Opinion: Lib-Lab Pact

infographic2014The Lib Dem campaigning message is encapsulated in Stronger Economy, Fairer Society, with Conservative messaging focusing on ‘the long term plan for economic recovery’, and Labour’s focusing on the decline in living standards of the poor and the squeezed middle.

Nick Clegg’s response that, were Labour in the future to ask Libdems to form a coalition with them the first demand would be ‘Don’t break the bank’,  seeks to emphasise Lib Dem economic competence.

It should come as no surprise then that the voting public should surmise that coalition economic policy is just what we say it is – a joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat long-term plan for economic recovery with “not a cigarette paper between us”

All the mainstream parties will be committed to deficit reduction during the course of the next parliament and all have endorsed a legislative cap on welfare spending. With relatively few macro-economic differences between the parties, the campaign can be expected to become more explicitly ideological, with UKIP joining the fray as a neo-Thatcherite alternative.

In campaigning for the 2015 election, we can expect only limited credit for the Lib Dem contribution to restoring confidence and the economic conditions for a recovery. We will need to concentrate on our achievements in delivering a fairer society while in government, as exhibited on Mark Pack’s infographic.

A 2012 LDV survey indicated that, in the event of another hung parliament, by a significant margin – 48% to 19% – Lib Dem members prefer a deal with Labour to one with the Tories. Based on the electoral arithmetic of the 2015 election, we will need to be prepared for opposition, a potential coalition with Labour or a supply and confidence agreement with the Conservatives (assuming Lib Dems would not entertain another Tory coalition with the economic crisis passing).

Interestingly, Labour policy positions appear to have been converging with Lib Dem’s for some time now, with several area’s of apparent agreement developing e.g.

  • EU referendum if and when there is a transfer of powers
  • Tax cuts for low earners
  • Reduction of benefits for wealthier pensioners
  • Mansion tax on properties over £2m
  • Preserving the Human Rights Act
  • Reducing the voting age to 16.
  • Target of 2030 for decarbonisation of the power sector
  • Elected House of Lords
  • Enhanced oversight of intelligence services
  • Devolution of powers to local authorities and Cities.
  • Reform of party funding
  • Qualified teachers for free schools and academies
  • Ban on for-profit free schools
  • Increased banking regulation
  • New house building programme
  • Scrapping the marriage tax break
  • Cutting pension tax relief foe high earners
  • Scrapping the bedroom tax
  • Local accountability for schools
  • Integration of health and social care

What the LDV survey respondent’s expressed preference for a coalition with Labour would do to Lib Dem political fortunes is unknown. The historical record is not encouraging, however. Nonetheless, that Liberal policies have been enacted in this parliament, Conservative negative impulses moderated and Labour’s policy making infused with Liberalism is a worthy achievement itself, whatever side of the government benches the party’s parliamentarians find themselves on post-2015.




* Joe Bourke is an accountant and university lecturer, Chair of ALTER, and Chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats.

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  • Joe Bourke
    Thank you for this list of the overlap between Liberal Democrat and Labour policy positions.

    It seems to refect some of the very informative pointers that David Howarth has given us to the evidence in the British Election Study data about what voters who are likely to vote for us actually want.

    There is also some reflection of the policy positions of the Green Party, whose quiet successes in recent elections is put down to Liberal Democrat voters switching to the Greens.

    David Edgar in a recent article in The Guardian pointed to a growing consensus of the parties who are natural allies against the Conservatives and UKIP.

    In 2015 the Conservatives will be the UKIP-LITE party, why on earth would any Liberal Democrat want to touch them with a barge pole?

    (my predictive text just tried to make that last sentence end with the words “Farage pole”. !!!!)

  • According to press speculation Clegg will today say —
    “We don’t believe in an ever-shrinking state.
    We are not so ideological about making cuts that we’ll deny people the things they need.
    We’re not so dogmatic about borrowing that we’ll jeopardise Britain’s economic health.
    Responsibility – yes, austerity forever – no.”

    Is this is a shift by Clegg or just a re-ordering of the same old words ?
    It is a bit opaque.
    I would prefer if he came out with a list of things which define Liberal Democrat beliefs.
    But then again I would prefer it if Clegg would simply say “good bye” because however good the message, if the audience hate and loathe the messenger they will not listen to him.

  • Peter Chegwyn 9th Jun '14 - 10:34am

    Any campaign needs a strong, positive message with good reasons why someone should vote for you as well as persuasive arguments as to why people should not vote for your opponents.

    The leaks of Nick’s speech today suggest the speech has all the negative arguments but none of the positives.

    It sounds as if the speech is just a re-run of well-worn arguments with the order of words shuffled round a bit… in short, more of the same.

    The public have already shown they are not impressed by these lines.

