Ouch! Lib Dems suffer first anti-government backlash in 80 years

The words ‘Good morning’ may seem overly ironic if you’re a Lib dem waking up this morning to the news of the party’s pretty awful 2011 election results. Here’s a quick round-up for those who’ve avoided the media so far today…

Scotland: a huge night for the SNP, with the Lib Dems and Labour both suffering a rout at the hands of the nationalists. With 59 of 73 results declared, the Lib Dems have just four seats, a loss of seven. It sounds like the party will end up with six MSPs, down from 16.

Wales: a good night for Labour, who have a slim chance still of gaining an overall majority of the 60 seats. However, at least here it seems as if the Lib Dems have avoided the horror of the Scottish results: it looks like the party will have five AMs, down from six — though the loss of the Cardiff Central seat is a bitter pill.

England: along with Scotland, it is the northern towns and cities where the Lib Dems have taken the hardest hammering. Just two out of our 14 Liverpool seats have been successfully defended; none in Manchester; and we’ve lost control of four councils, including Sheffield, Hull and Stockport. The Tories haven’t suffered an anti-government backlash in these areas — largely, of course, because they have few seats in these areas. Instead it’s the Lib dems who’ve taken the hit, and we’ve so far suffered a net loss of 270 councillors.

However, most English local election results, especially in the south, have yet to come in. It will be interesting to see how the party fares here, especially where the battle is against our Coalition partners, the Conservatives. There are a couple of glimmers of hope, at least. In Eastleigh, perhaps the party’s flagship council, not only has the party retained control, but we’ve taken three seats from the Tories. In Portsmouth, the party successfully defended nine of the 10 seats, and retained control of the council. Given the majority of Lib Dem MPs face Tory opposition, the degree of edginess felt in the parliamentary party will be significantly affected by how the Lib Dem / Tory battlegrounds look.

National projected share of the vote: This is currently estimated as (with estimated 2007 shares in brackets): Labour 37% (+10%), Tories 35% (-5%), Lib Dems 15% (-11%). That’s better than YouGov’s current polling suggests the party is doing; but only in line with ICM’s. My guesstimate would therefore be that the party’s current national rating is about 12%.

Reaction so far: there’s been no attempt to suggest these elections are anything other than a severe setback for the party, especially given the Lib Dems’ strength has traditionally been in local government. Lib Dem president Tim Farron commented:

“I guess what we’re seeing is something from a personal point of view which is very, very difficult to take, but something I suppose is inevitable. What we’re seeing, I suppose, is the first Lib Dem mid-term for 80 years.”

Nick Clegg has accepted the party’s being punished, especially in the north, for a perception that the Coalition is too right-wing: “there are some very strong memories of what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s and somehow a theory that that’s what we’re returning to.”

Paddy Ashdown commented ruefully: “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

While former Liverpool Lib Dem leader Richard kemp, one of the few of the party’s councillors still standing, spoke opf the resilience the party has had to demonstrate over the decades:

“I’ve been a member of this party for 45 years. It was written off before I joined it…There’s always going to be a core of us that are liberal that have nowhere else to go, that are proud to be liberal.”

You can find more Lib Dem reaction over at PoliticsHome here.

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This entry was posted in Local government, Scotland and Wales.


  • Keep on keeping on with the desperate “anti-government” backlash spin. Odd that the Tories in England, the SNP in Scotland, and Labour in Wales – all parties in government to varying extents – haven’t suffered from it.

    Paddy Ashdown commented ruefully: “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

    Or perhaps the British people understand it better than you do, Paddy.

  • “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

    A good start in turning things round would be to drop the patronising condescending approach adopted by Paddy.

    It seems a tactic used by politicians regularly. It’s not that people don’t understand what’s going on, it’s that they don’t like what’s going on.

    (to be honest, a lot of the old guard like Paddy are becoming a liability rather than an asset. And that’s from a fan of the man)

  • richard heathcote 6th May '11 - 9:06am

    id just comment as regards the Labour rout in Scotland, as mentioned in the post, its been more a case of them remaining static whilst the Lib Dem vote seems to have gone to the SNP. It isn’t good for Labour but the result is a lot worse for the Lib Dems in Scotland.

  • Angle Grinder 6th May '11 - 9:21am

    Instant karma.

  • Paddy got it right
    “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

    The difference is a signed pledge!

  • The Lib Dems have 2 seats at the moment in Scotland. Four will be lucky. You’re not a national party anymore. It’s an unmitigated disaster.

  • Kevin Colwill 6th May '11 - 9:51am

    I can’t comment on Scotland. I live about as far from there as you can get whilst remaining in what, for now at least, is the same country.
    Elsewhere I have to say the real winners are the Tories. What do they care if seats area’s where they can’t win swap around between other parties?
    Of course you can look foolish by making grand statements before the numbers get crunched but it looks like we might have to get very, very used to Tory government. Especially if Scotland and its MP’s wave goodbye.
    Wales is Wales, god bless ‘em. In Tory England, however, Labour has not convinced voters to leave the fold, even as a protest.
    Where does it leave the Lib Dems? What can you do bar play a long game. Maybe Labour will remain tarnished and ineffective, maybe things come good economically (full employment on minimum wage) and maybe the voters will allow you some credit.
    If that seems a bit of long shot and you’re a young economic liberal who rather likes the private sector providing public services (in, for example, health)- get off and join the Tories, stop the gay hating, hangers and floggers ever coming back.
    If you’re analysis leads you a left of centre position then whatever party you lean towards be prepared for very lean years ahead.

  • Ouch – that is a big bit of understatement and I think we all know it is going to get a lot, lot worse. Brase yourself!!!!

