Opinion: What England really voted for – how we ended up here and where we’re going

Throughout his campaign, David Cameron argued that the success of his government was evidence that voters should continue to support the Conservatives.

Want more of the same, to continue on this path? Vote Conservatives, he said.

And voting Conservative was exactly what English voters did, giving Cameron’s party a completely unexpected majority. With fear of what Labour had done to the economy in the past, and the threat of the SNP and the Greens at the extreme Left, this promise rang as hope, security and comfort in the ears of moderate-thinking voters.

But what exactly did Cameron mean, when he promised more of the same?

The media and opinion polls promised that a coalition would be inevitable. This meant that, if you felt that the Conservative manifesto was too sour in places, you needn’t worry. The coalition would add some sugar, making the perfect, balanced recipe.

So why didn’t we get what we thought we would?

The Conservatives undoubtedly understated the influence of the Liberal Democrats over the past 5 years. And any examples the Liberal Democrats made of policies resisted against in government fell on deaf ears against the chorus of “tuition fees, tuition fees, tuition fees”.

So, they found it near impossible to make their case for the positive impact that they could bring to a new coalition.

Here is the problem.

Unfortunately, only now is the truth coming out about how different a Conservative led majority government would differ to the Coalition of the past 5 years. Theresa May had barely caught up on sleep after election night before she pushed the revival of the Snoopers Charter, which was passionately blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

Suddenly we realise, that the Liberal Democrats were still a strong force for good, despite the difficulty they had in executing their promise on tuition fees, in the harsh realities of coalition government. What’s coming next?

The Current Reality

I truly believe that many voters in England voted for the Conservatives, believing our vote was for a coalition or some kind of center-right “lots of the same”. Yet, we ended up with a right-wing majority.

We now just have to wait to see just how different a right, Conservative government feels in comparison to the centre-right government which we grew to feel comfortable with.

As for the Liberal Democrats’ future?

I remain optimistic. What we need to do now, is to make it very clear just how important the position of the Liberal Democrats in government is to the wellbeing of our people. We need to show why we stand in the centre ground and the important of liberalism in our times.

I hope we have learned that, if it is a centre coalition that you want, you must vote for and support the Liberal Democrats. How loud that voice is in future governments will depend on your votes in the future, and on your support today.

* Kirsty Burton is a member of the Liberal Democrats

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  • In 1997, the Labour landslide, about 22% of the UK eligible voting population voted Tory. In 2015, Dave’s Imaginary Landslide, about 24% of them voted Tory. It seems this has very little to do with Tory support, which is virtually static, and much more to do with the disposition of the other parties and distribution of the electorate, and FPTP of course.

  • Bill le Breton 11th May '15 - 10:51am

    For those who continue to believe in the late surge argument, you might like to read this : http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/election-2015-tories-six-points-ahead-labour-latest-lord-ashcroft-poll-1498577

    Ashcroft’s 24-26th poll had it crack on. But then anyone talking to the electorate at that time was also hearing it – constantly.

    Here is the scenario: Cameron hit the SNP scare story on or around 14th April – it was evident on the doorstep by 16th. It was picked up by more and more media up to 24th 25th. Ashcroft polling measured it.

    Sad fact remains that our strategists were of the opinion that their Blukip campaign would counter it.

    So what Cameron said about the Coalition period or anything positive had no effect whatever (nor anything we said) – The Tories stoked up fear of the ‘Scots’ (Nats) with its very old and deep-seated English prejudice.

    You win elections when you are able to tell people quite simply what the ‘race’ is about: in this case either the Scots Nats will run the country or the Conservatives will. It is always a two horse race.

    It is very simple.

    I am sad to say that this opinion piece with its concluding advice to the Party is just a rehash of exactly what failed to work over recent years.

  • Bill le Breton-

    The Tories stoked up fear of the ‘Scots’ (Nats) with its very old and deep-seated English prejudice.

    Are you claiming a “very old and deep-seated English prejudice” against the Scots, or have I misunderstood you?

  • I don’t understand this. It is becoming clear over the last few days that the denial amongst certain Lib Dems runs very very deep and the voters did realisetack will be to blame the misguided voters because they didn’t realise what they had with the Lib Dems in coalition. Maybe the voters did realise and just didn’t want it. Maybe the voters watched Danny Alexander defend like a tiger cut after cut or David Laws put some ‘sugar’ on a nasty Tory police etc etc. Maybe you should start looking at your past in Government with a little more humility. Maybe you just got it wrong.

