Opinion: Going it alone

BRITAIN POLITICS UK ELECTION CAMERON BECOMES PMAs the new year dawns there’s much press speculation about when the Liberal Democrats are going to cut and run from the Coalition and start campaigning for the next election.  At some point, of course, we are going to have to do this but having given an undertaking that we would work with the Tories for five years, that point I think should be quite late. But what we can do now is much more exciting.

We should declare that at the end of this coalition we shall not be entering into any further coalitions, either with the Tories or with Labour.  And we should do this as soon as possible.   We need to end this single-question politics of which way will the Liberal Democrats jump after the next election.  This would allow us to get on with explaining our policies and winning back our support.

This is particularly important in Scotland where we have blown our credibility by our alliance with the Tories.  But I think it is important too in the North of England, Merseyside,  the South-West and in Wales.

Non-coalition politics is a noble aim itself.  It gets us back to parliamentary democracy and away from cabinet government where everything is settled by the party leaders around the table in 10 Downing Street.   In my view, it’s a total misreading of the voters’ wishes to argue that because they don’t give one party a majority in the House of Commons, they want a coalition government.   It means rather that voters are somewhat undecided about a load of issues but, for the moment, they want the largest party to form the government.

That minority government should then run the day-to-day business of administration but have to win a majority vote in the House of Commons for any major new policy they want to introduce.  Thus we open up the happy prospect of issue-based politics, as opposed to tribal politics.

Some people say minority governments are unstable. So are coalitions. It actually says a lot for the Liberal Democrats that we have hung on in there with the Tories, despite their obsession with “austerity” and all the other uncomfortable compromises we have had to make.   We have paid a very heavy price for that loyalty and we should learn that lesson. No one will thank us for supporting either Labour or the Tories in government, we will always get the blame and none of the credit.  We can argue that we have “tamed the Tories” but actually we could have tamed them even more if we had remained a free party in parliament, judging each issue on its merits.

So please, let us enter this new year with a clear Liberal Democrat agenda for the next election and declaring in advance that we shall be entering no further coalitions but instead introducing a new form of politics.

* John Knox is a member of Edinburgh South Liberal Democrats, a retired journalist and a recent council candidate.

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  • Paul Griffiths 3rd Jan '14 - 12:51pm

    Couldn’t disagree more.

  • Paul McGarry 3rd Jan '14 - 1:07pm

    I simply cannot agree with this. If we are to learn anything of the last 4 years it is that we should be prepared to act in the best interests of the country no matter what our previous prejudices had been. A significant bump at the beginning of this government was that coalition with the Tories was seen as impossible and had all but been ruled out.

    If we begin ruling certain options as either in or out then I think we risk losing our relevancy rather than gaining it. We should however go into the next election with clear, bold and distinctive policies and work to define ourselves as the party of Liberal values.

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Jan '14 - 1:14pm

    me either.

  • No. Every political party is itself a coalition. This one happens to have the advantage of a parliamentary majority. We have committed to 5 years and the disadvantages of not seeing it through outweigh any possible gains.

  • Liberal Neil 3rd Jan '14 - 1:46pm

    “It gets us back to parliamentary democracy and away from cabinet government”

    The problem with your argument is that this won’t happen.

    All the conventions around cabinet government remain, even with a minority government, and the Cabinet, as well as individual Ministers, has huge power, regardless of what happens in votes in the House of Commons.

    There would be some votes in the Commons that would be very important, but overall it would give Lib Dem MPs far less influence than they have as part of a coalition.

    Our objective after the next election should be to get the maximum possible amount of Lib Dem policy enacted, and we should go with whatever arrangement makes that possible, just as we did last time.

  • Don’t agree, Neil. I think, assuming a minority Govt survived without a GE, leading to big Lib Dem losses, the radical side of the Lib Dems would have had much more influence than we have had. As it is, we have had a predominantly right – led group negotiating with the Tories, and so the policies have generally been indistinguishable from Tory policies. We certainly, on the evidence of this coalition, need at least 100+ MPs to have any significant influence.

  • @ tpfcar
    “No. Every political party is itself a coalition.”
    I suspect the wider pubic see the bigger picture, not as coalition, but as cartel. The cry from the street is that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because they are all the same. And there is clear evidence that they are right. To the ‘abandoned voter’, the reds, yellows and blues coalesced over a decade ago. The process of shutting down real choice and real democracy is well under way, so to them, it matters not a jot whether you jump ship now or later.