  • “Paddy Ashdown commented ruefully: “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

    Paddy Ashdown is wrong about this. Lib Dem MPs forming part of government (with I think 3 honourable exceptions) and some others signed a pledge not to vote for an increase in tuition fees, and subsequently voted for such an increase. Vince Cable was the minister responsible for the government policy. Every MP who voted for the rise has broken a personal promise to the electorate. That’s not compromise, and cannot be defended as such. Every Liberal Democrat, including those who kept their promise (and there were many of them) and those who made no such promise at all is feeling the consequence, perhaps most in the tactics of the No campaign in the AV vote and its (probable) loss.

    The sooner we have more acceptance of it and an understanding that it cannot be allowed to happen again the better.

    Manifesto pledges are different. If that were all the voters were complaing about, I’d agree with Paddy Ashdown. But it is not, and I have no doubt the losses would not have been so bad had the sutdent fee promise been kept because I do believe the voters can see the difference between compromise and betrayal.


  • “Ouch! Lib Dems suffer first anti-government backlash in 80 years”

    This isn’t an anti-government backlash. If it were so the Tories would be suffering too. This is an anti Lib dem backlash.

    Those people who voted Tory have got what they both wanted and expected. Those who voted Lib Dem – not all by any means but certainly a sizeable chunk – have received neither what they wanted nor what they expected. The claim that ‘we have delivered’ on core promises may well be true but you are preaching to the converted; this may wash with hardcore activists but not with general voters. You may well have delivered some promises but you’ve also gone reneged on key parts of the platform and even further the price paid for delivering these has not been worth it.

    I’d love it if my fiance brought me a Ferrari but I wouldn’t want that at the expense of selling our home.

  • What a disaster for the party.

    The country has spoken, and they are clearly unhappy with the Liberal Democrats and the betrayal to the electorate.

    Nobody ever respects anyone who abandons their principles, especially when those principles are abandoned for personal gain.

    The Liberal Democrats strength was always in “local” government, but from these results it is now clearly been shown that the public do not even trust them to do that.

    The party has failed miserably to retain it’s identity whilst in coalition, curb the excesses of a Tory Government, which the British Public did not vote for, and to provide that in which was promised at the general election campaign, ” A new Kind of politics based on honesty” and that coalitions can provide “strong” government, The weakness of the Liberal Democrats, has been all to clear.

    I suspect the AV vote has been lost also, But this is probably a blessing in disguise for the party.
    Considering the distaste that there is towards the party and towards it’s leadership, Which I can not see recovering for a generation, if the party continues to behave in the way that it has. (look how long the Tories where out of the picture, due to Thatcher and Major, And they still never managed to get a majority this time)
    Judging by the electorates response, If AV did go through, I suspect that Liberal Democrats would be hit the hardest by this and it would end up with the green party and ukip benefiting the most.

  • LD’s didn’t lose control of Sheffield, it was already in No Overall Control. Although it was a bad night with 9 councillors lost, we successfully defended 6 seats which seems to be better than our performance in the other big northern cities so far.

  • “Where does it leave the Lib Dems? What can you do bar play a long game.”

    Careful! You know what J. M. Keynes said about that.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 6th May '11 - 10:52am

    What you ignore (at your peril) is why the electorate is picking on one particular component of the government – and why Clegg’s poll ratings are noticeably worse than the other leaders.

  • On 4th March, I said on this site, “I joined the party at the last election. I believed the pledges. I believed that the Guardian’s endorsement meant that this was a party for people with views like mine.”

    I also said, “I’ll be voting Labour in May and that’s a pledge.”

    I kept my pledge. I also, of course, have left the party.

    I hope Nick Clegg will now finally make a honest man of himself and join the Conservatives where he belongs. Maybe then it will be possible to start rebuilding an anti-authoritarian party of the centre left with the aim of making Britain more European and less American.

  • Little strokes fell big oaks

    Lib Dems have to wake up. And if this wake-up call is not loud enough, then go back to your constituencies and prepare for extinction.

    Going into a coalition with the Tories was not the only option. That is just spin and self-justification for the top brass to get a taste of power. We could have made a Con-Lib Dem pact, supporting the Tories in limited areas consistent with manifesto pledges and party policy.

    Our party’s power has always been bottom up, with deep roots in communities and councils. Top down doesn’t suit. We go all passive aggressive. We may be democratic but don’t have enough practice at knowing how to hold our ministers to account without seeming to undermine them. We are trapped into the ‘junior partner’ straight-jacket, and use this as hand wringing internally, and an arrogant ‘whatever’ shrug externally. Not good enough. You always have the option to stick to the terms of the agreement. Nothing else.

    Our biggest trump card has been trust. Actually, we have not been doing that well even locally, saying one thing at election time and doing quite another in power in councils up and down the land. Not fatal. I’ve done it myself as a councillor. The public do understand pragmatism. But they won’t forgive if they think that power is exercised cynically. That’s what trust is about. Mention any of the following: tuition fees, NHS “reforms”, assault on the public sector, legal aid cuts, even the sham that is the strategic defence review. Our impotence is growing. And we can’t afford the viagra.

    Even St Vince has become a hedge bet manager. I though the question was to figure out how to fill the biggest hole first. Bank bailout vs welfare, health, education…You do the math(s). Who said “There’s no inflation in a graveyard”? Well, that’s one way to manage things better, I suppose. Keep it simple and turn the clock back to an imagined Victorian age of venture capital riding to the rescue to manufacture our path to greatness again. And meanwhile, do we return to some rather less savoury features of the period? Shades of Mrs T’s fondness for Victorian values, perhaps. Just don’t get unemployed, poor, sick, homeless, or divorced in the next few years. We, the state, can’t afford it and we’re all in this together don’t you know. Oh, except for the too-big-to-fail banks who can move their HQs at the drop of a hat. Except they don’t and anyway, so what if they do? HQs don’t make the money.

