Is 75% of the Coalition Agreement drawn from the Lib Dem manifesto? Alas, no…

One of the key justifications for Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition — one which has comforted many party members through the first two difficult years of being the junior partner in government with the Conservatives — has been the finding that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto appeared in the Programme for Government (commonly known as the Coalition Agreement). This assessment was based on research by UCL’s Constitution Unit, and published a year ago in their interim report on ‘How Coalition Government Works’ (PDF).

However, UCL has now updated their assessment, as Robert Hazell & Ben Yong note in their book, just published, Politics of Coalition: How the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government Works. While it’s still the case that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto did make it into the Coalition Agreement, they have re-calculated how much of the Coalition Agreement can be considered to be Lib Dem and how much can be considered to be Conservative. And the news that will disappoint Lib Dems is that only 40% can be considered Lib Dem:

… we had not applied the same level of rigour in coding the two parties’ manifestos. By using different coders, the treatment of the Conservative manifesto was stricter than the treatment of Lib Dem pledges. If we had teated the Conservative manifesto in the more generous terms applied to the Lib Dems’, we would have concluded that a greater percentage of the Conservative manifesto made it into the Programme for Government.

Moreover, that analysis only showed how much of the coalition parties’ respective manifestos made it into the two coalition documents. It ignored the fact that the Conservative manifesto was much longer (approximately 550 pledges) tha the Lib Dem manifesto (well over 300 pledges). Put differently, it took no account of the proportion of the PfG that could be considered ‘Conservative’ or ‘Lib Dem’. That was addressed in our later analysis, which shows that the proportion of the coalition agreements which can be classified as Conservative is higher, because of the larger size of the Conservative manifesto.

Finally, the outcome of the initial analysis focuses solely of what the Conservatives and Lib Dems gained as separate parties. The blunt results may be subject to misinterpretation, and ignore the possibility that some agreement pledges could be both Conservative and Lib Dem: that some pledges might be compromises; and that some pledges may come from outside the manifestos altogether (as the second analysis shows, this comes to over 10 per cent of the PfG).

Learning from the the problems that arose from the first analysis, a second, more nuanced analysis was done in the second half of 2011. … This produced a different set of figures. The PfG was roughly 75 per cent Conservative in its content and 40 per cent Liberal Democrat: a victory for the Conservatives. (Appendix 1, pp.213-14)

So while we used to think 75% of the Coalition Agreement was drawn from the Lib Dem manifesto, the reality is somewhat more modest at 40%.

Four brief points to make arising from this:

    1) The authors of the study themselves acknowledge that even this second analysis cannot be perfect: classifying and counting pledges will, to some extent, always be subjective: ‘what counts as a pledge? … how much of the pledge needs to be there for it to count as included?’

    2) It’s worth remembering that when we surveyed party members about the Coalition Agreement at the end of May 2010, some 86% said we were moderately-to-very happy with it.

    3) One lesson for the Lib Dems in the future is to be much better prepared for government. The Tory manifesto contained 550, generally quite specific, pledges; the Lib Dem manifesto 300. Traditionally, the criticism levelled at the party has been that it has too many policies. It is probably more accurate to say that we don’t have enough policies which are sufficiently developed to run with in governmentan important point my co-editor Mark Pack has made before: the Lib Dems need to get a whole lot better at thinking about short-term policy steps which move us towards long-term policy goals.

    4) Even if the later realisation that the Coalition Agreement is less Lib Dem than previously supposed is disappointing, (i) let’s not forget that the Lib Dems have 57 MPs compared to the Tories’ 306 MPs, so a 40%/75% split isn’t so bad (and yes, I realise the popular vote at the general election, 23%/36%, was closer), and (ii) 40% of the Coalition’s Programme for Government being Lib Dem is roughly 40% more than has previously made it into any government’s programme in post-war British politics.

Editor’s note (28/6/2012): I have updated my post to better reflect that the revised figure of 40% refers to the proportion of the Coalition Agreement that can be considered Lib Dem, while the 75% figure of the Lib Dem manifesto being included within the Coalition Agreement remains accepted.

* 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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29 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 28th Jun '12 - 9:23am

    I don’t think most of the readers and commentators here truly needed the UCL to tell us this.

    Nor is the ‘width’ measurement as important as the ‘quality’. It is influence in the big issues that matters most.

    Nor do I think that numbers of MPs really come into this.

    Lib Dems have been engaged in coalitions and other arrangements for authorities in which no single party has a majority.

