Opinion: Lib Dems and the politics of protest

February 15th 2003 - Iraq war demo in LondonThe other week I asked whether the Lib Dems were a party of government or a party of protest.  Many welcome comments were made, including a good one pointing out that a political party can be both: that to reach government it needs to be a vehicle of protest, to identify what’s wrong so that it can offer change.

As I thought about that point, I read Ben Marguiles’ blog on Liberal/Lib Dem electoral performance in relation to other parties.  Whether Lib Dems like it or not, his observations highlight the contingent relationship between the party and the politics of protest.

Marguiles observes that previous analysis shows that when the party system is polarised – i.e. the two main parties diverge from the centre, the Liberals and their successors have done well.  This was the case between 1945 and 2010 when Britain had a two-and-a-half party system.  But where the political party system as a whole is polarised, the Lib Dems suffer.  Marguiles puts this down to the rise of other political parties, like the Greens, SNP and UKIP, which all drew votes away from both the centre and both Labour and the Tories.  The result?  The Lib Dems saw their share of the vote drop.  Marguiles does add a rider to this; that the party’s in government may also have made it vulnerable, but that may be due to insufficient data analysis having been done on that specific topic.

What does this mean in terms of future Lib Dem strategy?  It suggests that the Lib Dems will need to rebuild with at least one eye towards the other parties.  The new leadership will need to emphasise how different it is from both Labour and the Tories as well as the smaller ‘protest’ parties.  While it distinguishes itself from the two main ‘business as usual’ parties it will also need to make a positive European case against UKIP, show up the disparity between the SNP’s anti-austerity rhetoric in Westminster and fiscally conservatism at home, and demonstrate greater competence and effectiveness than the Greens would ever be able to offer.

However, the party starts with a disadvantage.  Given its tiny parliamentary size it will struggle to gain media attention (which we faced with a far larger number of MPs last time we were in opposition).  Therefore the party will need to connect with the public in different ways, including outside of election times.  It will mean more year-round work, locally and nationally – the latter focusing on other ‘non-political’ campaigns like protection for workers’ rights, decent pay and benefits.  As well as reclaiming the party’s commitment for social justice it would also place it at the centre of people’s concerns and awareness.  Here it could do worse than to borrow a leaf from the Occupy movement and its slogan of ‘We are the 99%,’ which both expressed its activists’ sentiments and offered a vehicle for inclusion.

* Guy Burton is Assistant Professor in the School of Politics, History and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus. Between 2010 and 2012 he was a researcher at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Previously he was a researcher for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament and was a GLA candidate for the party in 2004.

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  • Sadie Smith 29th May '15 - 1:49pm

    Like the idea of using that kind of slogan.
    Those of us who have been around awhile found the last five years odd. We are all used to making our own Liberal arguments and running campaigns.
    I could take you to a midlands town where a lot of good buildings would have been knocked down but for a Liberal who did not become a Cllr until he moved. But he was a huge influence .
    We need to be a party of both, but don’t ignore what can be done locally either without elected office or from Opposition.

  • Alun Williams 29th May '15 - 2:25pm

    How about coming up with a series of clever, radical policies – thoroughly thought through by experts in the field, and making these a cornerstone of the strategy?

  • Sadie is right – ever since “community politics” was espoused, mainly by Young Liberals in the late 60s / early 70s – as a Party we have campaigned on an “extraparliamentary” basis, as the phrase used to go, and achieved numerous successes at various levels. Alun Williams mentions policy formation – yes, again, the original Liberal Democrat concept (probably SDP in origin?) was what was known as “deliberative policy making”, where working groups would work through particular areas towards a policy, not just in isolation, but with a view to relating them with other policy areas.

    Both of these ideas have been somewhat lost in the last few years, partly with the increase in parliamentary representation, with MPs wanting and feeling the need to, make a more direct impact on party activity, and being credited with successes. The nail in the coffin was Nick Clegg’s disastrously misjudged contention “that unless we are in power, we do not achieve things”. If anyone wants an emblematic issue to demonstrate Nick’s lack of political judgment, and his sparse experience as an activist, it was this. We need urgently, to rebuild our reputation and capability and desire in this type of area, before we lose the public entirely. Maybe all these new members are the new blood we need to revive some old-fashioned ideas and action.

