Opinion: What might happen after May 7th

This article appeared earlier as a comment on our “Electoral fruit machine” post and is reproduced here with permission from the author.

(After May 7th) I believe the Lib Dems will have more than 20 seats and less than 40, with many polls and commentators going for somewhere around the 30 mark, at the moment. From all the qualitative data I’ve seen so far that seems a fair estimate in political science. Anything less than 20 would be a shock, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling indicates that this is not going to happen.

There are two fascinating battles lining up at the moment, and then a third question that arises from them:

  1. Biggest party – Labour versus the Conservatives. The main question on everyone’s lips. And wide, wide open, with plenty of time before polling day.
  2. The hidden fight the media still needs to pick up on: the third biggest party. This is a competition between the SNP and the Lib Dems at the moment. It’s particularly volatile, because, whilst the SNP look ahead at the moment in the polls capturing up to 40 seats, when local factors are taken into account, such as a sitting MP, things change. The SNP vote is soft, having come over mostly from Labour and the Lib Dems, and could easily go back again in the run-up to polling day.

    I can’t comment in too much detail on the Scottish situation, but know that, in my own seat of Birmingham Yardley, Labour are 4-6% ahead on a straight opinion poll ask. However, mention my MPs name, John Hemming, and that turns into a 2% lead for John (source for both figures – Lord Ashcroft’s polling). Add in the mess that the Labour Council have made on bins and recycling in Birmingham over the last year and I believe John will hold his seat. Don’t write off all the Lib Dems yet.

    At the moment electionforecast.co.uk has the SNP on 35 and the Lib Dems on 27. That’s inaccurate. I don’t believe the Lib Dems are only going to get one seat in the whole of Cornwall and Devon for a second. It does suggest the SNP has the edge at the moment. Key battlegrounds to watch will be Gordon and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey – both Lib Dem/SNP fights.

    I personally think that the SNP may end up with more seats. If the Lib Dems somehow end up with more seats than the SNP, then this will be a major victory for the Lib Dems in difficult circumstances, and a success for the careful targetting of resources the Lib Dems have been known for since the mid-1990s.

  3. What coalition possibilities will add up?

    The Greens cannot win more than 3 seats, as they publicly admit they are only targeting 3 seats to win, and look like they will end up with 1-2 of those. The First Past the Post system will also work against UKIP, and I cannot see them winning more than 5 seats. No other party will win seats in signficant numbers, although the 2-3 SDLP MPs take the Labour whip and can be helpful if things get tight for Labour.

    With the most likely outcome a hung Parliament, the key players will be the SNP and the Lib Dems, and possibly the Democratic Unionists if the Conservatives just miss a majority, the latter having 8-10 seats – which could be crucial.

    The SNP have ruled out any coalition with the Conservatives, and prefer a confidence and supply arrangement with Labour, a likely price for budget stability and support in no confidence votes. If Labour are in a minority situation with the SNP in confidence and supply, I cannot see the Lib Dems going into coalition with them if their numbers are also needed.

The scenarios to me, then, are as follows:

  1. Conservative majority (unlikely, polls indicate hung Parliament).
  2. Conservative/DUP coalition (remember 1995 and John Major with no overall majority, and the Ulster Unionists indicating they would not vote him out, and various financial deals being done behind the scenes to cement this). This is likely if the Conservatives just miss a majority by a couple of seats.
  3. Another Conservative/Lib Dem coalition (unlikely IMHO, I’m not sure the activists have the stomach for it).
  4. Conservative minority Government.
  5. Labour minority Government (and call people’s bluff and be prepared to have a second General Election a la 1974, after calling people out in a vote of no confidence, and then failing to form a new Government?)
  6. Labour minority Government supported by SNP confidence and supply.
  7. Labour/Lib Dem coalition (unlikely, I think Lib Dems activists are hungry for a period in opposition to rebuild).
  8. Labour majority Government (unlikely, as the polls indicate a hung Parliament).

My guess is 5 or 6 at the moment. However, this final statement is pure speculation, as so much could change before polling day.

* Simon Foster is a lecturer in Politics and Economics, and has published 23 books on Politics, PSHE and Citizenship.

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96 Comments

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Feb '15 - 9:39am

    Tory coalition with the DUP and SNP. Supply and confidence will be fine for the SNP, they just need to agree the budget to safeguard their block-grant.

    Government: 301 Tory / 24 SNP / 09 DUP

    Opposition: 271 Labour / 30 Lib-Dem / 03 SDLP

    Other: 05 SinnFein / 03 Plaid / 01 Alliance / 02 UKIP / Green 01

    UKIP will squeeze tory and labour vote, but will only hold Carwells’ seat and one northern Labour seat. Greens will squeeze both Labour and Lib-dems, but get just one. SNP will squeeze both Labour and Lib-Dem’s, making huge gains, but remain the second largest Scottish party. Tories will benefit from economic competence at a time of euro-instability, but be hampered by boundaries. Labour will be ham-strung by their leader and their policy guns being spiked by the tories.** The Lib-Dem’s will barely hold their credibility as 0.5 party in a 2.5 party system with 30 seats.

    The key point here is that Labour cannot win as it has not answered the question; without money to spend what is the purpose of the party? This is why they are being squeezed by everyone, and the boundary advantage cannot change that fate.

  • Todays Mori poll is a “corker” to quote the organisation. Perhaps we should be standing beside our beds. I still cannot see us getting 20 seats, 10 -15 is more likely given the present state of the party. We should also recall that we are not that good at holding seats, add up the considerable number we have won and lost since 1997 and they were in our good years. 7% in the polls brings back memories of 1970 and 1955. 1970 we lost Orpington!.

  • matt (Bristol) 12th Feb '15 - 10:06am

    So, if any of that happens, will Farage (again making press statements about UKIP ‘holding the balance of power’ today) resign?

    The only one of your scenarios that gives him much traction and excuse for not doing so is a Tory/DUP government or a Tory minority government – where he and his 2-5 MPs might make the difference between wininng and losing votes and can exploit tensions within the government between the leadership and his fellow-travellers on the Tory back benches.

  • theakes 12th Feb ’15 – 9:48am

    theakes are you trying to save Clegg’s bacon by driving down expectations?

    45 MPs was recently in the mainstream media as the signal for his resignation.

    His own target which he boasted of in the leadership election was something around 120 MPs.

  • My money is on Lab+Lib+SNP. With SNP demanding more devolution of powers to Scotland, and Lib Dems demanding more devolution of power to the rest of the regions (complete with local elections moving to STV).

  • This is what 3 very old men are saying over at the Dimble-Bee-BC

    Psephologist Sir David Butler, commentator Sir Bob Worcester and politics professor Vernon Bogdanor have united to offer their often controversial views, based on more than 200 years’ combined experience.

    The “three wise men” dismiss Liberal Democrat hopes of another coalition….

    …,,we used to think of the typical UKIP voter as a “retired army officer in Tunbridge Wells, spluttering over his gin and tonic”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31066643

  • John Tilley.
    Save Clegg, perish the thought. Until he goes we are sunk. Far from driving down expectations on reflection I may be setting the ceiling too high. We are in a total mess. The last thing we need is to be involved in in any shape or form is n coalition talk. The party needs 3 years minimum to regroup, refocus, re-examine policies and get on its feet. Fortunately the worst of the Council election humiliations should be over this May and from 2016 we should start recording gains again. My dream is a grand coalition of Cons and Labour with us sounding off in opposition under a likeable leader, preferably female.

  • Labour looks like they’ve blown it already, I’d go for 2 or 4 if I had to bet. To some extent all parties may simultaneously lose – Labou/Tory no outright majority, UKIP nowhere near as many seats as they’d like to think and half the Lib Dem parliamentary party gone. The SNP being the only exception.

    I think the Lib Dems will get around 25 seats. Clegg’s bacon can’t be saved, at the moment it looks like his seat is in contention, he may not even return to Parliament.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Feb '15 - 11:00am

    I am interested in how a minority Government would ‘get out of Government’.

    If a minority government wants to call another general election it must surely be about 6% ahead in the polls. So why would the ‘majority’ made up of all the rest want an election?

    Why would a party with a substantial number of seats but not a majority accept ‘office’ if the ‘majority’ made up of the rest could eject it through a motion (or series of motions) of no confidence whenever it chose to. eg. when the party of Government were 6% behind in the polls?

    Surely a party accepting office will want the insurance of being either able to trigger an election at the time of its choosing or at full term?

    So, either some kind of overt or covert agreement will have to exist or … say the first effort at a motion of confidence on May 14th …. failure of Parliament to bestow confidence by May 28th, triggering second election five (?) weeks later.

    Have I missed something?

