The C Word 10 years on: Crossing the RubiCon

As we mark 10 years since the formulation of the coalition, I’m reposting my initial thoughts from 8 May 2010 about how we should approach the dangerous situation in which we found ourselves:

This is going to be a very quick post. If you want deeper, more robust analysis, go to the lovely Elephant or Daddy Alex. With 15 minutes to go to Doctor Who, you are not going to get any more than a few random thoughts from me.

Firstly, a few right wing commentators are getting their knickers in a twist and describing the current series of civilised negotiations between the parties as “chaos”. They have clearly led very sheltered lives. This is a perfectly normal part of the democratic process in most of the rest of Europe and beyond.

Secondly, I like Nick Clegg’s style. He takes the trouble to go and talk to the 1000 demonstrators outside where he was meeting the Parliamentary Party. Can you see either David Cameron or Gordon Brown doing that?

Thirdly, I grew up in the 80s. I hate the Tories with an absolute passion. Thatcher came to power when I was roughly the same age as my daughter is now and my education was punctuated with poor or no equipment, not enough teachers, strikes and my school was falling to bits. Do I want this for her? No way! However, the first 10 years of her life have seen an authoritarian Labour government which has been complicit in torture, has eroded our civil liberties, damaged our standing by taking part in illegal wars and has repeatedly crapped all over the poorest and most vulnerable. I really loathe and detest them too. Almost equally. Trying to choose between them is like being on some trashy game show and having to choose between eating a wichety grub and a kangaroo’s testicle. Either way, I’m going to throw up. Having said that, the stakes are high – the country needs a decent government and we have a responsibility to look at all possibilities of building one. That means, unfortunately, talking to parties we don’t like.

Fourthly, the 24 hour news cycle is a hungry beast and tends to over analyse every sigle word that people say for hidden meaning. This is not helpful and we probably shouldn’t do it either.

Fifthly, it is in the interests of both Labour and the Tories to derail this process. They want to maintain the current duopoly that the current electoral process creates. Of course they do. Turkeys don’t have a habit of voting for Christmas. They are trying to make out that it’s all down to Nick to do a deal with them on their terms. Actually, their leaders have to behave like mature adults.

It is in ours to make it work. That doesn’t necessarily mean forming a coalition with anybody, but it does mean that we need to be open, businesslike and willing to explore all the possibilities.

For me, electoral reform, so that people can get the Parliament they ask for is critical. Not a talking shop, not a convention, but actually implementing it within 5 years. The others will try to stitch us up on that but we mustn’t fall for it.

If we can’t achieve that, then no deal. End of.

I am taken with the idea of no deal with anybody and us taking the role of arbiters, or protectors, of fairness in the new Parliament – that would give us more influence than having to be the compliant and obedient junior partners in a coalition and people would be able to see how we tried to fight for them.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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34 Comments

  • Liberal tolerance?

  • Paul Barker 9th May '20 - 1:56pm

    As far as I can remember I agreed cpmpletely with this when it was written but I can see now that we were both wrong, in fact 95% + of the Party were wrong.

    Our failure was Strategic, We lost sight of what The Liberal Democrats are For. We dont exist primarily to make the Big Two parties better, We are here to break the Labservative Duopoly by pushing either Labour or Tories into third place.

    In 2010 we came close to our main strategic goal, we got four Votes for every five for Labour. It had taken us 27 Years to get back to that point & then we threw all our gains away.

    I am not saying this so we can all indulge in self-abasement but so that we can decide what to do next time, perhaps in four Years.
    We should decide now that there will be no more Coalitions with us involved unless we get a simple offer of Electoral Reform up front. That should be our price for entering Talks.

  • “We should decide now that there will be no more Coalitions with us involved unless we get a simple offer of Electoral Reform up front. That should be our price for entering Talks.”

    Isn’t there a fundamental problem with this? – that people vote for us based on our principles and policies and we appear to demonstrate a willingness to abandon them all for promises of electoral reform.

    We have to decide if we are a cohesive political party or a coalition of wildly different political doctrines with a common goal of bringing down FPTP.

  • “repeatedly crapped all over the poorest and most vulnerable.”

