Nightmare scenarios: what are the 2015 election results the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour most dread?

clegg cameron milibandHere’s a cheerful topic for a Friday: what are the worst results you could imagine for each of the three main parties at the next general election?

Well, for the Lib Dems it’s obvious – we get mullered, reduced to 24 seats or fewer as predicted by Mori founder Bob Worcester. I don’t think things will be that bad, or anything like. For what it’s worth my current guesstimate would be in the range 35-45.

I don’t think that’s our nightmare scenario though. Don’t get me wrong, losing more than half our seats (from 57 down to 24) would be bad, depressing and worse besides. But at least in those circumstances we’d be pretty clear what we needed to do: return to opposition, lick our wounds, and then prepare for 2020.

Here’s what I think our nightmare scenario is… A second hung parliament in which the Conservatives edge the popular vote, Labour wins most seats, while the Lib Dems retain, say, 40 seats, enough to make a Coalition with either possible.

Our decision in 2010 wasn’t, actually, a very difficult one. Labour had very clearly been rejected by the voters after 13 years in power, winning just 29% of the vote to the Tories’ 37%. And in spite of Andrew Adonis’s protestations to the contrary, a deal between Labour and the Lib Dems was never a viable prospect. So we either accepted David Cameron’s “big, open and comprehensive offer” or we walked away and confirmed the public’s suspicions Lib Dems aren’t really very serious about power.

In the nightmare scenario, though, we would have a genuine choice open to us: a second coalition with the Tories or a Lib-Lab pact.

Do a deal with the Tories – if that’s even possible, given the Cameron modernising agenda is dead in the water – and we risk saying goodbye to what remains of our progressive vote (and another tranche of our membership). Do a deal with Labour – if that’s even possible, given the bile spilled since 2010 and Labour’s tendency to tribalism – and we put at risk our remaining MPs the vast bulk of whom have Tories in second place.

There is of course a third option: do a deal with neither and allow a minority government to be formed. But that comes with the high likelihood of a second general election not long afterwards where we run the risk of getting squeezed.

I’m all for extending choice. But, to be honest, at the next election I’d rather the voters didn’t leave us with more than one option.

What of the other two parties? The nightmare scenario for both of them is the same. It’s not a hung parliament followed by a coalition with the Lib Dems (after all, they’d out-number us 7:1). It’s not even a minority government with the ever-present threat of a second general election (they both have the resources to survive that). It’s a slender majority government: that’s both their nightmares.

For the Tories, a majority of 10 would mean being constantly held to ransom by their oddest right-wing MPs. For Labour, a majority of 10 would see Ed Miliband even more reliant on his party’s Unite-sponsored MPs and would likely be dragged further to the left and away from the mainstream.

I am sure both Cameron and Miliband would, in those circumstances, like to do a deal with the Lib Dems. I am equally sure their own parties won’t permit it. They would however, have little choice but to deal with the Lib Dems to get any contentious legislation through. ‘In power but not in office’ may not be the stuff of dreams – but it might be a whole lot better than our worst nightmare.

* 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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  • When calculating the conditions that will dictate the nature of future coalition you always ignore or dismiss what Liberal Democrat voters actually vote for. To say that negotiations should be determined by the number of either seats or votes obtained by your opposition implies that the content of your own policies is not a factor in why people vote. This scenario treats your votes as currency to be traded for personal advancement. As you say in analysis of the formation of the last coalition the Lib Dems wanted to show that they were serious about power, the cost though is that they demonstrated that they are not serious about policy or principle.

    For what it is worth, my opinion, formed by many visits to this site and many years of seeing liberal politicians, is that any coalition with Labour will fail quite soon into parliament. This is because whilst the Lib Dems view the Conservatives as a natural, if misdirected, party of government they view Labour as morally and intellectually inferior interlopers into their true position as the natural alternative to conservatism. As evidence I cite the reference the Labour tribalism and bile; as a moderately keen watcher of politics I have yet to see this bile and see far more tribalism on this site than anywhere else I look, plus the notion that ditching Cameron’s modernisation project would stop a coalition being possible, that project has been ditched yet the coalition continues.

  • Also pretty bad would be a hung parliament in which the Lib Dems could not form a majority with either the Tories or Labour. Or, bad for the Tories, a hung parliament in which the Tories had to choose between us and UKIP to form a slim majority.

  • We can only look at current polling averages, and that would be quite scary for the government parties and pretty much a disaster for the LD… C 234… LD23… L368.

