Our worst nightmare? Peter Kellner’s scenario 3: “Lib Dems choose who’s the PM”

cameron clegg miliband 2Just over a year ago I wrote a piece titled Nightmare scenarios: what are the 2015 election results the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour most dread?

In it, I argued that the trickiest prospect for the Lib Dems would be an evenly poised general election outcome in which the Lib Dems held the balance of power:

In the nightmare scenario [we] would have a genuine choice open to us: a second coalition with the Tories or a Lib-Lab pact.

Do a deal with the Tories – if that’s even possible, given the Cameron modernising agenda is dead in the water – and we risk saying goodbye to what remains of our progressive vote (and another tranche of our membership). Do a deal with Labour – if that’s even possible, given the bile spilled since 2010 and Labour’s tendency to tribalism – and we put at risk our remaining MPs the vast bulk of whom have Tories in second place.

There is of course a third option: do a deal with neither and allow a minority government to be formed. But that comes with the high likelihood of a second general election not long afterwards where we run the risk of getting squeezed.

I’m all for extending choice. But, to be honest, at the next election I’d rather the voters didn’t leave us with more than one option.

(Note this isn’t the worst possible outcome: that would be the Lib Dems losing so many seats we have no influence at all. But at least in that situation we’d know what we had to do next: go into opposition and re-build.)

This scenario is one of four outlined by YouGov’s Peter Kellner in The Times yesterday:

kellner gen election scenarios

Here’s what he had to say over at the YouGov site about scenario 3 (Labour and Conservatives tied on 290 seats, Lib Dems with 40 seats, making a coalition with either possible):

They will still be a major force at Westminster, unlike Ukip and the SNP, which will have seen their fortunes fade in the weeks leading up to the election. Mr Clegg has a genuine balance of power. He is able to deliver a majority to either Labour or the Conservatives.

What he won’t have is the option that many of his activists might prefer, of going into opposition in order to revive their radical credentials unsullied by the inevitable compromises of office. The public – and the financial markets – are unlikely to look kindly on a party that plunges Britain into an era of instability by refusing to do any kind of deal with either Labour or the Conservatives. The Lib Dems would be in the position of a vegetarian forced to choose beef or lamb – and not being allowed to reject both.

However, it may be some days before the shape of the new government becomes clear. Again, as the incumbent Prime Minister, Cameron could have the first go at assembling a parliamentary majority – provided that Conservative MPs don’t eject him first. Tory backbenchers may decide that he has blown his chance to win the election and think they have a better chance in future under someone else – Boris Johnson? Theresa May? A. N. Other?

However, if Cameron, having lost the confidence of his MPs, resigns as Prime Minister, it is a moot point whether the Queen will invite Miliband or the new Conservative leader to form a government. In order to avoid dragging Her Majesty into controversy, there will be intense pressure at Westminster to assemble a stable majority, and so make the Queen’s decision straightforward. Again, the Lib Dems will be forced in practice to abandon the luxury of a spell in opposition.

Such a scenario would make 2010 look easy.

Of course, this, and the other three sketched out, are among many possible outcomes. It’s impossible to know yet what awaits; and just as impossible to know now quite how the outcome will look and feel in the days after 7th May. Which is why, as I’ve argued before, we need to keep our options open in the event of a hung parliament:

Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015 (ie, the party won’t join a formal coalition but wouldn’t bring down a minority government either). I can understand why he’s sceptical of such an arrangement – as I’ve argued before, “It seems to me a way of getting all the pain of coalition with little of the gain of being in government.” But we need to keep all options available to maintain maximum negotiating leverage. What matters most is how we can deliver liberal policies in the next parliament. That’s most likely to happen in a full coalition, but not at any price. Tim Farron was spot-on to argue, “When you go into negotiations with another party you have to believe, and let the other party believe, that there is a point at which you would walk away, and when the outcome could be something less than a coalition, a minority administration of some kind, that is something we all have to consider.”

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • I think Peter Kellner is totally wrong in his analysis – very unusual for him. The coalition would have 330MPs whichever party we went with. A majority of 4 (before we look at abstainers such as SF and Speaker.) It would only take a few grumpy backbenchers on either side to vote any legislation down. The chances of any such government lasting beyond a budget is remote, given the cuts the Government would be implementing, and the frustrations within our own party with coalition, let alone the Tory right wing or the many Labour backbenchers who would be opposed to a coalition with us.