  • You won loads of seats in the south west by telling people that labour couldn’t win there and if they didn’t vote lib dem the Tories would win. It shouldn’t then surprise you that you lost all those seats after entering a coalition with the Tories, after all those bases were anti Tory voters not pro lib dem voters. That’s what calling for tactical votes gets you. And then there was the issue of student tuition fees…

  • Glenn Andrews 29th May '15 - 4:05pm

    Mr Wallace; in most of those seats the bases are pro Libdem – what you are referring to is the roof – which now we have a full tory government is repairable.

  • Jenny Barnes 29th May '15 - 4:37pm

    Conservative home has a very interesting analysis of the South West election result
    tl:dr – the evidence is that in most of these seats the anti-Tory vote left the LDs. Many lost 25% or so of vote share.

  • @Jenny. Indeed. And an anti Tory vote is exactly what you would expect the lib dems to have in seats won with that “it’s a two horse race” nonsense in the south west where labour were in 3rd place. A base made up of anti somebody else tactical voters is never going to be as solid as a base of genuine supporters and can be pretty much guaranteed to collapse in the event of a coalition with that somebody else. It’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? I did try and explain this on here before the election but I was informed that the lib dems would keep most of their MPs because they were all so popular locally and that I didn’t know anything about something called psephology or something.

    @Gleen. The roof? You do realise that you just lost two thirds of your voters, right? Actually they were lost several years ago and this was reflected in the results of every election since 2010 but the party didn’t seem to realise that until the general election for some reason… Everyone else knew it though.

  • Well those tactical voters who did not vote Lib Dem in the South West are soon going to find out how different Conservative Majority Rule is to the way the Coalition was, that is bad enough, but sadly it is likely to be much later when they realise how hard it is to get the Tories out.

    Never trust a Tory especially not when he or she is telling you that the great thing about the voting system that we already have is that if you don’t like your MP, you can vote them out next time.

  • Jonathan Brown 29th May '15 - 10:01pm

    Speaking of being a party of protest and connecting to the public in different ways, I think we ought to be more visible at demonstrations on issues that are important to us. e.g. the human rights demonstration in London tomorrow.

    I’ve just created this facebook group https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lib-Demonstrators/1616510791941541?ref=notif&notif_t=page_new_likes to enable Lib Dems going on demonstrations to arrange to meet other Lib Dems and demonstrate as a group, visibly.

    Hopefully it can be used by people to not just to find other people who’ve decided on their own to go, but to help people organise significant numbers of Lib Dems to go out and be seen.

  • The MPs are all men so perhaps: “We are the 48%” would make a better slogan.

  • Jo Grimond was leader of the Liberal party in the 1960s. He was once asked; Isn’t your Liberal party nothing more than a protest vote party. He answered; Well there is a lot to protest about!
    In truth I want us to be in power as a hate the things the other parties do when they are in power. But it is very discomforting that the best we can hope for is Coalition government.
    However I think we have to stand for something and not be swayed by opinion polls that if we try to emulate will only make us like the other parties, just as Labour is becoming more like the Tories right now in their leadership campaigns.

  • Sammy O'Neill 29th May '15 - 11:49pm

    I fear that until we find a new leader with suitable charisma and the ability to connect with the public, the national party will continue to be a burden on local parties and their good work. UKIP and Nigel Farage (and indeed Clegg and the Liberals) have shown what an impact the right/wrong leader can have on the direction of a party. Our candidates for leader simply do not cut it in my eyes; I only hope 2020 sees a few new liberals entering Parliament from which a suitable long term candidate can be found. With that in mind I support any attempt to try to diversify the Lib Dem MP base away from white, public school educated middle class men into something resembling the real world.

  • I’m sorry but if we think that by making the MPs look more diverse we can change our fortunes we are mistaken.

    It’s a desirable thing in itself but it is policies and ideas which make the difference. The Conservative party can have a diverse cabinet – but it doesn’t prevent it from behaving like the Conservative party.

    I doubt that a single one of our MPs with the exception of Clegg is privately educated. The rest seem to be from pretty ordinary middle class backgrounds – just like plenty of people in the real world.

  • Sammy O'Neill 30th May '15 - 12:48am


    Due to the massacre at the election the number of privately educated MP’s we have has fallen massively of course, but the fact remains they have historically been overrepresented in the party. Similarly Grammar School educated individuals are heavily overrepresented. It’s actually quite sad if you take a minute to see how many Lib Dem MP’s went to a comprehensive school.