  • I lose confidence in a polling xompany which describes any one poll as a “corker”

  • Bill le Breton 12th Feb ’15 – 11:00am

    Bill, you may have missed one thing. The players in the game who will not come from political parties.
    It will be some years before the definitive story of what went on in May/June 2010 is published and available for all to read. Cast your mind back to the person that God called God back in 2010. The 2015 version of Gus O’Donnell might be the missing link?

  • Jedibeeftrix – Tory plus SNP is a nonstarter. SNP have ruled it out, sensibly from their point of view: their voters would slaughter them and their party would split!

    Andrew Ducker, you’ve gone for Lab / SNP / Lib, but if Labour got the SNP on board, they wouldn’t (in most scenarios) need the Libs. Labour distrust the Libs with great fervour, which I used to think was unfair and tribalist of them. However, five years of constant anti-Labour sledging from Clegg has given Labour plenty of good reasons not to touch the Libs with a bargepole!

  • Ah – so a “corker” of a poll is one where all the changes are within the margin of error!

  • We actually “know” more than a lot of commenters notice. Theres a clear long-term trend in Labour polling for example, its been falling for 2 years now & that fall has accelerated over the last 3 months. There is no chance of Labour being the largest Party.

  • It now looks more likely than not that Nick Clegg will lose his seat based on the constituency polls done recently in his constituency. Danny Alexander is almost certain to lose as well. This makes a LD/ Labour coalition more likely if the numbers add up. However sweeping SNP gains will make that harder. The SNP want an unambiguous end to austerity – a view with which I have some sympathy but I cannot see Labour and the Lib Dems agreeing to that.
    I cannot see us going in with the Tories now that they have shifted so far to the right.
    So minority government is the most likely outcome, and don’t anyone imagine that will be a soft option for anyone either.

  • matt (Bristol) 12th Feb '15 - 12:58pm

    Geoffrey, I will not believe almost anyything anyone says with ‘almost certain’ in until the day the election results sare announcred. ‘Credibly possible’ is something else…

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 1:12pm

    Simon Foster provides an excellent analysis of the most likely outcomes. If there are some 30-40 SNP MPs elected, alongside some 20-30 Lib Dems, then these two parties will jointly hold the balance, unless one of the two major parties establishes a (surprisingly) strong lead. Effectively, a result in which the Tories and Labour end up within 20 seats of each other, either way, is pretty much equivalent to a dead heat. So, what happens next, in that highly plausible situation? Well, let’s try wargaming it.

    In this scenario, the fact that matters most at the outset is that the SNP will definitely not back the Tories. Labour will want to draw strength from that, and demand the chance to govern. But Labour will also be terrified at the risk that the SNP will make unreasonable demands, bringing any confidence-and-supply deal crashing to the ground.

    The SNP’s best strategy, therefore, is to play a long game. They should be sweetly reasonable at the outset, and make minimal initial demands, in order to persuade Labour to strike a deal. After all, five years of unforeseeable events thereafter should then provide them with plenty of chances to wind up the pressure and demand big concessions to Scotland, once Miliband is ensconced in Number Ten and does not want to let go.

    Because the SNP will treat Labour with such initially sweet reasonableness, the Lib Dems will fail to get a hearing. Labour has never trusted the Lib Dems, and still won’t, even if Farron replaces a defeated Clegg. The Lib Dems are smarting from a poor coalition deal with Cameron, and “won’t make the same mistake again”. So they will face Labour with tough demands, just when the SNP face Labour with sweet reasonableness. Game, set and match to SNP, as far as Labour are concerned.

    So – Next we have to write the game plan for the Tories. They will see the threat from Labour – SNP, and they will plan to counter it. They know what works for them – Surprise, decisiveness, and shock and awe. Think of the five-day coalition agreement, or of EVEL sprung on an unsuspecting nation hours after the Scottish referendum result. They will have to bounce, threaten, cajole, entice or buy up Lib Dems in their favour, even if Clegg is out as an MP. They will also have to do it very quickly, before Labour – SNP can get an act together.

    The Tories will be making their contingency plans now. This scenario is of course very far from certain, but it’s about the most likely of the various alternative possible election outcomes. So they won’t have missed it. Perhaps some Lib Dems – the most reliable Tory allies – might already know something of what is being mooted.

    So – To all those of you out there who want to see a Lib-Lab pact – It’s a chimera. It will never happen. The deal is the Tories or nothing. For the Lib Dem donors, the think tankers, the young professional staff, Continuity Clegg and their ilk, the preferred option won’t be nothing. Remember that when you talk to your local Lib Dem candidate, and remember that when you vote.

  • Danny Alexander is 1/14 at the bookies “not” to be an MP after the GE – I think in his case “almost certain” is correct.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '15 - 1:16pm

    theakes12th Feb ’15 – 10:55am
    “My dream is a grand coalition of Cons and Labour with us sounding off in opposition under a likeable leader, preferably female.”

    I would have thought that a new start with an authentic mainstream preamble-believing Liberal Democrat leader would be the best option for us.

    We ended up with Clegg due to many voting for the younger face to woo the media after their very poor treatment of Ming Campbell.

    As many of us have said in various places we absolutely need a period out of government to decide what we actually stand for as a party before we go anywhere near another coalition.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Feb '15 - 1:29pm

    @ David Allen – “Jedibeeftrix – Tory plus SNP is a nonstarter. SNP have ruled it out, sensibly from their point of view: their voters would slaughter them and their party would split!”

    They ruled out coalition.
    It seems to me that offers a lot of wiggle room.

    Protect the block grant by voting on supply measures, and prevent the government falling via confidence.
    Then use that block grant to go about ruling the devolved Scottish administration. Their competition it labour, it is they that must be driven out of Scotland.
    If Tories end up the largest party and the lib-dems are in post-tory meltdown, what are the SNP going to do?

  • Bill le Breton 12th Feb '15 - 1:45pm

    John, I appreciate that the Head of the Civil Service will have ‘his’ own agenda and will be looking for stability and confidence that ‘his’ PM can deliver a Parliamentary majority.

    But the Civil Service doesn’t understand politicians. Or they would not have been shocked that a stable government could come from a formal Coaltion after 2010 (and not through a C and S arrangement).

    I still want someone to tell me how a prospective PM of a minority party can gain the assurance of an exit and timing of exit of his choosing without a covert or overt deal with others.

    I think an ‘October’ election is impossible. A June election perhaps , see my comment above, but if that is avoided then there must have been a deal hidden or open, between two or more which gave them all control over election timing.

    Also David, I do not agree that an SNP/Tory (private) deal is impossible. An SNP that is able to deliver economic growth and public service growth in Scotland by line by line budget negotiations will win in 2016 and in 2020. It may not look likely but it is far from impossible (as Jeddi has said).

    There will be a great deal of fog immediately after the election, undercover of which an assertive Party leader will assume the keys to Downing Street – everyone will call it a minority administration (there doesn’t have to be an overt C and S deal and in a number of situations simple abstentions could provide the necessary passport).

    Wilson’s assumption of the PM’s job in Feb/March 1974 is informative. He totally ignored Heath’s conversations with Thorpe and declared on the Friday afternoon that he would be Prime Minister and would form a Government and would NOT talk to anyone else. It was the Ts who abstained on his Queen’s Speech. The Ts could have stopped him but they didn’t.

  • Julian Critchley 12th Feb '15 - 2:09pm

    Still lots of wishful thinking and denial here. Also, the BBC article interviewed three solidly establishment, essentially right-wing commentators (Bogdanor taught me at university, and even then I wouldn’t have described him as someone comfortable with originality, while Butler’s horror at the prospect of electoral reform represents the fear of an old man whose conservative views have calcified). Their “predictions” say more about their hopes than any facts on the ground.

    Labour will be the largest party, and the SNP will be the third largest party. Together they will form a coalition, with the SNP performing the role which most of us pre-2010 LibDem voters believed the LibDems would do in a Lib/Lab coalition – keep the authoritarian Blairites under control and inject a bit of radicalism into Labour’s essentially small “c” conservative soul.

    The Tories are going to lose seats. It is bizarre to suggest they’ll retain 301 seats given their record in government and the insurgent role of UKIP. They’d lose a lot more, of course, were it not for the fact that they’ll pick up a good 20 LibDem seats as previous LibDem voters abandon the party for a variety of destinations. All the talk of incumbency is rot. Most voters can’t name their MP, and those who can are usually those most engaged and least likely to switch their vote in any case.

    The LibDems will be relegated to the sidelines with their minibus of MPs (less than 20) – an irrelevance.

    A catastrophe for a party I supported loyally for more than 20 years. The only consolation will be seeing the main architect of that catastrophe lose his seat in Sheffield in 2015’s Portillo moment.