    But the boy Osborne says the economy is on track. Irony then that the Pfizer factory that makes viagra in a deprived part of Kent, is to close, shedding 2,400 jobs. This in a sector, pharmaceuticals, that is supposed to give us a lift. That was in February. St Vince Cable said he’d establish a local taskforce to work with Pfizer and the new local enterprise partnership. A task force was indeed set up and put on its best, most professional happy face, talking in terms of a robust business case, and coordinated multi agency efforts to harness potential etc etc.

    Kent News reported in mid April “Regeneration plans for Kent have taken yet another hit after the county failed to win a single penny from the £450 million Regional Growth Fund. – Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Tory Lord Michael Heseltine have provisionally accepted 50 bids for support from firms and partnerships across the UK, but the South East region has once again been almost entirely forgotten while the bulk of the cash heads north.” Leaving this part of the country a few quid short for Sandwich.

    Kent was all blue, till now. The results are not all in at the time of writing, but the map now has Kent’s political map now has red patches. Labour have taken Gravesham and nearly snatched Thanet. Elsewhere, Labour have made headway in areas where Lib Dems have walked away with nothing. Voters have not generally turned away from the Tories. Very many have flocked back to Labour. Where have ours gone? Mr Clegg in this morning’s Today programme, said that many people were anxious about the cuts and don’t want to turn the clock back to the 1980s under Tatcherism. That’s why they were punishing the Lib Dems. Now that’s what I call a non sequiter. The results of the referendum may offer another perspective on the mood of the country. We promised a break from a red blue narrative for politics in this country.

    It is not change that people fear, but its absence from what Mr Clegg calls going forward.

  • I voted Lib Dem at the last election not because of Nick Clegg but for what the party stood for and was excited that the party was going to govern with a little help from the Tories.
    I voted Labour yesterday not because of Nick Clegg but for what the party now stands for, Paddy Ashdown has said today that I cannot tell the differance between compromise and betrayal sorry Paddy but I can ! the party has given in to the Tories on too many points for me to vote Lib Dem at this time.
    Be the party that your supposed to be stop blaming other parties show the people that have backed you who look like they are leaving and if I hear this is all for the National Intrest once more from a Lib Dem member I will keep voting Labour.
    Grow a Back Bone !!

  • Ruth Bright 6th May '11 - 11:35am

    A bit fed up hearing from party worthies that it’s “just” the north. In East Hampshire nine seats were lost including the leader and deputy leader.

  • I take not an ounce of pleasure in pointing to the fact that I said that propping up a Tory government would be a disaster for our party right from the very start (and thoroughly wrong in principle to boot).

    How do we get out of this mess?

    We have to leave the coalition, and we have to do it in an orderly fashion. Simply walking away because of bad election results won’t look good. I suggest that we hang on in there for a few more months and vote against the final reading of the Health & Social Care Bill. We would then be seen to be putting the national interest above party interest.

    Do we get rid of Nick Clegg?

    Funnily enough, I don’t think that is the key issue. If the coalition ends, Nick Clegg will go. He won’t need to be pushed, there won’t be any blood-letting.

    Those who say that Cameron will call a General Election some time soon might just be right (on yesterday’s showing). But would we, as a party, prefer to fight an election being detested by more than half the electorate for propping this government up, or as the heroes who saved the NHS?

  • Emsworthian 6th May '11 - 12:09pm

    Yeah. but you see when you’re in government and stuff you’ve got to take pastings like the big boys we now are. Just because a few hundred councillors go down the toilet there’s no reason to think people don’t actually like us really. Honestly, you guys are a such wussers!

  • It’s such an anti-government vote the Tories are gaining councils.

  • Joe Donnelly 6th May '11 - 12:26pm

    Seriously impressed with Richard Kemp for making that statement.

    We’ve made some mistakes but fundamentally we have to ignore those on the tribal Labour left who think that the only coalitions that exist are between them and the Lib Dems.

    We might need to fight our corner a bit better but 15% of voters voting for us? Does that really make us think we are going to be extinct? I’m young but I know the stories of having 100s of activists out despite us being under 10% in polls, of people joking that Liberal MPs can fit in a taxi.

    At the end of the day this party is the home for Liberals, theres a unique political phenomena in this country that some people on the left and right seem to think Liberalism doesnt exist as a distinct ideology and is just some way of not being left or right but we KNOW it exists and this party is testament to it.

    15% in the polls with 4 years left of LIBERALS IN GOVERMENT. 400-600 councillors lost last night when some guessed at a 1000 last week (Especially Labour trolls).

    I’d take that any day being a Liberal in the UK.

  • @Joe

    You need to pull your head out of the sand. This is not the rosy picture you are claiming. At the time I write this the BBC say that Lib Dems have won 340 council seats and have lost 295. This is a loss of approx. 45% of the held seats being contested (and declared thus far) I struggle to see how anybody can put a positive spin on that.

  • Of course, Stephen Tall’s implication that this 15% projected national percentage should be comparable with opinion poll ratings is quite wrong.

    Historically, LD percentages projected from local elections have been considerably higher than the party’s opinion poll ratings. For example, for comparison with the 26% figure from May 2007, at that time ICM had the Lib Dems at 21% and YouGov had them at 15%.

    On that basis, the 15% figure is two or three points lower than would be expected from the current opinion polls.

  • Joe Donnelly 6th May '11 - 12:45pm


    Alot of the seats that have come in are the northern ones, although I take your point I’ve been a bit premature in capping our losses 🙂

    I’m not saying tonights the greatest night in party history but its not the worse and further more to that any party that comes back from what happened to us in the 20s and early 30s does not get scared by this.

    Read the Lib Dem voice surveys to see what sort of party we really are, something like 80% of us think the coalition is implementing the right liberal policies and something like 75% think this will lead to bad electoral results (im not one of those 75%).