    The idea that the pressure on the Lib Dems to provide stable Government would be insurmountable is nonsense; we wouldn’t have the votes to provide it, and it would be clear to every party leader that the rebels would have enough numbers to bring the Government down at any time.

    Unless there was a multi-party coalition, or a grand coalition between the big two, we’d be looking at a May 2016 general election for a second try.

  • ” getting all the pain of coalition with little of the gain of being in government”

    It should be clear after four years that being “in government” without having any real power to advance a liberal agenda and being obliged to support one anti-liberal proposal after another offers nothing in the way of “gain,” but is rather the suicide of a thousand cuts.

  • Tony Dawson 16th Dec '14 - 4:51pm

    “Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015”

    I doubt very much whether Nick Clegg would have any say whatsoever in the outcome in such a scenario. AN elongated holiday in central Spain would beckon.

    Mr Kellner really needs to get his abacus out, also. With the number of Ulsterpersons and nationalists likely to be elected in the next parliament (even ignoring UKIP for one moment), the chances of the Lib Dems being able to put either Mameron or Camiband into power with a majority of two is zilch.

  • I’m increasingly concerned the worst thing that could happen to this party is that we go back into government with a reduced number of seats…all the options Kellner raises make being between a rock and a hard place much more appealling.

  • paul barker 16th Dec '14 - 5:32pm

    The chances of Labour doing well enough to form any sort of Govvernment are so slim as to be not worth worrying about.
    Also, most LDV readers wont know that The Unite Union ( Labours largest donor) has made it clear that Coalition is unacceptable & would result in withdrawal of funding. In fact theres a lot of opposition to Coalition at any cost across The Labour spectrum, opposition in principle & not just loathing for us in particular.
    After Camerons recent statements I cant see how a Coalition with The Tories could work either so this all seems academic.

  • Having looked at previous governments. A Labour government lasted from 1974-79 when it only had a majority of three after the general election. The Conservative government elected in 1992 with a majority of 13 managed to increase it to 27 by 1997. Therefore any government with a majority of only 10 would be under pressure and to last the full term of 5 years would need support from other parties. I have read “22 days in May” and it seems that we got a better deal only because there was a chance of the Conservatives not forming a government. Therefore this result should not be viewed as our worst nightmare but an opportunity to get STV for local government and a partially elected second chamber (as that is all there is going to be in our manifesto). Whether we could get some PR for Parliament is unlikely but it would be worth trying to get something like the addition member system used for the Scottish Parliament.

  • I fully agree with Simon Shaw. It would simply be untenable for us to bid for a place in government if our representation in terms of votes and seats is significantly decreased. Moreover, in such circumstances I would expect Nick Clegg to announce his departure as leader, signalling an election for his successor in September/October.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Dec '14 - 5:43pm

    ATF – I share your concerns … which is played out most strikingly and with the highest probability in Scenario 2, isn’t it?

    I am sure the Leader’s game plan is to have another five years in Coalition with the Tories ‘to see the job through’, ‘to give sufficient time for the public to see us as a party of government’. ‘to demonstrate our political maturity’, ‘to show our willingness to take the tough decisions’ .. etc.

    The autumn statement has set up a straightforward deal between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives on fiscal consolidation. The continuing power of patronage that would come from remaining inside a Coalition Government (probably not as DPM) would oil sufficient wheels.

  • I do not think there could even be a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement as this would in effect be agreeing to the cuts but having no say in how they are implemented: coalition but without the ministers.

    A coalition with Labour could be awful as we would constantly be portrayed as the bad guys who are insisting on all the unpalatable decisions. Curiously, the only way to be in coalition with Labour would be to act as their conscience, running to the left (more socially Liberal really) of them on many issues.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Dec '14 - 6:08pm

    Simon and Martin, you may have described what you both think is the wisest course, but there is absolutely nothing in the actions of those people who have been steering our Party since 2007 to suggest you are right. Time and again despite electoral set backs and plunging poll ratings they have pressed ahead with their vision for the Liberal Democrats.