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 2:57pm

    What Sturgeon said was, “We’ll never ever put the Tories into government.” She would need a pretty good excuse to extricate herself if she were to go back on that. As Jedi / Bill appear to suggest, the nearest thing to a good excuse would be if the Tories grab Number 10 as the largest single party and then seek C&S to try to stay there. Would Sturgeon take the political risk of supporting the hated Tories (or even abstaining) in a confidence vote, knowing that there would be a succession of such votes over five years, knowing that governments always do deeply unpopular things that could trigger repeated confidence votes?

    I think the only circumstance in which they might get away with that, with their own electorate, is if they had won an outrageous concession such as a huge increase in block grant. Then they would effectively be able to tell their voters “We’ll back the Tories, but only because they’re letting us screw them!”

    Now, time to wargame this from the Tory perspective. If the SNP throw them a lifeline, but it is clearly highly conditional and temporary, and it looks as if it was designed to booby-trap the Tories and make them look like fools, are the Tories going to grab that lifeline? Doubt it!

    So – Don’t worry about Tory-SNP, it won’t happen!

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 3:28pm

    Julian Critchley – Your analysis makes more sense than most, but I think you underestimate the Tories. Sure, they are being hammered by UKIP, but that is factored into the poll figures now, and they’re still a very close second to Labour. Sure, they deserve to get hammered after HSBC, but outside the pages of the (objective) Guardian, are they? Last night, the BBC showed Cameron confidently making it seem as if one Labour donor with an HSBC offshore account made Labour more culpable than the Tories. The previous night, the BBC showed Cameron “trumping” the revelations about Stephen Green by pointing out that HSBC’s criminality began under Labour. Totally bogus points of course, but Cameron makes them well. Miliband does not.

    Incumbency sadly is not total rot. I wish it was. I would like to see Lib Dems who havce traduced the principles they claimed to stand for thrown out on their ears, if only as a lesson for future politics. But some will survive. Let’s hope it is the small minority who have made a reasonable effort to keep things honest, and let’s hope it isn’t Clegg.

    The Tories can still win, and the Lib Dems can help them do so, if they so choose. Now, decent activists like Geoffrey Payne above would choose to steer clear of the Tories, but they don’t have the power. The hedge funders and donors who keep the party afloat are the people who have the power. And we know what they want.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '15 - 3:28pm

    Simon Shaw12th Feb ’15 – 2:11pm
    ” There’s no likelihood of it at all if we don’t agree to enter one, whatever Labour may wish. A Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2015 would be a disaster for our Party.”

    Simon – what about another Tory/Lib Dem coalition? Would that not also be a disaster for our Party?

  • The chances of a Labour-SNP coalition are slimmer than the chances of the Lib Dems getting 30 seats. They hate each other, and for Labour to do a deal with the SNP would kill off more of the Scottish Party, expect Jim Murphy to veto it if it ever gets proposed, or for half the parties Scottish MPs to leave and become independents.

    And, with the fixed parliaments act no minority government is especially obliged to seek a formal coalition, it can quite happily govern as a minority with no danger of an early election being forced.

    A Labour minority, but only just a minority, government is the most likely outcome.

  • Stephen Howse 12th Feb '15 - 3:43pm

    “However, five years of constant anti-Labour sledging from Clegg has given Labour plenty of good reasons not to touch the Libs with a bargepole!”

    And just how would you describe the approach Labour have taken towards the Lib Dems, and Nick Clegg in particular, over the last five years? ‘Sledging’ doesn’t begin to cover it. When Labour talk about pluralism, what they actually mean is ‘we want you to prop us up if we need you’ – and woe betide you if you talk to or deal with any other party. The class war might not be raging quite as hard as in the ‘good old days’, but the tribalist, fervently anti-Tory, ‘we have a moral mandate’ mindset prevails amongst their number – MPs, councillors and activists alike.

  • This talk of a second GE in 2015 all seems to miss the implications of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the fact that the Tories are the only party which could afford a second election aside. The FTPA stipulates that if the government falls, an early election will only be called if no new government emerges after 14 days. 14 days is so long to be negotiating, horse trading and so on that public opinion will sour greatly; I doubt it would be in anyone’s interest to hold a second GE after such a period. So what we would probably see is a last-minute deal to stave off an election no-one wants, which might last, say, a couple of months before another no confidence vote and we all get on the merry-go-round again. The Catch-22 would be that only repealing and replacing the FTPA would solve this issue; it would probably take two or three cycles of this for everyone to agree in sufficient numbers to do it. Tl;dr – a second election before 2020? Very possible. A second in 2015? I rather doubt it. The FTPA does for most 1974 analogies; it really should be borne in mind more often.

  • Graham Evans 12th Feb '15 - 3:53pm

    If the SNP emerge as by far the largest party in Scotland in terms of seats, but Labour manage to be the largest party in the UK, then Labour can simply go ahead and form a minority government, and in essence challenge the SNP to bring them down by voting with the Tories. In these circumstances, the SNP would have little to gain by a second election and might have much to lose. Labour might have to water down some of its proposals to keep the LDs and DUP on board, as Wilson did in 1964, but a minority Labour Government could surely survive for five years, just as the Coalition has done (despite the predictions of many). Moreover, there are many things a Government can do without needing to get parliamentary approval. Obviously, if the Tories remain the largest party then this scenario will not hold because they would not need SNP support to defeat Labour. The question would then arise as to whether the SNP were prepared to make concessions to Labour to keep the Tories out of power. It may seem bizaare, but it seems to me that the best result for Labour in terms of gaining power at Westminster is for the SNP to win big in Scotland.

  • Geoffrey Payne: Think it through! On your hypothesis that Clegg does not win his seat, there will not be any coalition with Lib Dems within the first few months since there will be no recognised leader to head negotiations. In the circumstances, a leadership campaign would hardly make a coalition negotiation any easier. Effectively, the likely consequence would be to slam the door on the possibility of a coalition.

  • Bill le Breton: I had not really considered the possibility of a lack of agreement that might initiate a second election not much more than a month later. Is this really how the rules work? I fear you could be right – if so the Party should have contingency plans for this eventuality.

    I think it likely that Lib Dems and other smaller parties would abstain on an initial confidence vote, thereby ensuring that a government of sorts is formed. Then I think you are right that it is difficult to conceive how any Parties would extract themselves from the situation, particularly if they were caught in a position of unpopularity.

  • Stephen Howse

    And just how would you describe the approach Labour have taken towards the Lib Dems, and Nick Clegg in particular, over the last five years? ‘Sledging’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

    The job of the opposition is to oppose. Why on earth would Labour be kind to the Lib Dems while the Coalition remained in power?

    Also, it looks like Labour will nick Clegg’s (apologies) seat, so that provides ample justification for slagging him off.

  • Martin 12th Feb ’15 – 4:00pm
    Geoffrey Payne: Think it through! On your hypothesis that Clegg does not win his seat, there will not be any coalition with Lib Dems within the first few months since there will be no recognised leader to head negotiations.

    Martin,
    Can I politely suggest that you have little sense of Realpolitik ?
    The Liberal Democrats will have a Leader in The Commons as soon as the MPs meet to put someone pro tem in the place of Clegg.
    The Liberal Democrats already have a Leader in The Lords.
    The Liberal Democrats already have an elected party president.
    We have an abundance of former leaders — Ashdown, Williams, Kennedy, Campbell, Steel, Cable.
    Paddy Ashdown is playing a key role in the election campaign and is not known for hiding in the shadows, at least not since he finished his job as a “diplomat” in Geneva.

    Do you really think that there would be nobody to lead the party in negotiations?

    If Clegg achieves what many of us only 3 months ago thought was impossible — ie losing Hallam to Labour — his replacement (even if only a pro tem replacement) will be in place by Saturday tea-time, if not sooner.

    I seem to remember Vince Cable doing quite a good job of stand-in leader a few years ago; at the time his assistant was a young Tim Farron.

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 5:41pm

    g and Graham Evans both make some good points about Labour – SNP, which should be considered together. The type of deal those two parties can strike would be limited to confidence and supply. If Labour lead the Tories, it could be private and tacit, avoiding tribalist ruction. If the Tories lead Labour, it would have to be explicit, but then self-interest would overcome tribalist hatred: Labour and SNP would need to hang together, in preference to hanging separately. Remember that with FTPA, the collapse of a Labour-SNP supply and confidence deal would mean the Tories taking power without fresh elections for the remainder of the five-year term. Under those conditions, Jim Murphy would surely not “veto” the survival of a Labour government!