    Sorry you can speculate all you want, but the best you can do is use the polling evidence available, my own opinion is somewhat worse; I think the possible low for the party is 18, the high is 28, but it is just my opinion today, the evidence is there on UKPR.
    I think the party is hoping that the drop of support will come back nearer to a GE, I don’t think so myself.
    The party is underestimating the amount of anger and resentment from those voters who have left, I cannot see them returning in any significant numbers, but hey oh, the party has 18 months to the GE, and only 7 months to local and EU elections, 2014 is the start of a very long run in to 2015 GE, I think we will all be worried if 2014 results go worse than expected, I know we will all put a brave face on but each successive defeat is making the hill into a mountain.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Nov '13 - 11:33am

    In the event of a majority government being possible with either Labour or the Tories I would probably prefer a minority government and MPs will just learn to make it work, like they have with coalition.

    I think choosing Labour or the Conservatives when both are possible and realistic would be the death knell for the party, because it risks our independence and would cause an internal uproar and possibly a split down the middle.

  • For me the Nightmare scenario is the conservatives losing the popular vote, but only a few seats and the lib dem leadership acting like the National liberals of the 50s and thus splitting the party.. I think the real danger for the Lib Dems is Clegg refusing to the same deal with Labour as was offered the Tories, It would look undemocratic.. The point is that it is virtually impossible for the Tories to win outright and history suggest s their vote will actually fall.

  • Erlend Watson 15th Nov '13 - 12:01pm

    I think if Labour were close enough to 326 for the nationalists (plural) to put them in they would go for a minority government.

    The actual number is slightly vague but remembering 5 SF not being there and poss 3 SDLP already being on side the issue would be anything over about 310. I assume about 10 Nats.

    For the Tories I think it is probably about 315, they do not really want to lose too many votes when DUP gang up on the opposition side. They would still be shakey short of 321 or so and that would probably get worse with a byelection loss or 2 during a Parliament. Unless they actually cross the 50% (-SF) line the Parliament might be cut short.

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Nov '13 - 12:38pm

    A situation where the Lib Dems are genuine king makers is a dream come true, rather than a nightmare.

  • @ Paul …based on past experience or wishful thinking?

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Nov '13 - 12:56pm

    Based on the reasoning that it would give the Party the strongest hand – Cameron will be forced out if he is not PM after the election and the same may be true of Ed Miliband. The Party would have a far stronger hand still if its Leader could take the Party with them into a second coalition with the Conservatives or into a coalition with Labour – I don’t see what Nick Clegg brings to the table.

  • A point that seems missing from this analysis is that having two options gives the Lib Dems a position of strength to negotiate from. At the last coalition negotiations the Libs only options were Tories or out of government; in a hypothetical two-way hang, the Libs could hold out for whichever party offers them the most of whichever policies the handful of politicians negotiating the agreement value most.

  • Peter Watson 15th Nov '13 - 12:59pm

    @Paul Pettinger “A situation where the Lib Dems are genuine king makers is a dream come true, rather than a nightmare.”
    @David Evans “…based on past experience or wishful thinking?”
    I agree with Paul … but it is based on my wishful thinking.
    In the sort of proportional electoral system I have always supported, Lib Dems would have been in Stephen’s nightmare scenario of having multiple choices after nearly every election, and coalition/consensus/compromise would be the norm. I am bitterly disappointed by what Clegg et al have done in the name of coalition and collective responsibility, but I still hold out hope for a better way.

  • Tony Greaves 15th Nov '13 - 1:31pm

    Come on, the nightmare is already with us. The next nightmare is the status quo but with even fewer LDs in a coalition.


  • Simon, it would be a good thing for the party because we could achieve more of our policies with Labour than with the Tories.

  • Interesting the comparison with Germany at the moment, and the difficulty, apparently, of forming the 99% necessary SPD – CDU coalition. But I still believe that a Tory – Labour arrangement (not necessarily Coalition) was what should have happened last time, and if there is a hung Parl next time (especially if we are on reduced numbers – pretty well inevitable) should happen in 2015. As a Party losing influence at the time of the election as in 2010, and will happen in 2015, who do we think we are, trying to exert influence? The electorate has voted decisively against us – accept it. It also gives us, in logic the direct opposite of Clegg’s, more influence, as a clear opposition. This experience should again teach our party that there is no point in trying to pretend we exert influence until the voting figures give us a chance to do so (say, as a guesstimate, over 100 MPs).

  • Simon, I think a coalition with Labour could rehabilitate us, especially if some of the dumbest coalition policy could be unpicked. Worst case scenario is the rump of the party propping up the witless Tories again, that way leads to oblivion.

