Opinion: It’s all my fault!

For the past half century, the party has been growing steadily in influence and numbers. There have been electoral set-backs (1970, 1989, and now 2011). The question is: is this our nadir?

And what will decide if this is really the low point, or if we are doomed to carry on sinking in the esteem of the public?

Most commentators have talked this question in terms of short term issues, like how the party manages to play the coalition. But actually there is something far more fundamental that requires attention.

It is whether we can be clear what the party exists for.

That is an intellectual question. But while we have nurtured our community roots for more than a generation, we have allowed our intellectual roots to atrophy – for fear they would create division and complicate the message.

Quite the reverse. You need both if you are going to survive the difficult times, and being in government in the midst of a recession was always going to be difficult.

The trouble is, there can be few people in the country would could tell you with confidence what the purpose of the Liberal Democrats is. Those who can will have difficulty explaining it in less than a paragraph.

The result is a fatal confusion in people’s minds. The community roots are not enough, alone, to keep people loyal in the difficult times – unless they are committed to the mission. But they are fatally unclear about it, beyond the constantly repeated maxim of success for its own sake, the banal campaigning on empty.

All they have is fervently repeated maxims, harking back to the 1970s. No compelling vision of Liberal public services. No unequivocal commitment to people power, or any other kind of power – except perhaps ‘our’ power.

But the purpose has to be abundantly Liberal. Not rolling back the deficit, important as that is (that is confusingly Tory). Not creating a more equal nation, important as that is (that is confusingly Labour).

Personally, I remain a Liberal because we are the only political force capable of rescuing individuals and communities from big bureaucracies, big business and big systems. But I am not sure, if I am honest, how many Lib Dem colleagues would put it that way.

That’s the problem. In fact, it is the real problem that needs solving to make sure 2011 is our electoral low point.

What this implies is that our bad results last week were not just about the coalition, though of course that hasn’t helped.

Nor are they Nick Clegg’s fault. They are the Federal Policy Committee’s fault, and – since I have been a member since 1998 – that means me. Somebody should probably leave me alone in a room with a revolver and ask me to do the decent thing.

But I’m not going to quite yet, because the real task is so urgent. If we fail to spell out with conviction and clarity what we exist to achieve, then we will be swept aside by other parties that can.

Brighton is then a disturbing vision of the future. For all their drawbacks, the Greens are at least abundantly clear what they are for.

But if we can articulate our purpose simply and passionately, then 2011 will be just a blip on our progress. Voters will be able to watch our inevitable successes and failures in coalition, underpinned by a basic understanding of what we are trying to do and why.

David Boyle is a member of FPC, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, the co-author of Eminent Corporations and a member of this week’s pop-up social enterprise think-tank POPse (http://popse.wordpress.com/)

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46 Comments

  • I don’t know what you mean by:

    “Brighton is then a disturbing vision of the future. For all their drawbacks, the Greens are at least abundantly clear what they are for. ”

    Why is Brighton disturbing?

  • Sandra Folliot 12th May '11 - 1:48pm

    exactly!
    We need to find a clear and concise way to tell the electorate what we stand for on our own, not just by telling them where we differ from the Tories or Labour.
    Which probably means making it clear what Liberalism means.
    Probably not a good example but if I had to summarise what the LibDem etho is to me it might be: “helping people help themselves”. some need or want little help, some a lot.

  • How about:

    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, and we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

  • David Allen 12th May '11 - 1:58pm

    “The only political force capable of rescuing individuals and communities from big bureaucracies, big business and big systems.”

    Yes, that’s pretty much why I was a Lib Dem for 30 years. So why did I decide to stand as an Independent last week (increasing my vote, incidentally)? Because the Lib Dems have completely lost sight of those principles.

    It’s down to Clegg, but not only Clegg. It’s also down to all the junior ministers revelling in their new-found power and happy to break their pledges in order to stay in post. It’s also down to all those MPs who want to keep their jobs for four more years and are therefore prepared to act as “hostages” to the coalition, voting for the triumph of market capitalism over individual rights, hoping against hope that something will turn up and their electoral fortunes will recover.