    Even with half the seats and half or two thirds of the 2010 vote share there is a huge number of people surrounding the leader who will want him to continue and will be doing all in their power to a) persuade him to continue as leader and b) convince the party to allow him to do another deal with Cameron.

    We shall hear that the ‘markets’ will need the stability of the ‘old firm’ continuing to complete the job, that it is our duty once again to keep the nasty party on a leash, we shall then find ourselves offered enticements on reform, especially on local government voting and something that moderates slightly the line on English Votes for English Laws; there will be a deal that sees a slightly higher figure on borrowing, with either an enhanced investment programme and or the cost of circa 50% of that capital programme being funded from added borrowing (bringing the Tory £23 billion surplus target for 2020 down to a ‘real budget balance.

    Cameron will be the only Conservative able to be Prime Minister and he will want our votes . Those who placed Clegg in the leadership job will not feel confident that they will be able to find candidate from their stable able to win following any resignation, even though they may be disappointed with his performance since 2007. Clegg and those around him will want the continuing patronage and offices that come from another five years.

  • I suspect the more this sort of scenario is discussed the greater the public’s will to get a clear cut decision will occur. Then we will be squeezed prodigiously. Where that will leave us is anyone’s guess, we might view 27 seats as another dream gone west.

  • The best role for the Lib Dems is as part of a progressive alliance or coalition. They would stop Labour going in a Blairite or hard left direction and control Labour’s tendency to populism and authoritarianism.

  • In 30+ years in the party I heard member after member telling me how wonderful it would be if we ended up holding the balance of power after a GE.

    Curiously many of the most vociferous have scarpered when faced with the uncomfortable and difficult reality.


  • If a miserable performance at elections were considered good and sufficient reason for the Party Leader to step down, Nick Clegg would be gone already. Clearly the Party do not think it is the job of the Leader to win elections. I remain somewhat perplexed as to what they think his job is.

  • Robert 16th Dec ’14 – 7:51pm

    The evidence would appear to indicate that the vast majority of genuine Liberal Democrats would support either no coalition at all or the sort of coalition that you describe.

    Natural allies of Liberalism are all on the Left. The pain of the last four years and eight months results from the fact that Conservatism is the natural enemy of Liberalism.

    Of course there will be those whose only interest is as described in Bill Le Breton’s comments, those who are motivated by personal status and position, those who want to get something for themselves, or to be something rather than do something. Troughs attract snouts.

  • Martin Land 16th Dec '14 - 9:18pm

    @Bill. I’m afraid you are right. We have been taken over, not by the Militant Tendency, but by the Moderate Tendency. A once great radical party has become a euro-fudge power broker like the FDP. And we all know what happened to them…

  • crewegwyn 16th Dec ’14 – 8:50pm

    Some of us have never been in love with the illusion of the Balance of Power or Coalition with anyone.

    Those of us who have achieved popular support from the voters to achieve majority Liberal Democrat administrations in local government know that “balance of power” is not even a pathetic second best.

    A Liberal Democrat majority or an honest hard-working Liberal Democrat opposition poised to become the majority are what we should aim to be.

    Coalition and Balance of Power are for those who are afraid of government. They are for those who are not serious about power. What genuine Liberal Democrat would want anything less than a Liberal Democrat majority? One can understand right wing entryists wanting something less because they do not genuinely believe in the Liberal Democrat cause. But for Liberal Democrats who are serious about power and serious about working with people to take and use power, a Liberal Majority is a necessary first step towards building a Liberal Society.

  • @David-1 “If a miserable performance at elections were considered good and sufficient reason for the Party Leader to step down, Nick Clegg would be gone already. Clearly the Party do not think it is the job of the Leader to win elections. I remain somewhat perplexed as to what they think his job is.”

    To help make Britain a more liberal country? To get liberal laws enacted? To get as much of the Liberal Democrat manifesto enacted as possible? By all means challenge the leader’s success in making Britain more liberal, ideally by comparison with previous leaders of the Liberal Democrats and predecessor parties. Winning elections may be one of the best means to that end but is it an end in itself?

  • ErnstRemarx 16th Dec '14 - 9:44pm

    The article ignores the fact that the LibDems probably won’t hold any balance of power in 2015. I calculate 20 MPs, max, and if Labour are in the ascendant, they’ll have every right to demand Clegg’s (and Alexander’s) heads as the price of allowing such a shrivelled party anywhere near power. After the crap that the LibDems have chucked at Labour- but neverthe Tories – since 2010, how on earth do you expect any sort of welcome?