    As John Tilley has said, they don’t like the messenger, they’re not listening to the message, and the parrot-like repeating of ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’ has left our party on 6 per cent in the polls and Nick Clegg himself with a poll rating of minus 65 per cent, the worst for any Leader ever.

    Time for a change!

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jun '14 - 10:39am

    I am afraid that people have stopped listening and in my case reading. I think that I am not alone in this as I am afraid that he has become toxic.

    I read the news on a computer using magnifier, and when the name Clegg appears in a headline, I scroll past. I dread that he will announce his backing for a policy that is important to me as it seems that people are prepared to resist anything that he supports just to show their animosity to him.

    I am sorry for what has happened to the Liberal Democrat Party under his leadership during this coalition. The retirement of Don Foster reminds long term voters like myself how important the party has been as a beacon of decency and humanity and as a bulwark against powerful vested interests.

  • Steve Griffiths 9th Jun '14 - 10:39am

    John Tilley

    According the main Lib Dem website, it says: “Nick will set out the key lessons that must be learnt from the recent local and European elections, paving the way forward for the Liberal Democrats.”

    I thought there was to be a review to learn the lessons from the recent election results and I don’t remember it reporting.

  • You can’t trust Labour. Consideration of a coalition with them ends there with me.

  • Simon McGrath 9th Jun '14 - 11:01am

    @John Tilley – you seem to be recommending that we simply adopt Labour’s policies. Surely if voters want labour polcieis they would simply vote for them?

  • Any coalition or accord after the 2015 election will be very difficult for the party. The indications are that Lib Dem support will be sharply reduced. This will only reduce Lib Dem credibility as a coalition partner and erode the Party’s negotiating position. Moreover there will be a pressing need to rebuild and reorientate the Party.

    If the outcome creates a need for another coalition Lib Dems will need to present themselves as very reluctant participants and the aspirant PM would have to very publicly call for Lib Dems to be brought in. Thankfully a precedent has been set for seeking approval from the membership, so this would have to happen as well. Interestingly, such a vote would also effectively, be a confidence vote in the leadership.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '14 - 11:31am

    Thanks for this, Joe.
    It is encouraging that the possiblity of collaboration with Labour remains open after 4 years of mutual mudslinging. Obviously we know that getting promises that sound good and getting bankable results that are clearly linked in people’s minds with the efforts of our own party are two very different things. But of course we have a tough eleciton ahead of us and nothing is set in stone; Labour should not be crowned kings yet and we not able to confidently say we would hold the balance of power and be in a position to do a deal with anyone.

    However, I am concerned that if we do not even try to make common ground with Labour we will be in a position where for ever and ever we are seen as the potential ‘liberal’ or ‘centre-ground’ partners of the Tories, trying to woo them from the left whilst UKIP perform the same role at their right hand. Not a comfortable setting. (Admittedly in future we may find ourselves and the Greens in the same situation vis-a-vis Labour).

    Yes, Labour are untrustworthy but so are the Tories. Where I am most hopeful about coalition with Labour is the possibility of getting more movement on devolution. Labour, after all, are the only party that have really delived some transferrence of powers to date, the the Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish precendents, flawed as they may be.

    The elephant in the room here is Scotland. If Scotland votes ‘Yes’, or narrowly ‘No’, any 2015 government is going to have a tricky consitutional situation (even a crisis) to negotiate, and that is going to challenge any government of any party, and drive day to day politics more than what’s written in any manifesto.

  • Simon McGrath
    You are right that if people want Labour policies the logical thing might be to vote Labour is a constituency where it is a simple direct choice between Labour and Conservative.
    But have you spotted how things have changed over the last 60 years? Nowadays there are no such constituencies.

    We no longer live in a two and a half party system. Election results in the last eight years show Liberal Democrats coming fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.
    People like you have said this was just a blip, stick with Clegg and chase that illusion of Conservatives that would vote for us if only we were a bit more right-wing……
    Well it did not work did it?

    The fruits of the Simon McGrath garden of political wisdom can now be seen rotting on the pavements of Liverpool, Manchester and London.
    Have you noticed what has happened in those places to the Labour vote? You are chair of the local party in the London Borough of Merton, have you noticed that the Labour Party now has a majority on your local council ?
    If you had not noticed the results of your approach are disaster , wipe-out, catastrophe.

    Instant coffee is available in all good stores, buy yourself some, add hot water and smell it. Maybe you will wake up.

  • Andy Crick
    You say that people cannot trust Labour.

    Well that is another area of overlap then, people do not trust Liberal Democrats either ( not whilst Clegg clings on).

  • Bill le Breton 9th Jun '14 - 12:10pm

    Just to point out that I did say that Browne’s piece yesterday was part of a tug of war going on with Clegg who he probably fears is drifting away from him (and David Laws) towards … towards ??? … well what day of the week is it?