    Thats why i hate people saying that we are a selfish party who are grabbing power, REALLY? It seems to me like were a party who really believes in something and will stick to what we believe in whatever the media says or the current public hysteria is about

  • Old Codger Chris 6th May '11 - 12:53pm

    I strongly disagree. A coalition with the Conservatives was the ONLY answer last May. A mere pact would have caused huge damage to international confidence that the UK had a stable government which would stick around to sort the economy. Also, the Lib Dems have been preaching the supposed virtues of coalitions for years.

    It was the Tuition Fees debacle which really hurt the Lib Dems. It will continue to hurt the party for years to come, even among people who have no interest in the issue. Why? Because this was no mere manifesto promise which the junior partner in a coalition was unable to deliver. It was a pledge, with a petition, by a Leader whose big message last May was “Trust Us We’re Different”.

    I think the real surprise is that Labour haven’t done much better. Here in the south the Lib Dems may have suffered from some natural Labourites returning to their true home, but there’s little sign of a true Labour revival. Add in Scotland and Labour should be very worried.

  • cameron will be delighted by the success of the no campaign and the fact he has gained councils. in view that things can only get worse he may well call an election especially with labour still unsure of their direction.

  • Old Codger Chris 6th May '11 - 12:57pm

    @Jack Reynard
    I’m not a Clegg fan but this would be the WORST time to change Leader. As for replacing him with Huhne or Kennedy – you canNOT be serious!

  • Kif Hopkins 6th May '11 - 1:23pm

    “Lib Dems have to wake up. And if this wake-up call is not loud enough, then go back to your constituencies and prepare for extinction. ”

    LOL! But also painfully, agonisingly, true.

    As it happens, I’m also resident in Kent. Given this is supposed to be ‘the prosperous south east’, to have been out of work for the best part of three years (despite being very well qualified), and see yet more vacancies vanish due to the coalition’s economic policy, is incredibly depressing. Even more so, in that I know that my membership of the Lib Dems contributed to my own misery.

    Fortunately, in the last two months I did find some work, and though it was off the back of personal ability, it was nevertheless a complete fluke that someone came across something of mine online. Even then my situation is very tenuous; an external contract (so reluctantly I have to be self-employed), with no paid holidays, no pay on Bank Holidays (so recently I lost four days’ income for no fault of my own ), no pension, lunch is not included in my hours, and if the work dries up even briefly it’s ‘Game Over’.

    Meantime, while looking for more stable employment, I get job alert emails from the universities, colleges, hospitals and other potential local and central government employers for vacancies in the county which, on further investigation, turn out to be for “Internal Candidates Only”. Statistically and technically they are ‘Vacancies’, but in reality employers are just rearranging the furniture, even though some of the furniture itself really needs replacing. And the loss of companies like Pfizer (as noted above) does not help to boost confidence on either side of the capital/labour equation.

    Employers seem to be terrified of what is ahead in terms of cuts when they work through. As far as I can tell from my continued search for work, with fewer vacancies this year than last, the private sector is not picking up the slack because they seem to be be equally terrified by the increased local government unemployment affecting their own businesses. Who can blame them.

    One has to ask oneself, “What kind of party supports an idea that reducing the number of consumers will kick-start an economy?” Well as it turns out, my party does. It didn’t, but now it does. And it does just in the same way that it wanted to scrap tuition fees and then doubled them instead. Sadly, I also think that the AV vote will be lost as much as anything because the L-Ds are so closely associated with it (though AV’s not what we wanted, either). Two very dead birds with one stone. Bravo.

    Does Cowley Street really need three guesses as to why the party got the damned good kicking it deserved? The electorate expected the Lib-Dem members of the coalition to moderate Tory policy, not to roll over and have their tummies tickled the moment they entered the cabinet room. At least some, to their credit, have not been seduced by shiny leather Whitehall chairs and the attention of TV cameras, but sadly it’s too few.

    In the recent poll taken for this website – to which I was invited to contribute – one question asked which party I would vote for as my second choice. I replied that the question assumed I would be voting L-D as my first choice, and that was not an assumption that could be relied upon right now.

    Still isn’t.

  • Ditch the Tories – simples!

    I was listening to the Tory spokesmena in Scotland just now who described the Lib Dems as duplicitous and that’s how he felt the Tories all over Britain feel about Liberals; well I have always made clear how I feel about those right wing reactionary bastards – so with that how can we stand to allow the Reactionary Tory party to destroy us – end this coalition NOW! Before we lose everything!

    By the way how can the dinosaurs of Labour sleep – it is their fault that electoral reform is lost for a generation – ironically with the reduction of seats that the Tories have engineered might well ensure years of Toryism!

    Now is the time to end the coalition or form a new true radical left Liberal party! Break now before the new seat redistribution might get a Labour/Lib majority with the SNP supporting from opposition. Stay in coalition with the tories and they will swallow us and we will disappear!

  • Interesting to see how those with some influence in the party seem determined to delude themselves, while ordinary members and supporters are able to tell it like it is.

    As others have pointed out, this is not an anti-government result. The Tories have done a lot better than they hoped. It’s most definitely an anti-Lib Dem result.

    In Scotland the party has been more or less wiped off the map, and a grateful Alex Salmond has swept up, while the Labour vote is more or less the same. Disappointing for Labour, no doubt – but not a disastrous loss.

    The problem for the Lib Dems is that across the country, the electorate perceives the party as “Tory-lite” – so what’s the point voting for them? In the Tory-leaning constituencies of the south, they might as well have the real thing. In Labour-leaning constituencies in the north, everyone now knows that the Lib Dems are most certainly not “the left-wing alternative to Labour”.

    As for this from Joe Donnelly: “we have to ignore those on the tribal Labour left who think that the only coalitions that exist are between them and the Lib Dems”. I’m not sure you’ll get this, Joe, but when you make statements like that you show just what is wrong with party thinking at the moment. You obviously have nothing but contempt for Labour voters but like it or not, the party needed the votes of the “tribal” Labour left to win the AV referendum. The constant, thoughtless Labour-bashing since the formation of the coalition (and I hear party spokesmen still at it today) has been very misguided in my view. It was always going to discourage Labour voters from supporting a system which could only benefit the Lib Dems and fringe parties.