  • >We should declare that at the end of this coalition we shall not be entering into any further coalitions, either with the Tories or with Labour.

    This is someone who either prefers the political fringes where issues are more clear cut and their solutions so much simpler because they aren’t clouded by the realities of government and real-world implementation, or is soon to be divorced and swearing they will never get married again – only we know that in a few years that will be exactly what they will be doing…

    Yes there are lessons to be learnt, some of them being around the form and content of the coalition agreement. What is clear the LibDems do need to create their own narrative to present in their 2015 manifesto, I suggest it shouldn’t rule out a coalition, as that would be a bit like a skilled facilitator omitting their facilitation skills from their CV.

  • Wouldn’t work in practice. The parties in opposition would never vote for any contentious policies that involved cuts and reform. You’d end up with a minority government unable to do anything radical which would ring up a massive deficit as it wouldn’t be able to get any cuts through.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd Jan '14 - 3:12pm

    I’m going to start by saying that I don’t accept one of the main premises of this article, that we “have blown our credibility” by going into coalition with the Conservatives. We certainly have a lot of work to do to get it across, but we have largely done what we set out to do in 2010. Four big priorities on the front of our manifesto – all but one delivered and that ‘s because Labour and the Tories got together to deny an extension of parliamentary legitimacy.

    Sure, Lib Dems in the coalition have agreed to things that many of us think that they shouldn’t, but of all the possible governments that could have resulted in 2010, this is by far the best.

    When you actually take the time to talk through the issues on the doorsteps, they do get it, they do understand what we have achieved.

    I also don’t think that minority government at Westminster will be the same as the modestly successful minority government in Scotland. For a start, in Holyrood, we roughly get the Parliament we ask for. That’s not the case at Westminster. By rights there should be around 140 of us, which would make it a lot easier to have an influence. That we have done as much as we have in terms of pension reform and tax cuts for the lowest paid, like we said we were going to do is quite incredible given the proportion we make up in the Commons.

    We are not in a position to say what is going to be in the national interest in 2015 now. To rule out an option of continuing to do good work in government is to my mind very unwise. Our priority must be to do what is in the national interest and do as much good as we can.

    Also, sitting on the sidelines, in a Parliament that shows us every week that it’s incapable of behaving in a mature manner, is not going to be a blame-free strategy. It is very much in the interests of Conservative and Labour to get back to single party majority government. The amount of bile both would leap on us in a minority government situation would make what we’ve had to deal with in the Coalition look like a gentle chiding.

    I don’t rule out the possibility of letting a minority government get on with it after 2015. It might be the only option we have if we can’t get agreement with either party. There are risks on both sides. Labour’s authoritarianism, Conservative’s xenophobic, small-state agenda and they may well be less willing to deal with us.

    I do, however, think ruling anything out now would be foolish. It would be a massive shooting of ourselves in the foot, an admission of failure, that we had not achieved in government. Our attitude, and commitment, should be to doing the exact opposite, because we have a good story to tell.

  • The only way in which we have “blown our credibility” through the Coalition is by torpedoing the Labour party’s unshakeable belief that the Lib Dems exist as a kind of “mini-me” to make up their numbers when the voters and our dreadful FPTP system don’t gift them the majority they assume they deserve.

    The long and the short of it is that any party that supports the need to make government spending cuts, inevitable in 2010 given the state of the finances, is going to suffer when those cuts take place. Cuts are unpopular. Full stop.

    The point is whether we can persuade enough people that we are not just a party of cuts and that we have actually done a lot else besides while we have been in government. The truth lies on our side. We just need to get it out there and make people aware of it.

  • The more I read of these seemingly endless discussions about hung parliaments, the more I think that the best thing for the Lib Dems’ electoral prospects would be for the polls going into an election campaign to indicate the Tories were so weak that a Labour majority was inevitable. That way the questions about coalitions, red lines and so on wouldn’t realistically arise.

    Conversely, if the Tories were strong enough to be giving Labour a run for their money, that would make LD seats much more difficult to defend against them, and no doubt the scare tactic that the LDs might “let Labour back in” would be deployed to frighten soft Tories (and UKIPers) back into the fold.