    If there is a U turn on things then it is approximately 4 years and 2 weeks too late. But I shall keep a close eye on the detail and also any analysis by the Freethingking Economists who is making a welcome and timely back into the fresh air on https://freethinkecon.wordpress.com/

  • Bill le Breton 9th Jun '14 - 12:12pm

    Question: why wasn’t Joe Bourke a SpAd?

  • If Clegg is still leader there will be no coalition with Labour; they wouldn’t want to taint their brand with him. Most likely there will be no coalition with Labour regardless; I do not believe they would want to enter one with the Lib Dems. Alternative arrangements are likely to be far more desirable for them.

    And that’s even if the arithmetic in parliament adds up to a position where there could be a coalition.

    Also I don’t think it would be good for Lib Dems. Another five years in government, playing for the other team? The public contempt will be overwhelming and whilst a sizeable chunk of Tory-leaning Lib Dems will likely leave the party I think it’s doubtful that there would be a significant return of Labour leaning voters.

  • John Tilley
    Well Labour will not be the majority on my local town council.In the days of socialism it had a presence but not anymore.Outside of large urban centers and the north of England it is hard to see its appeal.

  • nvelope2003 9th Jun '14 - 12:24pm

    John Tilley;: There are still many constituencies where the only realistic choice for most people is between the Conservatives and Labour even if there are a lot of other candidates.In those places people who want Labour policies will vote Labour not Liberal Democrat. Why should they do otherwise ? Only in places where they think Labour will come third will they do otherwise.

    Although Mr Milliband has been too clever to rule out any coalitions it is very unlikely that they would enter into one with the Liberal Democrats, especially if they had been reduced to a handful of MPs. Of course it might be different if there was an unexpected surge in support for the party. Historically Labour have not taken part in Coalitions in peace time unlike the Conservatives. I doubt if this will change but maybe times have changed.

    Sadly the party may be finished or at best struggling for many years because the public do not like coalitions and they see the Liberals Democrats as a party which is largely irrelevant without any positive message which might appeal to them. Every boy and girl that’s born alive is either a little Liberal or a Conservative. For Liberal now read Labour.
    Interesting though that according to UK Polling Report Labour is less popular among 18 – 24 years old than it is among people between 24 and 65 but the Liberal Democrats are slightly more popular than among older people. The Greens are the most popular among the smaller parties in the 18-24 age group.

  • Another Coalition of any kind would kill the Lib Dems stone dead. My preferred 2015 scenario is Labour with a tiny parliamentary majority based on a little over a third of the vote and us in opposition while we re-group and taunt them with all the things they’ve been criticising us for i.e. actually having to make cuts to balance the books.

    They will be unable to fulfil all their unfunded promises, become instantly unpopular, drop seats through by-election losses (hopefully to the revived Lib Dems under a new, popular leader) and be forced to call a new general election.

    Meanwhile the Tories are riven with in-fighting over their failure to win the election, in the end swerving even further right, leaving the middle ground ripe for the taking as we swing back into power with a large, powerful tally of MPs and grab the whip hand over Labour for a period of successful, responsible, progressive government.

    …and then I woke up.

  • From The Independent website

    Nick Clegg is ‘dead in the water’ and should be sacked, says senior Lib Dem peer Lord Smith

    Nick Clegg’s attempt to reassert his position with a major speech on Monday threatens to be undermined by a call from a senior Liberal Democrat for him to be sacked.

    He planned to put recent disastrous election results behind him with a speech designed to demonstrate to the voters that his party is different from the Tories.

    But Trevor Smith, a Lib Dem spokesman on Northern Ireland, says Mr Clegg is “dead in the water” and has accused him of being “part of that generational cohort of politicians that lacks any real experience of the world outside politics”.

    Writing for a forthcoming issue of The Liberator, a liberal political magazine, Lord Smith added: “Clegg has not less than 20 special advisers around him… He doesn’t ask them to promote his policies because he does not have any. Instead he is overwhelmed by the babble of their voices.”


  • David Allen 9th Jun '14 - 12:56pm

    In many ways our main past achievements have been to lead Labour, sometimes kicking and screaming, in the right direction. We helped to force through the abandonment of Old Labour doctrinaire socialism (albeit we didn’t call for the violent shift from Left to Right that Blair actually delivered!). Then when Blair was elected, he started over-cautiously and didn’t do enough to revive services after Tory devastation. Our “penny in a pound on income tax” policy was one of the pressures which eventually persuaded Labour to spend more. As Brown in later years moved away from prudence, the same policy would also have called on Labour to cover their spending with the higher tax rate which even the Tories now seem to agree should have been levied “while the sun was shining”. Finally, we tried to lead Labour away from their disastrous invasion of Iraq. We didn’t succeed, but that failure was not ours.