  • David Evans 15th Nov '13 - 3:23pm

    @Paul Pettinger – I can see your point, but in 2010 and what happened was that our moderately strong hand was cut off and attached to the Conservative body. We went into negotiations with no plan worth the name; accepted naively Cabinet Collective responsibility, an appalling deal re Proportional Representation, accepted Cameron’s red line on protecting pensioners against everything (just look at bedroom tax for the farce of it all) and sold out students. All on an election slogan of a new start and “An end to broken promises.” As Tony Greaves says “the nightmare is already with us.”

    Conference has voted against NHS reform, the bedroom tax and all the leadership has done is use every mechanism it can to ignore us. All in all, I see most of the hierarchy still in denial on this, so any hope that next time will be better is just whistling in the wind. The same mess will happen again, because the same people, or perhaps those camp followers who tagged along for the ride this time, will be doing it.

  • paul barker 15th Nov '13 - 3:45pm

    I disagree with everybody else, as usual. All 4 “main” Parties face the real possibility of ceasing to exist.
    Lots of people have predicted our death so I wont dwell on that, I would have thought we were over the most dangerous period.
    UKIP have the potential to become a solid minor Party, they have more members than The Greens & a lot more money, their one big problem is Farage himself. If UKIP fail to come first in 2014 & fail to get any MPs in 2015 they could go down as quickly as they have come up.
    The Tories are badly split & those splits will be exposed next summer, I think they will hold together for now but who knows ?
    Labour are going through a reform process, culminating in a Special Conference next March. The reforms in themselves wont change the nature of The Party but they are important & the authority of the Leadership depends on getting them through. A Deal has, apparently been done but such things can break down, especially when there is so little trust. I reccomend reading “Labour Uncut” & Dan Hodges for the details.
    More generally Labour have still to face the inevitable dissapointment of declining leads as 2015 approaches & the Economy improves & they have a unique problem of massive Debts & Liabilities.
    The next 6 months could turn British Politics on its head.

  • markfairclough 15th Nov '13 - 4:11pm

    the eternal3rd party problem is ,when the LIBDEMS went in coalition they lost members because it was with the Tories.If the Libdems go in coalition with Labour again they will lose some members because it is with Labour

  • Get the points above but surely the nightmare scenario is not being in government after the next election? More Lib Dem policies have actually been implemented in the last 3 years than the last 30 years.

    I think some people are getting confused with what would comfortable and easy for the party (a return to opposition) or a scenario where we actually get things done that improve the country.

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Nov '13 - 5:10pm

    @ David Evans – I am afraid I agree with everything you write. I voted no to coalition in Birmingham, largely because I didn’t want to empower the current centre right and rather naive leadership – confidence and supply with the Tories is as far as I would have gone in 2010 under the circumstances. However, regardless of our personal views, I don’t think the Party should in principle rule out certain options before the GE.

  • @Gareth Wilson
    regarding “where we actually get things done that improve the country”, we have no action on banking reform. If the Lib Dems want to avoid a nightmare scenario, perhaps it could start addressing such things

  • David Allen 15th Nov '13 - 6:11pm

    The nightmare is already with us, and I am afraid I cannot agree with Paul Pettinger that we might benefit from the opportunity to be genuine kingmakers. Back in David Steel’s day we could do it, but not now.

    The supposed “opportunity” arises if either or both major parties gains enough seats to have a majority with us, but not without us.

    We know what the Tories do. They offer “the top price for the Turkish carpet”, and Clegg bites their hands off. What do Labour do?

    First, let’s suppose that it’s a bit like the reverse of 2010, i.e. that Lab lead Con, that Lab plus Lib is a majority, but Con plus Lib isn’t (unless you conjure up a peculiar rainbow coalition). Miliband then has to decide – Do I go it alone as a minority government, or do I try to co-opt the Libs? Well, after all the hurt that Clegg has inflicted over the last five years, the choice is easy. Labour backbenchers of the Prescott-Reid tendency, and of less militant tendencies too, will tell Miliband to go it alone or face their internal rebellion. Miliband will soon conclude that this is advice he needs to take, and that the best thing he can do with the Lib Dems is to wheedle co-operation over specific issues. A bonus for Miliband is that Clegg will have to resign, or be reasonable for a change, or see his party split.

    Second, let’s suppose instead that Lab and Con are pretty close to a dead heat, and that either could get a majority together with the Lib Dems. For that to be even a possibility, the number of Lib Dems must easily outweigh all other minor parties, which is odds against. Still, it might happen. What then? Well, Cameron will certainly offer an even higher price in his Turkish bazaar, because power is what Tories are about, good governance is not the aim, personal wealth creation is. Miliband will be in no position to compete, because his party won’t let him. As I said, when it was a case of David Steel who commanded some respect on the Labour side, the Labour party did allow a deal. But they won’t with Clegg, and since we haven’t done the right thing and chosen a more equidistant successor in good time, they won’t with any other Lib Dem either. So Cameron-Clegg will have a walkover.