  • David Evans 3rd Jan '14 - 3:53pm

    I just can’t agree with Caron’s comment, “we have largely done what we set out to do in 2010”. No – because one of the things we aimed to do was to make Britain a fairer, more equal society. However, massive cuts have been made to some benefits, mainly because Cameron wouldn’t allow any cuts affecting his voters, the pensioners. Not even to Winter fuel allowance for pensioners in much warmer countries. Sure we have done some good things, but the bad things we have allowed the Conservatives to do are much greater. That is where that tick box approach to politics falls down.

  • “Every political party is itself a coalition. This one happens to have the advantage of a parliamentary majority. ”

    I don’t know exactly what this statement was intended to mean, but what it *sounds* like is that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats now form a single political party. Surely this is not the message we want to send?

  • Well, I WAS going to comment on this, but everyone else beat me to it.
    I have a firm belief in pluralist politics and coalitions; hell, even if we have NO MPs after the next election I’ll still be in a coalition because any party that can simultaneously contain (say) me and and Eddie Sammon, or Andrew Hickey and Charlotte Henry, to give two pairs of examples, is a de facto coalition.

  • Chris: discussions about hung parliaments do have a faintly ridiculous air as we know they are more unlikely than likely. I am not sure how polls pointing to an inevitable Labour majority help Lib Dem fortunes; I suppose it could lead to less spewing of bile, but would that translate into Lib Dem votes.

    While many serious commentators appear to talk up the possibility of no overall majority again, it is as well to get the ground rules clarified in order to try to forestall endless hypothetical questions in the run up to the elections (I know – a naïve hope). Of coure it is only worth doing if it clears the decks for clear statements of policy and direction.

    Is your second paragraph confused? I thought that Tories use scare tactics about letting in Labour, when the Tory vote weakens. Still you are right that if the Tory vote strengthens (as Bill le Bretton thinks will happen), that will threaten quite a few Lib Dem seats.

  • Possible post-2015 coalitions are really not what the Lib Dems need to be worrying about.

    On a national level, there are two things that the Liberal Democrats should be aiming at for 2015:
    A) Keeping the number of Lib Dem MPs from falling below 40;
    B) Keeping the Lib Dems ahead of UKIP in the popular vote.

    These two things are difficult but feasible. Anything else, at this point, is pie in the sky.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Jan '14 - 5:25pm

    Lol! I agree Jennie! 🙂

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Jan '14 - 6:01pm

    Like Jennie i find any detailed response unnecessary from me, as it has already been stated.

    First RC, and then the excellent comment from Caron.

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Jan '14 - 6:44pm

    I don’t think the Lib Dems’ credibility would be improved by ruling out a future coalition – especially as the Lib Dems have imposed five-year “fixed” Parliaments on us. We could easily end up with a situation where it was impossible for anybody to govern effectively, but a new election could not be called. The Lib Dems would rightly get most of the blame for the resulting chaos.

    @Caron Lindsay
    “Four big priorities on the front of our manifesto – all but one delivered”

    Eh? Looking at the detailed pledges on pages 6-7 of your manifesto, it is clear that none of them has been substantially delivered – though strangely enough, the one about “cleaning up politics” is one of the better ones in terms of the proportion actually achieved.

    “and that ‘s because Labour and the Tories got together to deny an extension of parliamentary legitimacy”

    A very strange comment given that you are in coalition with the Tories, not Labour.

  • David Allen 3rd Jan '14 - 6:46pm

    Well – My first instincts are to rubbish this posting, for many of the same reasons as others have given. How can you be serious in politics if you aren’t trying to get into government, if you are only going to vote for or against the plans that others have made, if you are happy on the fringes, if you are happy to just oppose what others are doing?

    Then I think about what the alternatives are.

    John Knox says we have “blown our credibility by our alliance with the Tories”. Caron Lindsay, speaking it would seem for less than half the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010, says that for her our credibility is intact. Well, credibility means persuading others, not just a diminishing few loyalists, that what you are claiming makes sense. One-nil to Mr Knox, I fear.

    So what does the party plan to do about it? Well, a lot of people say they would like to work with Labour next time. But our leadership spends almost no time talking to Labour figures, and a great deal of time chucking rotten tomatoes at them. Labour, in turn, mostly seem pretty unenthused about talking to us. I don’t really believe those who want to work with Labour stand a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing their wishes granted.