    I think it’s dangerous to put everything down to policy without considering who is making the decisions about said policies. If they do not understand the lives of normal people, how can they really expect to connect with them or come across as an alternative to those anti labour or anti tory voters? The fact you see most of our MP’s as being from “pretty ordinary middle class backgrounds” and as being representative of a seemingly large number of people in the real world is in itself a worry. In reality we have become a party where the privileged have become dominant. I dare say we are worse than the Conservatives on the national level, with some local parties also facing a similar issue.

  • I write this first comment as a new member awaiting the paperwork. I joined the party on the party because I am pro European (accepting a need for increased reform & democratic accountability), am absolutely appalled with the prospect that a Conservative government might withdraw this country from the ECHR and because I cannot reconcile democracy with Government access to personal emails. In addition I was impressed with the Liberal Democrat record in Government and the performance of Liberal Democrat Ministers.

    Given the post election scenario which I, like many found shocking I appreciate that rebuilding is required, but I feel that this maybe easier than many think. Firstly the Conservative’s made commitments in the election campaign that will be hard to deliver without some drastic cuts and the electorate will be able to see what the Liberal Democrats in Government prevented the Conservative’s from trying to introduce. We have already seen this in action. There was no mention of the HRA in the Queens Speech – it is clear that the campaign that the Liberal Democrats have run combined with some high profile noises from the Conservative back benches and legal community has achieved the home truth, that they would have a hell of a fight on their hands. The objection should be the withdrawal from the ECHR which this Country and a Conservative government helped form in the first place.

    Will will also in the term of this Parliament, see an attempt to introduce the snoopers charter. The Liberal Democrats made no secret of the fact that they were against it in Government and the electorate should be reminded of this at every opportunity. The Liberal Democrats should lead the opposition against it in opposition (as it is unclear where the Labour party will stand on this) as the party did in Government.

    The biggest battle is the European referendum. The Liberal Democrats should campaign for 16 & 17 year old participation and for the participation of EU citizens who are living, working & contributing to the tax system in this referendum now, the party should also set out the reforms that are required in the period of Cameron renegotiation and then should fully engage in the debate, as this will give some much needed TV exposure.

    Other parties such as UKIP will be under intense scrutiny over the next few years, and as we saw in the election campaign, they may not stand up to it very well. If the vote is a yes one, which I hope it is UKIP will find it difficult to have a reason to exist so the protest votes that they clearly gained will go elsewhere. A yes vote in the region of 60-40 will probably split the Conservative party in my opinion as it will leave Eurosceptics some hope. They will still be “banging on about europe”.

    By having a new leader elected before the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats have a head start over Labour. Labour have got a much harder task to get back to where they were as they will have to build-up whatever vision there new leader has. The Liberal Democrats simply need to explain what Liberalism is – both Economic & Social forms and point to the legislation that Liberal Democrats in Government helped introduce whilst also making it absolutely clear that they did the right thing for the country in 2010 by entering into Government. We should explain that Coalition does mean that not everything can be achieved and that the only way to achieve everything is to have majority Government. All this can be achieved through action & deeds locally and nationally by Social Media, local media where the party base in local government remains strong and in national media when the opportunities arise. The actions of others in politics will demonstrate the need for a party with strong Liberal convictions.

    It took a day to actually lose the seats in Parliament – it can take a day to win them back as long as the work is done on the ground, on the airwaves and in cyberspace in the meantime.

  • @Sammy O’Neill “It’s actually quite sad if you take a minute to see how many Lib Dem MP’s went to a comprehensive school.”

    That’s more of a reflection on the quality of comprehensive education than on the party (note we had many more state educated MPS from the gohort

  • Cohort who went through the grammar system). Look at Labour and conservative MPs of the same age and you’ll see the same pattern. The conclusion is pretty obvious ( and I write as someone who was educated at a comprehensive)

  • Tony Dawson 30th May '15 - 7:22am

    If you made me Lib Dem dictator for a day, I would make Ruth Bright our Leader tomorrow.

    She would not thank me for it!

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 8:40am

    Mr Wallace

    You won loads of seats in the south west by telling people that labour couldn’t win there and if they didn’t vote lib dem the Tories would win

    Well, we were right, weren’t we? In 2015 people didn’t vote LibDem in those seats, and the Tories won the lot of them.