    Frankly I’d tell you to get stuffed, rule as a minority party and talk to the SNP, who aren’t Tories like you bunch seem to be. Enjoy your fantasy: if there’s even a Labour majority of 1, you’re dead meat.

  • Stephen Donnelly 16th Dec '14 - 10:04pm

    Liberal majorities are very rare, any where, at any time. The best we will ever achieve is influence. In multiparty system, which I think is the best form of government, that would be fine.

    Peter Kellner’s scenario 3 is only a nightmare because we are going into the election without clear objectives.

  • jedibeeftrix 16th Dec '14 - 10:56pm

    @ JT – “A Liberal Democrat majority or an honest hard-working Liberal Democrat opposition poised to become the majority are what we should aim to be. Coalition and Balance of Power are for those who are afraid of government. They are for those who are not serious about power. ”

    Wholeheartedly agreed, John. From a person that has always advocated the lib-dems as the successor left-wing opposition to the tories.

  • Most of the Kellner scenarios presented here call more for a grand coalition of the two largest parties, rather than for a rather desperate cobbling together of every minority interest, voice of protest and liberal survivor onto an unwieldy and unstable coalition.

    For my part, I think we should not make a formal deal with either main party. If a minority administration wants to pass a bill or budget, then we should be open to negotiations as and when, but at arms’ length.

    And if that means we end up fighting an autumn election, well, we’ll just have to hope that an energetic new leadership can ignite the campaign trail over the summer.

  • Bill (and others): There really is little way of knowing. Whilst it is conceivable that Nick Clegg has decided not to enter into a further coalition in the event of a negative electoral outcome, it is not conceivable that he would think it in any wan expedient to spell this out in advance. What I would expect him to do is to affirm that it is up to the electorate to decide the outcome of the next parliament and for politicians to deal with the result, which is more or less what he is doing.

    The narrative that Nick Clegg is on a mission to drag the Party to the right, does not properly ring true to me. To go for the ‘closet Tory’ line is simply to be suckered in by those who always resented the existence of the Liberal Democrats in the first place. I do recognise that Clegg has a centrist view of Liberalism that to me lacks sufficient coherence. Clegg’s actions seem to me to be that of someone who aims to change how politics is carried out in the UK. For this it is essential that the coalition is allowed to run its full term, but I am sure that the setbacks on electoral reform have been a severe blow to Clegg. Having completed its term, the imperative to show that two separate parties can work, is not anything like as important as it was in 2010, so I would be very surprised if the Party leadership would expose itself to an undignified grasping at straws act in the wake of the next election.

    Naturally those who think that irrational clutching at straws is what the leadership has been doing throughout the past four and a half years, will be unpersuaded by my point of view, but I do not think that such people sufficiently acknowledge the constraints that governments face. To me it is not at all obvious that much of government would have been any different whatever its make up had been in 2010. Too much of the criticism has been disingenuous.

  • @ErnstRemarx: Labour would not have any right to choose our leader at all, because that’s our job. Any coalition deal that was contingent on Clegg’s resignation wouldn’t even make it Special Conference, let alone pass it.

    I’m increasingly convinced that there will be a grand coalition, because Labour won’t want to seriously work with us or the SNP (especially not the SNP; just look up the Willie Bain Rule). They also won’t want a second general election with no soft money either.

  • @Sarah Noble
    “Labour would not have any right to choose our leader at all, because that’s our job.”

    Perhaps you can understand, then, why Labour supporters still feel resentment about the way Nick Clegg tried to force Labour to ditch their leader in May 2010. How can Labour be expected to work with such a man?

  • Martin 17th Dec ’14 – 12:08am
    “… There really is little way of knowing. Whilst it is conceivable that Nick Clegg has decided not to enter into a further coalition in the event of a negative electoral outcome, it is not conceivable that he would think it in any wan expedient to spell this out in advance. .”