    What all this means is that, whilst the polls say most of us would favour a Labour coalition, we might as well favour a Ferrari for Christmas. We aren’t going to get it.

    The choice is only two-fold: to carry on joined at the hip to the Tories, or to break free and take each issue on its merits. The latter course, if we held the balance, would give us some real clout. The former is, and would continue to be, a process of gradual absorption into the Greater Conservative Movement.

    It will probably happen, because most Lib Dems are not willing to resist. It will happen whether or not an actual Coalition is formed, though that will accelerate it the most. If Labour run the country, Cameron and Clegg will sing a duet of negative derision, just as they do now. If the Tories run the country, Clegg and his allies will be buttered up and kept on-side to protect Cameron against UKIP and against future storms.

    It will happen, and the silent majority of Lib Dems will take into their old age the satisfaction that “I didn’t rock the boat. I held on to my Council seat (maybe). I got a few streets swept better. I maintained my status in public life. I let my centre-left ideals go hang, the country is now more divided, the poor are starving and the globe is overheating. But – well, I’m only one guy, I’m only a local politician, you surely can’t blame me?”

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Nov '13 - 6:37pm

    Gareth Wilson: ” More Lib Dem policies have actually been implemented in the last 3 years than the last 30 years.”

    Not that again. Just looking at the last Labour government, we had Scottish and Welsh devolution and introduction of PR in European elections, plus massively increased spending on health and education. Pretty sure those were Lib Dem policies at the time. We also had a specifically Lib Dem-led success (in the teeth of the government) over Gurkha immigration.
    What have we had in the last three years, then? Oh, we’ve increased the personal income tax allowance by about £2000 over the rate of inflation. Yes, that’s what motivated us all.

    I think what you mean is, There have been more Lib Dem ministers in government in the last three years than in the preceding thirty. I’m entirely unexcited by that. Not being a career politician or member of a politician’s entourage I care more about what policies are enacted than the colour of the rosette on the politician who enacts them.

  • Lets hope we can restructure and reinvent ourselves after the next election, that will only come if we are an opposition party. Another coalition and we will probably lose even our last 10 seats, because I cannot see us holding more than that. The future is very dark and bleak. Local parties are collapsing or have collapsed, local election votes this week are a laugh, so derisory as to be beyond embarrassment. 40 years of progress wiped out in 2 years.
    Believe it or not but I am a supporter of the coalition but it has been a political disaster for ourselves. Lets stop beating about the bush.

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Nov '13 - 6:59pm

    David Allen said ‘I cannot agree with Paul Pettinger that we might benefit from the opportunity to be genuine kingmakers’, but also ‘… we haven’t done the right thing and chosen a more equidistant successor in good time’ – there are some things we unambiguously agree on!

  • Leekliberal 15th Nov '13 - 7:26pm

    @JRC says ‘As evidence I cite the reference the Labour tribalism and bile; as a moderately keen watcher of politics I have yet to see this bile and see far more tribalism on this site than anywhere else I look’ Has he spent even 10 seconds looking at the vile and deeply personal abuse in the comments section of the Grauniad that accompanies any mention of the Liberal Democrats? Also I am clear that if politics were to be restarted now from scratch the Tories and Liberals would have to be reinvented because they represent continuing values around since the 17th century but NOBODY would bother to reinvent the intellectually bankrupt failed socialist party called ‘Labour.’ Their role is to be the bunnies around which the Tories will continue to run circles as they seek to deny social justice!

  • Simon Shaw,
    a labour lib dem coalition would be a good thing for the party because it would offer the opportunity of reconnecting the party with a great chunk of its lost vote,, plus would probably reflect the party membership better.

  • Lon Won, I think you have misunderstood my post. I’m not talking about how individual Tories or Labour people might think, I’m talking about how the party strategists would tackle negotiations in a hung parliament.

  • Worst outcome for all but a small minority of people would be a comfortable majority for the Tories. Disastrous for the Lib Dems in particular because it would be a rejection of what little influence they’ve had in the coalition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '13 - 12:57am


    This is because whilst the Lib Dems view the Conservatives as a natural, if misdirected, party of government they view Labour as morally and intellectually inferior interlopers into their true position as the natural alternative to conservatism.

    Well, I’ve been a member of the party for 35 years, and I’ve never thought of the Conservatives as any more natural a party of government than Labour. I’ve never thought of Labour as either less moral or less intellectual than the Conservatives either.