    Another reason why the AV campaign stalled so badly could be that people see that there’s no point in AV unless there’s a significant third party. If they’ve made up their minds already, after just one year of coalition, that the Lib Dems are finished – well what would be the point in changing to AV?

    I think g is right. It’s an unmitigated disaster – and its all thanks to poor judgement by the leadership, and a membership which got carried away and rolled over at the first sniff of power.

  • ‘I hope Nick Clegg will now finally make a honest man of himself and join the Conservatives where he belongs. Maybe then it will be possible to start rebuilding an anti-authoritarian party of the centre left with the aim of making Britain more European and less American.’

    Well said – i couldn’t agree more!

  • Where now for Liberals? Labour is going leftwards, the Soc Dems want to join them (good luck, you’ll need it), the Tories are too authoritarian.

  • We have to leave the coalition, and we have to do it in an orderly fashion. Simply walking away because of bad election results won’t look good. I suggest that we hang on in there for a few more months and vote against the final reading of the Health & Social Care Bill. We would then be seen to be putting the national interest above party interest…..Those who say that Cameron will call a General Election some time soon might just be right (on yesterday’s showing). But would we, as a party, prefer to fight an election being detested by more than half the electorate for propping this government up, or as the heroes who saved the NHS?’

    That might indeed be an option and could provide a justified reason to give the media and the people for our exot from this awful coalition – but out we should go nevertheless

  • The problem is that the party has got itself into a position in which persisting with the present course will be disastrous, but the alternatives would probably all be worse.

  • David Orr – “That might indeed be an option and could provide a justified reason to give the media and the people for our exot from this awful coalition – but out we should go nevertheless”

    Highly sensible.

    The lefties have done what it says on the tin. This would guarantee the departure of everyone else. “First whiff of grapshot and they run away.”

  • If we carry on like this the Lib Dems will not recover….Fine words are OK but Clegg has managed to destroy 20 years of hard work and building in one year. The destruction of the campaigning base will be far more significant to the Lib Dems than it was for Labour and the Tories in bad years ….its too easy toblame the footsoldiers….I think Clegg and the leadership will soon find that there are very few left motivated to do anything to support them

  • Kif Hopkins 6th May '11 - 2:26pm

    “First whiff of grapshot (sic) and they run away.”

    I think if someone was firing grapeshot at me, I’d run bloody quick, too!

    Politics is one thing, but that stuff’s seriously nasty!

    Perhaps a less lethal and hideously disfiguring metaphor would work better?


  • “But the big question is how we ensure these are just mid term protests.”

    I’m afraid there’s something very wrong with your arithmetic if you think elections one year into a five year term are “mid-term.” Mid-term unpopularity usually comes 2-3 years in. And indeed, I think there’s every reason to expect that next year will be worse for the Lib Dems.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 6th May '11 - 2:40pm

    I don’t agree with David Orr that electoral reform is dead for a generation. The toothpaste is out of the tube and exposing FPTP to public debate has shown up the total inadequacy of this system in today’s multi party arena. It’s lost all credibility and in future every journalist will delight in making a meal of the winners’ minority. The YES people are going nowhere and they will confirm that there’s nothing quite so raging as a wounded bull.

    If I were a Tory I’d take to wearing shin pads round the palace of Westminster.

    As for future governmental colours, the centre-left is today’s/tomorrow’s political territory – everyone, left right and centre literally, is fighting for it. What we, as the natural occupants of this patch, need to do is stay distinctive. Remaining totally honest with the electorate is what has set us apart in the past and it will set us apart in the future.

    It is the loss of that honest face, the public perception of a dishonest approach to tuition fees that has dealt us the blow in this election. Nothing more, nothing less. Whether the public are correct is neither here nor there, it’s the perception that matters. That’s democratic politics, take it or leave it. Paddy Ashdown’s, no doubt well meaning, comment “We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal”, doesn’t help. It ‘s from the same patronizing school as the NO campaign’s “…AV is too complicated for people to understand”.

    We can’t undo the tuition fee vote. Put it down to painful experience and let’s concentrate instead on rebuilding our reputation for honest, genuine, people centered politics.

    Give the dinosaur parties enough rope … they’ll soon enough be back to their old bad habits, leaving the road ahead clear for us to travel back to where we were heading in the first place.

  • @david orr
    By the way how can the dinosaurs of Labour sleep – it is their fault that electoral reform is lost for a generation

    Nothing to do then with a lousy yes campaign where the internet folks came up with better ideas than the ‘professional’ campaign, where Clegg’s interventions did more harm than good (witness him muddling up the London system and AV), silly suggestions to take the No campaign to court (that would have been fun); an electoral broadcast whose big idea was to have megaphones shouting at MP’s (which annoyed some so much they refused to deliver yes leaflets) but most of all only a very late realisation that just because you went for government didn’t actually mean the big prize just got handed over.

    I do hope that some wiser members now have a long hard think about what went wrong instead of this knee jerk reaction above.

  • knee jerk reaction above’ What a stupid, silly and facile comment you make!

    No it’s not knee jerk – it is precisely what people like Paddy Ashdown said the other day – Had Labour presented a united front on reform and the leadership been more forceful and determined to sway their voters I beleive the turnout would have been higher and yes vote more likely.

    Of course the next referendum (if there is one) must be on STV as a geneuinely democratic and fairer alternative to FPTP. A more clear cut choice might help to make a difference in the result

  • @David Orr

    “A drowning Man will clutch at a straw”

  • richard heathcote 6th May '11 - 4:19pm

    @ David Orr

    “Had Labour presented a united front on reform and the leadership been more forceful and determined to sway their voters I beleive the turnout would have been higher and yes vote more likely.”

    why do you expect Labour to join together in this issue, they have always been divided on electorial reform and this should have been realised right from the start. It was not down to Labour to deliver AV and i doubt any Labour leader could make that happen, it was down to the Liberal-Democrats to make the argument for the YES campaign and prove it is a genuine reform that is good for the country and try to keep it from being the political issue it became, in this they failed. As for hoping for another referendum on this or STV i think its wishful thinking the result of this campaign will be used to push reform into the long grass for a very long time.