    Well, Martin it depends what you mean by “spell it out”. Clegg and those closest to him have been cuddling up to various media people over the last week.
    To pick just one example, according to George Eaton in The New Statesman —
    ” ……..The Lib Dems’ assault on the Tories also exposes them to the charge of inconsistency, a concern articulated by the former minister Jeremy Browne, who urges his party to focus on claiming credit for the coalition’s achievements. ……    …..
    The greatest irony of the coalition’s internecine warfare is that its members are quietly preparing the ground for a post-election renewal of vows.   …… 
    The only official red line drawn by any figure is Cameron’s vow not to lead a government that cannot deliver an in/out EU referendum. While publicly opposed to this policy, Lib Dems privately signal that they would be prepared to accept it in return for concessions such as House of Lords reform and the introduction of proportional representation for local elections.


    Martin, the fundamental fault line in your analysis is encapsulated in your sentence —
    ” …The narrative that Nick Clegg is on a mission to drag the Party to the right, does not properly ring true to me. ”

    You are ignoring the facts, which have been evident even before Clegg became leader and certainly before the May 2010 beginning of Coalition. It is seven years this week since Clegg became leader by a majority so narrow. Whilst before and during that election he worked hard to disguise his true aim, we have had plenty of opportunity since then to examine what he has done over the years and who has promoted and backed him in this. The facts are there of the conscious and deliberate shifting to the right.

    A number of books have been published in recent years which reveal what you describe as the “mission to drag the Party to the right”. Greg Hurst, Jasper Gerard, David Laws have all written of this mission. You do not have to read between the lines or employ a cryptographer to understand what they have written, it is all there out in the open. If you do not want to see what is there – your mind might easily wander off to look for something else. I would ask you to reconsider the facts as they are.

    Greg Hurst – ‘Charles Kennedy – a tragic flaw’
    Jasper Gerard – ‘The Clegg Coup’
    David Laws – ’22 Dais in May’

  • Chris Lewcock 17th Dec '14 - 8:43am

    One of our main arguments for rejecting overtures from Labour in 2010 was that they had manifestly lost. The number of Lib Dem seats and even more so the number of votes is likely to be substantially reduced in the GE – in the view of the public we will have manifestly lost. Any further involvement in Coalition is likey to be seen as hypocritical crawling after place.

    There is no greater obligation on Lib Dems than any other Party to “finish the job” on the economy as it is rather crudely put. Tories, Labour and Lib Dems all seem to accept that there is more work to be done varying only in modalities. Insistence on this line of argument is only likely to reinforce the impression that we are Tory poodles.

    If Labour can’t come to an arrangement with SNP and Greens or the Tories with Unionists then some form of grand coalition seems (as West Germany shows) a perfectly plausible option. As we have repeatedly said over the years, Tories and Labour have a great deal more in common with each other on eg civil lberties and the centralising role of Whitehall than they do with a principled Lib Dem approach. We should sit back and let them get on with it. Though it might require a further battering for us all in a GE to force Tories and Labour into such a marriage !

  • peter tyzack 17th Dec '14 - 8:59am

    I don’t accept the premise of his analysis.. voters are very fickle and in this new situation will react very differently. Once it nestles into the public brain that neither of the old parties has a hope of forming a majority, then the public may start to look around at the alternatives. It will be for all the other parties to say to them ‘now is your chance – vote for who you want’ or ‘vote for us to keep party x out’, plus a whole range of other messages with largely un-predictable effects.
    The fact that the two old parties don’t have a chance could mean that their support will just whither away, creating a situation where it will be a fight between all the other parties to see who can come out top of the rest.. and that is anybody’s guess.
    A lot will depend on the way the Press play it, whether they play an honest game (unlikely), whether they fall in behind the old two, or whether they show support for someone else… Our job is to lay out our plans for government, and then, whatever the outcome, deal with whichever of the other parties will help us deliver the most of our policies..
    It is all to play for.

  • Bill le Breton 17th Dec '14 - 10:13am

    @Sarah and @Chris. Not sure what you mean by a Grand Coalition, but if it is a coalition between Labour and Tories, I believe you miss read how divisive the coming election is going to be. For the voting public it will last about three weeks as the barrage of media connects with their daily lives. It will be a polarizing experience. Of course after the election you could well see one of the big two abstaining on a Queens Speech and thus quietly condoning a confidence and supply approach with no declaration that this is what it is (eg the Tories in Feb 1974 abstained on Wilson’s Queens Speech). How this will play out with the Fixed Parliament Act will be interesting. But it will not be insurmountable.