  • David Allen

    If the Tories lead Labour, it would have to be explicit, but then self-interest would overcome tribalist hatred: Labour and SNP would need to hang together, in preference to hanging separately. Remember that with FTPA, the collapse of a Labour-SNP supply and confidence deal would mean the Tories taking power without fresh elections for the remainder of the five-year term. Under those conditions, Jim Murphy would surely not “veto” the survival of a Labour government!

    I think you also have to remember that the sole political aim of the SNP is independence. A Tory minority government with no significant representation in Scotland may help hasten that aim and the SNP will constantly make the ‘only independence can keep the Tories out’ argument they’ve been making for a while now. They will quite happily allow Westminster to lower the quality of life in Scotland through policies if they think it brings independence closer.

    The SNP also have no interest in a stable UK government, and plenty of reason to make mischief to ensure one doesn’t happen. Indeed, for that reason alone, all nationalist parties, SNP, PC or UKIP should be excluded from coalition in Westminster.

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 5:51pm

    John Tilley: Yes, of course the Lib Dems will be able to elect a caretaker leader once Clegg has lost in Hallam. However, the profusion of once and future leaders that you mention does rather suggest that any particular Acting Leader who might get wheeled onto the stage may not be able to exert total authority over his party. This problem will be compounded by the mayhem surrounding the party. Tears and laments, furious lobbies for Labour, furious lobbles for the Tories, and furious lobbies for isolation and renewal.

    Sensible activists of all shades of opinion seem to be converging on the view that the party should seek to renew itself outside government. However, activists have no clout these days. Funders want influence in government, which means a Tory alliance, and what funders want, funders get.

    Given these facts, just how keen should activists be to patch this party back together?

  • Paul in Wokingham 12th Feb '15 - 6:47pm

    The Evening Standard has a story tonight with the title “Blow to Clegg as support for Lib-Dems sinks to lowest level in 25 years”. The body of the article says that Labour+Con support is above 70% for the first time since 2013 as the electorate are “finally focusing on a showdown between the two would – be prime ministers”. Once again the story is Lib Dem irrelevance. So what is our leadership doing to offer a distinctive and attractive Lib Dem agenda that will engage the voters? Repeating the same messages that have not resonated before seems unlikely to improve our position.

    On the basis of all available evidence it is hard to see how our interest in post-GE negotiations is anything other than that of curious bystanders.

  • Peter Watson 12th Feb '15 - 6:59pm

    @David Allen “the Lib Dems will be able to elect a caretaker leader once Clegg has lost in Hallam”
    I’m not convinced that Clegg losing his seat is the best outcome for the party.
    That would simply mean a few people in Sheffield had the casting vote on his record. A new leader taking the party in a different direction might simply reinforce the notion that Lib Dems have no roots or principles, and simply follow the leader of the day. I would prefer to see Clegg dismissed as leader in a more decisive act by the party.

  • Peter Watson 12th Feb '15 - 7:11pm

    On reflection, I should have written, “I would prefer to see Clegg replaced as leader in a more decisive act by the party.”

  • David Allen 12th Feb '15 - 7:57pm

    I’ll just settle for him going, any which way but out!

  • Simon Foster 12th Feb '15 - 8:01pm

    @matt (Bristol). I ignored UKIP because I believe David Cameron would rather lose all financial control over Northern Ireland and do a deal with the DUP (8-10 seats) than have an immediate referenda on Europe and play into Farage’s hands.

    Of course, then Farage popped up on TV and said today he wasn’t going into coalition with anyone. I can’t see the Tories going for UKIP confidence and supply, again they’re more likely to go to the DUP or go for minority Government if they just missed a majority, IMHAO (in my humble academic opinion 😉 ).

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '15 - 8:44pm

    Hi Simon

    “Yes, nearly as bad as a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.”

    Hmm, that is where we will have to agree to differ.

    “There is no way that any coalition in 2015 involving us can be anything other than a disaster for us.”

    That’s more like it!

  • The Lib Dem leader would grab a coalition with Labour with both hands if offered. It very well might be. I believe Labour will be the single largest party without a majority. If the Lib Dems can give Labour a majority they will and the Lib Dems will surely take it.

    Labour would only go into coalition with the SNP if they have no other option because the SNP will demand such a high price for their support.

    I think Labour will get around 300 seats.
    The SNP about 50 seats.
    The Lib Dems about 20 seats.

    Long term a coalition with Labour would massively damage the the Lib Dems because after the election they will have very few seats left except in wealthy Tory facing seats where their supporters aren’t to keen on Labour and are more like open minded Tory-lites.

  • David Evans 13th Feb '15 - 1:38am

    Recently we have seen the most blatant of pre-election political bribes made by the Conservatives in the form of the 4% pensioner bonds, only available to over 65s who vote substantially Tory. Yet another example of how Nick Clegg has been totally out of his depth in government from day one. How Cameron must have laughed when Nick said they wouldn’t have anything to disagree about in the debates. Nick fell for it all: hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately he is still dragging the rest of us further down, because many voters will not think of even considering forgiving us, until he has gone, and if we leave it until after the election most will never forgive us.

    His inability to see that arbitrary ministerial power is much more significant than passing laws when he entered into coalition, was never more manifest. He refused to listen to experienced councillors at the start and we are all paying for our MPs indecisiveness now. Why didn’t the quad stop it? Because our two never even saw it coming. Nick has been the biggest disaster to hit our party since the 1930s. Whether there will be a party (with any MPs) by the end of the 2030s will be touch and go.

  • Ben Gardner 13th Feb '15 - 9:38am

    #Labour/Lib Dem coalition (unlikely, I think Lib Dems activists are hungry for a period in opposition to rebuild).#

    Personally I think that a Lib-Lab coalition is exactly what the party needs to rehabilitate itself if the eyes of progressive voters. The days of the Lib Dems picking up pure protest votes is over – it’s needs to reestablish itself as a liberal, centre-left party if it wants to have a future.

  • Paul in Wokingham 13th Feb '15 - 9:51am

    What an extraordinary intervention by Jeremy Browne.

    I agree with his view that Clegg has reduced the Lib Dems to the party of “insipid moderation” while profoundly disagreeing with his vision of what a “radical” Liberal Democrat party looks like.

    And I also agree that the Tories are close to securing a majority: the current deflationary environment looks superficially benign (especially in respect of the collapse in forecourt petrol prices and the return of real wage growth) and we can expect the Tories to campaign on a platform of economic security in an uncertain world.

    But it is staggering that a “senior” MP will – to coin a footballing cliche – “get his retaliation in first” by claiming that the coming electoral meltdown is due to moving away from his vision of remoulding the party as the champion of some strange corporatist libertarianism.

  • I do think that the Lub Dems should continue to be in government if they can go back to being the Lib Dems we knew and loved. The ones who believed in PR, civil liberties, saving the environment, standing up for the weakest in society, higher education funded from general taxation and who were against snooping, nuclear power, vested interests and demonising sections of society etc. The ones who believed in ‘a new kind of politics’ ; where PM’s Questions are not and excuse for the worst type of yah-boo politics. No other party has all those.

    This country needs the Lib Dems in government.

  • Drew Durning 13th Feb '15 - 11:03am

    On the subject of what might happen after May 7th, Professor John Curtice sets out the democratic deficit in this paper http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file/Lottery_Election_ONLINE_Feb2015.pdf for the Electoral Reform Society. The country will wake up on the 8th to outrage over the FPTP system with the SNP massively over-represented (probably 3rd in seats and 6th in votes) and with completely disproportionate influence if Labour come first in seats. Meanwhile, the Greens and UKIP, with well over 20% of the vote between them will achieve maybe 3 or 4 seats. Possibly between the LibDems, the Greens and UKIP there will be more votes than the “winning party” with one tenth of the seats.

    There will be a huge opportunity for STV at that point – general election, not just local, as part of the constitutional reform programme. And no miserable little compromises. I would be much happier if that was added to our manifesto front page and we laid the groundwork before the election. I don’t want Nigel Farage to be the peoples champion for a fairer voting system – lets spot this in advance and be prepared to capitalise on it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Feb '15 - 11:08am

    Phyllis13th Feb ’15 – 10:28am

    I totally only agree with you!

    The key though is your ” … IF they can go back to being the Lib Dems we knew and loved. The ones who believed in PR, civil liberties, saving the environment, standing up for the weakest in society, higher education funded from general taxation and who were against snooping, nuclear power, vested interests and demonising sections of society etc. The ones who believed in ‘a new kind of politics’ ; where PM’s Questions are not and excuse for the worst type of yah-boo politics. No other party has all those. ”

    ***** IF *****

    We will not get to the IF stage with the present leader. It is he more than anyone else who has sought to turn us into the ‘Insipid Equidistant Party’.

    Once the GE is over we will be in urgent need a very early leadership election and then to decide what sort of party we are.