    The leadership, to be fair, seem to get that. They do go around acting as if a Tory coalition is the only show in town. But they don’t actually spit that out and say it. Why not? Presumably because they know that it will only “blow their credibility” further when they do say it. Well, come on Nick, if you’re going to say, it, then you’re going to have to say it some time. Why not now? It won’t look good if it’s two weeks from the election, if everybody is bewildered by your evasiveness, and Paxman has to ask you the question fourteen times before you eventually blurt it out!

    The third alternative, most recently floated by Bill le Breton, would be a leadership change presaging a major change in our political stance. Yes Bill, but we should have done that a long time ago. Unfortunately, because we didn’t, the public would now not readily interpret a change in the leadership as a real recognition that we had repented of our (many and serious) sins. This late in the Parliament, they would see it as a last fling, a mere attempt to save our skins. And they would still expect us to end up seeking to work with the Tories again.

    Unless a new leader were to explain, in a credible way, that this would not happen. A new leader could not credibly promise to work with Labour, or even to consider working with Labour, for the reasons I gave above. But a new leader could, credibly, adopt John Knox’s proposal. People would, genuinely, start to think afresh about voting for us, if we clearly promised that we would not climb back into the Ministerial limousines.

    There are plenty of reasons, mind you, why Knox’s proposal would leave us in a not terribly good place. However, the choices would seem to be between a not terribly good place and a total disaster. I think that a not terribly good place is a brilliant idea. Sadly, it is probably yet another survival opportunity we are going to miss.

  • Paul Griffiths 3rd Jan '14 - 7:19pm

    The prospects for any possible Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2015 depend on (a) how far short Labour are of a Parliamentary majority and (b) the number of Lib Dem MPs. And nothing else.

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Jan '14 - 7:41pm

    @Paul Griffiths
    It also depends on how far short the Tories are of a majority – whether they have more votes/seats than Labour, or not. After the last election, the Lib Dems negotiated with both Labour and the Tories, even though it was obvious to virtually everybody that only the Tory option was viable.

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Jan '14 - 7:56pm

    @David Allen
    “The leadership, to be fair, seem to get that. They do go around acting as if a Tory coalition is the only show in town.”

    Perhaps that’s what they think, but Stephen Tall has published an article on Total Politics today in which he claims that “by a 2:1 majority, more Lib Dem members would prefer Labour as our partners to the Conservatives next time”. I find that an absolutely astonishing figure given the number of members the Lib Dems have lost since 2010, everybody assuming they’d headed in Labour’s direction.

    “But a new leader could, credibly, adopt John Knox’s proposal. People would, genuinely, start to think afresh about voting for us, if we clearly promised that we would not climb back into the Ministerial limousines.”

    I don’t see how that’s a goer at all. In 2010, the Lib Dems argued persuasively that anything other than coalition would result in chaos and the country would be ruined. Now that the coalition has given us five-year fixed Parliaments, that argument will be even more valid in 2015. If the Lib Dems were to throw the rattle out of the pram as you and John Knox suggest, the public would be entitled to ask why they were doing the very thing they told us would wreck the country.

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Jan '14 - 8:21pm

    One thing is clear from the experience of the FDP in Germany. Ruling out a coalition with the SDP meant that German electors saw voting for the FDP as voting for the CDU/CSU.
    I think we have no choice but to rule nothing in and nothing out. At the end of the day, the electors will give us the parliament they give us. A coalition will either be necessary or not. What is vital is that we do the background work that will enable us to negotiate cogently with whichever party is the best option for stable government.
    Ruling out a coalition will not in any event be believed.

  • “What is vital is that we do the background work that will enable us to negotiate cogently with whichever party is the best option for stable government.”
    Is there any evidence that that is being done? As far as I can tell, relations between the Lib Dems and Labour are frigid; and while relations with the Tories are nominally cordial, with a sharply reduced number of MPs after 2015, one can be sure that the Tories would be twisting Nick Clegg’s even harder to make sure they had even more freedom of action.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jan '14 - 10:50pm

    @Mick Taylor “I think we have no choice but to rule nothing in and nothing out.”
    I completely agree.

  • @John Knox – Broadly, I agree with you. With hindsight, we made too many policy pledges that would have been difficult to keep in coalition with either the Tories or Labour. However, we DID make those pledges, which put us in an awkward position once coalition negotiations began.