  • Conservative home has a very interesting analysis of the South West election result
    Jenny Barnes 29th May ’15 – 4:37pm
    Many thanks to this link to the Conservative analysis of results in the South West. It comprehensively shows up the ridiculous myth that some were trying to perpetuate that Loberal Democrats did badly in “the South” by being “too like Labour”.
    If you look at the results from Yeovil and Taunton and compare with those from St Ives and fromTorbay the opposite is clearly the case. After five years of hearing Laws and Browne sounding more like Tories than Tories the voters switched away from us, some to Labour or Green, others naturally concluding “If we are going to have an MP who sounds like a Tory, we might as well vote for the real thing”.
    I was encouraged by this report, however, —
    “>St Ives: Andrew George took this seat in 1997 and secured five-figure majorities in 2001 and 2005. The Tories fell just over 1,700 votes short last time, and Derek Thomas finished the job on May 7 with a comparatively slender Conservative majority of just under 2,500 votes. One of his party’s left-wing MPs (he suggested to Andrew Marr that privacy and wariness of the state were libertarian but not liberal), George has indicated that he’s “not walking away” from the seat and is confident of a Lib Dem recapture next time.”

  • Tony Dawson
    I like your idea of Ruth Bright as leader of the party.

  • The Party could have a ‘Bright future’? 😉

  • @Matthew Huntbach. The point was that if that’s your message “vote for us because we’re not x” as opposed to vote for us because here is a list of all the things we want to do, then your voter base will be weak, never 100% behind the party, and completely collapse in the event of coalitions and deals with said we’re not x.

    Even if the Tories turn out to be utter monsters without the lib dems winning these seats back will be harder than simply saying vote us and you’ll never get pure conservative government because the fees issue has also caused people to believe that the lib dems can’t be trusted. That is the second big issue.

    So these are the parties two problems, a weak voter base made up of anti somebody else tactical voters and a lack of trust. Two huge problems to over come. Over come these and the party might be something again.

  • David, your argument has some point but it is a little too absolute. One hell of a lot of people who are voting for Labour or Tory candidates, as well as those voting Lib Dem have no real genuine positive endorsement for their ‘chosen’ Party but are voting for the people who they think are best-placed to ‘stop the other b****rs’. You are right, however, about any tactical message appearing to be pretty hollow unless you have something rather more positive in policy terms to show that you are genuinely agin the main Party you are not squeezing. This is not something you can just ‘magic up’ in the six weeks of an election campaign. As it is, we didn’t even do that this time. 🙁 And if I do not trust Nick Clegg (and I don’t and didn’t),….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTLR8R9JXz4 – the beginning bit

    …….how am I meant to get voters (not all who are as keen on the ‘local’ message as I am) to vote for the candidate of a Party which is led by him? The trouble is, 90 percent of that youtube is quite compelling. Just the beginning and the end completely sinks Nick (and us).

  • Tony Dawson, JohnTilley – ta very much! My husband is fab but I did partly marry him for his ballot friendly surname!

  • @Tony

    All parties actively get some tactical votes, but only the lib dems make getting them the main thrust of their campaign, and that’s the difference. What’s more they’re not even consistent in who’s tactical votes they chase. It varies from place to places. Combine that with the student fees lie and you can clearly see that the chickens have merely come home to roust.

  • I agree with David, Lib Dems haven’t put enough effort into the grassroots over the last decade, relying too much on protest/tactical voting. The solution to that is far stronger local parties with collectively greater and faster control over the central party and MPs.

  • Tony Greaves 30th May '15 - 4:03pm

    Main article – false choice. Therefore rubbish conclusions.

    The answer lies substantially in campaigning, not just fighting elections. And certainly not in arid “focus group and ID politics”. And remembering not to stop campaigning after we get elected.


  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 8:50pm


    The point was that if that’s your message “vote for us because we’re not x”

    No, that’s not my message. I strongly supported the “Yes” side in the AV referendum because, although AV is not proportional representation, it ends all those arguments about “vote for us because we’re not X and if you vote for Y it will split the vote and X will win”. I very much dislike having to put things that way. Of course, in the uselessness of our out-going leadership they weren’t even able to make that point and get people to see it as one of the reasons for voting “Yes”.

    Of course the Liberal Democrats would never get anywhere if their only message was “Vote for us because we are not the Conservatives”. However, it is a fact that from 1974 up till 2010, the Liberals and then the Liberal Democrats were across the south of England able to attract more votes in many places than the Labour Party, and thus emerged as the main challengers to the Conservatives in those places. How would that have happened if there was not support for the for positive reasons? It is a plain fact that, not just in the south-west which maintained a few Liberal seats even when the Liberals looked like a historical relic, but in the south-east also, the Liberal Democrats were winning seats that for decades had been written off as “true blue”. The Liberal Democrats had managed to put something together that was different from the Conservatives and people in those places found it more attractive than what Labour was offering.