    If you believe in the Lib Dem principles which David Boyle has so elonquently summarised, then I believe you now have a moral duty. To vote Anything But Lib Dem.

  • @Sandra – I think that sums it up very well and incidentally also defines our differences from the ‘big two’. The Conservatives tend towards the ‘people should help themselves’ philosophy while Labour tend to help people who need it but leave them perpetually dependent on the state. I find both unacceptable and ‘helping people to help themselves’ is a liberal third way.

    To be honest, though, I’m not sure I agree with the thrust of the article. I think we have the intellectual and philosophical grounding spelt out in our constitution: a society in which none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. That in itself is a clear, distinctive ambition. Where we fall down is in communicating that position to the public, and specifically in explaining how our policies relate to that ambition.

  • I think you’re too harsh – on yourself and the party. Somewhere amid all the calls for narrative over the past few years, I think we actually managed to get us one. Not that it’s not a work in progress – is it ever not? But it’s there.

  • @Geoffrey Payne
    “Can anybody tell me what the Labour party stands for in so many words?”

    Whatever you want them to be ????

    Whatever will make you vote for them??

    Two flippant examples for you!!!

    In all seriousness I’m not sure it is the major issue with voters. I think it is the tone of the coalition. Perhaps the “Alarm Clock” has been heard and the next phase of the coalition will start to redress the balance.

  • See, I don’t think the Lib Dems had an Identity problem until they agreed to join this coalition. They were plainly a centre-left party that was attracting voters, put off buy labours authoritarian tendencies, historic basis in socialism, and by the conservative red in tooth and claw free market capitalism, lack of compassion and subservience to hereditary self-interests. They were Liberals,
    The problem isn’t what the Party stands for, but it’s willingness to tear up pledges and co-operate with a bunch of wing-nuts.
    Despite what anyone on these threads says, the first significant act of the coalition was a piece of pure wing-nut theatre called The Emergency Budget, a budget so monumentally inept that bits of it are still unravelling a year later.
    The reason there is a drift towards the Greens and back to Labour is because liberals aren’t conservative, . The Lib Dems identity crisis comes down to this mistaken idea that Lib Dem Voters in the South are disaffected Tories and are disaffected Labour voters in the North. The Lib Dem’s simply can’t believe that voters are actually voting for them based on policies! Disaffected Tories actually tend Vote UKIP. Disaffected Liberals, it turns out tend, to vote Green and Labour. The Lib Dems did slightly better in the South because the Labour Party isn’t much of a force in the south, not because the voters are more conservative. Is this the Nadir of the Lib Dems!. Only if they don’t keep ignoring who their voters are. If the econonony fails badly, then it will get a lot lot worse.

  • I always thought Conrad Russell brought us back to our intellectual roots and I remember him saying Liberalism is about the control of power (I think he had a list of the power we wanted to control back to Charles I.). I am sure he also supported the freedom to do what you want so long as it doesn’t harm others. I believe every policy should be assessed in line with these two liberal principles.

    I think that David Boyle’s, “we are the only political force capable of rescuing individuals and communities from big bureaucracies, big business and big systems” fits my idea of what Liberalism is.

    For Nick it is just some call for fairness. While we do believe in fairness it is a different fairness from Conservative fairness or Labour fairness.

  • Keith Browning 12th May '11 - 3:31pm

    It seems so many people have very short memories. Go back to Jan/Feb 2010, and the opinion polls had the LibDems down as low as 10% and with about 95% of the population unable to name the leader of the party.

    That was transformed by Vince Cable in the ‘Chancellors’ debate, and the effect was so great that many wanted him to lead the party and because of the ‘Vince’ effect his face was emblazoned on the General Election Battle Bus. No-one had heard of a certain Mr Clegg.
    Vince pushed the ratings up to just below 15% but nothing more and it was only the first leaders debate that changed everything and Cleggmania kicked in.