    Our leader took the view that we should do the right thing by the country and form a stable government. Which was and is rubbish. No, we should have done the right thing by the people who voted for us – and if we couldn’t get enough of our policies into the coalition agreement, we should have backed away from it. And clearly, the people who voted for us think we haven’t done enough in coalition, as the polls demonstrate.

    PS – Personally I think we should only consider coalition in future if the other party is prepared to bring in STV – only with proportional representation and an end to one-party governments will we end the tiresome tribalism of Westminster and bring about a more constructive politics.

  • I think we have blown it with Labour to be honest. However if things are finely balanced in 2015 the Conservatives would be willing to have us back again. In that case, we have made a mistake not to go ahead with the constituency boundary reforms as I mentioned on another posting. Is it too late now to have the boundaries reviewed? Would have to be done urgently. Possible that UKIP could get a handful of MPs, would they join with Labour? They are picking up Labour voters now. We should be aware of that possibility at least.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '14 - 7:46am

    @ Stuart Mitchell “People would, genuinely, start to think afresh about voting for us, if we clearly promised that we would not climb back into the Ministerial limousines.”
    Any such statement would be disbelieved and anyway, it’s not practical politics. We are in politics to gain power and implement our policies, not to sit on the sidelines like vestal virgins.

  • “The basic fundamental premise of this article is so fatally flawed I am amased that anyone can seriously put it forward as a proposal, liberal, pluralist representative democracy requires coalitions to work, and improving the way that it works in this country is one of the founding principles of this party, and what many of us joined in order to fight for.”

    It sounds all very well in principle, but the way it’s worked in practice is that we’ve ended up with essentially a Tory government with slight tweaks, despite the fact that the Tories got only 36% of the vote. If Labour had polled slightly better, we could conceivably have ended up with essentially a Labour government with slight tweaks, in a situation where Labour had polled less than a third of the vote!

    And now we are discussing the prospect of the Lib Dems – a party at currently about 10% in the polls – similarly playing kingmaker in 2015. In reality it’s well nigh impossible that that could happen without a substantial improvement in the party’s popularity, but the fact that people are solemnly discussing the possibility and holding forth about democratic principles is surreal in the extreme.

  • Steve Richards in the Independent has it just about right I think. However ambivalent we are about Clegg, he is true to his word that he is centrist, more than most of us so therefore perceived to be on the right of the party, and will work with Labour or Conservative. Paul Griffiths is spot on to state the obvious that the question depends on how the numbers stack up. Labour will not pass up an opportunity if it means an arrangement or coalition with Lib Dems.

    Steve Richards also perceptively remarks that a second coalition with the Tories would be a lot harder and quite possibly impossible to achieve, since they have almost nothing to offer to us and are increasingly in thrall to their Europhobic faction.

    The chances for no overall majority are likely to be slimmer than in 2010 and the Lib Dem position is likely to be weaker, however I expect the leadership to do whatever possible to make sure that if a coalition or governing arrangement cannot be agreed, that Liberal Democrats will have been seen to have acted reasonably and not to have caused a failure to find an accord. It could be in the interests of both larger parties to turn on the Lib Dems and vote for a dissolution of parliament. If this happens the Lib Dem narrative will have to be transparent, verifiable and self-evidently reasonable.

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Jan '14 - 11:34am

    If the Lib Dems want to rule out being in government after the next election, the decent thing would be not to stand in the election at all.

    Ruling out a coalition would leave the public so afraid of five years of unresolvable chaos that all but the most committed Lib Dem voters would switch to the Tories and Labour in droves.

  • Look, we have to get real. Our popularity in the polls is down as a trend. Our membership as a trend is down too, albeit with 700 or so net gain in the last few months, which may just be a blip due to the incentives.

    If we have any chance of forming coalitions after 2015 then we will only do so if the number of Labour MPs about balances the number of Conservative MPs. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives will want to form a coalition with us if they can avoid it, which is the truth of the matter.

    Labour have an electoral advantage because of the way the constituency boundaries lie. We blocked the boundary reform. If we have any chance of balancing Labour against the Conservatives then we should have allowed the boundaries to be reformed. Frankly, we have shot ourselves in the foot, and we might as well admit it, because this is the truth.

    If any senior party members are reading my comment, can we PLEASE put the boundary reforms back before Parliament, and SUPPORT the Conservatives this time. Otherwise it looks as though we are not being honest with the electorate, and that we do not believe in fairness and Democracy itself. This is really a very serious matter. How did we get into this state? I despair sometimes.