    Now, during 2010-2015, as we became inundated with messages from people saying “Nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, never vote for you again, look forward to seeing you get destroyed”, it became clear to me that the main consequence of that would be to reverse the gains that the Liberals and then the Liberal Democrats had made in southern England. Destroying the Liberal Democrats in all those places where they had been able to build a winnable challenge to the Conservatives but Labour hadn’t been able to was going to benefit the Conservatives. And so it did. We saw Liberal Democrat held seats go to the Conservatives, we saw what once were seats where the Liberal Democrats were running close to the Conservatives and could easily become Liberal Democrat with a bit more push go back to becoming safe Conservative seats. We saw almost none of those seats go to Labour or even become marginal to the point where Labour might be considered a serious contender at the next general election.

    I warned that this would happen. I told the “nah nah nah nah nah”s that the consequence of their action would be a majority Tory government. I myself could never see how the pundits could suppose the 2015 general election would result in another no-majority Parliament, because I could see the “nah nah nah nah nah”s would hand the LibDem seats to the Tories, and outside Scotland there was little possibility of any other party gaining seats.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 9:10pm


    Even if the Tories turn out to be utter monsters without the lib dems winning these seats back will be harder than simply saying vote us and you’ll never get pure conservative government because the fees issue has also caused people to believe that the lib dems can’t be trusted

    As I keep saying, it is simply the case that the Conservatives would NEVER have agreed to the level of taxation needed for full subsidy of universities. Why should they, it would go against all their pledges to be the party of low taxation? So, what did you expect the Liberal Democrats to do? What huge cuts on top of the Tory cuts already made do you think they should have proposed in order to enable state subsidy of universities? Or, should they just have banned universities from charging fees and gone along with the Tories in not subsidising them from the state? Oh sure, that would have kept the pledge, at the cost of there being perhaps four or five universities left and the rest forced to close? Do you think that would have been good, David? Yes or no? Keep the pledge at the cost of mass university closures? Because that WAS the other option. OK, if the LibDems had pushed hard to get the Tories to agree to some state subsidy, since I’m not seriously suggesting it would have gone all the way that I’m using as an extreme example, it would have been at the cost of mass cuts in university places so as to keep the budget down. Why do you and others think that would never have happened when the Tories HAVE pushed through massive cuts in Further Education which remains under state subsidised control?

    The Conservatives would never have agreed to straight state borrowing to subside universities either. However, they were persuaded to accept large scale borrowing to subsidise universities so long as this was called “student loans” with a plan for past students to pay them off individually. Given that if it were state borrowing, it would be much the same people paying much the same money, the difference between the two approaches was not that big. As the Conservatives would only agree to the student loans one, the Liberal Democrats concentrated on making sure they were open to everyone with generous pay-back and write-off conditions.

    Well, was a system which meant that universities stayed just as well funded as before, and in terms of actual money flow it was if anything better than before, really so bad? Talk to any university Vice Chancellor, and they will tell you – the Liberal Democrats saved the English university system.

    Oh, sure, that’s a rather hard argument to grasp, and humiliating for the Liberal Democrats that in doing what was the best option for universities they had to do what on paper looked like a u-turn. So, yes, it could be used by the “Nah nah nah nah nah”s to destroy the Liberal Democrats. And so it was . Well, congratulations “nah nah nah nah nah”s, you have what I said you would give us – a majority Conservative government. I hope you are proud of what you have done. When we see the suffering that will cause, remember “nah nah nah nah nah”s that YOU did that. You destroyed the Liberal Democrats because YOU wanted to see the good ‘ol two-party system restored, and that meant a pure Tory government, and you have it.

  • Matthew, the Liberal Democrats destroyed themselves with their lies to the students. As for the tactical voting thing, up here in Scotland I heard nothing from them other than, vote us to stop the SNP. They even argued for in the TV debates and Ruth Davidson said it was hypocritical.

    Difficult to trust after the tuition fees lie, no real message other than “its a two horse races here, and we’re not the SNP”. They did this to themselves man. People will have to put up with the consequences but I’m not sure the voters will regret their decision.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 9:36pm

    By “Nah nah nah nah nah” I mean people who made constant attacks on the Liberal Democrats, but when pushed could not come up with a viable alternative. If there was a viable alternative government that could have been formed in May 2010, it would have to be Labour-led, so to demonstrate it was possible, Labour needed to say what it would do and what it would have offered to the Liberal Democrats to make it viable. But they never did that because they knew it was not possible. Labour wanted to benefit from attacks on the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees while not saying a thing about how they would pay for subsidy of universities.