    Actually the party did less well than expected in May 2010 and are only in governement because of the arithmetic.

    So why all this dramatic soul searching. Recent polls were actually better than Jan 2010 and although the party has always prided itself as being better at ‘local elections’ that has only occured when the party had nothing else to fight for.

    So – don’t panic things aren’t as bad as most people think they are – they were actually worse 15 months ago.

  • Keith, I suspect people *don’t* have very short memories and that’s precisely why the Liberal Democrats faced a heavy, heavy night last Thursday. People will remember – for a long time to come – a certain broken pledge from the very party that promised us, *faithfully promised us* a move away from broken promises.

    Now a pledge might not be a promise in your book, but it’s virtually identical in mine and no amount of semantic slipperiness will allow the party to rescue that.

    Single issues, badly held, (and whether you like it or not) can and do destroy political bases when handled badly, without compassion, or with arrogance.

    Remember the Conservatives being wiped out in Scotland – from which they have never really recovered – after “testing” the poll tax north of the border there a year before rolling it out across the rest of the UK. *That* one policy cost the Conservatives Scotland (and Premier Thatcher her job not too long later).

    The Lib Dem’s broken promise on tuition fees is likely to be the same.

    I’ve been a Lib Dem since I was 18. I’m now 40. I can *never* vote for the Liberal Democrats again until the tuition fees fiasco is corrected.

  • Very good post, our intellectual resources should be central to the party, but aren’t at the moment. Micheal Meadowcroft has some good stuff about how political parties should be based on ideology (which the Big Two aren’t, really). Conrad Russell’s book ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism’ argues that for Liberals power should be decentralised and accountable, along with a sympathy for underdogs. Something like that? Perhaps ‘human scale politics’? The Greens go along with this quite a long way, but have an authoritarian (and at times almost anti-human) streak which I think will become more apparent as they grow.
    And of course this is still well worth reading: http://www.cix.co.uk/~rosenstiel/aldc/commpol.htm

  • I thought Clegg’s speech yesterday was very good. Part of the reason we have a clearer narrative now is that his speeches make a lot of effort in that regard.
    I think the single most important thing we can do, though, is to keep referring to our tradition – all parts of it. It’s a lot easier for people to see where you’re going, what your principles are and how you differ from the other lot if they have an idea of where you’ve come from. We made much of “new politics” in the 2010 elections, and Clegg got this “new kid” label that has done us more harm than good.
    My favourite headline of the 2010 campaign was when he went to visit an old people’s home in Wales, and the headline was “Clegg meets voters who know a Liberal prime minister when they see one.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '11 - 5:23pm

    Keith Browning

    Vince pushed the ratings up to just below 15% but nothing more and it was only the first leaders debate that changed everything and Cleggmania kicked in.

    No, the press put it this way, but as ever when it comes to us, the press got it wrong.

    Opinion polls were showing a big rise in support for us just BEFORE the first leaders debate. This was because we were in the position that Parliament had run to its full term, we all knew there had to be a general election in a few weeks’ time, so we started preparing for it by getting a good delivery of literature out in the week or two before the election was called. Large parts of the country were simultaneously alerted to our existence due to Focus coming through their door, hence the rise in the polls.

    The national media, however, are obsessed with leaders. They think all politics is about the party leaders and senior people in Westminster, then the MPs, and only in the distance almost invisible such things as party activists. They think of party activists as either a nuisance, silly people getting in the way and damaging the party by stopping the leader doing what they want him to do, or as a sales force which will just jump to the orders of the leader when given. That is why they seriously entertained the proposal that Clegg could somehow order the party to form an electoral alliance with the Conservatives in the next election, and went on at lengths discussing thus ridiculous ideas as if people like me on receiving the instructions from on high will stop delivering “Focus” and start delivering “In Touch”.