  • Your comment about “getting real” is true, Joe King, but it is you who has to get real. The boundary changes were an utter disaster for Lib Dems as a Party, and it is a …. good job the party found an excuse to go back on them. We should never, ever have agreed to them in the first place. Yet another Clegg naivete.

  • Yes, Tim, I cannot see what Joe King is thinking about. Liberal Democrats were more harmed by boundary changes than Labour and would have made FPTP significantly less democratically representative. Boundary changes only made sense under some form of PR where all votes actually count. Since under FPTP many votes are effectively binned, the actual size of constituencies is a very secondary consideration.

    So my plea for the manifesto to state that boundary equalisation should only be supported with PR.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Jan '14 - 12:24pm
  • Tim13, Martin. The reality is that Labour benefit significantly compared to the Conservatives. A higher percentage of votes overall have to be given to the Conservatives for them to have equal numbers of MPs with Labour.
    The fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is: do we believe in Democracy or not? After all it is in our party name.

  • Malcom Todd: it did occur to me that there was a clue in the name, but the comments are so curiously random. Anyway – well outed.

  • Malcolm, I am having some self-doubts, and doubts about supporting the Liberal Democrats any more. Trying to express myself, perhaps not very well. I thought we were supposed to be democratic. Is there anybody else here feeling a bit rudderless?

  • Malcolm, I am having some self-doubts, and doubts about supporting the Liberal Democrats any more. Trying to express myself, perhaps not very well. I thought we were supposed to be democratic. Is there anybody else here feeling a bit rudderless?

  • Joe: I have answered that and why should the number of MPs considered not include Liberal Democrats as well as the two larger parties? Is it democratic to reinforce an exclusively two party system? Do not be surprised if the answer from Liberal Democrats is NO.

  • Martin, we are not going to get PR any time soon. If we want influence, do we achieve that best as part of a coalition or outside a coalition? In either case (inside or out) we have more influence if the two main parties are as balanced as possible regarding their numbers of MPs. So any boundary reforms that balance those two as equally and fairly as possible should be supported, not just to help our case, but because it is more equal and fair than otherwise. Not as good as PR of course, we have to do what is possible in the interim.

    Sorry about my funny pseudonym. The court joker was traditionally there to speak truth unto power. If I am going to continue supporting this party, I need to feel that we are not shooting ourselves in the foot. Hope you understand.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Jan '14 - 1:36pm

    Hi, Joe. Okay, I’ll accept that you’re sincere — perhaps my comment on that other thread really was so devastatingly convincing that you swung 180 degrees on the issue of boundary changes! Not that that was exactly my intention: whilst I do think correcting the imbalance between Labour and Tories and reducing disparities in constituency sizes would make the system more democratic, the associated reduction of MPs to 600 works in the opposite direction. All in all, another fine mess…

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Jan '14 - 1:52pm

    @Malcolm Todd
    “whilst I do think correcting the imbalance between Labour and Tories and reducing disparities in constituency sizes would make the system more democratic, the associated reduction of MPs to 600 works in the opposite direction.”

    There were other problems with the coalition’s plan, such as equalising constituencies based on registered voters rather than population, and the various special exemptions which would have protected several Tory and Lib Dem MPs.

  • @Malcolm. Thankyou.

  • Joe and Malcom: Equalisation of constituencies under FPTP is worse for the Lib Dems when the number of seats is reduced, but under FPTP there is nothing in equalisation of the size that benefits Labour over the Conservatives per se. This just depends on the number of ‘rotten borough’ safe seats there are where there is a vast surplus of winning votes. Some Tory constituencies in shires are very much like this.

    To make FPTP more fair to the Lib Dems it would be better to significantly expand the number of constituencies. This could be one in conjunction with Lords reform in which the number of Lords were greatly reduced. Lib Dems need to make it clear that an objective of the electoral commission in redefining boundaries is that Lib Dems should not be further under-represented.

    Joe, the proposals that were abandoned would have shot the Party in the foot and would have put off prospects for electoral reform even further.