    ALC and later ALDC has collected and published the lessons contributed by those experiencing these circumstances in ‘Life in the Balance’ or ‘Success in the Balance’ over a period of thirty years, since the first Liberals found themselves in these political conditions.

    The great lesson was first to focus on the mechanics – the decision making process to ensure that ‘they’ were able to exercise their ‘casting’ votes in every decision.

    Second, to communicate their preferred position on policies – their ‘shopping list’ and later the results of their negotiations.

    Third, to keep the local (or in Wales and Scotland the national) party informed and involved.

    Some of the most effective groups for getting their policies adopted were the smallest.

    Trouble mostly occurred when the ‘front benchers’ or negotiators got sucked into management at the cost of time communicating with and involving the group and the membership – and when they deviated from line agreed by the group and/or the local party.

    Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Toby MacDonnell 28th Jun '12 - 10:54am

    It makes sense that the government would have a blue-feel to it if we have so many fewer policies, some of which are inevitably dropped as a price for a deal. So the Lib Dem’s unpopularity can be traced back to the maliability of the Lib Dem identity: no-one knows what we stand for, because we aren’t willing to stake what we stand for into the ground in case we split the party.

  • LondonLiberal 28th Jun '12 - 11:14am

    So, 75% of the Coalition Agreement is Tory and 40% is Libdem. Since this makes 115%, does that mean that only this ‘extra’ 15% was both Tory and LibDem? So really, as parties, on this very crude measure, we only agree on about 15% of stuff (although the Yellow half of the quad might agree on a lot more Tory policy than the wider party) ?

    Help, my brain is hurting.

  • James Sandbach 28th Jun '12 - 11:16am

    The point is though that this analysis only deals with the headline pledges in the coalition agreement – NOT how they have interpreted and implemented by Government departments. Many of the coalition agreement pledges that were lib dem ones have been watered down, re-interperted to mean something else, generally ‘toryfied’ in their implementation, or simply cast aside in terms of actual policy delivery (and many Goveernment haven’t delivered on at all- or done the opposite). I won’t bore everyone with a long analytical list – but UCL now seem to concede that simply plucking packaged headlines from the parties manifestos is not an accurate measure of the parties influence on, or control over, what has actually come out from Government over the last two years.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 28th Jun '12 - 11:21am

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but haven’t UCL essentially completely changed they’re method? Initially they were saying how much of each manifesto made it into the PfG (which was the 75% figure) whereas they are now saying how much of the PfG is made up of the respective manifestos.

    Therefore the 75% and 40% figures are not contradictory buy mutually exclusive. 75% (or slightly less as the original calculation was apparently too generous) of the Lib Dem manifesto did make the PfG but that only accounts for 40% of the whole programme because the Lib Dems had fewer policies in the first place.

  • @LondonLiberal – some items were in both parties manifestos (indeed possibly in all three). Things like scrapping ID cards and supporting the olympics for example.

    There are two different calculations being quoted. 75% of the manifesto made it into the PfG – and that 75% made up 40% of the PfG.

  • Peter Watson 28th Jun '12 - 1:42pm

    @LondonLiberal
    “So, 75% of the Coalition Agreement is Tory and 40% is Libdem. Since this makes 115%, does that mean that only this ‘extra’ 15% was both Tory and LibDem? So really, as parties, on this very crude measure, we only agree on about 15% of stuff (although the Yellow half of the quad might agree on a lot more Tory policy than the wider party) ?”
    I’ve often challenged the 75% nonsense.
    Essentially this new analysis mean that 60% of the coalition agreement is exclusively tory, 25% is exclusively Lib Dem, and 15% is stuff we agreed on. Our 25% would have to include the AV referendum, the shared 15% would have to include House of Lords reform and the pupil premium (both also shared with Labour – I wonder how much of their manifesto is in our coalition agreement?!), and the tory 60% would include the green investment bank (not actually in our manifesto), NHS reform, and cutting too far too fast.
    I didn’t support the coalition agreement then, and I see less reason than ever to change my mind now.

  • Peter Watson28th Jun ’12 – 1:42pm……………… I didn’t support the coalition agreement then, and I see less reason than ever to change my mind now….

    Ditto!

  • @Peter – stuff like NHS reform wasn’t in the coalition agreement so falls outside this discussion.

    IMO the big problem is stuff we’ve done that wasn’t in the CA – so really we had no obligation to support it.