    So, the national press were unable to think of any reason why our opinion poll figures might rise apart from Clegg’s appearance in the leaders’ debates. I am not saying this did nothing, but it built on the back of what was already happening and what was already happening had primed people to realise that there were three parties in contention, and this Clegg figure they had hardly been aware of before was leader of one, and he seemed a reasonable fellow, as good as the others.

    I believe our party was damaged by “Cleggmania” because it led us to lose focus (or lose Focus) on what we were doing and made it look like we were just a Clegg fan club. One of the really good things about the Kennedy leadership is that because the man was a, well fill in the words, our party was forced to become less leader oriented than it had been in the past, and we were beginning to be seen as a team with a whole load of able people to offer. Clegg was not the messiah, he was just a, well, fill in the words, anyway the misattribution of all our success just to him led to an over-expectation and hence a fall as his later appearances in the leaders’ debates showed him as stumbling and pedestrian. Still as good as the others (they too were stumbling and pedestrian), but nothing to get into a mania about. That is why we did unexpectedly badly at the end.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '11 - 5:39pm

    Glenn

    They were plainly a centre-left party that was attracting voters, put off buy labours authoritarian tendencies, historic basis in socialism, and by the conservative red in tooth and claw free market capitalism, lack of compassion and subservience to hereditary self-interests. They were Liberals,
    The problem isn’t what the Party stands for, but it’s willingness to tear up pledges and co-operate with a bunch of wing-nuts.

    Er, as I have said before, you seem to have forgotten this thing called “democracy”. That means if you lose the election you have to put up with government by those who won it. You might as well abuse Labour in the same terms as you abused the Liberal Democrats because Labour too has not implemented their manifesto pledges following the election.

    The people of this country, bless them, chose to elect a bunch of right-wing wing-nuts as the largest party in Parliament. Not quite enough of them to have over half the votes, but close enough to it that there was no other stable government possible apart from one led by them. Given that there was no alternative government, there was not the power in the third party to say “give is what we want, or we’ll join up with the other lot”. Rather, the wing-nuts had the power to say “Give in to us, or we’ll let the country go hang and blame you”. Entering the coalition gave the country a stable government, and us a very limited influence – only really able to get that which it suited Cameron to give us when he was on our side against his own party’s wingier-nuts.

    If your argument is that Cameron shouldn’t have been PM because his party did not get over half the votes and show should listen more to the others, well that has just been shot down by the decision of the British people to support “First Past the Post”. The main argument for FPTP is that it’s better to give a distorted share of the seats to the largest party and to weaken third parties because that gives more “decisive” government. Well, so it has, and we are living under it. FPTP might not this time have given Cameron an overall majority, but its distortions worked as its supporters say they should and say is good – he was strengthened, the Liberal Democrats were weakened. So, we have what the supporters of FPTP think is very good – decisive government of an ideology of the largest party with very little tempering by anyone else. Anyone who voted “No” in the referendum voted for that, and if they abstained they supported it by letting “No” win. Sorry, that’s democracy — you and I may think the Tories are wing-nuts, but in May 2010 the people voted to be governed by wing-nuts, and in May 2011 they voted to support the system which gave us the wing-nut government and so voted to destroy the main argument against it.

  • The idea of “someone articulating a new political paradigm” and “a fast and spectacular re-ordering of politics” is a terrifying one. I felt deeply uncomfortable about our sudden rise in the polls after the first leader’s debate, partly because it was a bubble just waiting to burst, but also because it demonstrated how easily a presentable and articulate politician, given national exposure, can create political momentum out of nowhere. That is not healthy for the body politic as has been demonstrated over recent years in Italy.

    A couple of other points: the Greens have a graspable ideology, but it is not coherent. Brighton is an idiosyncratic place, but I will be very surprised if their administration lasts two years. And: please do not blame yourself for anything, David (OK, I know it was a bit tongue in cheek): the party is woefully short of people who both think originally about the underlying causes of problems, and who are able to write articulately and accessibly about them. Conrad Russell was a wonderful man, but sometimes I have to read a sentence several times and still don’t understand, whereas you never write an opaque line.