    In calling for a LibLab coalition, we should seek once again to take the lead in ideas. We should for example tell Miliband that his energy price freeze can only be a very temporary measure and it must be swiftly followed by a review and restructuring of the industry. We should ask Miliband to put regional policy at the centre of any joint programme. If we talk friendly but tough to Labour, we can avoid “recommending that we simply adopt Labour’s policies” and give voters distinctive reasons why it is us they should vote for.

    Over Clegg’s dead body, of course.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Jun '14 - 1:03pm

    Bill le Breton 9th Jun ’14 – 12:12pm “Question: why wasn’t Joe Bourke a SpAd?”

    Well I’m happy to start the list but only have a short time: Centre-left of party, experience of life and at different levels within the party, original ideas, common sense, listens, engages with fellow members, has held down a proper job …

    As a minimum Joe should be on our policy panel (that’ll be the democratic one not that run by David Laws for Nick Clegg) and maybe even a possible candidate for Party President.

    On a related topic, I believe it is vital that an official (elected?) party body should be overseeing our manifesto, post-general election negotiating team and our red line issues.

  • @RC What a beautiful dream…

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jun '14 - 1:26pm

    Joe Bourke

    A 2012 LDV survey indicated that, in the event of another hung parliament, by a significant margin – 48% to 19% – Lib Dem members prefer a deal with Labour to one with the Tories.

    Could we perhaps STOP talking about coalitions as if we will have the luxury of being able to decide with which other party we will form one and on what terms?

    For years and years, the possibility of a coalition was written up in this way, it was always the LibDem leader asked “Who would you form a coalition with?” and never the others leaders asked “Would you form a coalition with the LibDems?”. It was always written up as if the LibDems would be able to name their price and get it. As we saw in May 2010, it may not work like that. In fact I think it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY it will work like that. The presence of a significant number of MPs who are not Labour, Conservative or LibDem is very likely to mean, as in May 2010, that there is only one stable coalition that can be formed. As we saw in May 2010, the distortion of our electoral system means the biggest party in Parliament has many more MPs than its share of votes and the third party many less, contributing significantly to the weakening of the bargaining position of the third party and the likelihood there is only one potential coalition partner that would lead to a stable government.

    The fact that for years and years before, a “hung Parliament” was written up as if the LibDems would be all-powerful “kingmakers” meant expectation on what the LibDems could achieve in this coalition were greatly raised. It was made greatly worse by the Liberal Democrat leadership saying nothing about the factors that had reduced its influence in the coalition, and instead exaggerating that influence. This was a predictably disastrous tactic, because it led people to assume the LibDems could have got what they asked for from this coalition, and seeing as it has delivered almost throughout policies way to the economic right of all previous Conservative governments they have taken it that either this is secretly what the LibDems wanted in the first place or that they have just caved in and let the Conservatives walk all over them instead of defending their manifesto position.

    I don’t think the party would have been in nearly so bad a position now had it from the start made clear that the distortions of the electoral system had greatly weakened its potential in the coalition, and that therefore the result was bound to be more “Conservative with a little LibDem influence on the fringe” than “a Conservative-LibDem partnership”. Incredibly, this refusal to spell out our difficult position was done because the leadership actually thought if we looked like all we were after were government positions and we wanted to be proper Westminster politicians just like the other two parties and not have that “on the side of the people against the establishment” image, the people would find that very attractive and a whole bunch of new supporters would come over to us …

    Given that it took ten general elections from the big rise of the third party vote in 1974 to reach the point where we had a hung Parliament with enough third party MPs to make a coalition workable, I don’t see any particular reason to suppose a similar situation is that likely in the next general election. There was nothing special done in 2005-2010 to lead up to it, it’s something that was bound to happen sooner or later. As it now looks like the LibDems have been pushed right back to where the Liberals were in the 1950s – a historical relic, hanging on in just a few places where there’s a big personal vote for the incumbent and where unlike most of the country the party machine hasn’t collapsed into nothing, I think the possibility of coalition in the near future is so remote that it’s hardly worth making big plans about. But in any discussion on those lines, PLEASE just avoid anything which plays up the potential influence a small third party can have.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jun '14 - 1:30pm

    David Allen

    In calling for a LibLab coalition, we should seek once again to take the lead in ideas.

    And if they say “You need us more than we need you, so keep quiet and be grateful we’ve given you the Ministry of Paperclips, and a bit of money to spend on a few spads”, then what?

  • No offense to the party base, but I don’t think the Labour party should have anything to do with the tainted goods in Westminster.

    Mind I’m not desperately impressed with the Labour party there either. The Orange book faction are poison and I’d rather just have a conservative government than one in sheep’s clothing.

  • RC: We do better in terms of seats gained when there is a swing away from Tories than when it is towards the Tories. However it is hard to see how the Tories would respond to defeat: a rightward, more anti EU, UKIP welcoming direction is certainly a possibility. Unfortunately in such conditions the immigration issue would get a lot nastier.

