Opinion: Nick Clegg unapologetic about forming a coalition, but next time we may opt out

On a flying visit to Cheltenham last week, Nick Clegg gave an interview for the local paper, the Gloucestershire Echo. When asked about whether he is looking to form a new coalition he said:

Not necessarily, not necessarily, I don’t think the Liberal Democrats should be in government just for the sake of it but we should always, if we can, play a role in doing the right thing for the country and do it in line with our policies and values.

When asked if he would prefer Miliband or Cameron, Nick Clegg relied:

My preference is entirely irrelevant. It is literally irrelevant. You don’t form governments in this country according to the personal whims and wishes of party leaders. You form governments according to the wishes of the British voters and last time they made it very clear that the only combination that could work was the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and I am assuming the instructions will be pretty clear next time.

I am not sure of this last remark: whether the outcome will be “pretty clear” remains to be seen: it may turn out to be neither pretty nor clear. Nonetheless many will be encouraged that Nick Clegg is dampening expectations that Lib Dems can be dragged into whatever coalition is available.

Nick Clegg spoke with party workers and referred to the chaotic consequences of the Conservatives’ proposed renegotiation and referendum on the European Union. I find it hard to see how this could be squared with Nick’s notion of what is right for the country nor with what is in line with Lib Dem policy and values.

Before Nick Clegg arrived, Martin Horwood spoke strongly for him, saying that he had fought successfully in cabinet to secure key Lib Dem policies. Martin mentioned raising the tax threshold that has taken poorer workers off income tax, which the Tories had opposed in 2010, the pupil premium that had provided an important boost for one of the town’s most challenged schools, entitlement to nursery provision for pre-school infants, progress on mental health provision and apprenticeships for school leavers. However the nature of coalition requires compromise and Nick’s opponents had taken the opportunity to exploit collective cabinet responsibility in order to malign him unfairly. “If you beat up my friend, I will stand by my friend” said Martin.

* Martin Bennett first campaigned in Cheltenham in 1974, was the Bermondsey Party press officer from 1981-3 but is presently resident in Luxembourg. He is Deputy Chair of Liberal Democrats Luxembourg.

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22 Comments

  • I’d like to know which parties the Lib Dems would be prepared to enter coalition with, and which they would no, since it is all but certain that the next government will ask them to be part of one. So would many other voters.

  • g – I believe we’ve stated we wouldn’t want to enter coalition with either of the fissile parties.

  • I think there are major difficulties with forming a coalition with either of the big two this time around. Firstly the Tories have lurched to the right to deal with the threat to UKIP. In 2010 the Tory front bench was centre-right (ish), so it was possible for the Lib Dems to make a strong case for the centre ground, this time around I imagine the Tories will be a lot harder to drag back into the liberal centre ground, especially on immigration, Europe and welfare.
    Labour have gotten more tribal in the last 5 years, primarily due to the personal attacks on Miliband, but also because the centre-left ground they are trying to occupy in getting very crowded so they are trying to stand out from from the crowd. In some ways a coalition with the Lib Dems, Greens, SNP or Plaid could damage Labour as many of their “tactical” voters may end of deciding that voting for one of the smaller parties in 2020 isn’t such a major issue seeing as Labour would probably end up in another centre-left coalition again (massive conjecture here) – if electoral reform happens this leaking of the Labour vote to other parties may be even more pronounced.
    I would guess that the Tories would go for a formal coalition with the Lib Dems, but I don’t think it would be in our (Lib Dems) best interests. I would guess that Labour would like to avoid a formal coalition as it could damage their ability to control and dictate policy over the next parliament – without a formal coalition they could have an all Labour cabinet and deny other parties a seat at the top table even though they might end up having to do back room deals. My guess would be a non-formal supply and demand kind of coalition regardless of the winner, though I see a Labour government which does deals on a policy by policy basis with us and the SNP as the most likely outcome. The major danger with this of course is that we are the only party (other than the Greens) who are strong on civil liberties, without Lib Dems in a formal coalition we could end up with some nasty surveillance laws.

  • Paul Pettinger 13th Apr '15 - 2:59pm

    Nick Clegg said ‘I don’t think the Liberal Democrats should be in government just for the sake of it but we should always, if we can, play a role in doing the right thing for the country and do it in line with our policies and values.’

    It reminds me when the Queen was required to speak to the nation following the death of Princess Diana and to have the Royal Standard flown at half mast – shame his comments have come so very late in the day – about five years too late.

  • John Roffey 13th Apr '15 - 3:33pm

    Paul Pettinger 13th Apr ’15 – 2:59pm

    “It reminds me when the Queen was required to speak to the nation following the death of Princess Diana and to have the Royal Standard flown at half mast – shame his comments have come so very late in the day – about five years too late.”