  • LondonLiberal 28th Jun '12 - 3:32pm

    @ Nick ,Hywel and Peter

    Thanks for your help! I agree that this ‘extra’ 15% must be the pupil premium , ID cards etc

    Weighting would be helpful though. Getting two way electricity meters in the agreement may have been a policy win for us, but balanced against that was ‘reform’ of the NHS. OK, one policy each, but they are hardly equal. It reminds me of the two Davids in spitting image deciding what to call the new party and who its leader should be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwGvgC-r4IE

  • David Allen 28th Jun '12 - 5:10pm

    Peter Watson said:

    “Essentially this new analysis mean that 60% of the coalition agreement is exclusively tory, 25% is exclusively Lib Dem, and 15% is stuff we agreed on.”

    Right! So, the CA first of all went for everything both sides could agree upon. It then picked the rest from Tory and Lib Dem in a ratio (according to UCL) of 2.4 Tory to 1 LD. This may be compared with the Tory / LD ratios of 1.6 to 1 in terms of votes, and 5.5 in terms of seats.

    This makes the CA sound like a reasonably fair balance, given the relative strengths of the parties. Which is what most people thought at the time.

    The problem is as George and Hywel say, all the massive things like health, education and welfare reform which were quietly excluded from or carefully concealed within weasel phrasing in the CA. No doubt the people who signed it were aware that it was about as valid a piece of paper as Neville Chamberlain’s. That’s where the problem lies!

  • Martin Pierce 29th Jun '12 - 7:57am

    Hang on – two different things here! The headline talks about 75% of the Coalition Agreement being from the LDs, but the first para talks about 75% of the LD manifesto being included in the Coalition Agreement. THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS!! We could have 75% of our manifesto in the Agreement, and the Agreement could still be 40% Lib Dem. The key thing though – as the voters, not being fools know – is that it just doesn’t feel anything like 75% or 40% or anything significant. Apart from lifting the personal tax allowance (and of course, reducing taxes must be SO hard to argue for with the Tories), and giving back a small fraction of the education cuts through the Pupil Premium, it’s difficult to think of anything material the LDs have got out of govt. Oh, apart from undoing 40 years of hard work by Lib Dem activists to rebuild the party from next to nothing and reducing us to (a) single figures in the polls and (b) no credibility that we do what we say

  • nigel quinton 29th Jun '12 - 9:07am

    Basic message is surely.: never mind the statistics, listen to the electorate. No one I know outside the party hierarchy has ever given the 75% claim any credence.

    We were right to enter government, and the coalition agreement was better than many of us expected, but our leadership have failed utterly to exert our influence effectively ever since.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jun '12 - 9:54am

    @Martin Pierce
    The pupil premium was in the conservative and labour manifestos so we can’t even claim that as a Lib Dem win.

  • Peter Davies 29th Jun '12 - 10:46am

    @londonliberal
    You haven’t taken into account the policies we’ve implemented that were against both parties’ policy

  • And so the revisionist history begins.

    “Editor’s note (28/6/2012): I have updated my post to better reflect that the revised figure of 40% refers to the proportion of the Coalition Agreement that can be considered Lib Dem, while the 75% figure of the Lib Dem manifesto being included within the Coalition Agreement remains accepted.”

    Please stop spinning the spin! Are you telling me that something like 35% of the Lib Dem manifesto cannot “be considered Lib Dem”, then?

    The whole exercise initially was to justify illiberal policies against the backdrop of guessed ignorance by the membership of the semantics of the manifesto and of the coalition agreement. Now this suit no longer meets our aspirations come 2015, a new emperor’s outfit needs to be woven.

    Let’s start again. We went into coalition in the public interest. We had to accept a lot of policies we would not have chosen. We now regret how quickly we accepted these, and how happy Nick and Danny were to act as the bad news bearers or human shields. We will now defend the poor against the excesses of the Tories and will protect benefits for younger adults, turn the housing benefit attack onto the greedy landlords who are scalping the taxpayer, and “we won’t get fooled again”.

    And this time the fingers should be crossed in hope that the story works, not to cover a lie.

  • Thanks, Mark, but I understood the maths. I also understood the packaging and the message it was trying to convey. Hence the comment about spinning the spin.

    When we want to be coalition fan boys, we can use the 75%. When we want to be coalition sceptics we can now use the 40% instead! And all the while, both are simultaneously true and the earlier figure was never an exaggeration. Orwell would’ve been so proud.

  • Mark: because of the way the whole number thing is being framed. It is like the old child’s trick with finger counting – “I have eleven fingers. Look. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on one hand and 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 on the other. 5 add 6 is 11.”