    Are we to be the party you outline (and that we all joined) or are we going to be what Paul in Wokingham accurately describes as the champion of some strange corporatist libertarianism.

  • Graham Evans 13th Feb '15 - 12:26pm

    “The ones who believed in PR, civil liberties, saving the environment, standing up for the weakest in society, higher education funded from general taxation and who were against snooping, nuclear power, vested interests and demonising sections of society etc”
    I imagine anyone speaking on behalf of the Greens could claim that these are ideas that characterises their party. There is nothing distinctly Liberal about this wish list. Indeed I can image that there are many in the Labour, and possibly some in the Tory Party, who could subscribe to all or most of the things on this list. Despite the claims of those who claim to have unique experience how how a coalition should work, based on their experience in local government, which these days has so little room for manoeuvre, that in practice there is little significant difference on the ground between most Labour and Tory councils, I would suggest we need to look to continental Europe for a real understanding of how multi-party politics work. And the reality is that some very uncomfortable compromises are having to be continually made. The idea that being in opposition with a new left wing leader will somehow lead to a new dawn on a stepping stone to real political power is a mirage. The reality is that smaller parties can only break through based on the failures of their big brothers. And Scotland provides a good example. Initially the Scottish LDs thrived based on the failures of Scottish Tories, rather than because they had some special skills which alluded their English counterparts, and now the SNP is thriving because of the abject failure of Scottish Labour. For all their problems, I think it will be a long time before we see the demise of either Labour or Tory Party in England

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Feb '15 - 12:54pm

    Firstly, I hope it was obvious that there was a missing word … literally word in the above so that it read: “The key word though is your … IF ”

    An edit button! an edit button! my kingdom for an edit button!

    Secondly- Graham Evans13th Feb ’15 – 12:26pm

    It is not very clear what sort of future Liberal Democrat party you would like to see based on this response Graham.

    Re: “The idea that being in opposition with a new left wing leader will somehow lead to a new dawn on a stepping stone to real political power is a mirage. ”

    You might say that but I would suggest a new, preamble-believing authentic mainstream Lib Dem leader would find it virtually impossible to not to do significantly better.

    Even supporters of the Nick Clegg stance must surely recognise that (sometimes unfairly) the electorate simply will not either believe or listen to him.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Feb '15 - 1:15pm

    @ Graham Evans,

    I take issue with one of the points you raise. I don’t think that people are unaware that uncomfortable compromises have to be made in coalition government. I think that the failure of your party to take people along with you, is that some of the party don’t seem to have found the compromises too uncomfortable at all. This makes people suspicious of how hard the Lib Dem negotiators fought their corner. Even taking so called victories for Lib Democrat ideas, how hard was it to negotiate the pupil premium when it was also in the Conservatives 2010 Manifesto? What about fiercely contested ideas?

    You may think this unfair, but how else do you explain the loss of voters who actually voted for the party for positive reasons and not because it was neither Conservative or Labour?

  • Graham Evans 13th Feb '15 - 2:10pm

    @Jayne Mansfield
    In the period 1960 to 1997, most of the gain in electorate support for the Liberal and later LD parties came from former Tory voters, plus Labour supporters voting tactically to defeat a Tory candidate. Moreover, apart from a brief period when the Greens beat the LDs into third place in a Euro-election, most of the protest vote flowed naturally to the LDs, there being no realistic alternative throughout most of the country. What was also noticeable in this period was that when Labour were in power, the Liberal vote tended to drop. However, in the period 1997 to 2010 LDs benefited from the Tory image problem, and the fact that New Labour had sought to occupy the ground once populated by moderate Tories. In direct contrast to earlier periods of Labour government, the LDs were able to pick up voters disillusioned with Labour’s apparent right wing drift, i.e. many traditional Labour voters perceived Labour as economically right wing and authoritarian. I would therefore argue that the problems of the LDs today flow not from the behaviour of LDs in coalition government, but rather from the fact that they have been contaminated with the Tory image among former traditional Labour voters, while until recently David Cameron has been moderately successful in improving the Conservative Party image among former Tory voters who had switched to the LDs. The result has been a collapse in support for the LDs. Much of that support has gone not to Labour, but instead to the Greens in England, and the SNP in Scotland, on the socialist left and in England to UKIP on the nationalist right. Now the genie is out of the bottle I’m not sure that a change of LD leader or more left wing rhetoric can much improve the situation unless Labour or the Tories make a complete hash of retaining their existing core vote.

  • Graham Evans 13th Feb '15 - 2:33pm

    @Stephen Hesketh
    My response to Jayne Mansfield explains why I think it delusional to believe that a change of leader or political direction will improve the electoral prospects of the Party. Moreover, I am of the opinion that party preambles are rather like the Bible- you can choose to interpret them, and translate them into action, according to your pre-existing attitudes. As a schoolboy in the 1960s I became active in the Liberal Party not because of some deep understanding of liberal philosophy, and certainly not was written in the Party Constitution, but because I felt more comfortable in that party than in the alternative Labour or Conservative Party. The same was true after the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP. This does not mean that I subscribe to every policy pronouncement of the Party, and in the past when I exercised real power as Housing Chairman on a local authority with a Lib/SDP majority I certainly remember clashing with Liberal councillors from other authorities in terms of how we dealt with tenants who would not pay their rent, However, over all these years, and despite differences with other party members on specific policy issues, the LDs remain for me the party in which I most feel at home. Unlike many former party supporters, I cannot see myself defecting to either the Tories or Labour, much less to the crypto-socialist Greens or to the nationalistic and populist UKIP.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Feb '15 - 3:36pm

    Graham Evans13th Feb ’15 – 2:10pm

    Without debating the points made in your last post (perhaps a prophetic phrase in itself), are you saying that you think we are doomed as a significant political force. This might also explain my slight puzzlement as to what sort of Liberal Democratic party you wanted to see. Based on this, perhaps just one that survives?

  • David Allen 13th Feb '15 - 4:30pm

    “I do think that the Lib Dems should continue to be in government if they can go back to being the Lib Dems we knew and loved.”

    So why can’t they? I think they simply can’t, because the party has been captured by the money men.

    What’s more, money men have held the whip hand in this Party even when we used to “know and love” them. See

    http://www.theprostitutestate.co.uk/page9.html

    Back in 1996, the chair of the Liberal Democrat general election campaign was also an executive director and political lobbyist for Rio Tinto Zinc, who were controversially planning a huge opencast mine in the Indonesian rainforest. Lib Dem activist Donnachadh McCarthy proposed to the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive that no individual should be allowed to retain both such roles simultaneously, because of the clear conflict of interest. Paddy Ashdown, the Party Leader, reacted in an interesting way. He did not simply argue against McCarthy’s proposal. He promised that he would resign as Leader if it was adopted by the Federal Executive! It wasn’t, of course.

    Clegg, subsequently, has entrenched the dominance of the money men even further. But as this account shows, they have been pulling the strings within the Lib Dems for a lot longer than the Orange Book has been in existence.

    Perhaps we used to be lovable only because we did not get the chance to let our voters down?

  • Graham Evans 13th Feb '15 - 4:43pm

    @Stephen Hesketh
    The experience in continental Europe suggests that liberal parties (whether tending to the left or the right) command about 10%, (plus or minus 5%) of the electorate. This means that if they are to have real political influence in government they have to be willing to enter into coalition. Unlike in this country however it is usually clear before the election which is their preferred coalition partner or partners. Of course the difficulty which we have in the UK is the FPTP electoral system and the general belief in both the Labour and Conservative parties (and indeed possibly among the general electorate) that single party government is the best form of government. This is why I think we have to be prepared to enter a coalition government after May 2015, i.e. To continue to familiarise the electorate with the concept of coalition government, and to exercise real political influence, though I accept that there is a real risk in doing so. (Incidentally, the only exception I can think of where a genuine liberal party – the Australian Liberal Party is far from liberal – has commanded widespread electorate support is Canada, and even there the future of the party is in doubt after the last election result.) Of course, the vision of many liberals was at one time, particularly under Paddy Ashdown’s leadership, of a general realignment of the left, rather than the LDs displacing Labour. However, given the tribalism of Labour, particularly now that their support is based on a core vote, I think any realignment is unlikely, unless, as I said before, the Tories or Labour make a hash of protecting their core vote.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Feb '15 - 7:40pm

    Graham Evans 13th Feb ’15 – 4:43pm

    Graham, thank you for expanding upon your position.

    It is interesting that the British Lib Dems, even now, at the nadir of our support, are all but matching continental levels of support and that, under normal circumstances i.e. when we stand for Preamble Liberal Democracy we have historically at least doubled the typical continental figure.

    On that basis, it sounds as though we should absolutely not be doubting the resonance of our traditional message within Britain.