    My motivation for joining the party was that my politics are to the left, but it seemed to me that Labour was failing to win votes for the left, and the Liberals were managing to win votes and looked like they could win seats in places where Labour just wasn’t getting anywhere. I’m also a believer in plurality, I don’t think it’s healthy to have just one party of the left.

    My sympathies, in terms of policies, are much more towards those of Labour than those of the Conservatives. I hate almost everything the Tories stand for, I could never envisage myself ever being a member of the Conservative Party. I don’t hate everything that Labour stands for, and in moments of bleak despair over what is happening in the Liberal Democrats I do occasionally feel “Oh, why do I bother, wouldn’t is be easier just to join Labour?”. Especially when someone billed as “former director of strategy to Nick Clegg” wrote an article essentially telling people like me that we are not welcome in the party, and we should go off and join Labour – and since Nick Clegg did not repudiate that, I can only assume he agrees with it.

    However, as a result of this, I am naturally going to spend more time and go into more detail of why I am not a supporter of the Labour Party than why I an not a supporter of the Conservative Party. My opposition to the Conservatives is something I just take for granted, my opposition to Labour is more subtle, and in explaining it perhaps it is necessary to go into small points which to you would come across as rather trivial and so sound as “tribalist”. Despite this, I know for sure in terms of policy I would find it much easier to work with the Labour Party person than with the Conservative Party.

    I do have to say, however, that all my experience is that the Labour Party is MUCH nastier than the Conservative Party when you are up in competition against them – especially if you beat them. My experience is that when the Liberals beat the Conservatives, the Conservatives just take it as the way democracy has worked, they have lost, that’s it, perhaps they will win next time. When the Liberals beat Labour, however, WELL, Labour just can’t take it. They go immediately into mud-slinging mode, they insist from the start that the Liberal victory could never have been fair and square, it must have been down to “dirty tricks”, their strategy to win back their loss is ALWAYS to devote all their efforts to attacking the Liberals, finding a negative twist in anything they do, suggesting whatever the Liberals do is down to some evil motivation, even when they know full well that if they were still in power they would have to do exactly the same.

    I do feel this is down to the basis of the Labour Party, which is that all people should belong to trade unions, and all trade unions should be affiliated to the Labour Party. From this flows the idea that they alone are the voice of the working class, interpreted broadly as meaning anyone whose income comes from being employed, that there is no room for any other voice apart from the voice of those whose income comes from ownership, and that therefore all working class people should vote for them, and that therefore it is a form of treachery if a working class person does not support them. The Conservative Party is not founded on a similar formal basis which insists they have a natural monopoly position.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '13 - 1:14am


    Worst outcome for all but a small minority of people would be a comfortable majority for the Tories. Disastrous for the Lib Dems in particular because it would be a rejection of what little influence they’ve had in the coalition.

    In terms of what it would do to the country, sure. In terms of the future for the Liberal Democrats, a comfortable majority for the Conservatives would be the best option. If the Conservatives had a comfortable majority, we would see horrendous right-wing polices put in place – see the sort of discussion going on in Conservative circles right now – and the Liberal Democrats would be able to say “See what we meant, you didn’t realise till you saw it now, just what we were managing to stop when we were in the coalition”. A Conservative majority next time would send the message out that Labour just can’t win, and that would boost the Liberal Democrats. A Labour majority would signify a return to the two-party system, with the Liberal Democrats looking irrelevant.

    The absolute worst result for the Liberal Democrats would be any where the natural government is a continuation of the current coalition. That is, any where there is no majority and Labour are not clearly ahead of the Conservatives. Sad to say, if Labour were just a little ahead of the Conservatives but without a majority and a Conservative-LibDem coalition would have a majority, a Labour-LibDem coalition probably would be written up as the LibDems lacking principles and just moving from one to another to retain their government jobs. A continuation of the current coalition, however, WOULD destroy the Liberal Democrats. Another five years of coalition with the Tories would make it VERY hard for the Liberal Democrats ever to escape from them. It would come to be seen as just natural. Those of us who have kept with the Liberal Democrats in the hope of coming through this coalition and rebuilding the Liberal Democrats as the alternative left party we wanted it to be would be very unlikely to stay in the party for another five years, and as now, no new members who think like us would be joining it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '13 - 1:29am

    In all of this, I have to say I think it very unlikely there will be a no majority Parliament after the next general election. It took 10 general elections between the 1974 ones which established that Britain was not going to be the pure two-party system it looked like it had become in the 1950s, before we got another Parliament without a single party majority. I don’t see any particular reason why there is any more chance of there being a no majority Parliament in 2015 than there was in any of those previous ten general elections. The 2010 general election result was somewhat freakish, I very much doubt it has become the new norm. I don’t think the Liberal Democrats will be wiped out in 2015, but it’s very hard to see where they would make any gains, and I suspect it would require a good hard-working locally well-known MP who has managed to retain a decent party machine in his or her constituency to have a hold, and let’s be honest, that does not apply to ALL our MPs. I’m not that familiar with Scots and Welsh politics, but the Nationalists aren’t going to make big gains, are they? I doubt UKIP’s vote will turn into many, if any seats, and there’s no big rush to independents or anything new. Northern Ireland will have the same number of MPs as before. So where are the third party MPs going to come from to cause there to be a no-majority Parliament?