  • Silvio

    The Clegg supporters will never accept that they were to blame. The fact that they were rejected time after time by the voters since 2010 seems to have escaped them. They think the parties 8% vote at the GE was all down to Tory scaremongering for a couple of weeks. They seem to have forgotten they had been polling around the 8% mark for a long, long time before the GE.

  • @Silvio

    Maybe you just ignored the fact that we lost as many voters to the right as to the left in this last election, so being “in denial” about the Coalition has little to do with it. They might have liked what we did in Coalition, but they realised that that wasn’t on offer this time round and, fearing a Labour-SNP alliance with a side serving of Lib Dems, went for the Tory option as the safer bet.

    And maybe a Coalition with Labour in 2010 (not even possible because of the numbers) would have been even more toxic for us.

  • @Malc

    We lost the the same number of voters to the right as to the left this time. How do you blame that on Clegg precisely when he was one of the few MPs to be re-elected with Tory votes?

  • Sorry don’t know what happened with my previous comment but I am sure you got the gist of it. I voted Lib Dem in 2010 and like a lot of people felt badly let down. Time for you as a party to accept this and not continue with the ‘You don’t know what you got till its gone line’.

  • The future can be bright for the Lib Dems only if the party quickly gets over this denialism phase. Saying ‘you’ll be sorry’ to the electorate – even if true – just comes across as sulky and petulant. When you lose an election in a democracy you have to start from the premise that you lost because you weren’t good enough. The truth is that your leadership was poor, your strategy misconceived, your message unpersuasive, and your identity confused.

    Over the next few years the UK will need a strong liberal voice more than ever. There are tremendous opportunities for the Lib Dems. However if you stick with denialism, the voter-blaming, the kumbaya culture you’ll do even worse in 2020.

  • “Time for you as a party to accept this and not continue with the ‘You don’t know what you got till its gone line’.”

    This “line” is actually proving very prescient and will resonate more and more as time goes on. I think this is actually precisely the “line” we should be following.

    Anything else would be inconsistent and opportunist. And look at Labour 2010-15 for the consequences of that approach.

  • @ RC Even if what you say is correct how do you get back the voters who were offended at the sight of Lib Dems such as Tom Crane braying support next to a Tory Minister in the House of Commons, it was shocking week after week. Joe Otten on these pages goading the Greens and Labour, Danny Alexander going far and beyond in defending nasty Tory cuts etc. What is the plan?

  • RC

    I don’t really care whether the lost votes went left or right and I blame Clegg because he was the party leader. You would have to get the history books out to find a less successful leader.

  • Bill le Breton at 10.51am has it spot on.
    For sure, the ~ “stoked up fear of the ‘Scots’ (Nats)” ~ is wot won it.
    But I would also add another dimension to the unexpected , 331 Tory seat majority.
    In the sheer visceral hatred of UKIP, many Lib Dems and Labour voters, voted tactically just to thwart the UKIP results into a (losing) second place. But of course a tactical vote doesn’t know it’s only meant to be a tactical vote. So you Libs & Labs that (tactically ), voted Conservative,…. well done,.. you may have thwarted UKIP into a second place in your constituency, but you unwittingly, added one more to the 331 seat Tory total.?

  • Duncan Clark 11th May '15 - 1:27pm

    From Deepest Blue Gove land, the opinion on the doorstep from people I spoke to who switched support from Lib Dem to Green, Labour, UKIP and Tory was as follows:
    1) You did an ok job at controlling the Tories, made sure they were nice again, got a few policies adopted whilst in government and earned some respect. But what do you now stand for?
    2) You broke your promises on tuition fees and I can’t forgive that, you are the same as all the others. If you can’t do it, don’t promise it!
    3) We don’t want the Scots running the country with that useless Milliband, so this time we are voting Tory for a strong country. Can’t we get rid of them and give them Independence?
    4) You won’t give us a referendum on EU membership, I have a right to choose Yes or No. So I’m voting UKIP.
    5) You don’t prioritise the environment enough and are in favour of cuts, so I’m voting Green.