  • Andrew Duffield 12th May '11 - 6:03pm

    “big systems” – monolithic health service perhaps?

  • Mathew
    . My argument is that the 2010 general election was not a sign that the population wanted a coalition, it was a sign that people couldn’t make their minds up. And as a matter of fact, I think, that a minority Conservative Government was a better option than using the centre-left vote as a rent -a -majority. I think that’s what the AV vote and council election demonstrate. All labour really have to do is say Vote Lib Dem get Tory, game over in anti-Tory strongholds. The supposed centre right Lib Dem vote simply barely exists, so all the Conservative Party has to do is sit on their back-sides laughing about these comical liberal lefty-do gooders who are so disorganised they’ll even give Osborne a job, rather than cease the squabbling with each-other.
    To be honest, I’m beginning to think unthinkable, that pluralist factional politics is the biggest obstacle to social-liberalism., that I voted the wrong way on AV and that the Lib Dem leadership really are the shameless opportunists t the voters have decided they are; And that Nick, Vince and Simon entered the coalition with the Conservatives because they were more worried about a resurgent Labour Party and further leakage to the Greens than the prospect of a Conservative Majority or the economy nose-diving further. They didn’t want a pluralist New Politics, they just wanted a job and a book deal when it all collapses.

  • Sometimes we feel like throwing our hands up in the air
    We know we can count on you
    Sometimes we feel like saying “LordweI just don’t care”
    But we’ve got the Laws we need To see us through

    Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough
    And things go wrong no matter what we do
    Now and then it seems that life is just too much
    But we’ve got the Laws we need to see us through

    When food is gone you are our daily meal
    When friends are gone we know our saviour Laws is real
    Our Laws is real

    We got the Laws
    We got the Laws
    We got the Laws

  • “LibDem politics must be about education because all problems can trace their roots back to education. All problems result from bad choices, and all bad choices are the product of bad information or the inability to analyse it well – bad education.”

    So how come my brother-in-law, a thoracic surgeon, smokes? Is he badly educated about the effects of smoking?

  • David – I am happy to sign up to “I remain a Liberal because we are the only political force capable of rescuing individuals and communities from big bureaucracies, big business and big systems”, although I fear in many cases you and I might decide that this meant different things on particular policy issues.

  • If bad choices come down to bad education? Why do educated people disagree on so many things. For that matter how do you know that if you are badly educated or well educated or that the choices are good or bad?
    I think everything comes down to getting the economics right. People just don’t want to be broke or sacked. Liberalism to me should be about being fair and not too judgemental of failure or weakness, Basically it’s about a decent human being.

  • Andrew Duffield,

    ““big systems” – monolithic health service perhaps?”

    Do you imply that all state-run organisations are “monolithic” by definition, and hence to be abolished?

    Do you believe large commercial healthcare corporations would provide better “big systems”, and if so, why?

  • “from a liberal general secondary education, not from a tailored, vocational or professional tertiary education”

    Here I would agree with you. And the only way that particular nettle is going to be grapsed is through that dirty word “selection”.

    David Allen – “Do you believe large commercial healthcare corporations would provide better “big systems”, and if so, why?”

    In principle, yes – because any commercial organisation has to be sensitive to what its customers want, or it goes out of business. The dynamics are more complex in a publoic organisation, because the end user’s views are mediated via political control.

    But … commercial control only comes about if there is sufficient competition to ensure that organisations have to be responsive to the end user/customer.

    The enemy here is monopoly.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '11 - 1:48pm

    Glenn

    My argument is that the 2010 general election was not a sign that the population wanted a coalition, it was a sign that people couldn’t make their minds up. And as a matter of fact, I think, that a minority Conservative Government was a better option than using the centre-left vote as a rent -a -majority

    So your argument is that the British people wanted a purely Conservative government, and that the Liberal Democrat leaders are bad people for letting them have that?

  • paul barker 13th May '11 - 3:40pm

    Its good we are thinking about this, for me we are the part of the Left that loves Freedom. A lot of people on the Authoritarian Left, which includes The Labour mainstream actually dont get Freedom at all. They genuinely beleive the word has no meaning.