    Yes – particularly with the strong showing of SNP and their refusal to work with the Tories has been known since mid Nov – it has been obvious that the only coalition possible would be with Labour.

    The Party’s poor polling made it also obvious that should they manage to just scrape enough seats together to reach 326 seats, with Labour, it would have little impact on the coalition with probably less than 10% of the total seats and the SNP likely to be willing to support measures that the Lib/Dems refused to support.

    I think it is unfortunate that an opportunity has been missed to work with the SNP and national parties from Wales & NI to push for a federal government with devo-max for all – including the English Regions. In this capacity the Party could be very influential after May 7 – with what is likely to be a popular policy. The Party has little to build on at present if, as seems very likely, it is out of government and the 4th largest party.

    We know that politicians are presently viewed as less honest than Estate Agents! This dishonesty is related mostly to the Westminster Bubble. Moving as much power away from central government as possible – is one way that this dreadful reputation might start being remedied.

  • James Borg (cool surname).

    “The major danger with this of course is that we are the only party (other than the Greens) who are strong on civil liberties, without Lib Dems in a formal coalition we could end up with some nasty surveillance laws.”

    That was the principle reason I voted Lib Dem in 2010, Labour were becoming Stalinist. Unfortunately I find it hard to trust the Lib Dems on this with secret courts, the lobbying bill, legal aid cuts and DRIP. At least Clegg did appear to kick out the snoopers charter though…

  • David Evans 13th Apr '15 - 3:51pm

    “However the nature of coalition requires compromise and Nick’s opponents had taken the opportunity to exploit collective cabinet responsibility in order to malign him unfairly. “If you beat up my friend, I will stand by my friend” said Martin. But wasn’t it the Conservatives who conned Nick with Cabinet Collective responsibility to get him to beat the party up (Secret Courts etc). We need to know who our true friends are and they are not the ones with the Blue rosettes.

  • Usual incoherent nonsense from Clegg – “You form governments according to the wishes of the British voters and last time they made it very clear that the only combination that could work was the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives”

    Well pardon me for thinking the voting system was rubbish and that people voted for all sorts of parties and candidates for all sorts of reasons distorting the result when all the time there was apparently a space of the ballot paper to vote for a Liberal Democrat Conservative combination. Lucky me, I thought it was more or an electoral fruit machine rather than an expression of the will of the British people.

    I see Clegg has again defended the Rose Garden where he told us that Liberalism = the Conservative Big Society, how skilful of him to spend 2 years saying everything g in a coalition was marvellous, now the foremost opponent of coalitions in the UK is Nick Clegg, who has ruled out working with the SNP, UKIP, Greens, DUP, Plaid Cymru (and possibly Tim Farron) all of which would bring utter disaster to the UK if allowed anywhere near Government. “I did not think that (a multi-party coalition) was ever going to work and I still don’t think that is ever going to work”

  • David Evans 13th Apr '15 - 3:53pm

    Nor are they the ones with the red rosettes.

  • Jimbob 13th Apr ’15 – 3:51pm ……………….That was the principle reason I voted Lib Dem in 2010, Labour were becoming Stalinist……….

    Stalinist? Wow; and don’t forget how Milliband “Knifed his brother in the back” and sent all opponents to the salt mines…

  • David Warren 13th Apr '15 - 5:28pm

    My preference would be a supply and confidence arrangement with whoever is the largest party in the commons.

    Only at a price though.

    More progress on raising the basic income tax threshold and PR for local elections would be my red lines.

  • expats:

    I think Labour are much much better under Ed Miliband and I don’t buy into all this knifing David in the back rot.

    However New Labour had become a monstrosity. ID cards, extraordinary rendition, Jack Straw and John ‘G4S’ Reid. They were a bunch of autocratic illiberal lunatics.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Apr '15 - 7:17pm

    Caracatus

    Usual incoherent nonsense from Clegg – “You form governments according to the wishes of the British voters and last time they made it very clear that the only combination that could work was the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives”

    This time I agree with him.

    The way the British people voted in May 2010 did mean the Conservative-LibDem coalition was the only viable government. In the May 2011 referendum, the people of this country confirmed that they wanted the distortion of the FPTP electoral system. Oh, to be sure, AV is not PR, but the “No” campaign argued against it as if it was, and put as the main case for voting “No” the distortion of FPTP which gives a “decisive” result. Well, it did its job in 2010 – the distortion in favour of the largest party and against third parties was decisive enough to rule out a coalition which was not dominated by the largest party, and decisive enough to give the small party that was needed to make up the majority just a small say in the overall direction. If there were large number of people who voted “No” for the reason they didn’t think AV was enough of a reform, how come there was complete silence from all of them after the result of that referendum? That result was universally written up by commentators as the British people saying they wanted “No Change” to the electoral system. If anyone voted “No” for the opposite reason, they should have responded angrily to that conclusion. No-one, so far as I know, did so.