    Now how do we tackle that?

  • Just to follow up John Dunn’s comment, it is worth remembering that not only do tactical votes have “tactical” written on them, no party that receives one ever thanks the voter who “held their nose”. A few days ago Cameron and the Tory Press were begging for them; now the election is won, suddenly the mantra is that “the sensible British people wisely preferred David Cameron as the best man to lead the country”. Not a whimper of “thank you for the tactical votes”.

  • That said,….. sometimes tactical,.. can bring out a good result?
    I remember Friday at Bolton Arena when we (Ukippers), all applauded when Carole Swarbrick re-took her council seat for Smithills. Not least because she is an excellent, hard working, and ’embedded’, Lib Dem councillor, and destined (deservedly so), to be Bolton’s next Mayor. We had of course put up a UKIP ‘paper’ candidate, but our intention was to steal from the Con’s and Labour.
    Sometimes tactical voting brings out a good result. And even we,… feeble minded Ukipers can recognise class, when we see it.
    Good luck Carole Swarbrick, a much respected Lib Dem ~ soon to be Mayor of Bolton.

  • I voted Lib Dem for the first time ever in a General Election last Thursday. I normally vote Conservative.

    I liked what the Lib Dems had done in government to curb the harsher excesses of Conservative policy, and I respected Nick Clegg for his discussions with the public in his phone-in on LBC every week. The thought of another Tory-LibDem coalition held appeal for me, and I liked the “heart and head” campaign, although I recognise now that it was a fundamentally weak one.

    However, a lot of people really didn’t like the idea of Salmond dictating to a Labour minority government. I agree that the Tories capitalised on this fear, but I disagree that it was all down to media spin. It was Nicola Sturgeon who strutted around the stage during the debates promising to help form an “anti-Tory bloc” even if Labour had fewer seats and less of the popular vote. It was Nicola Sturgeon who repeatedly told Ed Miliband during the debates that the SNP would make Labour “bolder”. The right-wing newspapers (which have very small levels of readership in actuality) didn’t have to do a thing: it is hard to imagine anything more calculated to drive the average English voter back to the Tories. And please don’t tell me that Ed Miliband wouldn’t have had some sort of deal – no matter how loose – with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament. As I’m sure Lib Dem supporters are painfully aware, parties have to make compromises when in government.

    As a pretty centrist voter who leans a little to the right, I will watch the fortunes of the Lib Dems with interest. In the past I never felt that the Lib Dems had any kind of credible manifesto, which is one reason why I never voted for them at a GE. The 2015 manifesto was finally grounded in reality.

    I suspect that the Lib Dems will now go chasing after Labour, the Greens and the SNP into an increasingly-crowded left-wing field, and I will just wait until New New Labour or the new generation of Compassionate Conservatives rise up to court my vote. Maybe that’s for the best – after all, not many people think like me, otherwise the party would have won on Thursday.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '15 - 7:34pm

    Sarah, I totally agree with you. New New Labour or a Boris Johnson led Conservative Party would be curtains for the Lib Dems if they decide to run off chasing the Greens and the SNP.

    Best regards

  • Sarah, what is it that you were afraid of from a Miliband-Sturgeon ‘deal’? Genuinely interested. It seems to me that the SNP could never hold Labour to ransom and demand Independence, if that was your fear, with only 50 odd MPs unless the Tories and Lib Dems et Al colluded with them. Sturgeon could not side with the Tories against a Labour government with Scottish elections coming next year. I’m just interested to know what your fear of the SNP was about??

  • Sarah thanks for sharing your thoughts. I suspect there are more people who think like you than you realise. One of the tragedies of FPTP is that many of them will have voted conservative.

    I hope the party commissions independent research to find out

  • Kirsty Burton 11th May '15 - 8:08pm

    Hi all,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I stand by how I felt, which was on the whole a gut feeling of consensus and possibility for what could have happened rather than hard facts or figures. As is said above, I hope that specific research is commissioned. It’s not a matter of denial personally, but of understanding what happened in order to learn the lesson available, moving forward.