    So here I am agreeing and disagreeing with Peter T. As the campaigning kicks in with a couple of weeks to polling day, people will either buy the Coalition line, expressed most clearly by the Tories, that the deficit will destroy the future and is therefore the priority and everything on tax and spend follows from that. It will be a vision of continuing improvement because of tough action on the economy, the certainty of a referendum in 2017 (I should say that these are all in quotes, but to put them in would be boring) and concerted action on immigration. The great Simon Titley used to use the shorthand for this as ‘drawbridge up people’.

    Opposed to them will be those who see a country they ‘feel’ as increasingly unfair and riven by inequality, and they will rally strongly behind the ‘get the Tories out’. (Note that the “”””Tories””””” in Scotland are paradoxically the Labour Party, so it is a vague notion of the Establishment wherever they are. This will not be ‘drawbridge fully down’ though.

    You would think that such an election would play well for us in our Tory facing seats, but it does mean that to catch this tide our strategists will have to finesse the ‘benefits of Lib Dems in Coalition 2010-2015 line. Not easy to achieve in a red-in-tooth-and-claw scrap. We are already seeing the tensions here expressed by Jeremy Browne. And the split mind of the leadership. He wants to be in two places at once. But he is actually very good at that, which is why he isn’t trusted.

    I suppose I am painting a picture of a politics rather like that of the US in recent years. Highly polarized. I realise this goes against the widely held belief that two party politics is over. I reckon the drawbridge up mentality is the stronger at the moment. Hardship often makes it so. That is why I see Scenario 2 as more likely than the others. Tories ahead of Labour. (actually I still think they may get a majority on their own). Labour short because they are the drawbridge less far up in Scotland than the SNP who lets face it want to do away with the drawbridge entirely. Ourselves in the 20 seats (or fewer) position depending on whether the anti-Tory sentiment is strong enough to blind tactical voters to what we have done and what we shall do after the election with our handful of seats. Expect Cable to be given more and more freedom.

    Finally, in such a situation with seats halved and votes down by something similar, could the leader continue? Cd he win support in a special conference for another deal with Cameron. To this I answer, has he lost any really important votes in Conference? Did he actually lose the leadership vote? Did his chosen negotiator who stood as candidate for the presidency lose? Would the ordinary member want him to resign with the country having just delivered a “””hung””” parliament? With ‘the markets about to crash’? It would be an unbelievably disorderly thing to imagine.

    If he fights the election, the only time he will resign is if Cameron wins a majority and chooses not to offer us some seats in his Government. Will Clegg be leader at summer Conference 2015? Yes … if he is leader in April 2015. Will the Laws/Marshall Project still be up and running? Yes.

  • Bill le Bretton, as so often, paints an accurate picture.

    The thing I find most unsettling, Bill, is that your last two paragraphs could equally apply if Cameron got a majority and decided to offer his old mates Laws and Clegg a Cabinet place each (Agriculture and DFID perhaps) in a Conservative majority government. This was the sort of deal that Clement Davies had the good sense to turn down in 1951, thus ensuring that The Liberal Party lived to fight another day.

    Would a Special Conference of Liberal Democrats in 2015 have the wisdom of a Clement Davies?
    Or would it be strictly managed under Marshall Laws?

  • Bill; John Tilley: Without support from The Party, there cannot be a formal coalition. The precedent has been set. I cannot see that in the context of lost seats that the Party would back a further coalition. The Conservative pledge on an unspecified renegotiation and an EU referendum is an insuperable obstacle. Even a coalition with Labour would throw up enormous difficulties, but I do not think this would happen for other reasons.

  • What is best for the future of the PARTY, 40 MPs in a coalition or 15MPs in opposition?

  • See ICM have us at 14% today, level with UKIP. This follows two polls over recent days one at 10 the other 12. Dare we have the very slightest sign of a rise in support since our leader went walkabout?
    Or are these the thinnest of straws in the winter wind.

  • Bill le Breton 17th Dec '14 - 1:49pm

    Martin, you are of course right, the special conference will decide. (As it happens I was one of the authors of FRED which was put together in 1997 to cope with the then possibility [belief on the Part of the Leadership] that the Party would have to decide whether or not to enter an arrangement with Labour, which was the foundation for what happened in 2010, so I know the process.)