  • Old Codger Chris 6th May '11 - 5:10pm

    Lots of lessons to be learned but if the party does still have around 15 percent support I think that’s surprisingly good.

    Hopefully the Lib Dem leadership will stick with the coalition while making much more effort to emphasise areas where the party is a force for good in the government, and areas where it disagrees with the Conservatives. We must not become Mark 2 National Liberals 1930s style.

    Consider the alternatives –

    Replace Clegg with someone who is more discredited than he is – or with someone the public’s never heard of.

    Flounce out of the government in a huff, breaking the 5 year parliament promise, risk doing goodness knows how much damage to the international perception that the UK government will pull us out of recesssion or (more likely) hand the Conservatives power on a plate with some Labour gains and the entire Lib Dem parliamentary party fitting into the proverbial taxi.

    We’d be as idealogically pure – and as totally useless – as the Tooting Popular Front.

  • OCC – <>

  • How not to run a political party in 10 easy steps.

    1. Join the coilition on the promise of AV and electoral reform that would have jumped Libdems from a third party to a first party…swinging from left to right.

    2. Break your main elections pledges. Sell out not the core values of the party. Lose the trust of the electorate.

    3. Keep attacking labour party, and its supporters, for everything thats gone wrong, when the whole country knows the banks caused the worldwide economic collapse.

    4. Allow the tories to make sweeping and ultimately disasterous cuts…..breaking another election pledge in the process.

    5. Take the blame for everything.

    6. Get the worse kicking in Libdem history in the local elections, then bury your head, make excuses and pretend everything will be alright in the end.

    7. Start shouting about how you are going to stand up to savage, uncaring tory cuts.


    9. Become the most unpopular party in 12 short months.

    10. Start again, before you kill the party completely.

  • George Kendall Posted 6th May 2011 at 2:20 pm
    Hi George,
    yes I do remember that post, I also remember reading articles saying that this particular election would be the low point for a variety of factors. It wasn’t said on this site I think, maybe one of the other bastions of LD thinking like Ben Brogan at the Telegraph!!
    Having said that, I don’t think many LDP people read either article as there seems to be a full scale panic in some areas (regardless of your comment on the matter). I’ve noted the point you made:

    “Part of the answer is discipline and focussing on the longer term. ….”

    But as an outsider looking in, I think those traits should have been shown prior to today as well. Certain things have projected an air of immaturity – eg Cable, Farron and Huhne mouthing off. The people at the top need to show that they are fit to govern, not just sit in a government.

    Having said that, if NC can weather the storm I think things will pick up. Whilst polls may show parties being in the lead, I believe you often have to look at the polling for the leaders to get a good idea of how well a party will do. NC is obviously going through a low point but if all of the work of the coalition starts to bear fruit then he will start to be credited for the tough choices he had to take (and I think joe public likes leaders who are willing to make such choices).

    You’ve obviously lost a lot of protest voters but if you want to be seen as serious contenders then you would need to lose them anyway. The real question is how do you project what your Party is, you can no longer be the Party that isn’t the other party (which I hate to say seems to have been the main LD rallying call for a while). This also means that it has to be an image that is distinct from the Labour Party (or why bother voting for you) and you need to get the message home whilst still in Government or you’ll lose any advantage (and of course, you have to do it without destroying the coalition).

  • George Kendall Posted 6th May 2011 at 6:02 pm

    “How about, a party that believes in good public services, but also believes in running the country’s finances responsibly?”

    Well that would be a start and also have a novelty factor for a left wing party (just getting my coat now 😉 ), but again the only way you can actually get the people to believe that you are capable of doing this is by being in Gov and showing that you are willing to take the tough choice. If you start running around trying to replace your leader (or even start briefing against him) then the public will think you’re a bunch of wimps (hence I agree about your comment on no to panic/yes to discip.

  • @George Kendall.

    Presumably you mean a party that opposes George Osbornes economic experiment?

  • @George Kendall

    A party that were competent enough to deliver good public services, would not have had its leader signing off Lansley’s NHS reforms.

  • steve Marshall 6th May '11 - 6:30pm

    We got what we deserved – especially for the falsehoods re. tuition fees. We must return to honest politics and admit we got it wrong, apologise and return to integrity.

  • matt severn 6th May '11 - 7:00pm

    It is a massive, massive deal that we have been so set back in northern england (out side of south lakes, where I live). Effectively a giant restart button has been pressed on northern lib dems. We have to now become the truly Liberal party, instead of a refuge for protest votes and ‘none of the above’, we have to build anew a solid core of Liberal voters and give them solid, positive reasons to vote for us.
    It will take a lot of work, lets hope 4 years is enough!

  • There really has to be a better explanation of the AV vote loss than the Labour Dinasours argument – as I write the position is that more than 300 areas of the UK have voted No, while those which have voted Yes are still in single figures – many of which are in London. As @Richard Heathcote rightly says it wasnt up to Labour to win this one on behalf of the Lib Dems.

  • @peebee Posted 6th May 2011 at 8:10 pm
    Perhaps it was a number of other reasons:
    1. Even if Labour wasn’t split on this, why were you relying on them and not taking the message further afield.
    2. If you want people to support you, it’s probably not a good idea to start calling them dinasours, bnp nutters, far right extremists or stupid.
    3. If you want to make a change then spell out the truth – don’t make things sound a lot better than they are and don’t lie. If people realise what is being put forward is rubbish then they may go from “don’t know” to hard “No” without bothering to find out further information on the system.
    4. Buy sticky tape for the Lords and MPs to wrap around their mouth so that they don’t mess up the campaign.