    However, I have to agree, perhaps we need to accept greater importance of Cameron’s Labour-SNP threat… which made it more important to give further power to the Conservatives… why risk it and vote Lib Dems if that could risk giving further power to Labour/ SNP…? Although the perception of the Conservatives which many thought they were voting for was definitely softened thanks to the coalition.

    Interesting debate.

  • Phyllis, I voted Lib Dem. I wasn’t scared into voting Conservative 🙂 However, to my mind any fear was not based on the SNP demanding another referendum on independence. The problems were more to do with the following:

    1) A promise to “lock the Tories out” even if the Tories had more seats and the largest share of the vote does rather fly in the face of democracy. Our voting system is far from perfect. However, it is the one that we have and it should be respected. The Scots (understandably) do not like being told how to vote. Similarly, I think that many voters in England were angered by Sturgeon’s stance and wanted to make it abundantly clear that she could not just ride rough-shod over the will of the people (as such a stance could be perceived), particularly as noone outside of Scotland could vote for her party.

    2) If the SNP and Labour entered a formal agreement then the SNP would have had influence over Labour’s plans one way or another. Many people were already wary of Labour’s spending plans and the prospect of the SNP encouraging further spending did not appeal to Middle-England voters.

    3) On the other hand, no formal agreement may well have led to instability in the Commons. (Don’t forget that the Lib Dems frequently cited stability as a key reason for entering coalition with the Tories. It was probably an argument that the electorate remembered rather too well.). The SNP would have voted with Labour on a number of occasions, but at times they would have chosen not to. It was not a recipe for stable government.

    4) When considering the above, and when considering that in general most people are not worse off under the current government, is it really so surprising that people looked at the alternatives and opted to stick with the devil that they knew? The Tories’ most persuasive line in this GE was “we just need 23 more seats….vote for us.”

    These are just my thoughts though, and they might be wrong.

  • Sarah, thanks for your response and for not voting Tory 🙂

    I agree that the SNP issue was a big factor in driving people to vote Tory. And that Sturgeon and Salmond hammering home the message they would somehow control Miliband was helpful to the Tories – I suspect deliberately so! In reality, I doubt it would have worked out quite that way but it was enough to swing it for Cameron 🙁

  • 5) there was no coalition option on the ballot paper so the only way to guarantee continuity was to vote conservative

  • Contrary to what is being said above, if people were voting just in favour of the record of the Coalition, they had no reason not to vote for the Liberal Democrats, as the almost universal working assumption in the media was that the Lib Dems would be part of a right-wing bloc, together with the DUP and perhaps UKIP.

    People who voted Tory didn’t do it because they were approving of the job the Lib Dems had done in the Coalition. They voted Tory because they wanted an unfettered Tory government.

  • @Phil Beesley – what an odd thing to say. I am not anyone’s sock puppet (and indeed, I’m actually unclear as to who you mean by RCP.)

    I simply thought that those on LibDemVoice might be interested in hearing why a former Tory voter was persuaded to vote LibDem in the 2015 General Election. I’m sure there will be plenty of former LD voters queuing up to explain why they deserted the party!

    However, I have said my piece and will let this comment section return to those who are actually members of the party 🙂

  • As Bill said.
    Centre ground can be a very dangerous place.
    Distinctive and quality are good words for clothing.
    Hope our new emperor or empress puts on some good ones.

  • Bill le Breton 12th May '15 - 8:39am

    @ Ian B 11th May ’15 – 11:00am

    Sorry to have only just seen your question. The answer is that you have understood me correctly.

  • John Dunn 11th May ’15 – 1:15pm
    “…In the sheer visceral hatred of UKIP, many Lib Dems and Labour voters, voted tactically just to thwart the UKIP …”

    John Dunn
    We do not need a “sheer visceral” hatred of the UKIP to vote against them. We believe in Liberal Democrat values of liberty, equality and community so why on earthe would we not vote against the conservative, xenophobic provisional wing of The Daily Express .?

    BTW – who is the UKIP leader today? Mr Farago seems resign on alternate days of the week. Is it your turn to be leader today?

  • RC,
    “We lost the the same number of voters to the right as to the left this time. How do you blame that on Clegg precisely when he was one of the few MPs to be re-elected with Tory votes?”

    If I looked at this simplistically, as I fear many voters do, I would suggest that the deputy prime minister was so identified with the conservative government, that voters took him for a conservative candidate anyway. Even though his party was showing signs of breaking away from the true conservative path, they could still rely on him.