    I have said from the start that the LibDems should have made it clear this coalition comes about not because it is our ideal, or because we are “kingmakers” who chose it when we could have chosen something else. No, it comes about as it is the inevitable consequence of the 2010 vote and the distortions of the electoral system, backed so overwhelmingly in 2011. If people don’t like it, next time, don’t vote that way, and don’t stay at home so that what we get is given by those who do go out and vote that way. If you don’t like the limited choice that our current electoral system gives us, and don’t like the way it forces you to restrict your actual vote still more if you don’t want to “waste” it, next time DEMAND change to it, don’t accept the defences of it given by the two big parties in the coalition of support for it they formed to fight the 2011 referendum.

  • WildColonialBoy 13th Apr '15 - 7:23pm

    Is Clegg apologetic about the alcoholism/mental health slur today?

  • Philip Thomas 13th Apr '15 - 7:42pm

    @g We will go into coalition with either the Tories or Labour. I think Nick has ruled out a 3 party coalition, but that does not necessarily mean ruling out a 2-party coalition with a 3rd party providing confidence and supply.
    We are pledged not to support the SNP in government, but as the SNP doesn’t want to be in government, this is somewhat irrelevant.

  • A coalition involving Lib Dems, in fact a formal coalition of any kind is looking increasingly unlikely. In a BBC interview today Nick Clegg has set a quite high bar; moreover it is hard to see how any likely coalition proposition could have the necessary overwhelming support of the Party. It would, however, be a strategic mistake to rule out any prospect of a coalition, when the party is an advocate of political parties working cooperatively.

    It is quite likely that numbers will not stack up in a way that facilitates a coalition and an experiment with minority government is more likely, though the chances of an overall Tory majority seem to be underestimated. It is interesting that after Labour now strongly refuses any coalition with SNP and Plaid, having continually complained that Lib Dems turned their back on a rainbow coalition in 2010 (when the numbers didn’t really add up anyway). Were they ever serious?

    If by some arithmetical quirk the numbers do make possible a Lib Dem + Labour/ Conservative coalition, the Party could find itself under more pressure than it has during this parliament, particularly if the money markets start to destabilise the economy.

    At the moment, though, this looks a less likely outcome, but how the election will pan out is very hard to pin down, both generally and for us. For us the gap between a pessimistic and an optimistic prediction remains very wide indeed. In Cheltenham the omens are far from discouraging and a recent letter from Cameron to some constituents stated that Cheltenham is one of 23 key seats that the Conservatives need to win in order to secure an overall majority. As Martin Horwood remarked this is a message that we will make sure gets heard clearly throughout the constituency and particularly to anyone thinking of voting Green or Labour. Although in terms of the overall percentage, it is easy to predict we will do badly, the length of the campaign will, I think and hope, favour a perhaps grudging return of tactical voters our way in the seats that can make a difference.

  • Matthew:
    If there were large number of people who voted “No” for the reason they didn’t think AV was enough of a reform, how come there was complete silence from all of them after the result of that referendum? That result was universally written up by commentators as the British people saying they wanted “No Change” to the electoral system. If anyone voted “No” for the opposite reason, they should have responded angrily to that conclusion. No-one, so far as I know, did so.

    I completely share these sentiments. It seemed likely at the time that many who claimed to vote NO because AV is not PR were looking for a disingenuous pretext to oppose change: – nah, nah, nah nah, nah as you would put it!

  • Ed has promised to cut the deficit and the debt. He doesn’t seem to understand that the debt will only be cut when the deficit has become a surplus.

    Nick is right to rule out coalition when the putative prime minister has such a weak grasp of basic economics

  • A short lived minority Labour government seems to be the most likely outcome. Labour don’t do coalitions. in peace time. Workers in the public sector will be lining up for inflation busting pay pay increases

  • Philip Thomas 14th Apr '15 - 7:25am

    @Tabman, or possibly he could be pledging to reduce the debt *as a percentage of GDP*, which is also what we are pledging?

  • Manfarang 14th Apr ’15 – 3:04am
    “………..lining up for inflation busting pay pay increases”

    What a great joke!

    Remind us – What is the rate of inflation? When did public sector workers last get a pay increase of any sort?
    Were all those NHS Midwives who asked for the 1% increase awarded them by the independent pay review body being unreasonable?

    I don’t know what is happening to the living standards of public sector workers where you live Manfarang, but here in the UK it has been a grim story for the last eight years.

  • ‘Workers in the public sector will be lining up for inflation busting pay increases’ ….. What ?
    I was in the Public sector for many years and the only pay increase in my department that kept pace (just) with inflation was in 1997. Every subsequent year was below the rate of inflation under Labour and the Coalition.

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