  • Latest Ipsos Mori poll Lib Dems 8 Greens 7. 6th place in European elections next May?
    Will the leader then go.

  • Caracatus 16th Nov ’13 – 9:12am The nightmare for the Lib Dems is Nick Clegg staying on as leader.

    Yes a nightmare. Clegg is making speeches saying that the Liberal Democrats are half-way between Tories and Labour. A clear lesson from the last 80 years is that this sort of centre party nonsense is a recipe for electoral failure and a withering away of the party base and membership.

    The Liberal Party and subsequently the Liberal Democrats have always done best when they have argued from a distinctly Liberal position, have inspired party members and activists who have then gone out and inspired the voters.

  • Caracatus 16th Nov ’13 – 9:12am The nightmare for the Lib Dems is Nick Clegg staying on as leader.

    Yes a nightmare. Clegg is making speeches saying that the Liberal Democrats are half-way between Tories and Labour. A clear lesson from the last 80 years is that this sort of centre party nonsense is a recipe for electoral failure and a withering away of the party base and membership.

    The Liberal Party and subsequently the Liberal Democrats have always done best when they have argued from a distinctly Liberal position, have inspired party members and activists who have then gone out and inspired the voters.

  • Paul in Twickenham 16th Nov '13 - 12:17pm

    @JohnTilley – I take your point but would make two comments: firstly, in his keynote speech to conference Mr. Clegg said “Now we hold the liberal centre while our opponents head left and right” which (as I’m sure Simon Shaw will be delighted to point out) is not the same as saying that the Liberal Democrats are “half-way between Tories and Labour”.

    But I would suggest that Mr. Clegg (if pushed) would identify Labour being more left-of-centre than the Conservatives are right-of-centre…

    You are, of course, right that the intention of his words to whatever audience might bother listening outside the conference hall is to suggest that Liberal Democrat policy is the result of the arithmetical operation ((Tory+Labour)/2): in other words, that the Liberal Demcrats have no policies of their own but reactively “split the difference” of the policies established by the other two.

    And someone above mentions “Pointless”: I watched an episode a week or two ago where 100 people were asked to name Lib Dem MPs elected in 2010. Tim Farron (for example) was pointless .Make of that what you will…

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    There is a lot in what you say but you are unusually self-reflective and reasoned in your reflections on here, Leekliberal is closer to the norm and goes some way towards demonstrating my point.

    Where I think you are less reflective is that your description of Labour response is very much like I would describe the Liberal response to Labour. I don’t disagree with any part of your description but see the same in return from the Liberal side. This is a problem that has always hampered the left. The disputes amongst the left are borne of kinship and the animosity is that of being perceived to have let the side down. Your feelings about the nature of the Labour Party believing that all should conform to certain behaviours is rather, one of a belief in solidarity. The specifics have changed but mass membership of trade unions and a strong single party have been a great engine for socially beneficial changes for employees and one of the strongest ever motors of social mobility. You see it as an arrogant self belief in the Labour Party as the only voice of the working class, I see it as a call to solidarity in the fight for justice for the working class.

    When UKIP beat a Conservative you’ll be likely to see the same resentment from them because they too will have a sense of familial betrayal. That the Conservative are more magnanimous when beaten by a Liberal is maybe due to lack of a sense of familial betrayal but also that they may see the Liberal party as one that will always find a logical reason why they are unable to make meaningful change to benefit the working class or promote genuine equality and are therefore less of a threat to the status quo.

    Tribal disputes on the left are not the fault or preserve of the Labour Party and those who indulge this view are acting in support of the right wing agenda of dividing to conquer. However, the pluralism of the left is a hindrance to real progress and should be understood and overcome. My view is that a left thinker should always vote for the most left wing candidate capable of winning. Anything else is tribal and indulgent. The stripe of the central government only ever serves to send the pendulum of political movement in a desired direction. The particulars are of less significance. This is why I do not agree that the Liberals should have entered coalition, it has sent the pendulum rightwards. Witness the number of Liberals now arguing that social justice requires a bedroom tax.