    On a slightly more complex level, it is true that Clegg personally accounted for a significant rise in votes for liberals. Clegg mania. It feels like the world of Harry Potter has invaded muggle politics, and the very last gasp of that particular spell still carried its creator into victory, when it could no longer do this for his cohorts. The liberal party has a long tradition of candidates who are elected because of their personal appeal, almost regardless of the party. In many ways the libs became a handy election machine for such people. Such people who might in slightly different circumstances have included the highly charismatic Nigel Farage, also a one man party.

    On a more cynical level, perhaps the most harm conservatives could inflict on the liberal party would be to ensure the agent of the destruction of the liberals as a political force remained part of its parliamentary group. Worth the loss of one conservative MP to ensure the liberals stay dead. Or, if the liberals really had been returned as 25 or so MPs, still a tidy rump in a tight race as was predicted, it would unquestionably have been in conservative interests for the man keenest on liberals joining the conservatives to remain in parliament.

  • David Evans 14th May '15 - 8:19am

    SC – Nick broke a pledge. No-one except a few true believers trusted him after that. So most of our 2010 voters selected the party they feared the least, be it Con, Lab, Green, SNP, PC or UKIP. Those who remained are either pure Lib Dem or simply trust their local MP. Clegg’s legacy is the turning of his beloved centre ground into a wasteland, the near extinction of the Liberals and the rise of UKIP as the third party in England. Makes yer proud, doesn’t it.

    P.S. Clegg held on in Sheffield simply because the Cons thought they might need him to lead whatever we had left to support David Cameron in a second hung parliament .

  • To be honest it would be good if Nick and his supporters could finally apologise for breaking the pledge, rather than just for making it.

    That in truth would put the issue to bed within the party and allow us to move forward. Until that time I will always look around and wonder whether people will demonstrate such a lack of political judgement again… Well, I admit I resigned over the pledge and have only now rejoined… And in the meantime I did not waste my time watching the factional battles within the Lib Dems that have evidently been going on,so other than the MP’s I don’t really know who is who in this…

    The issue here is trust, not tuition fees (although the party certainly needs a policy on the latter to replace the gaping hole in the Manifesto! – The policy adopted was not financially sustainable and is going to come back soon in this parliament, I predict). The fact is that by one ill-judged decision Nick Clegg lost the trust of 2/3 of the people who have voted Lib Dem. You can see that by how his approval rating plummeted with ALL voters, not just those on the left.. Of course some of our supporters would have gone just because of the coalition, but my gut feeling is that without the broken pledge we would have been on 15-20% in the polls and 40 MPs not 8 right now. And no Tory majority… That is the reality of what has happened and pretending that we should ignore it in this leadership election is barmy.

    So for me, no recriminations over the coalition, even though I thought the Lib Dems were sometimes too enthusiastic about it. And none of this “we should make sure we don’t make any pledges again”. That is rubbish! But when you do make a pledge, especially one that everyone sees that you, as an MP or councillor, has the power to keep, think hard because keeping it is the most important thing.

  • Andrew:
    The problem is that the issue is rather more complicated. One strong proposal prior to 2010 that was not then considered to break the pledge was a graduate tax. In fact, I think the National Union of Students supported a graduate tax.

    The new scheme is a hybrid graduate tax/ loan. For those who will (not are) be considerably better off, it is indeed a debt that they have to pay off and which has been tripled. For most, though, who never get to pay the full amount, contribute a tax that varies progressively according to income. For some, vicars for example, their university education will be free: obviously no need to apologise there.

    So, indeed, Nick Clegg could apologise to those heading towards careers in lucrative financial services, big legal firms etc, because they will have to pay a lot more and if they had been counting on Nick Clegg’s pledge they have justifiable reason to be aggrieved.

    But when you were thinking of an apology was it really the lawyers, bankers, brokers and hedge fund managers that you had in mind?

    I am not sure how an apology could be meaningfully be framed without a new policy that rejects the current scheme. For example we could apologise and propose to scrap fees entirely by increasing VAT or income tax to pay for Higher Education. Yet if we did that, I still cannot see that translating into an increase in trust and neither would I see it as that popular to most voters.

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