    My comments are based on real politick.

    In a scenario such as Scenario 2 (or even 3 or 4) I would expect to see the Leadership endeavouring to arrive at a deal with the Conservatives, which I think would be achieved with a little huffing and puffing for forms sake – see the George Eaton article. It is the logical move given the Laws, Marshall and Clegg vision for the Party. Why would they stop now? They still believe that the Party strategy from 1988 to 2005 was wrong and that theirs which has been put into effect since 2007 is right..

    Now, would they get that through a Special Conference? I think they would. You think they wouldn’t.
    How would the Parliamentary Party in the Commons of 2015 react? If a clear majority were in favour of a deal, would that influence a Special Conference? Patronage is a powerful thing.

    The Laws Marshall probable desired replacement for Clegg (if he fell under a bus or at some time insisted on resigning) would be Lamb, but a resignation would not happen in the heat immediately following a situation of no over all control at Westminster. And if there were a slight Tory majority and an offer from Cameron, that offer would be made to Clegg and not to a Party without a leader and on the threshold of a battle royale over its next leader.

    So, there’d be a similar question for a Special Conference. Would Clegg et al get that through a Special Conference? I think he would. If he didn’t he’d have a perfect reason for going it alone (ie with those who would follow) “”””for the good of the country””””” ie to ensure that Liberal Democrats were in the new Government to restrain the Tory right … and to ensure their was an organised and united body organising to fight YES in the referendum.

    When Paddy was trying to get support for a deal with Labour should there be either no overall control or a small Labour majority in 1997, I said that if there were no warning of the offer then the offer would be an aggressive action aimed at destroying the Party. If it were “genuine” it would have been communicated in advance. Which it was.

    The same is true this time only with Cameron. An offer, especially one made from him even though he has a majority, could be designed to destroy us as an independent Party. I think Clegg would know of the offer – or believe in the coming of the offer, which I reckon would be made at roughly the same time in the aftermath of the election that Cameron’s 2010 offer came. I think Clegg will wait for that.

    And Martin it is a pity you are not in a position to give your name. I do not complain, but you always have interesting things to say that need to be answered.

  • Peter Watson 17th Dec '14 - 2:17pm

    As far as I recall an EU referendum was (and under some circumstances still is) a Lib Dem policy and notionally Cameron’s position is to negotiate change and then campaign for an In vote, so I don’t see why this issue would be a red light for Lib Dems in negotiating more coalition with the Tories. It seems more like something that would be disingenuously presented as a grand compromise in any such negotiation.

  • It is a nightmare scenario. The simple reality is that the vast majority of voters who have deserted the Party moved to parties of the centre Left. It was never about opposition to a coalition in principle it was about opposition to a coalition with the Right, It was about the shift in policies. The nightmare scenario already happened.

  • Peter Watson 17th Dec '14 - 4:30pm

    @Glenn “it was about opposition to a coalition with the Right”
    I think it was more about opposition to the way that coalition with the right was presented as if it were just as good as a Lib Dem government, giving the impression that the party was further to the right than many of its supporters (including me) thought it was.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '14 - 7:03pm

    @Glenn @ Peter Watson – I think it was a bit of both, underlining the fact that Nick failed to do what was needed, which was to be on the side of the governed and not the governing (aka Jo Grimond). Being brutally honest, most of the time he has been on the side of the Conservative led government, not the Lib Dem minority.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '14 - 7:14pm

    @ Martin, @ Bill – I wish I had your confidence. I don’t accept this “the party (a special conference) will decide.” Last time we were bounced into it with a fait accompli presented to conference.

    12 May 2010 BBC Headline “David Cameron is UK’s new prime minister”

    16 May 2010 Lib Dem Special Conference.
    Could conference have rejected it? – Only a few paid up members of the awkward squad like David Rendel and me would have dared.
    Could Nick bounce us into it again? – Absolutely, and I believe if he gets the chance to do it again, he will., because if he’s in government – no leadership election. Don’t you?

