LibLink: Tim Bale – “The biggest effect of the Lib Dems holding their nerve has been to help the Conservatives lose theirs”

tim baleTim Bale is professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, an an historian of the Conservative party. And this week, to mark the third anniversary of the formation of the Coalition, he’s turned his attention to the Lib Dems.

The article begins by dissecting that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ verb — compromise — to highlight the problems posed by the Coalition for both its parties: ‘Used actively, it’s a good thing – you want something; I want something different; we talk it over; we come to an arrangement; we compromise. Used passively, it comes over all negative – someone’s obliged to do or say something they don’t really want to; suddenly they’re not compromising; they’re compromised.’

The popular perception is the Lib Dems have spent their time in government passively being compromised:

The Queen’s Speech was an obvious case in point – and a convenient way of taking the temperature of a coalition that now has more of a past than a future, always presuming, in the light of the red-hot row currently convulsing the Conservative Party, it actually has a future.

Despite their best efforts – and, with excellent bloggers such as Mark Pack and Stephen Tall on their side, those efforts are often pretty impressive – it sometimes seems as if the Lib Dems’ main justification for their joining and continuing the coalition is their ability to derail the most draconian and dry schemes of their Conservative partners. Remarkably, this remains the case even when, in some people’s eyes, Nick Clegg and his colleagues have spent most of the last three years not so much compromising as being compromised.

Yet the surprising thing, he notes, is how united the party remains (all things considered) and the knock-on impact this has had on the Tories:

… judging by the lack of internal criticism of Clegg and co by their grassroots activists, the strategy has proved remarkably effective in preserving party unity. It has also succeeded in keeping the Lib Dems firmly within the coalition – more firmly than many (including me) imagined would be the case by this stage. …

Perhaps the biggest effect of the Lib Dems holding their nerve, then, has been to help the Conservatives lose theirs. … the Conservatives’ May madness (and they have to hope that that’s all it turns out to be) is also down to a deeper but equally widespread feeling among Tory MPs, activists and columnists that if the Lib Dems aren’t hacking great lumps out of each other, then Cameron – in spite of the fact that in so many ways his government is out-thatchering Thatcher – can’t really be delivering Conservatism blue in tooth and claw.

You can read Professor Bale’s piece in full here.

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12 Comments

  • paul barker 19th May '13 - 6:56pm

    It sometimes feels as if we have a 4 Party debate with one Party of Government, us & 3 protest parties.

  • There’s a fundamental instability at the heart of the coalition. We want to show that coalitions can work, and the Tories want to show that coalitions can’t work.

  • David Evans 19th May '13 - 9:56pm

    “… judging by the lack of internal criticism of Clegg and co by their grassroots activists.” Well that seems to sum up perfectly how much Prof Bale knows.

  • “It sometimes feels as if we have a 4 Party debate with one Party of Government, us & 3 protest parties.”

    It sometimes feels to me as though some of the Clegg loyalists are on a different planet.

  • Tony Dawson 20th May '13 - 7:17am

    “judging by the lack of internal criticism of Clegg and co by their grassroots activists,”

    This ‘professor’ seems rather lazy. He obviously has not bothered to read Lib Dem Voice survey results placing our Party leader in ‘net negative’ several times among Lib Dem members.

  • To which I say: great, a fat lot of good “holding our nerve” has done for us with the electorate.

    One lot of them are veering off to the right and saying the only solution is to kick the foreigners out, while another even bigger group are swerving left and saying let’s spend loads of borrowed money we haven’t got, that’ll fix things.

    Actually admitting that problems are difficult to solve, take time and don’t respond to quick fix solutions seems to be going down like a lead balloon with the voters at the moment.

  • Steve Griffiths 20th May '13 - 9:21am

    “… judging by the lack of internal criticism of Clegg and co by their grassroots activists”

    Where has he been?

  • paul barker 20th May '13 - 3:45pm

    A further irony of the current Tory meltdown is that their main rivals face possible bankruptcy. I wouldnt expect Conservatives to be interested in the troubles of The Co-op Bank but even The Telegraph has noted the implications.
    Put very simply, the management of The Co-op Bank have taken risks with a massive planned expansion & face possible shortage of working funds. The relevance for Labour is that The Co-op holds a lot of Labours debts. If the Bank has to be sold Labour might have to find an extra 4 Million sharpish. Similarly any bailout with Public money would raise a “moral hazard” question – whether Taxpayers should be helping a Political Party with its debts.
    The Labour leadership must be so releived that everyone is busy watching The Tories.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '13 - 1:29am

    Tim Bale

    … judging by the lack of internal criticism of Clegg and co by their grassroots activists, the strategy has proved remarkably effective in preserving party unity.

    Well, it seems that hardly a week goes by without the news of yet another prominent grassroots activist dropping out. The Liberal Democrats more than any other party relies on its activists.

    If you can manage to get anyone who is unhappy about your leadership to leave the party, well, you may have preserved party unity, but will you have much of a party left to be united at the end?

    I think the Liberal Democrats would be in healthier shape if there was more in the way of active internal criticism of Clegg, but at least those making the criticism staying inside the party.

  • If all those discontented LibDem activists losing their nerve are reflected in this thread…

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '13 - 4:57pm

    Oranjepan

    If all those discontented LibDem activists losing their nerve are reflected in this thread…

    “Losing their nerve” is a pejorative phrase. Clegg and the Cleggies love to put it this way – as if they are so right that there is no genuine argument against them, so anyone who argues against their strategy is just a coward rather than someone who disagrees because they think what Clegg and the Cleggies is doing is wrong.

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