises we suffered the most. Hence, the UK had the 2nd highest deficit in the G7 (Not The World) after the US and not as a result of overspending prior to and after 2008- as the IMF concur. ”

    Patel is an economist and a lifelong Conservative who, unlike this government, tends to tell it like it is.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ramesh-patel/growth-cameron-austerity_b_2007552.html

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 7:02pm

    Alex,

    The example I picked out, as a possible big single concession to go for, was a big shift towards the low carbon economy. Germany on a good day now generates the bulk of its electricity from solar. Britain is so far behind it’s laughable, and the “Green Investment Bank” has achieved very little. You picked out “a ban on tax breaks for fracking” because that made my idea look small. Nice trick. Actually, I think we should leave the stuff in the ground, where it will become much more valuable in 50 years time, when everyone else has burnt their supplies. But I didn’t think we would convince a big partner to do that, so I settled for something we could actually win.

    I could have picked out other big single concessions. In Scotland, of course, the coalition deal was on tuition fees. Maybe you’d like to suggest where you would choose to draw your “expensive red lines”.

    However – Why is it necessarily the most “positive” thing to do to enter a coalition? In practice, it has been a horribly negative experience, hasn’t it? I think we would have achieved more outside government. That’s not negative, it’s realistic.

  • David Allen 21st Aug '13 - 7:45pm

    ” I was quoting one of only two proposals you made. I may be a fan of Doctor Who, but I am not a time traveller: you can pile on as many other proposals afterwards as you like, but anyone with the ability to read can see that the “trick” is yours.”

    No, you picked apart the proposal I made at 6.22, fifth paragraph, final sentence. You picked out one half of that sentence and not the other, thereby playing a trick. It wasn’t “afterwards”.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Aug '13 - 12:12am

    No Alex I would not go into coalition with the BNP, but I don’t think we should refuse to work with UKIP, all depending on what could be agreed.

  • Alex, the whole issue of what you call “the largest shift in favour of taxing low earners in British history” is basically something the Tories were quite prepared to do, because it benefited high earners as well, and isn’t especially progressive. It has only become party policy in very recent years – there was in fact a thread devoted to the evolution of this policy a while ago. It is basically another tax cut – someone’s tax cuts are other people’s service cuts. Surely that is one of the biggest issues we have with the Tory side of the coalition, that they are cutting public services in an ideological manner. In my view, such a policy should play no part in any Lib Dem programme of Government. The Party has tried boasting about it regularly, but most people’s view seems to be “giving with one hand, and taking with the other”. I am quite surprised that you have taken the view you have of David Allen’s proposals. On four key principles, all fundamental to Lib Dem values, we have ceded ground to the Tories 1) “Austerity” / neoliberal economics, 2 “Greenery” 3 Benefits policy / immigration 4 Surveillance / “War on Terror”.

    I voted for Coalition at the Birmingham Conference, but not, I felt on the conditions which have become more and more evident. In reply to your last comment, of course it is quite possible to achieve more outside than in Government. I defy any of us who have spent the length of time most of us have here in politics not to come up with plenty of examples, and that, of course, includes you Alex. Mainly, however, what you lose in influence is the ability to speak out in favour of big principles which you are in favour of, but coalition partners are not. In the 4 cases I have cited above, that leaves no major party backing fully such principles. That is not unrealistic, it is principled, and as you can see for our party about half have left or gone inactive because they feel let down on big principles. It is not negative, either – it is trying to tell it like it is.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '13 - 10:39am

    Alex Wilcock

    I don’t follow your argument, Matthew. I argued that once a coalition agreement’s been agreed, there has to be consequences if one side breaks it, not that we should get every single thing we want out of any agreement. You’ve made up your own extensive demands on electoral reform purely out of your own head and from nothing I wrote.

    “Purely out of your own head”? So there’s never been any discussion previously in the party along the lines of “We will go into coalition only if the other party agrees to concede to our demands on electoral reform”? It’s purely an issue I’ve invented, my own concern, nothing the Liberal Democrats have ever been really been bothered about? Oh, come on. This has, in my 35 years of membership of this party and its predecessor, been THE policy of ours which has most often been suggested as the one we should insist on when forming a coalition. Indeed, we had it in forming this coalition, albeit in a very attenuated form, that is just a referendum on an electoral reform which falls well below what we ideally would want.

