Lessons of Coalition (3): what do the Lib Dems need to learn from the first 3 years?

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 Gareth Epps shares his thoughts …

Government: What’s Occurrin?

A couple of years ago I took a trip to Barry Island and went on one of the rides in the amusement park. Demonstrably poorly-maintained, it was an exhilarating experience – for all the wrong reasons; uncomfortable and at times uncomfortably scary.

The same could be said for the mechanisms used reactively by the Party to handle policy initiatives in Government falling outside the Coalition Agreement and sitting uncomfortably with Liberal values.  As a member of FPC I’ve had first-hand experience.

In some cases (welfare) they have cruelly exposed policy gaps, the number of which is overstated but in that area remains glaring. In others they have resulted in rushed presentations with those present sworn to secrecy even over matters of insignificant political sensitivity; secrecy that has been respected but where FPC could have helped the party communicate decisions and debunk myths, and therefore an own goal.

The lesson has evidently still not been learned on Home Affairs matters such as the immigration posters fiasco, where claim and counter-claim have been made regarding Lib Dem agreement or dissent from a decision. On occasion, teleconferencing has been used with moderate success to communicate internally, but such calls seem to have dried up.  This experience should be used as the basis for a quicker and more reactive process that allows for proper internal communication and FPC reaction to decisions Liberals won’t take kindly to, without it interfering with FPC’s principal role of developing policies for the future.

Within Government there needs to be much better communication with Parliamentary Committees; advisors are there for a reason, one of which is to be a two-way communications channel.  While some are very good at this, others, er, aren’t.

Meanwhile too many decisions have been taken at odds with Liberal Democrat values, and with FPC unable to challenge this has hardly helped ease the party’s predicament.
*Gareth Epps is co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a member of FPC and FCC.

Previously published:

Stephen Tall: Stronger policy development and campaigning on issues that matter to the public (AKA where’s our liberal equivalent of the benefits cap?)

Mark Valladares: Better party communications responding to the realities of governing

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • yet another “for Pete’s sake, leadership, communicate” post I see. How many will it take before they get the message I wonder?

  • Is anything in the following true? I read that while the Tory Party have all the wheels of national government to help policy-making, communication and delivery etc – the leading Lib Dem Party’s team has a small support group, is poorly funded, and is deprived of many government services. If any coalition is to do a good job for the nation any weakness for part of the government’s “policies-communication-delivery” continuum must leave the governmental system as a whole open to a lack of success. The constant catch-up of Lib Dems seems to confirm the above. In coalition government I would expect total sharing of every kind of support, otherwise the country loses out on potential success.

  • Maybe I have read this incorrectly but is Gareth Epps really saying the leadership should communicate better with Federal Policy Committee and use telecommunicating? If I have understood this correctly and I hope I haven’t then Gareth wants a larger group involved but not the membership at large.

    While I have suggested a larger pool than the Federal Policy Committee – English regional executives, the Scottish and Welsh executives (occasionally) I still believe two-way direct communication via email with the membership is possible and should be used as soon as possible as the normal way of communicating to discover how possible government decisions will be seen by the party at large and engage them in changing the policy if necessary.

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