    A small Tory majority would attract left leaning voters to us where we are the second party, however the fallout could be horrendous with an unpopular Cameron trying to manage an EU referendum on a negotiation that has managed to annoy people on both sides of the argument.

    Nonetheless, I do think you are right that a second coalition with a reduced number of MPs would do the party no favours.

  • Matthew: Fortunately the chances of another ‘No Overall Result’ are low and much lower than media commentators often like to acknowledge. Those who do not understand this should take a long hard look at the 2005 result.

    The focus should be on rebuilding after May 2015 and this does require us to downplay the unlikely prospects of coalition.

  • Martin

    “A small Tory majority would attract left leaning voters to us where we are the second party”

    That used to be the case under Charles Kennedy and others, but I think that ship has long since sailed. Clegg, Laws, Alexander etc are just seen as Tories by many voters and are far too right wing to attract any lefties – even if that means a Tory MP.

  • malc: Of course that is still the case. Voters are much more ready to vote tactically. This is how Conservatives defended Newark. There may be some Labour stalwarts who in a hopeless cause, would rather have an über right wing Tory/UKIP/BNP (to bring on the revolution – or something like that), but on the whole FPTP is more driven by who you do not want than by who you want, so most Labour inclined people where Labour is not in the running will do what ever has to be done to keep out the Tory.

    Do you really imagine that there will be a mass movement to Labour paper candidates, such as you might find in Cheltenham?

  • Matthew Huntbach — you asked —
    And if they say “You need us more than we need you, so keep quiet and be grateful we’ve given you the Ministry of Paperclips, and a bit of money to spend on a few spads”, then what?

    I think you already know the answer. Nick Clegg gave it in May 2010. He put his name to a Coalition Agreement and got all sections of the Liberal Democrats to sign up to that Coalition Agreement. Then within days he completely forgot about that Coalition Agreement, especially the bits that said no top down reorganisation of the NHS, no tuition fees, no new nuclear power etc etc. Then he bragged repeatedly about being “IN Government”, he loved that bit. He repeatedly did joint press stunts with Cameron. He stood in for Cameron at PM’s Question Time. He arranged the seating of Liberal Democrat MPs in the Commons so that they were indistinguishable from Conservative MPs. He insisted that Liberal Democrat MPs call Conservative MPs and ministers “My Honourable Friend”. And then he lost some elections, and then he lost some more elections, and then he became the most hated political leader of all time, and then he lost some more elections, and then his party was humiliated in the elections of May 2014.

    And then he made a speech saying “MORE OF THE SAME” but by then nobody was listening.

  • nvelope2003 9th Jun '14 - 2:48pm

    How many votes is an elected House of Lords going to bring in ? It is this sort of constitutional obsessionism that puts people off. We do not need a House of Lords but abolishing it would be such hard work the best thing would be to leave it as it is , hopefully with a moratorium on new appointments but I suppose that would be impossible without an all party agreement. It fulfils a useful revising role but should not be elected as we do not need a bicameral Parliament unless the United Kingdom becomes a federal state after the Scottish Referendum when a small Senate might be required.
    Is it too late to bring in those revised constituency boundaries ? I guess the party might not want them as it would upset their new Labour friends but it would have gained 5 seats at the European Elections based on the number of votes cast.Maybe it could do a deal to get a revision of the system so that some top up seats could be provided to give a truer reflection of the votes cast as in Scotland. We could lop one directly elected seat off each region at least in England and use those seats for smaller parties. UKIP would get a few less but that is only fair !

    While Clegg clearly has to go if the party is to survive there does not seem to be any obvious replacement. Maybe Tim Farron would be a safe choice as he does not seem to be compromised and his constituency was the only one in England to produce a Liberal Democrat majority at the European election. My previous choice of the Welsh leader did very badly at those elections in Wales so maybe she would not be the right person and as she is not a Westminster MP it might be hard to get her a seat.

    Just a thought but what will all Clegg’s critics say if, despite the odds, the party emerged in sound condition, even with more seats, after the election ? Mrs Thatcher managed to do this in 1983 and 1987 despite terrible opinion polls and many lost by elections and council seats because the voters admired her courage and resilience. At least Clegg seems to have staying power.

  • David Allen 9th Jun '14 - 3:02pm

    Matthew Huntbach, your view seems to be that whatever we do our situation is hopeless, so we should rubbish all talk of coalition and not bother to put forward any alternatives either.

    My view is that our position as a third party has already been pivotal in British politics – Clegg swung it for the Tories – and it will probably be pivotal again. Therefore, what we do matters. If I didn’t think that I’d give up and go and plant potatoes for a hobby.