  • SIMON BANKS 17th Dec '14 - 9:13pm

    Here goes again. As someone who was active in the Westcountry in the early to mid 1970s, I know well how important to Westcountry Liberal (Democrat) seats squeezing Labour is. It was crucial in the Cornish and Devon seats we won then and have won later. In those days all the Somerset seats and some in Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire normally returned results in which the non-Tories outpolled the Tories, sometimes by quite a lot, but the anti-Tory vote was split, often quite evenly. This was particularly important in the Westcountry because of a tradition and culture of Lib-Labbery (or anything but the Toryism). We came to win several such seats mainly through squeezing the Labour vote. One of the main threats to us in such seats now is a return of Labour first preferences to Labour. The floating Lib/Tory voters are not very numerous down there. So a perceived tilt towards Labour would not necessarily hurt us in such seats.

  • “Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015″

    Last time around, Nick Clegg hamstrung the Lib Dem negotiating position in advance by ruling out – unlike previous Lib Dem leaders, the idea that it might be just as valid to “talk first” to the party which had come a close second in the poll, as it was to “talk first” to the party which had narrowly come out first.

    Now Clegg wants to throw away in advance another negotiating option.

    Move over Mourinho, when it comes to tactical genius this guy is a special one.

  • David Evershed 18th Dec '14 - 12:34am

    In the event of a draw between Conservatives and Labour, continuity of a Con Lib Dem coalition would have a lot going for it because it is a known quantity.

  • David Eveershed.
    I can see the logic of your line of reasoning, but with all due respect if coalition with the Tories has a lot going for it the evidence is pretty thin on the ground. Lost deposits and poll ratings in single digits sort of indicate that coalition with the Tories has been a disaster. Some of us cling on because we know the Lib Dems are better than the tuition fees fiasco or the bedroom tax, we know that there is a core of decency and progressive idealism, But why would we hang on in a Coalition with a party that was drifting r to the Right. that got less votes than it did in 2010 when it failed to get a majority and which uses the Lib Dems as a buffer against criticism of unpopular policies! Plus on a reduced vote share with the few remaining Lib Dem ministers relegated to departments with lower profiles! Both parties have lost votes in power. It hasn’t worked in political terms and much like the pre-science treatment of bleeding more of the same is only going to weaken the patient further .

  • David Evans 18th Dec '14 - 9:23am

    @ David Evershed – … and that known quantity is that the Lib Dems lose 300 to 400 councillors a year, most of its MSPs, many of its MPs and lots of members and activists. Yes a known quantity, with a lot going from it, becoming an unknown party.

  • Having read the comments I am afraid that all I learn is vote Lib Dem get Tory. I voted for you ( do not call me a liar as in the past) to hold back excesses in the two other parties as did most of the voters you have lost. That did not work out well as we have had an extremely right wing government that has increased the wealth of the rich at the expense of the poor.

  • Julian Tisi 18th Dec '14 - 2:58pm

    I disagree completely with the idea that scenario 3 is the worst outcome. Far from it, I think it’s the best we can hope for. It would mean that both Labour and Tories would be forced into making genuine concessions knowing that failure to do so and we could legitimately say we’re not doing a deal. The key thing will be the court of public opinion – we would have to convince people that we’re being reasonable and not compromising on our core values.

    And I agree with Nick that a confidence and supply agreement would be the worst of all worlds for us – many Labour MPs have said that it’s their preferred option (they don’t want a coalition with us as it would provide a useful and perhaps positive contrast to this coalition – in the long term this is bad for them and that’s why they’re opposed). So i think Nick is right to rule it out.

  • If we do find ourselves in the position of being the king-makers, might the argument not be partly pragmatism (deciding which party would offer a coalition agreement offering more of our manifesto), and partly to the will of the electorate expressed in numbers of seats and, if they we’re tied or close, in the popular vote (the latter adding weight to the pressure for electoral change)

  • Julian, The Conservatives were asked for very few real concessions last time and they gave even less. That was weak leadership. This time both Labour and Conservatives will know Nick is desperate as it’s his only chance to avoid a leadership election. They will pretend to give enough to get past the winning post and then totally outmanoeuvre him in government, just like they did this time.

    Ultimately though, I would estimate the chance of us having enough seats to be able to negotiate with two parties as less than 1 in 20. If it did happen though, the consequences to Liberal Democracy of five more years of Clegg would be catastrophic.

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