    On our prospects, we to continually remind ourselves that both The Big 2 Parties have been in decline for 60 years, there is no evidence the long-term trends have changed in the last year, Time is on our side.

  • Mathew
    My argument is that the Lib Dem leadership, did not have the permission of the people who voted lib Dem to form a coalition with the conservative party.. The Voters voted for a minority Conservative, government and under FPTP that is what they should have had.
    Your argument and that of the Lib Dem leadership appears to be that even if the voters vote for different parties with different ideologies their votes should go to who ever has the highest percentage of the over all vote!. In which case every Government would have 100% support.
    So why didn’t the Labour Party, SNP, Greens, UKIP, BNP and Monster Raving Loonies chip their votes in as well! That;s what I want to know?

  • “The Voters voted for a minority Conservative government….” Can we knock this sort of analysis on the head: ‘The Voters’ do not exist as an entity with a collective will. Under FPTP each of us, individually, goes into the polling station and selects the candidate we wish to support. There is no conceivable way that an individual can express a desire for an outcome of an election other than that their choice wins. The outcome of the 2010 election was a balanced parliament: that is an accident of mathematics under FPTP, not the product of collective desire.

  • Tabman,

    Yes, if you want to pick and choose between different oppressive big powerful vested interests, private companies do have one saving grace that state organisations do not have, and that is the constraint of market competition. When it works as such. Frequently it doesn’t. For example, all the banks offer lousy customer service, so all of them can get away with it.

    Private companies are also frequently more highly motivated to oppress and to dominate than are state organisations. The profit motive and the big bonus motive corrupt private company executives more than they do the leaders of most state organisations (though not all). Private companies are also more likely to oppress their employees to drive costs down to the bone and hence win in competition.

    State organisations on the other hand are more prone to complacency. I used to think they were also more prone to stultifying bureaucracy, but, big dinosaur private companies which nowadays survive only by virtue of sheer size now often rival the worst the state can do in organisational incompetence.

    So there ain’t a lot to choose between big powerful vested interests. Liberal Democrats should not waste their time in ideological dispute as to which oppressor is the worse. They should simply act to support individuals against oppressive vested interest whether state or private.

  • tonyhill,
    I agree with you. What I meant was that the election delivered a minority government, not that it was an act of collective will. .

  • I am glad you agree with me David Boyle, however I am not sure it can be communicated in such a way that people can know where we stand instinctively on issues. Liberalism is about balancing between individual freedoms and rights, between freedom and the control of power, between social liberalism and economic liberalism. As liberals we often disagree where that balance lies and if we find it hard to agree then the public can’t know where we are instinctively, but we need to be better at making them aware of how we consider issues and make our judgements.

    I would like us to reclaim rights as good things. Human rights are a liberal idea. We have rights and there should be no link to responsibilities. We support the right to be irresponsible so long as it doesn’t adversely affect others. We support the right to life, the right to a free education for children, the right to have free health care, the right to receive state benefits if not earning enough money to live on. To provide these rights our freedoms are curtailed and as Liberals we accept this. Is this based on our valuing each individual person? Is there a link to utilitarianism in that we wish people to be happy? Is our fairness based on getting the balance right, allowing individuals to choice, our belief that people know best what makes them happy, ensuring people’s basic needs are met so they are free to have the opportunity to make choices on how they can increase their happiness?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th May '11 - 10:50pm

    Glenn

    My argument is that the Lib Dem leadership, did not have the permission of the people who voted lib Dem to form a coalition with the conservative party.. The Voters voted for a minority Conservative, government and under FPTP that is what they should have had.

    No, they voted for a Parliament which thanks to the distortions of FPTP meant the only viable coalitions were Conservative-LibDem and Conservative-Labour. FPTP also greatly diminished the number of LibDems compared to the number of Conservatives, thus greatly weakening the influence they could have.