    Labour may well play foul, as the Tories did. We can deal with this as and when we get there. In the mean time, a stance which tells the voters what we now want to try to achieve may look a little more appealing than “Vote for us, we’ve failed at everything and we have no ideas left”.

    What we should not do – and here I will probably find more favour with you and with John Tilley – is commit to making a coalition deal. We should do the opposite, and make it perfectly clear that we will be more than happy to sit outside government and deal with each bill on its merits (whether or not we hold the balance). We won’t do a deal unless it is good for us and good for the country. If Labour find they can go it alone instead, that’s their funeral.

  • nvelope2003 9th Jun '14 - 3:12pm

    If there is any need for a coalition then we should demand full proportional representation without a referendum or there will be no deal. That should settle the matter.With the Greens and UKIP coming on it has to come sooner or later or the system will be totally unrepresentative of the voters.

  • Adam Robertson 9th Jun '14 - 3:20pm

    I’m open-minded towards an arrangement with either Labour or the Conservatives. However, we need to sort our own house in order because morale is down within the party, especially in areas, where we have no chance of winning. Where I live, in Waveney, we have no candidate for the General Election, despite the fact that we also have local elections at the same time, where all 48 seats are up at the same time. Locally, for the party, it is important to gain a foothold on the council, but this seems unlikely in 2015 – given local and national opinion of us. The European Elections were a disaster – not just in terms of the seats lost but the campaign what was run.

    In some areas, we are becoming a wasted vote, meaning really the electorate will vote for their second choice candidate. However, the elites of the party, do not recognize this – headquarters expect a lot from activists, despite some of us having jobs, university, etc. I still support, Nick Clegg, but the people around him need to realize that they need to present a liberal vision, not a moderating vision. I think Nick has fallen into this trap because of the fact that he perceives, the Liberal Democrats, as a moderating party under the current electoral system, we have for Westminster elections. However, that is more negative politics, than positive politics. We have lost our identity within the general electorate, although I believe it was right to go into Coalition.

    We need to focus on ourselves, not on potential scenarios after the next election.

  • David Allen is right that we shouldn’t be too keen on talking up a second coalition. In my view, we should be answering the question of a hung parliament by confirming that either party can rely on the Liberal Democrats negotiating in good faith on a confidence and supply, bill by bill basis, but that coalitions would depend on their being willing to sign up for a programme radical enough to be worth it for us.

    My opinion is that there must be no second coalition with the Tories, not least because they proved unable to deliver their MPs support for the reforms we were calling for. One with Labour is another huge risk, but should probably be attempted if that’s how the votes end up landing. For the sake of balance and equidistance if nothing else.

    For the party, though, a wafer thin majority for either side could be better. Either party would expose its own divisions and give plenty of opportunity for us to influence the government, rescue it where we agree or trip it up where we don’t.

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Jun '14 - 6:48pm

    Labour talking about the living standards of the poor is a curious notion. Who remembers what happened to the living standards of the poor under Labour? It was not a good time to be on a very low income.

    Then within days he completely forgot about that Coalition Agreement, especially the bits that said no top down reorganisation of the NHS, no tuition fees, no new nuclear power etc etc.

    Erm. None of those things were in the coalition agreement.

    The “top down reorganisation of the NHS” was a pre-election speech given by Cameron – it was never even an LD policy, it was a Tory promise! Last time I checked, our policy was to have a top-down reorganisation of the NHS! (Separation of public and private healthcare, more local control)

    The coalition agreement’s piece on tuition fees was that LD MPs could abstain, which would give the Tories a clear majority over Labour (304 to 257), and hence they could pass an unlimited fees bill. This was later renegotiated down by the LDs in government. Would you prefer having unlimited fees on commercial loans, or the system we have now?

    The line on nuclear power was that there would be no state subsidy for new nuclear, with the implication that there would be new nuclear, just not subsidised. The Tories are trying to weasel out of the subsidy part, and it’s still not been decided – the current proposal is for a subsidy on all energy generation that nuclear power can benefit greatly from, which is a twisty attempt to avoid what was agreed.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jun '14 - 7:10pm

    @Andrew Suffield

    “The line on nuclear power was that there would be no state subsidy for new nuclear, with the implication that there would be new nuclear, just not subsidised.”

    Not quite. Nuclear Power cannot exist in the current environment without substantial subsidy.

  • daft ha'p'orth 9th Jun '14 - 7:27pm

    @Andrew Suffield
    “Last time I checked, our policy was to have a top-down reorganisation of the NHS! ”
    I don’t think I’d be shouting that from the rooftops…

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Jun '14 - 8:19pm

    I don’t think I’d be shouting that from the rooftops…

    Why not? I refuse to be bullied into endorsing the Tory pre-election promise which we never agreed with anyway. We never expressed any enthusiasm for the top-down structure that Labour put together – in fact we condemned it repeatedly and rather strongly – and anybody who says otherwise needs to be called on it. We’ve got enough to deal with without taking the blame for breaking the Tory party’s promises.