    What was needed here and elsewhere was realistic discussion on what was actually possible, an admission that if you want something to be provided by the state it has to be paid for, so what taxes therefore would you accept to pay it? But we never had that from Labour. Labour just wanted to hurl abuse at the Liberal Democrats because the Liberal Democrats were in a position where they were forced to accept the consequences of the distortional representation system which Labour supports as much as the Tories do, and it’s the LibDems who want it changed. Labour though they could win by hurling that abuse, rather than proposing constructive alternatives and actually winning people over to some of the more difficult consequences of that, in particular higher tax. So, “nah nah nah nah nah”, that’s all we got from Labour.

    Well, as a consequence of that “nah nah nah nah nah” approach, yes the Liberal Democrats were destroyed, but as no constructive argument had been made against the Tory economic line, too many people remained persuaded by that line, so some people thought “Well, I won’t vote LibDem because I can’t trust them, but what they say about economics sounds right – the Conservatives are competent and Labour are not, so maybe I’ll vote Conservative”.

    As I said throughout 2010-2015, my attempts to defend the Liberal Democrats and what I accept they were forced to do as the least worst of options in this time were constantly undermined by the Liberal Democrat leadership and the way it made out the comprises it was forced into were super-duper wonderful, and the way it made out that they had so much power in the coalition, why it was “75% Liberal Democrat policy”, so that people really did think that what we saw coming out of this rotten extreme-right five-sixths Tory government was what Liberal Democrats really wanted in the first place.

    The general election campaign of the Liberal Democrats was the worst. Instead of promoting the Liberal Democrat alternative, or even adopting a neutral position, the party leadership said that the Conservative economic policies were competent and Labour’s were not – a very dubious proposition, because a lot of the Conservative economic policy is just Ponzi scheme stuff and selling-out to foreign control stuff, and the real economic mistake of Labour 1997-2010 was to go along with Conservative-inspired economic policies. To suggest that Miliband’s Labour was some sort of far-left extremism, when actually it was about where Margaret Thatcher was when we stood up and fought against her for her right-wing policies, was an insult to long-term member of our party.

    So no-one comes out of this well. But the Tories won.

  • Incidentally Matthew, I voted Lib Dem in 2010 but not in 2015. Not pleased that the Tories won but I don’t regret voting against the Lib Dems. And I seriously I doubt I will.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 9:41pm

    Mr Wallace

    Matthew, the Liberal Democrats destroyed themselves with their lies to the students.

    Please read and respond to what I’ve said rather than continue with “nah nah nah nah nah”, And, thank you very much, Mr Wallace for the Conservative government that YOU and your kind have given us. I am already hearing of suicides and starvation coming from the further cuts in welfare that the Conservatives are pushing through. Congratulations Mr Wallace – in destroying the Liberal Democrats YOU have given us that.

  • I do not think much is to be gained by hashing over the tuition fees débacle at this late date. But I will point out that for those Liberal Democrat MPs who signed the pledge and then felt themselves unable to keep it, there was an option which none of them took: namely, to go back to their constituencies, say “I ran on this pledge but now cannot fulfil it, so I am going to resign and run in a by-election without the pledge.” That would have been honest and honourable. Whether it would have been successful, no one now can say.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 9:55pm

    Mr Wallace

    Incidentally Matthew, I voted Lib Dem in 2010 but not in 2015.

    Yes, and I myself was so disgusted by the Liberal Democrat leadership that though I did still vote for the party’s candidate in my constituency, for the first time in my adult lifetime I took no part in the campaign.

    However, I stand by what I said. I believe that what the Liberal Democrats did in the 2010-2015 saved the English university system, and in net effect – keeping universities open to all with no-one unable to attend for cost reasons, and full funding remaining in place – it was the best that could have been done to keep to their ideal. The Liberal Democrats had 57 MPs in a Parliament of 650. They were not in a position to force enough other MPs to vote for the tax rises necessary to subside universities in the way they planned to do if they had had a majority. I agree, it was very foolish to have made that pledge under the circumstances where they would be stuck if other parties refused to back the tax rises it required to be met. I also think the party from the top should have made that point very clearly throughout. Not that full subsidy was “unaffordable”, of course it was affordable all that was needed was more taxation. But that the necessary taxation could not get support from the other parties, so they had to look around for an alternative that would keep universities open to all.