    I raised this as an “example”. Perhaps you ought to try and understand the concept of “example” and how it is used in making logical arguments. You are suggesting we have conditions on which we will absolutely stick and refuse to form a coalition unless we get our way, I am giving an example of such a condition which from past history is one our party would be keen on making a sticking point, and suggesting making it such a sticking point might not come across as the brave stand for principles we would like it to be.

    Perhaps also you ought to try to understand the idea of “debate” in the formulation of policy, how it works by someone making proposals, and others putting up all the arguments about why those proposals aren’t so workable as they first seemed. That is what I was doing here.

    My personal belief is very far from “if we’re in government with an abusive partner who breaks every line, we should just say ‘Well, government’s s..t anyway – what did you expect?’”. In fact I think another of the big mistakes made by our leadership was to lock us in for a full five years, to make from the start and frequently thereafter comments about our party being absolutely committed to this government in this form for the full five years. I have at many times since May 2010 written here to say that we should have made sure we had an escape route to enable us to leave, or at least threaten to leave, the coalition early if we really thought we were being abused by the larger partner – or if there was firm evidence that the general public wanted to see an early end to the coalition and that there was a viable alternative available.

    What I’m really saying is that though it seems easy to set out detailed conditions in advance, as you’re suggesting, in practice politics just doesn’t work like that. The reason it does not work like that is that it simply is not possible to predict in advance everything that could possibly happen. I noted that the current coalition arose from that. Prior to the general election of May 2010, discussion on coalitions was always on the lines that in the event of a Parliament with no majority for either the Labour or the Conservative Party the Liberal Democrats would have the luxury of being able to chose a coalition partner. That is why in every general election in recent times our party leader has been bombarded with the question “which one would you form a coalition with?”. No-one thought, until it happened, of the possibility of a Parliament where a coalition with one would have a majority and with the other would not.

    My belief about politics is that it should be about electing people who you trust to have the same principles as you, and then leave them to make decisions according to circumstance, accepting also that representative democracy means decisions have to be whatever compromise can find agreement from at least 50% of the elected representatives. I think elected representatives should be open to acting in response to feedback and suggestions from their electors, although the final decision must always be that of the individual using his or her own judgment. We need to get this message across, get people to realise that’s how it should work. The model of politics which most people have in their heads now is a very different one, it’s that elections are about choosing between competing Leninist-style five-year plans, and that Parliament is little more than an electoral college which chooses one. This is an illiberal model of politics, I am very sorry that the Leninist model of politics and the Leninist idea of what a political party should be about and how it should work has so seeped outwards from its origin that now people find it hard to conceive of any other form.

  • Michael Parsons 22nd Aug '13 - 1:46pm

    Lib Dems defend “openness”? So it was UKIP that destroyed the Guardian’s records then? Thanks for putting me right on that one. I had imagined that whatever its many faults, it was UKIP that stood to break the current old chums act of certain Parliamentary pals!

  • Julian Tisi 22nd Aug '13 - 5:12pm

    @RichardFlowers
    An excellent response to the ridiculous economic claims of A Social Liberal. Thanks.

    To answer the original question, ….

    “So what happens if the other party simply breaks the Coalition Agreement? The breaking point here was the Tory far right rebelling on Lords reform while Labour’s frenzied hatred destroyed their own principles to join them. It was a day that made it seem impossible for the Lib Dems to trust either party in 2015.”

    I’m far more optimistic about any future coalition for the simple reason that we’re more prepared, other parties should have learnt more and the average voter will know more.

    Both Labour and Tories for example will know what happened next after they both reneged on Lords reform – something in the Coalition agreement and in all 3 party manifestos. The Lib Dems told the Tories they would retaliate by blocking boundary reform and then quite rightly went ahead and did just that. Next time, hopefully the lesson will be learnt that to the Lib Dems something agreed in the Coalition agreement is not up for further negotiation.

    Likewise, voters are slowly coming to see that the Tories would like to do things differently if they had their own way. The Tory right have been utterly frustrated and this can only serve the cause and understanding of coalition well. The challenge for the Lib Dems as ever has been to appear like they’re having a visible influence while at the same time being seen as responsible – a party of government, not opposition.

    The challenge for them is that they’re being attacked from both sides – accused of being irresponsible from the right and having little influence from the left.

    But it’s getting better. Public perception of coalition is improving. For example, remember how it was in 2010 – the Lib Dem vote nosedived in the last 2 weeks before the election for the simple reason that they were told a hung parliament would bring paralysis and with it economic ruin as the markets collapsed. It will be harder for Labour and Tories to ever use that stunt again.