    What is being attempted is a reframing of the numbers to suit today’s position (“we are more coalition sceptical than we were”) without acknowledging that yesterday’s position was ever wrong.

    My question about “the 35%” is to try to highlight the absurdity of the whole thing.

    We need to learn that we have lost the trust of many people. Trick statistics just serves to make this worse, IMO. We need to get back to defending what are the Liberal approaches, not defending the illiberal and stop fussing about meaningless numbers to try to justify our position.

    One ray of hope has happened this week. Danny Alexander didn’t take the Newsnight human shield job over petrol duty and made a Tory face the humiliation of the omin-shambles. I hope the powers that be use this approach more often.

  • Mark: I bow to your infinite wisdom and rapier wit. I leave it to you to look on with a smirk when our foolish opponents put this into their leaflets, and look forward to your wry grin at the foolish British public who will buy the chop logic hook line and sinker.

  • Richard Harris 1st Jul '12 - 10:48pm

    When doing the maths do we count the manifesto pledge that “we will support a minority government even if it means abandoning pledges we have made a point to guarantee, such as ruling out tuition fees for students”? No, thought not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '12 - 11:20am

    When this study first came out, I asked in various places about the methodology that was used to obtain the 75% figure, but received no answer. It appeared that various senior members of the party just seized this “75%” figure and repeated it again and again, exhorting the rest of us to repeat it as well, without bothering to look a little more critically at where it came from and how it was devised. This is completely unacceptable. I am sorry, but a task I would expect of politicians more than anything else, it was what I found was actually one of the main tasks of the job when I was a councillor, is to be able to analyse figures presented, see what lies underneath, and ask appropriate questions to find the truth, rather than blindly accept them.

    As I kept saying in reply to various people who were saying we should all rejoice and be happy with the coalition and our party’s leadership because it was “implementing 75% of our manifesto”, the current government certainly does not feel like a 75% Liberal Democrat one. Now actually, there’s a difference between “75% of our manifesto implemented” and “75% of this government’s policies are Liberal Democrat”, which anyone with a mild amount of mathematical competency should be able to grasp. However, I know full well that this would escape most members of the general public, so there would indeed be a tendency to read it as a claim that the current government was in the main a Liberal Democrat government, so what we see it doing is what people who voted Liberal Democrat should expect to see a government they voted for doing.

    It is bad enough that since the formation of the coalition those managing our national publicity seem to have wanted to put across the idea that it is an equal partnership. This is making us take the blame for a government in which our influence is naturally rather weak. However, then making it seem we were not just responsible for half of what this government is doing but actually three-quarters of it, well, is it really do difficult for the “communications experts” that have surrounded our leader (and he was elected supposedly as one himself) to see how damaging that is? Perhaps part of the problem is that too many of these people have too much sympathy with Conservative positions and so don’t see the problem in us claiming responsibility for Tory policies. The line from them after we formed the coalition was, after all, that thanks to the Tory-with-a-little-bit-of-LibDem government, everyone would be doing fine in a booming economy by 2015 and the LibDems would benefit from being seen as responsible for that.

    As it happens, it seems the criticisms we made in the general election of the Conservatives’ economic policy have proved quite right. So to have painted ourselves into a corner where we can’t say that looks very …. please fill in the words.

    It is just not good enough to say “We must be better prepared in future” or “we were like little furry animals cuddling up to dinosaurs, we did not realise what coalition would be like”. The fact is that there were plenty of people, well I know myself but I don’t claim to be the only one, who were saying from the start that in over-stating rather than under-stating our influence in the coalition we were damaging ourselves. Anyone with a little experience and knowledge gained from balance of power situations in local government here or coalition situation in other countries knows that the role of junior coalition partners is to take all the blame for what goes wrong or is unpopular and get none of the credit for what goes right or is popular. The party’s leadership has been repeatedly warned by members who realise this about poor tactics which just make this difficult situation worse. Yet we have been ignored, and in the case that caused me to drop out from activity in the party, just told in effect to shut up and carry on working for the party as I should be happy that the government is implementing 75% of our manifesto.

    I say this as someone who accepts the reasons for forming the coalition and to this day vigorously defends its formation against its critics. I’m not happy with what the coalition is doing, I’m very unhappy, but I do realise that the party balance in the Parliament elected in 2010 and the general situation at that time forced us into it. I am sorry that my continuing loyalty to the party in being willing to defend its position in public is not met by some loyalty from its leadership to those of its members who have some critical sense and long term activity in the party to know just how badly it is doing in terms of public relations.

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