    You have not acknowledged or engaged with my argument by proposing a realistic alternative that would have got through under the circumstances. That is why I call you a “nah nah nah nah nah”. You are having fun humiliating us by jeering at us in that way, including aiming at people like me who have made no secret of our dislike of Clegg and the Cleggies and the image they put out about our party. But you have NOTHING in the way of constructive alternatives. Because you are just destructive, you are happy in the destruction you have wrought, and, as I said, that means you have helped give us a Conservative government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 10:03pm


    But I will point out that for those Liberal Democrat MPs who signed the pledge and then felt themselves unable to keep it, there was an option which none of them took: namely, to go back to their constituencies, say “I ran on this pledge but now cannot fulfil it, so I am going to resign and run in a by-election without the pledge.” That would have been honest and honourable.

    Well, this is what I think should have been done.

    The Liberal Democrats should have agreed with the Conservatives that they would be permitted to propose whatever extra taxation would be necessary to meet the pledge, but with no obligation for the Conservatives to support it. It would be up to Labour what they would have done with that proposal, but the point is it would have placed then on the spot and so killed the “nah nah nah nah nah”. Assuming the proposal would not have got through (DUP would have been bought off, drop a billion or so on Northern Ireland, worth the cost), the Liberal Democrats could then have said “See, we wanted to do it, but we’ve found we couldn’t because we couldn’t get the support we needed for it”.

  • Matthew. Not all ex lib dem voters gave us a conservative government, only the actual Tory voters did that.

    You cannot say you must vote libdem or else you are responsible for us getting Tories, ex lib dems who voted green for example might be responsible for the lib dems losing so badly, but you can’t blame the Tories winning on them, other people did that. Failure to grasp this is partly what got the lib dems into this mess in the first place as has already been discussed on this thread.

    Reading this thread merely confirms for me that the lib dems got what they deserved.

  • Matthew:
    The tuition fees issue cannot remain where it is, even though opponents and critics seem to think it will. Both Labour and Conservatives will move the issue on. Increasingly as it becomes more apparent how many on lower pay,not working or in part time jobs return very little or no revenue into the system, the criticism on the Conservative side will be that the Liberal Democrats did mostly keep their promise and that it is unaffordable. It is likely that modifications will be proposed that make the system less beneficial to students and harsher for universities. There will be a new crisis in university funding. Labour will very soon tear up their proposals and probably ignore they had ever been made, but as funding gets more and more under threat, will find themselves obliged to defend the present system.

    The ‘Lib Dem lies’ message will become harder and harder to maintain, yet in a sense there is a real inconsistency in that we have often stated that it is wrong to bequeath debt to future generations, yet the tuition fee system does precisely that.

    I am saddened by the issue; access to education is and has been central to the Liberal message. Other countries in the EU manage with token fees for higher education, clearly there is a wider acceptance in these countries than in the UK that universities are funded by public taxation

  • When Mr Wallace claims that he is “not pleased that the Tories won” he is hardly convincing – it is not as though he is exactly displeased either. Accordingly when he says “and I seriously I doubt I will” “regret voting against the Lib Dems”, I think I really do believe him.

    What I do doubt though is that we will ever see him defending the outcome of the consequences of how he voted and it would appear urged others to vote.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st May '15 - 1:12am


    I am saddened by the issue; access to education is and has been central to the Liberal message. Other countries in the EU manage with token fees for higher education, clearly there is a wider acceptance in these countries than in the UK that universities are funded by public taxation

    The “nah nah nah nah nah”s demonstrate the problem. There have been widespread attacks on the Liberal Democrats over this issue, and yet those attacks have almost always been like Mr Wallace’s: making no connection between the subsidy of universities they are attacking the Liberal Democrats for not achieving and the the taxation that would be necessary to achieve it. Almost universally it has been put as if the subsidy could be achieved by a wave of the hands, and so the Liberal Democrats are bad people for not waving their hands.

    By demonstrating this budgetary illiteracy, the “nah nah nah nah nah”s are showing why the Tories and their cuts win. If they don’t make the link between taxation and expenditure, the Tory arguments against higher tax: that it is an “attack on aspiration”, the “politics of envy” and so on are believed, and parties dare not argue the case for higher taxation. It is just not seen by the public that if they want things like full subsidy of universities they are going to have to accept higher taxation. But since the “nah nah nah nah nah”s put the impression that higher taxation isn’t needed, just a wave of the hands, people believe the Tories over this, and then think it is just badness that we don’t have the government expenditure they want.

