Lessons of Coalition (5): what do the Lib Dems need to learn form 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 Caron Lindsay shares her thoughts.

That old “walk a mile in each others’ shoes” thing works

In the first few days of Coalition, I wrote some friendly advice to our ministers. They didn’t have time to read it, but they might have saved themselves some pain:

The biggest and best piece of advice I could give to any of our new government people is keep talking to the party. Tell us what’s happening, what the challenges are and let us support you. If you just go off and do stuff that seems a bit weird to the party without explanation, we are going to feel ignored and left out and will get grumpy. That will make you want to talk to us even less and the whole thing will descend into a cycle of grumpiness and suspicion that really isn’t pleasant for anyone.

Last March, I followed that with some advice to Nick Clegg on the importance of working on his relationship with the Party:

So, there’s a couple of signs of tension in the relationship between the leader and the party. Tell me any relationships in life that don’t have their ups and downs. The one sure fact is that things won’t improve if we retreat from each other.

Nick’s personal ratings among party members have dramatically improved since then, but he has  a lot more work to do. This last week we’ve had the discomfort of the dissonance between the leadership seemingly briefing that the Party needs to grow up and members feeling that a Liberal Democrat party wanting to develop a boldly Liberal Democrat policy platform is not a sign of  childish behaviour. Liberator are not, shall we say, known for their slavish devotion to leaders’ every word, but suggesting he might f*** off before breakfast on a Monday morning is strong even for them.

Nick needs to listen to party members, show willing to compromise on policy debates and really show the same sort of empathy to his activists that he shows to callers on Call Clegg. That includes taking the temperature of the party before agreeing to measures like secret courts and NHS reforms which aren’t covered by the Coalition Agreement. It’s vital to get people on the same page before agreeing to legislation. On the other hand, I think the party needs to do its bit and try and understand where our ministers are coming from, considering what options were available to them and not believing everything they read in the Guardian. Of course, that would be a lot easier if the members felt that Nick and the rest of the leadership had a bit of respect for them.

If we try and walk a mile in each other’s shoes, it can only lead to better understanding and more effective working together. If we continue the way we’re going, the disconnect will turn toxic and we could well face more demotivation and demoralisation at a time when we need people to be out on doorsteps talking to voters.

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

Gareth Epps: Government: What’s Occurrin?

Nick Thornsby: Making a success of coalition government as a concept

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “Nick needs to listen to party members …… That includes taking the temperature of the party before agreeing to measures like secret courts and NHS reforms which aren’t covered by the Coalition Agreement.”
    That statement, tells me the major lesson, has not even been understood, let alone learned.
    Tony Blair, had zero interest in the Labour party, or what its party members said, thought, or wanted. The Labour party was a ‘vehicle’, for Tony Blair’s career plan.
    Add (Liberal Democrats), and (Nick Clegg), to the previous sentence, and see if the penny drops?
    You have a cuckoo in the nest.

  • ““Nick needs to listen to party members ……”

    …which is as likely as….. ?

  • Even if Clegg does listen to party members, what we he actually do differently?? It is his political judgements (or lack thereof) that worry me.

  • Lesson learned:-
    If we have to enter another coalition in the National Interest let us do it under the leadership of Vince Cable

  • @Jean Evans are you suggesting that a leadership change is not well balanced or insane?
    As a founder member of SDP then Liberal Democrats, 24 years a county Councillor and twice a Parliamentary Candidate, once a target seat I am perfectly capable of logical thought. Oh, by the way I have also been chair of my Local Party, but I don’t regard that as a testament to logical thought

  • Julian Dean 4th Aug '13 - 10:59pm

    Lessons! That potentially there is little nor no difference when it comes to policies such as the privatisation of the health Service (plasma up 4pts), justice in general (employment and family) and Social issues (devastation caused by atos, sssc, ctr, ic etc)

  • Jonathan Brown 4th Aug '13 - 11:52pm

    Very well put Caron. I find it so depressing how much suspicion there is on this and other blogs shown by party members and it seems by the leadership too. I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head: if the leadership had put more effort in to communicating with the party over all sorts of difficult issues a whole range of problems could have been avoided.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Aug '13 - 10:08am

    Yes, Jonathan. Maybe if those of us who think like this say so often enough, they might start listening. You never know…:-)

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