    Just because there are flaws in the current reorg doesn’t mean we didn’t call for, and need, a reorg. By all means say that Andrew Lansley got the details wrong and we would have done it differently, but let’s not pretend that we wouldn’t have done it.

  • daft ha'p'orth 9th Jun '14 - 9:13pm

    @Andrew Suffield
    Because the general public are convinced that the evil Tories caused a nasty top-down reorganisation of the NHS. Volunteering the information that the LDs were also planning a top-down reorganisation anyway isn’t an ideal move for differentiation between LD and Tory right now. Your proposed reorganisation might well be bulging at the seams with puppies, roses and sunshine, but at this stage the public aren’t going to stick around and listen to the details.

    That being said, upon sober consideration I have no horse in this race, so shout from the rooftops if it pleases you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jun '14 - 12:19am

    David Allen

    Matthew Huntbach, your view seems to be that whatever we do our situation is hopeless, so we should rubbish all talk of coalition and not bother to put forward any alternatives either.

    No, I’m simply pointing out that as we will continue with the electoral system that gave the country a majority for one party in the previous eight general elections, and that as it looks likely our own support will be drastically reduced in the next, I don’t see that it is particularly likely that there will be a no-majority Parliament next time round, and unless our party recovers or UKIP really does manage to sustain its support and keep it in Westminster elections (which I doubt), I don’t think we will see it in the near future.

    The Cleggies love to put across the idea that somehow Clegg worked some sort of magic that made coalitions more likely in the future . He did nothing of the sort. The fact that we had a coalition in 2010 was NOTHING to do with Clegg. It was all down to the random effect of the first-past-the-post electoral system. It was made a bit more likely by the LibDems going above 50 seats, but that was nothing to do with Clegg – it was achieved in the previous general election, under Clegg’s leadership in 2010 we went down a bit in number of seats. Almost every member of the party agreed that the Parliamentary balance in 2010 meant we had to go into coalition with the only party where that would give a stable government. This suggests there was no special Clegg magic required to get this agreement – anyone with any sense could see that the alternative was a Tory minority government, and another general election in which the Tories and Labour would conspire to wipe us out in a year’s time or less.

    One of the reasons this utterly incompetent man is being defended as leader of our party is this false idea that he did something special to cause the coalition to happen, that it required him to do it. No it did not, it was a situation that could have arisen at any time since the big third party revival in 1974, and whoever was leading the party when it happened would have had to do much the same. Except that I think a more skilled leader with better experience of the party and some decent experience handling balance of power situations in local government would have done FAR better than Clegg has with defending our corner in the coalition and avoiding the tactical mistakes in presentation he keeps making.

    I’m not saying we should never join a coalition. I am suggesting, however, that what it is possible to achieve in a coalition situation, who the coalition is with, and how it should be handled depends so much on the situation AFTER the election, that it makes no sense to try and work out detailed plans and pledges for what we will insist on in any coalition before it happens. The problem with this sort of thing, as we have seen, is that it can be a huge hostage to fortune.

    One thing in particular we should avoid is any sort of discussion which starts off with the assumption that we will be the driving force, able to dictate terms and choose partners in any sort of coalition that might arise in the near future. Is it not obvious from the sorry state we are in now that such talk makes us an Aunt Sally? I am just fed up with these constant attacks on us from people who seem to assume that because we “hold held the balance of power” we could have got all the other MPs to drop their own principles and take up ours, and so condemn us because that did not happen. But those attacks are just encouraged by the exaggerated talk and claims about coalition the Cleggies have gone in for.

    The reality is that if we are very much the junior partner in a coalition (and are you or anyone else seriously suggesting we will go to 100+ seats in the next Parliament so we will not be so junior?) ALL we can really do is swing the balance on issues where the senior coalition partner is evenly divided. How otherwise is a small party going to get a party with five or more times as many MPs to drop their policies and adopt those of the smaller party? If the small party says “we will not join the coalition unless you agree”, what happens? It will look like the small party is playing silly political games over its own obsessions while the country suffers through lack of stable government. By the very fact that it IS a small party, it is not going to have popular support for its stand, is it? If the small party turns to the main opposition party to look for support for its stand, is it going to get it? Well, have you seen Labour cheering on the LibDems in their negotiations with the Tories in the coalition? It isn’t going to happen, is it? If you look at coalition situations across the world, you will find that small coalition partners are never in the position to obtain much, especially if they don’t have any sort of strong tribal support so are likely to be the main losers if an early general election is forced. I think we need to be honest about this, rather than painting being a junior coalition partner as a triumph, and then getting mercilessly attacked because of the reality of how little can really be achieved fro that situation.