  • Tony Greaves:

    “Main article – false choice. Therefore rubbish conclusions.”


    Please explain. Thanks.

  • Matthew:

    By demonstrating this budgetary illiteracy, the “nah nah nah nah nah”s are showing why the Tories and their cuts win. If they don’t make the link between taxation and expenditure, the Tory arguments against higher tax: that it is an “attack on aspiration”, the “politics of envy” and so on are believed, and parties dare not argue the case for higher taxation.

    Indeed – Cogently put.

    Whilst Mr Wallace may not choose to think of himself as a friend of the Tories, he most certainly is a friend to</b the Tories.

    Labour had an opportunity to mount a constructive criticism over the Coalition years, but instead retreated into their own rhetoric, vainly hoping that somehow the Coalition would fall apart and that government would fall to them as their natural right. They campaigned so well for the Tories that I sometimes wondered if some of the contributors to the Guardian comments and elsewhere were actually Tory trolls, even encouraged by Crosby and their Head Office.

    We do need to recognise that Labour's campaign was effective against us and helpful to the Conservatives because we have in the past gathered votes as a party of protest. We need to be clearly a party that protests. and that protests on strong Liberal grounds.

    Unfortunately, strong principled Liberalism is a minority interest, so it becomes inevitable that the argument is tempered to suit electoral appeal, however I hope that we can avoid being seduced again by a centrist agenda. I know that you despise Nick Clegg, you point out many mistakes that you attribute directly to him. I would probably agree with most of your analysis. In fact I find your analysis to be surprisingly, given your antipathy; sympathetic to Nick Clegg. Clegg was not my preference either, I would have preferred to have kept Ming, however, I suspect that Nick Clegg is a genuine Liberal, I think one reason that his appeals to a centrist politics were unconvincing, was because he did not at heart, believe in them himself. One irony is that whilst both you and I cringed at Clegg’s line of ‘giving a heart to Conservatives and a brain to Labour’, the analysis that I think we agree upon actually supports the line. Labour’s line during the Coalition really was a few screws short.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 31st May '15 - 8:30am

    Non-conformity doesn’t entertain order, it reshapes & realigns order to constitute a state of movement, hence its necessity to Liberalism. Therein, it’s not a foregone conclusion.

  • SIMON BANKS 31st May '15 - 9:15am

    To say the other two parties 1997-2010 period departed from the centre is a bit misleading. The Tories tried for the centre under Major and were voted out for being incompetent and divided, not for being extreme. Blairite Labour was essentially centrist and many commentators thought it would kill us. It didn’t because we weren’t centrist and we were able to carve out the beginnings of a distinctive position on civil liberties, diversity, education and devolution particularly. Opposition to the Iraq war helped us a lot: this was a protest, but a reasoned one.

  • Looking at the big picture, since the economic crash of 2008 every central bank with the blessing of their respective governments have engaged in quantative easing QE which is really just printing money, a race of most western economies to trash their own currencies in a belief that that will help their recovery, while austerity ensures the real economies remain in stagnation.
    I ask this question: Does these governments now believe that austerity is now the way of life for the foreseeable future?
    Because if the answer is no then wages and prices will rise and you will see vicious inflation, especially in the UK where there are no industries such as manufacturing to generate real wealth.
    Will banks then ponder over a interest rate decision which equals inflation or large austerity as in the 1980s.
    The 2015 election results are of a country divided and not a ease with itself. Scotland wants out! Wales (where I now live) could well follow and in the north of England 30 thousand sign a petition to join Scotland should they get independence.
    The Liberals are the only party with policies that will keep Britain united by devolving power to local level. Economically we need manufacturing and service industries in every party of the UK and local banking and stock exchanges to service them. We need a currency linked to real value: that is GOLD.
    When we had the gold standard we also enjoyed low inflation and low unemployment.
    Fiat-currencies are bad news for ordinary people and so is debt and leverage.

  • A large section of the electorate is very fluid in which party they support, they are looking for a party (or people) with a solution which at present they do not see, since the Liberal democrats were trying to justify what they were doing in government with the Tories.
    If the Liberal democrats do think solutions beyond red and blue this will pay dividends for the party.
    This was sadly lacking in the 2015 campaign.

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