    The sad thing is that the campaign could have done better, you may not have won but you could have been a heck of a lot closer. I’ve seen plenty of reasoned arguments on this site from people who were going to vote either way – but I’ve also seen plenty of spite and intolerance directed to the ones who said no – BIG turnoff.

    Another top tip, don’t have the referendum on the same day as elections, those who are going to vote against you will also probably vote against the proposal – those who might have supported you in the elections but not the referendum may decide that they don’t like the insults in the referendum campaign and choose another party to support (assuming that in the future “Yes” decide to use the same tactics – which hopefully they won’t).

  • Can Steven remind everyone what happened to the Liberal after ‘anti government backlash’ 80 years ago ? (when last in national coaliton with the Conservatives in the 1930’s).

    I find it quite worrying as there seems to be many Liberal Democrats here who don’t want to hear the message that the electorate is giving. If the LDs stay in with the Tories for the full term, the party will be reduced to a rump of seats in the South.

    On here, contributers have been telling the Liberal Democrats for months that the electorate does not like voting for one platform and ending up allowing a right conservative government free rein on major issues such as privatisation of the NHS and privatisation of everything else.

    How more clear can the electorate be ? If the Lib Dems persist with this ill thought through then the party will be obliterated to a rump in 4 years.

    British Democracy needs a strong 3rd party with clear policies and priniciples, if the Liberal Democrats do not heed the clear message that is given here, I fear for the Liberal Democrats. After the next election It may take many many years years to recover. Please do not underestimate the message given here.

  • Kevin Colwill 6th May '11 - 10:02pm

    @peebee…there were loads of reasons why the referendum was lost, or won if you voted no!

    First of all AV itself was rubbish. Some thought it could be a stepping stone to STV but very few really wanted it for its own merits. As a general rule it’s hard to sell someone something you wouldn’t buy yourself- especially if you’ve been caught on record slagging it off.

    Second, the timing could hardly have been worse. If you’re going to have the referendum at least do it when there’s a chance of politicians, let alone voters, focusing on the substantive issue.

    Third, trying to appeal to the anti-Tory “progressive majority” to vote yes while the Lib Dems are in coalition with the Tories?… come on, was that ever going to work! Plus, as mentioned above, you were alienating the euro sceptic Tories who might like AV as a chance to vote UKIP.

    Fourth, it was for those pro-change to convince people there was a real benefit for them. It was simply not right to say a no was an endorsement of FPTP. The yes camp had to show people what’s in it for them. Most suspected there was nothing in it for them and that the Lib Dems were the only peope to benefit. Many saw that as good enough reason to reject it.

  • I largely agree with Kevin Colwill, when I voted Lib Dem at the last election the two big appeals to me were a slower rate of cuts than the tories were proposing and electoral reform. On the cuts they caved in to the Tories and on electoral reform they went for a system that I honestly don’t think is substantially better than FPTP.

    The yes campaign had to sell this as something much better than FPTP, AV simply isn’t, so we had an awful campaign from both sides but the onus was on the yes camp to sell it, it basically boils down to not being able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    Why on earth the Lib Dems didn’t insist on some form of PR being an option will forever remain a mystery.

  • Dave Thawley 6th May '11 - 11:51pm

    This wasn’t an antigovernemnt backlash – the tories did very well. It was an anti lying backlash – for some reason the population don’t like being lied to and conned. No idea why that should be myself as the tories do it as well but the people who voted for us didn’t appreciate it. Nick has wrecked our party – people are not going to come back even if our leadership fantasies that this will happen. The tory party will just continue to use us and stab us in the back whenever it suits them. Cameron is psychopathic (my clinical judgement I have had a lot of psychological training and it is obvious he is) and until Clegg realises this then he will continue to wreck what little party we have left.

  • @ Anthony Posted 6th May 2011 at 11:46 pm

    “Why on earth the Lib Dems didn’t insist on some form of PR being an option will forever remain a mystery.”‘

    Put yourself in their shoes for a second, you’re going into negotiate a deal and you want electoral reform, you work out all sorts of arguments to counter anything that is thrown at you. Basically you believe that you’re going to have a really hard battle to get anything out of the other side on this issue and that you’ll get slaughtered by your own side if you walk out with nothing.

    You then walk into the room and the first thing the other side says is “we know you want electoral reform, so you can have a referendum on AV next year, as long as we both campaign for our own side”. Would you:

    a) start insisting that you be given something else.
    b) Think “s**t, we’d better grab this before they change their mind.”

    I think it was a perfectly reasonable reaction to go for what was given, rather than push for something else and lose everything – it’s always easy being wise when you have 20:20 hindsight.

  • Free Social Democrat 7th May '11 - 1:43pm

    80 years ago the LibDems didn’t exist, so the blog entry title is misleading.

    Basically: the LibDems need to decide whether to be a centre-left party, or a centre-right party, without ambiguity.

  • dave thawley 8th May '11 - 4:07pm

    nice rhetoric but completely false. We are getting and deserving a kicking for lying and alienating the people who trusted us and have put off voting for us again forever

  • I think over the years the party has become complacent, and completely misjudged its voters. Believing its own hype, Lib Dems believed people were voting FOR the Lib Dems rather than AGAINST the Tories. This stupidity and arrogance continues every time a senior Lib Dem accuses the electorate of not understanding coalition politics, or not understanding how wonderfully well the coalition is doing etc etc.

    But the voters do understand. You may want to resist the realisation, but you can surely see from the results in the north and in the AV referendum that they understand only too well that the “new kind of politics” is a chimera. In fact it is just like the old kind of politics. There’s Labour with all its faults, or Tories who pretend to care about improving the lives of working people while destroying their jobs, communities and living standards, and milking taxpayer revenue to boost private sector profits. They’ve now also woken up to the fact that some of these Tories have been calling themselves Lib Dems.