    My own view therefore is that we should not rule out coalition in future; we don’t know what the situation might be, if it is one where we can be painted as wrecking the country by not joining a coalition we’d be stuck either way if we’d pledged not to. However, we should always answer any question about it by making clear that the more Liberal Democrat MPs there are, the more we would be able to influence any coalition to go our way. If we are asked that question “which one would you form a coalition with?” or “what would be your sticking points in coalition negotiations”?, we should turn it round and say “Go and ask THEM – would THEY be willing to form a coalition with us, and which of our policies would they agree to accept in order to get a coalition formed?”.

  • John Tilley: “… he completely forgot about that Coalition Agreement, especially the bits that said no top down reorganisation of the NHS, no tuition fees, no new nuclear power etc etc.” Which coalition agreement was that, then?

  • “Erm. None of those things were in the coalition agreement.
    The “top down reorganisation of the NHS” was a pre-election speech given by Cameron – it was never even an LD policy, it was a Tory promise!”

    Not in the coalition agreement? Have you not even read the thing?

    Section 22, NHS:
    “We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.”

    Probably not a good idea to try to rewrite history, when the authorised text is freely available at http://www.gov.uk!

  • Peter Chivall 10th Jun '14 - 9:51am

    “The evil that men do live after them: the good is oft interred with their bones” if I remember my 3rd Form Shakespeare correctly. When voters look back, they always remember the bad things (see above, ad nauseam). They will ignore or not realise, what Steve Webb has done on Pensions, Norman Baker on Transport, Vince Cable on halting the de-industrialisation of our economy, Chris Huhne on promoting green energy and standing up tp Osborne and the gas-oil lobby (sorry Ed, the jury’s still out on your stewardship).
    People will vote for what they perceive as the best future, and here the Cleggites have nothing to say, other than ‘more of the same, but more gently’. My perception is that the millions who have deserted us have done so in desperation and disappointment, not because they want Blairite Labour back, or the neo-Stalinism of some Greens, or to row us out into mid-Atlantic with UKIP.
    They want to hear radical policies based on Liberal Democrat principles (if in doubt, read the back of your Party card).
    They want decentralised Government for England, closer to the people and communities. They want local Councils with a tax base that allows them to serve the real needs of their communities. They want houses built by the 100,000s, even if it will upset some Nimbys, and use public money to do it. They want school curriculums which address the real needs of their pupils, not some watered down 1950s grammar school mush. they want a Health Service freed of the crippling burden of PFIs. They want (and need) taxes based on property and wealth (see ALTER and LVT), and not a housing market based on speculation by oil sheiks and oligarchs. they want their energy to come from low-carbon, sustainable sources such as wind and tidal power, not dangerous and greenhouse-gas leaking fracking.
    When do they want it? they want it now – and that’s what should be in our manifesto and campaigning, for 2015 and beyond. forget trimming to coalitions of left or right – we wont have enough MPs left to make a difference. We’re going to be back to 1970, so it’s time to press the RESET button!

  • Sid Cumberland, have you forgotten the Coalition Agreement as well?
    Or did you just doze off to sleep during May 2010 and miss it altogether?
    Maybe it was a bit  too long and complicated for you to notice  the inconvenient details that I highlighted?

    Here is a potted version in Wiki —
    Or if you want the real thing —

    It includes these words —
    ” We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care ”

    It also includes the words —
    “Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided that they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new National Planning Statement), and also provided that they receive no public subsidy.
    We will implement a process allowing the Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power ”
    It also includes the words on student funding —
    “We will await Lord Browne’s final report into higher education funding, and will judge its proposals …..
    If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”

  • A friendly e-mailer has just informed me that Sid Cumberland has form on the subject ofnre-interpretation of The Coalition Agreement.

    He has convinced himself that it says something that it does not say.
    Which is a shame because his article in LDV from just over two years ago started off so well.
    He began saying —
    ” I haven’t read the Health and Social Care Bill (soon to be Act). More pages than a Harry Potter novel, and qualified by a thousand amendments, I’m not sure reading it would throw much light on my darkness. However, there are aspects of the bill I am aware of.
    I know, for instance, that the NHS Bill was in no one’s manifesto, and I know there wasn’t the slightest hint of its major elements in the coalition agreement. The government has absolutely no mandate for NHS reform at all. It all seemed so clear … and then I made a foolish mistake. ”

    Sid’s “foolish mistake” was to let blind loyalty take over enabling him to re-interpret the Coalition Agreement to say whatever he wanted it to.

  • Stephen Donnelly 10th Jun '14 - 9:32pm

    A small group of people are making a lot of posts. Is this some king of organised campaign?

  • John Tilley – don’t worry, you’re not the only person who didn’t understand what I wrote.

    Not sure why blind loyalty should be preferred to blind disloyalty …

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