    So, based on this and on your analysis, the best thing we can do is not ask ourselves, “what might happen after May 7th” but to actively plan for “what should happen”. We should work to have as many Preamble Liberals elected as possible, refuse to join any coalition, ensure we have a change in leadership ASAP after the election, philosophically (in both senses of the word) put the period of ‘insipid equidistance/strange corporate libertarianism’ down to bitter experience and get back to our true green, egalitarian, preamble values of Liberal Democracy.

    If those of us who remain can do that, I am sure we will rejoined by many members and voters who have felt it necessary to temporarily turn their backs on us.

    Down but not out!

  • “…We should work to have as many Preamble Liberals elected as possible, refuse to join any coalition, ensure we have a change in leadership ASAP after the election, philosophically (in both senses of the word) put the period of ‘insipid equidistance/strange corporate libertarianism’ down to bitter experience and get back to our true green, egalitarian, preamble values of Liberal Democracy.”

    As so often, Stephen Hesketh says what must be said. He is absolutely correct. These are the real priorities for those of us who believe in he spirit and the letter of The Preamble.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Feb '15 - 8:18pm

    jedibeeftrix 13th Feb ’15 – 5:24pm

    Interesting points my enlightened friend from the dark side.

    I think all but Nick Clegg can see the folly in defining ourselves in relation to Labour and the Tories. No argument there but my argument comes from the angle that we are actually at our most popular when we stand by our stated principles.

    By all means attempt to dilute this fact by suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with ‘purity’ but it doesn’t alter the fact that many (our core vote) may actually want their politicians not like the grubby power merchants of the Conservative and Labour parties. This is what we offered and which appeared reasonably popular until NC decided to join the money first club.

    Now what you call purity, I would argue is good Liberal politics – putting people and communities ahead of hugely wealthy corporations, spreading wealth and power generally, passing on a viable earth to future generations, working with our European neighbours to ensure that profits are not moved within or outside the continent to minimise the taxes these companies are legitimately and legally required to pay, to do something about the absolutely perverse gap in the pay of ordinary workers and CEO’s, main boards etc. to openly reject the belief in the trickle down of wealth from the super rich to the rest, to reject Trident and have properly funded armed services that can actually safeguard Britain and, if necessary, impose proper sanctioned United Nations aims, to encourage worker cooperatives and worker representation, to allow private investment in the Green investment bank, to mutualise one of the other banks (that we basically own already) to enable people to place their money in an alternative non-speculative repository, to introduce proper regional government to free up the rest of the country from London sucking the investment and life blood from the rest of the country.

    The list goes on and on – and I am certain the heavy weight radical thinkers would have many better suggestions but I believe these and similar ideas would be broadly popular policies reasonably flowing from what we, as Liberal Democrats, sign up to when we join this party.

  • TechnicalEphemera 14th Feb '15 - 12:36am

    Entertaining reading this set of comments.

    Stepping aside from the Orange Book stranglehold on the party for a minute, I don’t see the argument that a Labour deal would be a disaster for the 15 remaining Lib Dem MPs. For a Lib Dem party under Farron it is actually a natural fit.

    The remaining Lib Dem MPs will be in opposition to the Tory Party in their seats and they will be located in areas with no Labour bedrock. Their election will mostly be down to the Labour tactical vote holding its nose and voting Lib Dem to keep the Tory out. A reforming Labour government may well simply entrench them in their seats, and unlike the Tories would not treat their cabinet allies as their number one electoral targets.

    There is no immediate prospect of recovery in Labour Lib Dem marginals, it may take 3 electoral cycles and the party may be extinct by then. It is entirely possible to envisage a Labour/Lib Dem government, especially given the truly spectacular civil war that is going to break out in the Tory party as soon as they lose.

    If it all goes to hell in a hand-basket for the next government, of any colour, the Greens and UKIP are now far more likely to benefit as the party of protest than the Lib Dems.

  • TechnicalEphemera 14th Feb ’15 – 12:36am
    “There is no immediate prospect of recovery in Labour Lib Dem marginals, it may take 3 electoral cycles …”

    This is pessimistic.
    Once Clegg has gone and the Orange book has been consigned to one of the darker and dustier corners of The History of Liberal Mistakes — both can be quickly forgotten.
    If the party sticks to its true beliefs and gets stuck into urban communities as it did before 2005, success will follow.
    A simple recognition that shifting to the right has always resulted in electoral failure for Liberalism is all that is needed to put the party on the road to success.

  • SIMON BANKS 14th Feb '15 - 9:17am

    A perceptive and hard-headed article.

    Jedi: the SNP would be mad to sustain a Tory government in any way. That would be wildly unpopular in Scotland and they know it. A deal to sustain their own power and sweeteners for Scotland wouldn’t cut the mustard. It would be a brilliant result for us, but it won’t happen.

    If 1-2 seats is a significant number in Simon’s eyes, he appears to have forgotten Plaid Cymru, who will certainly get two and probably three. They would be a significant factor because it would be embarrassing for the SNP if the two nationalist parties took opposing stances.

  • Simon Hebditch 14th Feb '15 - 9:57am

    Wow! I never thought I would agree with Simon Shaw but wonders never cease. If the Lib Dems have 25 seats or less, we will have been categorically punished by the electorate. Therefore, we should not seek to enter any coalition. We need to spend the next five years renewing and re-constructing the party at all levels and we should concentrate on that objective alongside renewing practical links with various centre left extra-parliamentary movements.

  • Graham Evans 14th Feb '15 - 7:25pm

    @jedibeeftrix It would be nice if your formula for future electoral success came true, but I have my doubts about the ability of the LDs to replace the Labour Party as the main force on the right. There is nothing special about the rise of the Labour Party in the UK. Similar developments took place throughout continental Europe resulting in the main left wing party being essentially socialist or social democrat. The rise of alternative parties on the moderate or even far left has dented support for the social democrats but none have succeeded in displacing social democrats as the main alternative to right wing parties. If anything the rise of these alternatives has fragmented the vote on the left while the right has remained relatively solid. The problem which the main left wing parties have is that their core vote, manual working class voters, has diminished significantly so they have had to try to appeal to the aspirations of the the middle classes whose attitudes are in many ways quite different. They have not been able to square this circle, and the result is the rise of parties such as UKIP in the UK and the Left Party in Germany, though socialist and social democrat parties still retain significant support among manual and low skilled workers on the basis that old voting habits are hard to change. The main appeal of UKIP is in fact not to prosperous Tory voters but the unskilled, those out of work, and the relatively old who yearn for a better yesterday. It is clear that no one party of the left can achieve a broad enough appeal of now command much more than 30% of the electorate, and the belief that a left leaning Liberal Democrat Party could do any better is therefore very doubtful.
    @Stephen Hesketh The problem with Stephen’s approach is that most of his shopping list for a new Liberal Democrat Party would find favour with most Greens, many in the Labour Party, and even some moderate Tories, so why should voters somehow miraculously return to the LD fold when for many of them, at least at constituency level, there is a viable alternative?

  • Graham Evans
    You spread your net far and wide in your potted history of what you describe as the “Left” in Europe.
    A lot of what suggest is your rather personal interpretation or mere assertion based on what might be a incomplete knowledge of the subject. Your suggestion that “the Left” was exclusively a creature of the working class ignores the fact that there has always been a right wing working class vote (currently going to UKIP in some parts of England). In many countries across Europe the organised working class and significant proportions of the Trade Unions votrs were Christian Democrat. You ignore the fact that for decades until the 1980s many European countries had a very strong Communist Party quite separate from and opposed to Sociaist or Social Democrat parties. You seem to be trying to impose a Westinster Bubble version of political history onto the rest of Europe. You need to address some of the inconvenient facts that undermine your theory before predicting the future of the Loberal Democrats in this country.

    Stephen Hesketh in fact points to precisely the types of voters who supported our party in increasing numbers from the 1980s onwards to build up to 62 MPs in the Commons, whilst achieving majorities on councils such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol,and half a dozen London Boroughs and many others that are too herois to mention. This was as well as electing sufficient representatives to share power in the Governments of Wales and of Scotland. It is only the rightward moves of an unrepresentative clique at the top of our party that has smashed that Liberal Democrat electoral success causing a wipe-out in councils throughout most of the UK and the inevitable reverses in themmber of MPs in May.

    Your rhetorical question was — “…so why should voters somehow miraculously return to the LD fold when for many of them, at least at constituency level, there is a viable alternative?”
    The simple answer is that there was nothing miraculous in getting such voters to trust us and vote for us in the past – it took a lot of hard work and dedication inspired by a set of beliefs set out in The Preamble to the Party Constitution. It will not be easy to overcome the breaking of that trust during the last nine years by the entryist group who got control of the party after they ejected first Charles Kennedy and then Ming Campbell. However, the work can begin in earnest in just over 80 days from now. Meantime we have to make sure that enough real Liberal Democrat MPs are elected who will put the beefs of the party first rather than Coalitionist Tory Lite careerists.