  • Michael Parsons 4th Jan '14 - 6:42pm

    I reckon that Chris is onthe right lines (again).
    Anyway when Pembroke College coined the word “psephology” in the ’50’s, in the great daysof Butler, I recall the most striking conclusion was that electoral behaiviour is not rational (anymore than economic choice is, of course). The main function of “manifestos” is pabulum for the party workers, who need forms of words for their motivational sentiments. Since those days rational choice theory seems to asert that my preference for L as against C must be independent of irrelevant alternatives (such as LD) if it is to be rational. Rational choice is possible perhaps the closer the third choice is to one of the other two (the more LD approximates to C, for example) but since it also requires perfect knowledge of outcomes is pretty far-fetched as a theory anyway. I suspect things are much as they were when these matters were analysed in the 18th century with regard to three-option choices or elections: supporters of any one of these choices will vote for any one of the other alternatives, depending on whichthey feel to be the least objectionable in the light of their own preferred opotion, in an attempt to safeguard themselves, and the outcome is irrational.
    Maybe discussion should centre on sociological and institutional factors, the manufacture of contrived helplessness, power relations between classes and the prevalence of ascribed as against achieved status (the English tendency to forelock-tugging which W. Bagheot observed), indifference and subservience as factors in social stability – and how these break down when people’s lives are disrupted beyond a critical point;, then perhaps in the ensuing insurrection Liberals might hope for a rise in popular sovereignty: short of these periodic covulsions I suspect we delude ourselves if we think it matters which butterfly’s foot-staming is considered to be making the wheel go round.

  • Steve Comer 5th Jan '14 - 2:31am

    Mick Taylor gave us a timely reminder “One thing is clear from the experience of the FDP in Germany. Ruling out a coalition with the SDP meant that German electors saw voting for the FDP as voting for the CDU/CSU.”
    Of course what the FDP stance also did was enable the German Green Party to become the home for centre-left radicals who care about the environment, but oppose statist Social Democracy. In Bristol we have seen many of those who supported us in 2005 and 2010 (some but not all of whom were Labour in 1997 & 2001) turn to the Green Party or to ‘independent’ candidates (like our ex-Liberal Mayor).
    I don’t think ruling out any party as a coalition party makes sense, and does anyone really think that a few months of a minority Tory government will help us in a General election? Those who have moved away from us because we went into coalition will mostly stay away, and a minority Tory Government might well go for a ‘give away’ budget a few weeks before the election, which Parliament would be too scared to vote down!

  • There are two fundamental problems the LibDems have, firstly the coalition agreement doesn’t contain an explicit termination/break clause – only an end date, secondly in seeking an early termination they don’t fatally damage their standing with the British public.

    So the real questions the LibDem’s need to ask themselves: are they a party of honour and their word? and are they professional?

    About the only people who will have problems with an on-going coalition during the 2015 election run-up will be those who’s normal mode of campaigning is to knock the opposition, but perhaps it is time these became more grown-up and professional?

    Certainly many members of the public will consider the LibDem’s to be untrustworthy and unprofessional, if they are unable to fulfil their obligations to the nation under the “Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform”, whilst at the same time conduct a general election campaign…

  • Three things:

    1) I completely agree with the sentiment that if you are not interested in getting into government you simply should not bother to stand for election.
    2) I think the FDP example is misguided – people stopped voting for the FDP not because it was seen as a vote for the CDU, but because it was seen as a vote for the FDP – who were increasingly seen as out of touch rich white men in the pockets of big corporations.

  • I cannot comment on this seriously at the moment because I am laughing at the thought of Jennie and Eddie running a coalition government.

    The practical problems with John’s proposals aside, I think the key thing to regard here is how the public would actually view this. Rather than seeing us as virtuous, John’s idea would leave us looking ridiculous and weak in the public eye.

    Furthermore, we would once again be promising something in absolute terms that we may not be able to deliver. This would be seen as a new student fees pledge, only worse because the public would be cynical of our intentions before we even had chance to prove it.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jan '14 - 5:57pm

    Lol! It would be fine Al. We could attack the Tory right and the authoritarian left.

  • Thank you all for this discussion. The fact that it has attracted a large number of comments shows we should think carefully about this whole business of coalition. By a majority of 2-1, most of you are against my idea of declaring in advance of the next election that we will not be entering a coalition with any other party. But a lot of you are wary about the terms of a new coalition and here there could be a compromise between us. Next time there is a hung parliament we should only enter a very limited coalition, covering just a few main issues, and reserve our right to vote as we wish on all other matters. Hopefully, this will allow us to move the election campaign onto our policies and get away from this negative and confining question of who we might go into coalition with.

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