    That said, it is not those of us who frequent the message boards that will determine the success of any coalition, it is the leadership. When looking at the opinions and speeches of the Liberal leadership I see all of the insults and bile referred to in the original article but nothing near it from the Labour side. It seems to me that Liberal members feel much greater slight than is actually offered.

  • John Broggio 16th Nov '13 - 10:46pm

    @Leekliberal 15th Nov ’13 – 7:26pm
    “Has he spent even 10 seconds looking at the vile and deeply personal abuse in the comments section of the Grauniad that accompanies any mention of the Liberal Democrats?”

    As someone of the left (definitely not a New Labour supporter, or even “real” Labour member), I can offer my own perspective why the LDs are singled out for such opprobrium at Grauniad Towers: prior to May 2010, the debates between the three main party leaders clearly had the Tories on the right, NuLab a bit to the right-of-centre but with a few sops to the old left and the LDs positioned a little to the left-of-centre.

    It is not too hard to then see why the myriad of people who were persuaded to “agree with Nick” felt (and feel) utterly betrayed by the ease and eagerness with which multiple key policies were turned on their head. Most of all, despite the easy slogans garnered about a certain education pledge, the volte face on the economic remedies for NuLab bailing out the banks. Pre May 2010, Vince Cable rightly stated that pursuing austerity would stall (at best) the fragile recovery, yet before the ink had even dried on the Rose Garden love-in, many now cabinet ministers were extolling the very policies that they’d lambasted as being completely wrong, days earlier.

    Even that Marxist-Leninist, Tim Harford, notes in that “This simple model says that Mr Osborne’s economic vandalism can hold the economy back for a long time, but not forever.” For me, more than anything else, these spiteful uneconomic policies that purposefully destroys many lives (but not of those likely to vote for the Tories, naturally) is why I feel that my vote for the LDs in the last GE was taken from me by those being more than a little economical about the actualite… The LDs in government, from the outside, look tribal and I’m not convinced they are of the same tribe as the rank & file membership.

  • Julian Critchley 17th Nov '13 - 1:18am

    This is a bit odd. I’ve had two comments disappeared, but neither was any different in tone or content than John Broggio. Is there a LibDem voice indiscriminate blacklist ?

  • Jim Partiger 17th Nov '13 - 8:49am

    The difficulty at the next election that is unclear what exactly the party stands for. In the last election, major policies, which were part of the manifesto and election platform, were very speedily dropped in the rush to form the Coalition. The result is that political opponents can point to the Liberal Democrats as being untrustworthy and that it is completely unclear what a person is voting for, and what will be the result of a vote for the Liberal Democrats.

    It would be helpful for some key policies – red lines – over which the Liberal Democrats will not barter or budge. At present a vote for the Liberal Democrat is a vote for the leaders of the party to do whatever they want in a coalition agreement. I would want reassurance that in voting for the Liberal Democrats I would not be giving a vote / blessing to the continuing breakup of the NHS by the Conservatives for example. Or that political freedoms are not going to be given up lightly.

    I am shocked by the Lobbying Bill, which is a blatent attempt to muzzle public campaigning and limit free speech whilst leaving the corporate lobbyists untouched. I would also like to see carefully worded and thought through legislation being drafted. The bill that allows Councils to potentially misuse legislation to ban any demonstration, is clumsy and ill thought through. This has got to improve.

    In an area where the main opposition to the Conservatives is the Liberal Democrats, some clear direction must be given on what can be expected in any coalition discussion, and what will not be given up. Until that happens, how clear can the electorate be, on what the Liberal Democrat stands for on anything ? It risks being the party who’s policy structures are built on shifting sand.

  • Wow, there is an impressive comments section here.

    For my tuppence worth, you need to factor in devolution, in particular, the scottish parliament is elected a year after the general election and is normally a reaction to westminster. I think the welsh assembly elections are the same year. I think a bad snp showing in westminster translates to a good one in holyrood so its a case of no losses on the east coast of scotland.

    I think there is the possibility of labour regains in central scotland if they can find a plausible anti-austerity campaign and the economy still looks moribund from Ayr to Arran. My view is a successful campaign would ultimately squeeze libdem efforts in scotland losing key mp’s.

    In wales, a successful Plaid campaign could lead to more of their MP’s represented who could do a deal to supply votes for controversial measures in return for more powers.

    In the South East, the prospect of 10-12 UKIP seats mortifies me as it means lurching to the right for the shire tories. This would make any coalition deal with pro-immigration lib dems untenable. What happens in the european elections and its aftermath will be a precursor for this

    A perfect storm would result if labour managed to secure wins in every major city including ones where lib dems are in power. It means the message the lib dems have for their own constituents could not persuade people. I see Sheffield and Leeds as a bellweather for the non-london urban vote. However, I just can’t see labour losing votes in the north east atm.