  • I am not sure what four policies we should have as those we would demand in any future coalition agreement. There are some policies I would like to see but know they will not be there:

    Increasing benefits at least in line with inflation or the rise in earnings or 2.5%;
    Increasing the Minimum Wage at least in line with inflation or the rise in earnings or 3% so that in five years’ time it will be at the 2015 non-London level of the Living Wage;
    Ensuring house building return to their historic average with a massive increase in the number of social housing being built to reduce rent levels and the housing benefit bill;
    A liberal policy at the Home Office and the Justice Ministry that includes a revision of all our laws to ensure civil liberties are protected (we would need to have done some work on this including having a liberal alternative to ASBOs and putting right other issues within the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill).

    I would expect to see more greening of the economy, raising the Income Tax threshold to the Minimum Wage level by 2020, STV for Local Government and something on education.

    @ Richard Flowers

    “Labour ran a deficit during the biggest boom in history.”

    I still wish he would post data to support this assertion. Was it the biggest boom because economic growth was faster than it was ever in the past? Was it the biggest boom because the number of unemployed fell to its lowest point in history? Was it because while economic growth was poor it was continuous for more years than in history? (For information: There were budget surpluses in 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2000-01.)

    I still don’t understand how it can be called a boom in Keynesian terms when there were over one million unemployed so there was still spare capacity in the economy and aggregate demand was not at its maximum level. Therefore running a deficit to try to get aggregate demand higher and to use more of the unemployed resources should not be seen as a bad policy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '13 - 1:52pm

    Julian Tisi

    For example, remember how it was in 2010 – the Lib Dem vote nosedived in the last 2 weeks before the election for the simple reason that they were told a hung parliament would bring paralysis and with it economic ruin as the markets collapsed.

    Was this the reason? If it was, would you not have seen similar in all previous general elections, as the same issue applied then as well? In previous general elections, Liberal Democrat support had tended to rise as the campaign proceeds rather than fall.

    Personally I think the main factor was the boom and bust of Cleggmania. Nick Clegg had completely failed to make an impact before the general election, people were hardly aware of who he was. However, this served him well in the first televised debate, because it made him a novelty. His passable performance meant people became aware of this third option, and they were well-disposed to the idea of a third option. When they said they would support the party in opinion poll, I think in a lot of cases they meant it was now an option they were considering, having forgotten it was on offer before that.

    I did not watch the first debate, but I remember thinking from the way it was written up that Clegg must have put up a superb performance, and I looked forward to seeing him walk over the other two in the remaining debates. But he didn’t, did he? Looking at them with this expectation made it all the worse when what we saw of Clegg in the second and third debates was pedestrian. Perhaps it wasn’t that bad, but it looked bad because of the build up of expectations.

    Unfortunately, the Cleggmania took attention away from our real electoral strength, which is our local campaigning. Our voters and our activists got distracted. Targeting strategies broke down because people felt we had a chance of winning in places where we never really stood a chance. People voted on the basis of Clegg rather than on the basis of our local campaigns to elect a local MP – and by election day, Clegg was definitely coming across as a disappointment.

  • @Richard Flowers
    You say that the lib dems need to be build trust.

    Where are we at present? Can I be confident that the lib dems will offer a red line on austerity as part of the next general election manifesto? Austerity is bad policy and I cannot vote for it

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Aug '13 - 8:29pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    “My belief about politics is that it should be about electing people who you trust to have the same principles as you, and then leave them to make decisions according to circumstance, accepting also that representative democracy means decisions have to be whatever compromise can find agreement from at least 50% of the elected representatives.”

    Yes, it should. But people have learned never to trust politicians. And if trust is absent then the only fallback is contract law. This ‘Leninist-style’ approach of which you speak (‘get the b***ers to write it down, and if they don’t stick to it then we’ll throw the book at them’) appears in all walks of life. Hire a builder and you’re best advised to follow that general plan, hire-purchase a car and you’re well advised to have a good read of the paperwork before you sign – and you really ought to take the time to read the terms of service before deciding to entrust your data to a web site. Why don’t we just hire builders on trust, on the basis that they’re good ethical people with the same principles as us and we should trust them with our bank accounts? If you think we should, fair enough, but you are at risk of being ripped off; if you think we shouldn’t trust a builder with several thousand pounds worth of trust on the basis that they have principles, then why do you think we should trust a politician with our country and economy on that basis?

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