  • Graham Evans 14th Feb '15 - 9:44pm

    @John Tilley
    Might I suggest that you read “Revolt on the Right” which has analysed in detail the sort of voter who is now attracted to UKIP and the insoluble problem the changes in economic activity in developed countries presents for traditional left wing parties. For a time New Labour managed to respond to these changes is society without alienating their traditional core working class vote, but the wheel has now come off that vehicle. There is no evidence that a left wing Liberal Democrat Party would succeed where Labour has failed. And as for your references to Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol, since David Alton stood down many years ago Liverpool has not elected a single Liberal or LD MP despite the Party running the council for many years, often with comfortable majorities. Newcastle has never elected a Liberal or LD MP, and even our one MP from Bristol represents a seat which was once held by a Tory with a comfortable majority, lost to Labour after the Labour landslide of 1997, and only won by Stephen Williams in 2005 with 38% of the vote. As for the London Boroughs, what has happened here is on whole pretty clear-cut, namely that we taken advantage of Tory complacency in essentially Tory leaning, leafy suburbs and persuaded former Labour voters that their party had no realistic chance of winning. (I accept that the situation in Harrigey is more complicated.) Moreover, there is also an element of truth in the accusation made against us by Tory and Labour opponents that we have often at times preached contradictory messages in different parts of the country depending on whom our principal opponent was locally. All successful political parties have to be broad coalitions, but talk of “real Liberal Democrat MPs” in reference to our existing parliamentary party sounds more Maoist than liberal.

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Feb '15 - 11:36pm

    @jedibeeftrix and Graham Evans

    Thank you both for responding to my posts.

    Jedi, several of the points you raise reinforce in my mind why the Liberal Democrats must not enter into coalition with anyone following the general election – I believe anyone supporting P.R. must accept that coalition government is essentially inevitable – however, I also believe it to be vital that we first decide what sort of party we are and what we in essence stand for.

    What you and Graham consider to be a purist shopping list, to my mind represents elements of us leading much needed societal change in some areas, reflecting well known long term Lib Dem policies in some areas and very much reflecting examples of current’ common ground’ in others.

    I am completely happy to accept that priorities and rates of progress towards these or similar aims would require costing and much work to bring them to fruition but I do not believe it to be credible to suggest that we must either abandon our core values or face certain oblivion. Any reforming party doing the former will meet the latter.

    Contrary to your assertion, Liberalism is a mainstream creed and Nick Clegg has just spent five years providing a master class in what occurs to a party when it isn’t seen to clearly adhere to its core values. There is simply no room for a party of Centrist management in British politics.

    I agree that the Tories are the party par excellence when it comes to political pragmatism … in as much as that ensures they remain in power serving their key role as the protectors of wealth, power and privilege. That is their goal.

    It should be beholden on the Liberal Democrats to uphold the goals of our party. Aping the behaviour of the Tories (= your pragmatism) can never lead to the creation of a modern Liberal society.

    As a 19th Century free trade Liberal, I can see what you find objectionable in my 21st Century Liberal Democracy.

    @Graham – “The problem with Stephen’s approach is that most of his shopping list for a new Liberal Democrat Party would find favour with most Greens, many in the Labour Party, and even some moderate Tories, so why should voters somehow miraculously return to the LD fold when for many of them, at least at constituency level, there is a viable alternative?”

    Graham, I’m not sure how long you have been a Liberal Democrat but these are not at all policies for a new Liberal Democrat party – simply random common ground policies based on our traditional core values. I wonder how many here would consider us adding ‘Greens, many in the Labour Party, and even some moderate Tories’ to our own core vote a negative outcome. Clearly I am missing something!

    Beyond that I think John Tilley sums up my thoughts pretty succinctly.

    P.S. following my reading of your post of 9:44, I should further comment that this ‘left wing’ Liberalism you see lurking here abouts, is not ‘socialist’ but simple mainstream values including our desire for a free and fair society going back to the 19th Century Radicals and others. Attempts to erase historical and present day egalitarianism simply won’t wash.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Feb '15 - 8:12am

    Good morning Jedi. I think another factor in our disagreement here is that although you do have a long term wish for us to replace Labour as the main party of the centre left you also see us having to adopt something like the Tory approach to power in order to achieve it.

    The fundamental flaw in this analysis is that people of the centre left are essentially politically more altruistic. I would suggest collectively we would tend to believe that people are predominantly good and deserve to be treated with inherent dignity as citizens of a common humanity. The right on the other hand frequently focus on the differences and are so more likely to be nationalistic and believe in concepts such as the undeserving poor and yet see little wrong in the accumulation of vast levels of wealth.

    I think your suggestion takes insufficient note of the fundamental differences in what motivates us both as human beings and to be actively involved in politics. You are essentially asking us to change our spots; it just isn’t going to happen – with activists or informed voters.

  • Graham Evans

    You seem to assume that I have not read “Revolt on the Right”. Why?
    When you read it, how many pinches of salt did you have available to you? I have often been intrigued by academics writing about the political behaviour of ‘the working class’ as if we working class people are a block incapable of hokding a variety of political opinions, as if we are lab rats to be poked and studied. This used to be the preserve of Marxist academics. They were usually wrong too. Just because you have read something in a book on UKIP does not make it true.

    Your final point — “.. , but talk of “real Liberal Democrat MPs” in reference to our existing parliamentary party sounds more Maoist than liberal.”. Why?
    Do you know anything about Maoism? How exactly is it relevant? Or are you just throwing around a word which you think will have impact?

    It is not illiberal to recognise the difference between sheep and goats.

    You seem keen to confuse “left” with socialism. As Stephen Hesketh points out you are ignoring centuries of political activity on the left, and amongst all classes, which is clearly not socialist.

    Today’s parliamentary party has a few people (small in number but very influential in the last ten years) whose aims and objectives are at variance with the stated aims of our party. Random attacks on trade unions and trade unionists for example is not in any way in keeping with beliefs of Liberalism.
    Liberals believe that it is the right of people at work to voluntarily come together for their mutual benefit to secure better pay and conditions. That is not socialism, that volunteerism in a free society. It is mutual aid.
    So why are some of our MPs (with their Hedge Fund Millionaire friends funding them) seeking to take away the rights of members of unions? What is Liberal about that?
    In his final DPMQ session last week Clegg launched into the sort of rabid attack on Trade Unions that used to be the preserve of Norman Tebbit. What was Liberal about that?

  • Graham Evans
    Are there specific elements of The Preamble to the party constitution that you profoundly disagree with?

    I ask this question in all seriousness, it is not meant as a jibe or an insult. It would help me understand where you are coming from in terms of what you have said thus far in this discussion.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Feb '15 - 8:49am

    Graham Evans 14th Feb ’15 – 9:44pm

    Graham, you might consider it Maoist but should we not all support the clearly stated aims of the party?

    Why on earth should we not expect the candidates for whom we walk the streets season by season and year by year to be authentic preamble-believing Liberal Democrats?

    Even Jeremy Browne has accepted our party is not one which is going to accept Thatcherite economics or believe in the demonstrably discredited notion of trickle down from tax avoiding corporations and the unsustainable super rich.

    These concepts fly in the face of what real/genuine/authentic/mainstream Liberal Democracy is all about.

    Perhaps you could explain why any of us should give up our valuable free time in order to elect any candidate who does not support core Lib Dem values such as the spreading of wealth and power?

  • Stephen Hesketh

    “…people of the centre left are essentially politically more altruistic. I would suggest collectively we would tend to believe that people are predominantly good and deserve to be treated with inherent dignity as citizens of a common humanity”

    Yes – indeed !

  • Graham Evans 15th Feb '15 - 9:59am

    @Stephen Hesketh “Graham, I’m not sure how long you have been a Liberal Democrat but these are not at all policies for a new Liberal Democrat party ”
    I first became active as a Young Liberal in Hereford in 1964 and have been a member of the party and its successor the Liberal Democrats every since. In the 1970s and 1980s I was active in Chelmsford and served as a councillor and from 1983 to 1987 Chair of the Borough Housing Committee. Since moving to London I have been much less active for various personal reasons but am still known as a committed member of the Party by my fellow governors on the FE college on which I serve as a governor. I accept that in the last twenty years, particularly after the Iraq war, there was an influx of members with a more left wing perspective than I, but I find the idea that only those on the left of the Party are the true believers in liberalism reminiscent of the Wee Wee Frees, who could not tolerate the Wee Frees, who in term could not tolerate the Church of Scotland.