    The south west, south coast and Midlands could be where the election turns on its head and determines any future coalition dynamics. Lib dems taking seats off the Tories or Labour could bolster the hand in coalition negotiation. Any defeat could weaken it but I believe there will be tactical voting campaigns over implausible seats or ones where ukip are running strongly. The worst result is where tactical voting campaigns backfire and libdems lose both seats and influence.

    My analysis is a glib one but hopefully nuanced enough to be more useful one than a broad numbers call

  • Michael Parsons 17th Nov '13 - 11:27am

    It is amusing to see the vast agitated correspondence on this topic, as to whose biscuit will be in the tea.. But democratically, what right does a trivial party have to decide which of the others the country should be lumped with, especially when it must btreak its (feeble) pledges to do so? How can a centre party (so called) which holds the balance ever be justified as democratic choice? How can the LibDems copying the National Liberals in the last Great Depression by sellng out to monetarist and Tory policies to the destruction of the poor be anything but just cause for a revolutinary change back to direct democratric ideas?

  • Of course having a genuine choice would be difficult and we’d lose something whatever we decided. But no-one should be in politics to take easy decisions.

    As for the threat to our MPs with Tories in second place from any deal with Labour, remember that squeezing (and not unsqueezing) the third party vote is always crucial. In many areas where we have a good number of MPs plus some near misses, especially the Westcountry, the fundamental divide is Tory or Not Tory and the Labour-leaning vote is vital. After all, it was clear in 1997 and 2001 that we were not then equidistant between Tories and Labour, and we didn’t do at all badly in contests against Tories.

    Hmm – I somehow keyed in 1007 and 2001 there. Didn’t know Aethelred was a Liberal Democrat, though he did seek good relations with Europeans (Danes).

  • If we can choose which of the 2 parties to form a partnership in coalition will be an opportunity.
    At this point, we should state (or restate) what our policies are to the general public and what we would ideally
    would want to achieve.
    Today, we do not have real capitalism, its tokens of wealth money is being devalued by the banksters QE (which is inflationary). The market is not really a free market with large corporate players weighting the market.
    Liberal values will return value and trading to the individual. We cannot allow corporatism to bully the market place. We have got to make the market work for the benefit for all. There has got to be smaller and many more local banks doing the deposit and loan functions and not speculating with derivatives.
    We have got to rid of unfair taxes such as the current council tax. Redistribution from income taxation and not on fuel levies which pushes bills up for all, and dis-advances our domestic energy companies such as SSE and Centrica.
    Liberal values are for enterprising individuals and the small companies and against corporate cronyism.

    Other parties would need to adapt to our agenda. The Liberal agenda.

  • Peter Watson 18th Nov '13 - 1:12pm

    @Ian Sanderson
    I suspect that our political system is too wedded to the notions of opposition and blame to allow a Grand Coalition in anything but the most extraordinary circumstances (e.g. wartime), especially when the two major parties assume they will take it in turns to govern.
    Perhaps, if in 2010 the atmosphere had been one in which politicians could unite to face a global economic crisis, then such co-operation might have been feasible and successful. We’ll never know. Instead everything was blamed on Labour (despite ourselves and the tories having made matching spending commitments and being no more likely for ideological reasons to regulate the banking market, etc.). Regardless of the rights or wrongs, or whether there was really much difference between the medicine offered by Labour, Tories or Lib Dems, there was no way that Labour and Conservatives could have worked together after such a vitriolic election campaign. At least Lib Dems and tories were united in blaming Labour, even if many of us believed that the two coalition partners were further from each other than turned out to be the case.

  • Robert Wootton 19th Nov '13 - 10:08am

    I want the Lib Dems to win by a landslide at the next GE. To do this the party must take steps to end the “Rip Off” culture of government. A start would be to make the phone contacts with government departments and helplines to be 0800 freefone numbers. Also to create a new type of self employment for MPs and councillors elected to public office. A “public sole trader” that is required to publish audited annual accounts. But I have already published a book about that aspect of the economic system anyway.

  • Julian Gibb 13th Apr '14 - 9:25pm

    I admire your opyimism.

    I’m going to be honest and state that 24 seats looks optimistic and that will be down to the hardwork of your activists in key seats.

    I have never voted Liberal / LibDem etc but from Thorpe to Kennedy I admired your expressed values. However from Ming on the rot had set in. I’m afraid like many others I don’t believe the spin about reigning back the Tories. One only has to look at Danny Alexander to see someone out Torying the Tories.

    It will be at least a generation before your party is trusted again. I think that is a mild punishment for what you have done to the country.

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