    A “minority Tory governemnt” would be simply the current government but without the LibDem influence. So essentially you seem to be arguing for a government even more right-wing than the one we have now.

    Your argument and that of the Lib Dem leadership appears to be that even if the voters vote for different parties with different ideologies their votes should go to who ever has the highest percentage of the over all vote

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, why can’t you try reading carefully what I wrote rather than jumping to conclusions? This is what is so frustrating – now I’ve been arguing a year with people like you on this issue, and not one of you has the sense to be able to get my point. No, I am NOT saying that, but it IS the principle behind the “No to AV” argument, therefore it seems to me anyone who voted “No to AV” should be happy with that outcome.

    If people had wanted to move to a system where the parties had an influence more like their share of the vote, they ought to have voted AV, which doesn’t give that sure, but at least starts the ball moving that way. But they didn’t vote to start the ball moving that way, in fact they voted for “No” on the basis of a campaign which explicitly opposed that sort of thing. So by voting “No” to AV, the people endorsed the idea that the biggest party should take the lead, and third parties should have their influence diminished – which is what we have right now.

    So it seems to me the people have got what they want, what they voted for. I didn’t vote for it, so why do you blame me? We have a government which is very decisive instead of weak and unstable, always arguing because its components can’t agree. It is decisive because it is mainly Tory, and because the weakness of the LibDems thanks to FPTP means they don’t have the influence they would have if they had a share of the MPs equal to their share of the vote. Anyone who doesn’t like that shouldn’t have supported FPTP either by voting “No” or by abstaining and letting “No” win.

    We live in a democracy. Living in a democracy means if you are on the losing side, you don’t stop the winning side from doing what they want. But you do have a right to say – as I am saying – “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for it”. So far as I am concerned, the vote against AV was a massive vote of confidence in FPTP and therefore in the current government we have. So tough, tough, tough Britain – on May 5th 2011 you voted overwhelmingly to support Cameron by voting for the system that put him where he is and gave him the power he has, so stop moaning about it.

  • Mathew .
    As I keep saying I voted Yes to AV and completely accept that it was defeated. I’ve read what you have to say The argument that anyone who Voted No to AV should be happy with a strong stable coalition government is logical but a little simplistic, because people vote for policies, in some cases out of tribal instinct. and for all manner ideological, social and personal reasons. No one has to be happy with or support anything.
    I think people voted No to AV because they want the party they vote for to win, not take the lead. They voted for party loyal oppositional politics and unfortunately this benefits the two party system. I actually think that the Coalition has pretty much killed electoral reform because not enough people feel like they got what they voted with this government. But that’s people for you, not always logical. I voted yest to AV precisely because I think this coalition is wrong, I hoped it would help pluralist social liberal politics.
    As for the rest of it. Yes I think a minority right-wing government would have been better than a Lib Dem moderated one. I think it would have lost a snap election and generated goodwill for electoral reform.

  • The purpose of the Lib Dems is written on the back of the membership card.

    The last thing we can afford to do is define ourselves around a serious of ridiculous policies to attract the votes of a tiny segment of society.

    For us to do this, we need to accept a couple of truths.

    1. There is nothing illiberal about tuition fees.
    2. Not all young people are university students – many who work in manual jobs RESENT paying for the education of bankers and lawyers.
    3. There is a risk that a Liberal void opens up in British politics unless we are more assertive about individual freedom from both the state and corporate greed.

    Labour and the Tories are fighting for the ‘Blue Labour’ / white van man angry right winger vote. Both parties are digging in to preserve the worst aspects of british politics – patronage, tribalism, self-obsession. If all we do is carry on apologising for things we had no option but to do, this is what we will be remembered as.

    Our greatest strength in government may end up being our environmental record (which Labour and the Tories will again try and compete for the right wing ‘its not a priority on the doorstep’ vote) if we can articulate loud and clear that it was our idea and it worked.

    Sensible policies and an absolute commitment to the rights and freedoms of the individual to make their own decisions. – that’s what we need more than any lurch to the left.

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