  • Graham Evans, you have an impressive record and the party needs people like the young Graham Evans of 1964.

    You will have joined the party of Jo Grimond who is for me synonymous with the phrase — ‘A non-socialist party of the Left’.

    Not so for you?

  • Jedi

    “Why do a significant number of liberals think that conservatives are animal-torturing thugs who don’t care about anyone but themselves?”

    Because they have seen the crowd who support fox hunting?

  • Graham Evans 15th Feb '15 - 10:36am

    @ John Tilley “A non-socialist party of the Left”
    When Jo used that phrase the political world was in many ways a much simpler, although in those days even the local Liberals and Labour Party in Hereford supported the sale of council houses (albeit without the discounts that Thatcher introduced). For me liberalism is as much an attitude of mind as much as a commitment to a precise set of policies. Who was it said “I change my views when the facts change”? In an earlier exchange Ming Campbell was essentially put forward as somehow left wing in contrast to his successor Nick Clegg, but when I heard him speak on Friday’s “Any Questions” about the replacement of Trident and on the behaviour of the clients of HSBC he certainly came across as distinctly to the right of me.

  • – Jedibeeftrix

    Haidt’s thesis rather falls apart when you notice that loyalty, sanctity, and respect for authority are not moral values. They are not meritorious in and of themselves. Sanctity is a religious or metaphysical value, a pre-Enlightenment hangover. Respect for authority is only morally desirable when that authority is a promoter of the good. And likewise loyalty – a mafia hitman may have loyalty in abundance but we are not therefore obliged to consider him to be a moral man.

    Care for others, liberty, and fairness are, on the other hand, moral values. They are virtues in and of themselves.

    So it’s not that Conservative morality is alien to it’s opponents. It’s that the Conservatives don’t place as high a value on moral values as ‘liberals’ and they place a greater emphasis on other non-moral values.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Feb '15 - 2:23pm

    Gentlemen, an excellent discussion!

    Only by having some insights into our philosophy and the values it drives can we hope to understand and agree on where we are going as a party.

    AndrewR’s comments are welcome insights into explaining ‘the right’s’ view of the world and particularly the value they place on (blind) loyalty and deference.

    These are the stock in trade tools of autocrats, authoritarians, dictators and those would simply seek to hold on to disproportionate levels of wealth. That the rich need ever greater levels of pay and bonuses to motivate them whereas the poor respond better to pay and benefit freezes. That the poor need to pay tax at source whereas the rich make such a contribution to society by employing people etc that even if they don’t pay all the due taxes, they are such contributors to society that we can treat them differently to someone stealing a loaf.

    Please pardon my genuine outrage.

    However, returning to “Haidt and our morality is not based on reason, as we fondly imagine, but on intuition – an instant, unreasoned response more akin to our taste in food than to our rational thoughts. He argues convincingly that our reasoned arguments are post-hoc justifications for gut reactions”

    He may be right, I am neither philosopher nor psychologist. Setting aside right and wrong for a moment, I would say that the vast majority of humans feel empathy for others but it may not be unconnected that psychopathic traits are to be more frequently in the boardroom than in the population at large. That those who enjoy pressuring or testing others or hunting animals as part of a social event rather than as a group of farmers protecting their livestock and livelihoods.

    If there is any truth in Haidt’s theory then ‘Liberals’ never think as someone from the illiberal, non-egalitarian deferential right without a brain transplant! This brings us back to the fact that you are actually asking us to do something far deeper than to change our spots!

  • “And, with the fixed parliaments act no minority government is especially obliged to seek a formal coalition, it can quite happily govern as a minority with no danger of an early election being forced.”

    I don’t buy this viewpoint.

    Acts come and Acts go, but what HAS been a constitutional constant, as everyone knows, is that no Gov’t can survive a vote of “no confidence.”

    If the opinion polls are correct there will many different parties and a lack of clarity from the electorate as to who has the democratic mandate to govern. A terrible lack of stability which can’t and wont be allowed to remain.

    There is every danger of another election being forced, fixed term parliament act or no.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Feb '15 - 9:53am

    Graham Evans

    The main appeal of UKIP is in fact not to prosperous Tory voters but the unskilled, those out of work, and the relatively old who yearn for a better yesterday.

    But they have nothing whatsoever to offer these people. It is fairly obvious that UKIP is a contrived distraction, a way of attracting votes that would go to a left-wing party to a party of the right by inventing a supposed enemy which is put up as the cause of all their problems. It’s a very old political trick.

    It is clear that no one party of the left can achieve a broad enough appeal of now command much more than 30% of the electorate, and the belief that a left leaning Liberal Democrat Party could do any better is therefore very doubtful.

    Well, a right-leaning Liberal Democrats seems to have lost most of the votes that a more left-leaning Liberal Democrats was able to obtain.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Feb '15 - 10:11am

    Graham Evans

    As for the London Boroughs, what has happened here is on whole pretty clear-cut, namely that we taken advantage of Tory complacency in essentially Tory leaning, leafy suburbs and persuaded former Labour voters that their party had no realistic chance of winning.

    I beg your pardon, but please …

    I was part of the team which took the Liberal Democrats from being squeezed out in what was classic Labour-Tory marginal territory in the London Borough of Lewisham to the point where we were the dominant opposition party, coming second in all three Parliamentary constituencies in the borough, and coming close enough to consider winning constituencies and control of the Borough council to be realistic.

    Are you suggesting the London Borough of Lewisham is “essentially Tory leaning, leafy suburb”? Well, the ward I represented for 12 years in the far south of the borough WAS leafy, I’ll grant you that. But it was a notorious council estate ward, one of the 10% most deprived wards in the country.

    Now, Downham has a Bromley postcode, and had the boundaries been drawn a bit differently, you’d be using our success there to push your “Tory leaning, leafy suburb” line. What you, like many commentators, ignore, is that in many places which to outside eyes are all wealthy Tory types there are actually large areas of social deprivation. And you will find that those places tend to be – or at least tended to be until the Cleggies wrecked it – the bedrock of Liberal Democrat support in those places.

    The Liberal Democrats succeeded in those places because they had a down-to-earth image, and pushed left-leaning policies without the arrogance of the Labour Party, and without the socialist intellectualism which so often seems to infect parties of the left and drags them away from their core task into side issues that are of little interest to their core vote. Well, now we Liberal Democrats have managed to do better than that at alienating our core voters. We were once the party of the poor in the south and suburbia and we did a good job speaking and acting for them. But, thanks to the Orange Bookers, we’ve been infected by anti-socialist intellectualism, which has dragged us even further away from what used to be why so many people supported us.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Feb '15 - 10:23am

    Graham Evans

    I accept that in the last twenty years, particularly after the Iraq war, there was an influx of members with a more left wing perspective than I

    Nothing I’ve noticed. The party has always had a left and a right, and I was initially attracted to it by what we used to call “radical liberalism”, as pushed by the originators of community politics and the Young Liberals at the height of their influence. In my experience, the party has drifted steadily to the right since those days. When I first joined, I would say I was centre-left – there were quite a few in the party who were to my left and stood for things that made me uncomfortable. Now it seems that people like that are in the Green Party and wouldn’t even think of the Liberal Democrats as a possible place to be active. If I were a teenager now with the views I had when I was a teenager and joined the Liberal Party, I very much doubt I would even consider joining the Liberal Democrats. I’m still a member, mostly because I remember how it used to be, and there are a few old-timers around in the party from those days who seem to think like I do, and I just hope somehow the party can be brought back to one I’d be happy to support.

    I have no interest in either the Green Party or the Labour Party. It is a real dilemma that now I find no party is remotely close to one I’d be happy to vote for, let alone be happy to campaign for, as for over 30 years I happily campaigned for the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats.

  • Simon Hebditch 18th Feb '15 - 11:46am

    I fully understand Matthew Huntbach’s dilemma. I think I am one of those old timers who came up through the Young Liberals of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s! That is why I use to bang on about the realignment of the left – a desire of the centre left at that time and one that still has resonance with me. The Lib Dems do not take that position now and we know that the party leadership have a different political position – closer to the modernisers within the Conservative party. So, what to do? I could hang on in the Lib Dems and hope that the impending deluge will lead to a renewal of the party following the election – a renewal towards and unequivocal centre left position, anti-austerity etc.

    But will the party have the appetite for such a change or will it simply shrug its collective shoulders and carry on looking for the final heave, yet again, in 2020? The only other party I could see myself joining is the Green party but then all parties have their problems – maybe I am really in favour of upheaval in principle! Anyway, if I am to do any work at this election, I will head for Brighton to support Caroline Lucas – despite the recycling issues in the local authority.

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