    You can see from the AV referendum that people now know exactly what the third party is like – and what would be the point of AV when there isn’t a third party worth voting for?

    In short, the Lib Dems have been rumbled.

  • Kevin Colwill 9th May '11 - 1:46am

    @Fiona… I share much of your anger but, not least through spending some time here, I have a slightly different take these days.

    Politicians want to get elected and try hard to press our electoral buttons. I used to find the Lid Dems were rather good at that. Like you I bought bar charts saying us or the Tories without, in my case if not yours, looking too much beyond that.

    If I had looked beyond I’d have seen a party that in my old school political lexicon had shifted to the economic right. If they were ever “to the left of Labour” on the economy then they haven’t been for some years.

    There is genuine common cause between much of Orange book economic thinking and the Tories…there just is, they share the same market focused analysis. I don’t think Clegg tried to hide it and I don’t even think he tried to hide the fact he‘d welcome overtures from the Tories. We just weren’t looking and listening.

    Do I wish they’d grabbed me by the lapels and spelt it out…of course I do. Do I think the bar chats etc (they still do them here by the way) were an emotive con trick…of course I do.

    I also think the Lib Dems are a broad party with plenty of people I’d consider had a similar view of the world as me (broadly left), plenty of people I’d think were effectively Tories and some people who point blank refuse to use define themselves in any way I can relate to at all. I wonder if some of then actually know what they really believe in!

    Would I join them?…no. Would I ever vote Lib Dem again?… a moot point.

  • Kevin I very much agree with your point that the Lib Dem membership comes from all sorts of different “tribes”, to use Vince Cable’s word of the week. I just think we now know there’s a huge gulf between the leadership and the membership. The membership may not mind being taken along for the ride but I think the ordinary voter will have other ideas.

    Even on the NHS they now seem to be trying to wriggle out of the reforms the leadership – ie Clegg, Cable, Alexander etc – actively endorsed just a few months ago.

    It’s all getting rather embarrassing in my view. The real tragedy is, in comparison with the Lib Dems the Tories (who actually lost the election) look well-organised and competent.

    I think it’s a shambles.

  • I find it astounding that not a single Lib Dem MP has questioned the decision to stay in the coalition or called for Clegg to go. These results were horrible and illustrate the Lib Dems could face wipeout across the North of England and Scotland.

    From my reckoning, Lib Dems would without a doubt lose northern constituencies like Burnley, Redcar, Manchester Withington, and Scottish seats like Jo Swinson’s Dunbartonshire East, Edinburgh West, West Aberdeenshire and even Danny Alexander’s Inverness, Nairn etc seat.

    In the South of England, the Lib Dems have many many marginals which would be lost on a small swing to the Tories. The likes of Solihull, Wells, Mid Dorset & Poole, St Austell and Newquay, St Ives and Somerton & Frome would all fall on a 2% swing against the lib Dems.

    And in London, the likes of ministers Sarah Teather and Lynne Featherstone would certainly lose in seats that are traditionally Labour.

    Clegg probably knows that he won’t be Lib Dem leader going into the next election, it would be best if he stepped down now.

    As for AV, I am glad it lost, and even more pleased by the margin it lost. This has put electoral reform off the political agenda for the next couple of decades at least, and I for one am very glad about that because I am a supporter of the simplicity, decisiveness and strong governments that FPTP delivers!

  • Kevin Colwill 10th May '11 - 12:53am

    @Jedibeeftrix… I’m an old fashioned bloke, I known where I am with “left” and “right”. Even if you don’t like the terms I think the the Lib Dems have to engage with them or look like you’re being slippery.

    @Fiona… There is an arguement that says it would have been better for the left if Labour had not secured a working majority in ’97 and the Tories had secured one last year!

    I agree with much of what you say except I think the Tories clearly have won. The question now is whether we’ve just entered a decade or more of Tory rule.

  • Yellow Bill 10th May '11 - 9:16am

    As has been said, we didn’t lose so may council seats because of a mid term backlash – one year into a government is not the mid term. We lost our popularity because we lied, To the public, to ourselves. We lost because by and large we haven’t espoused Lib Dem policy in government but pushed out what the Tories told us to do. Even worse, we tried to sell it to the country as though we the Liberal Democrats believed in it.

    Even the Lib Dem policies we got through cabinet were a miserable little compromise – will the Pupil Premium be used to enhance the education of children from poor backgrounds, or spent on all pupils in school projects that will water down the help those children initially targeted will receive? Will the personal tax allowance really go up to £10,000? Remember, Osborne is bringing in the first raising of the allowance in next years spending round,not this years. That leaves three years to get the personal allowance up to £10,000 – a tall order in times of prosperity and with an enthusiastic Chancellor, neither of which we have.

    On leaving the coalition. Lib Dems promised the country 5 years of stability. THAT PROMISE CANNOT BE BROKEN, we are already being punished for breaking promises. What we have to do is oppose everything that goes against Lib Dems principal, starting with the NHS bill.

    Finally, and on a personal note. I use the terms ‘us’ and ‘we’ even though I resigned from the party when we went into coalition – I am still a Lib Dem at heart and so will continue to use those terms.

  • I live in a southern rural ward where Labour has been moribund for as long as I can remember. I’ve worked it hard and held it for 8 years and amassed a pretty good personal vote, and being a multi-member ward I can measure it against the newcomers from the various parties. And of course by talking to people (who are more open about what they did now). I’m pretty sure that wearing a yellow rosette instead of a white one took me down from 1st to 5th. I narrowly lost my seat while party colleagues were thrashed out of sight. I was gutted to have 10% of the turnout spoiling their papers rather than choose between LD and Con.

    >Believing its own hype, Lib Dems believed people were voting FOR the Lib Dems rather than AGAINST the Tories.


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