    22 October, 2010, Edinburgh Royal, waiting for transplant, read the Guardian. Didn’t do much for mood. The Chancellor,

    • Withdrawing employment and support allowance (ESA), to replace incapacity benefit after one year from one million claimants. ESA broken into two categories: the support group, to include severely disabled and terminally ill not expected to return to work; and work related activity group needing time before starting work. Withdrawing ESA from one million, 60% of whom would return to work within a year anyway, save £2bn a year by 2014-15.

    • Increase the age threshold for shared room rate (SRR) claimed by single people. Maximum housing benefit single people under age 25 can receive limited to rate for a single room in shared house. Age limit increased to 35 from April 2012, saving £215m a year by 2014-15.

    • Council tax benefit spending reduced by 10% from 2013-14, saving £490m by 2014-15. Local authorities given greater flexibility to tailor scheme to their needs.

    • End mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from residents in care home from October 2012, save £135m by 2014-15. Affect 58,000 people claiming DLA receiving an average of £33.40 a week.

    • Freeze maximum savings credit award in pension credit for four years from 2011-12, affect 1.8m households save £330m a year by 2014-15. Freeze to £20.52 for a single pensioner and £27.09 for a couple maximum award paid to people aged over 65 on modest incomes with savings.

    • Save £625m a year by 2014-15 by freezing basic and 30-hour element of working tax credit for three years from April 2011. Then to be uprated by the consumer prices index, rather than by more generous retail prices index.

    • Save £390m a year by 2014-15 changing rules so couples with children must work 24 hours between them, with one partner working at least 16 hours a week to claim the working tax credit.

    • Reduce percentage of childcare costs parents can claim through childcare element of working tax credit from 80% to previous level of 70%. To apply from 2011-12, save £385m by 2014-15.

    More followed, to, “repeatedly crap all over the poorest and most vulnerable.”

    I recovered… not sure about the poorest and most vulnerable. The Lib Dems haven’t..

  • I was at the special conference in Birmingham and supported the resolution to go onto coalition with the Conservatives. If a similar situation arose today, I would again support a coalition with either of the major parties. I would have done so with Mrs. May’s administration after the 2017 election when the opportunity was there to secure a referendum on a Brexit deal, and I would have done so with Jermy Corbyn’s Labour party in a government of national unity.
    The reason is a simple one. This is a political party with an important purpose not a football team that we cheer on every two weeks while cursing the opposing team. That purpose is laid out by Michael Meadowcroft and colleagues in the pamphlet he has attached today https://www.libdemvoice.org/principles-of-liberal-democracy-64454.html.
    The future of politics in the UK is proportional representation as it is in much of Europe. That means coalitions and a grown-up approach to politics where you can actually do something instead of just shouting abuse from the sidelines. It starts at local and regional level where many of the decisions that directly affect the lives of voters are taken and extends from there to the national and international level.
    The government is neither a business nor a charity. It has serious work to do and needs serious and principled people with some idea of how to go about to do that work.

  • @Joe Bourke “This is a political party with an important purpose not a football team that we cheer on every two weeks while cursing the opposing team.”

    Indeed. What is the point of a political party that refuses to go into government?

    I’m sure as the Coalition Anniversary comes we will get some articles, and many comments, dripping with (self) loathing about the Coalition. Such people may as well walk away into the sunset. the electorate do not respect people who don’t stand up for their own record and who, ultimately, don’t want the responsibility of power and the choices that go with it.

    The Coalition has been the best, and most Liberal, government of the century (so far).

  • It’s not necessarily who you go into Coalition with…… it’s what you do when you get there.

  • Paul Barker 9th May '20 - 5:09pm

    A lot of us are putting Carts before Horses, we have to “Break Through” under the current system, at least coming second in Vote Share, before We can Reform our Politics.

    Why do we think that joining another Coalition as a Junior Partner would produce a different Result ?

    The only thing worth trashing Our support for would be Electoral Reform up front, no Conference or Referenda just rapid implementation. Without that we should not even Talk. We need to be brutally honest with Voters & other Parties, before the Next Election; theres no room for ambiguity.

  • The political studies association assessment of the coalition government is largely Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/how-has-uks-coalition-government-performed

    “The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has simply been the latest coalition to have involved these two political parties, and to have been formed at a time of national crisis, following those created in May 1915, December 1918, October 1931, November 1935, and May 1940.”
    The Coalition’s formation was greeted as something of a novelty and departure in modern British politics. But in truth, each of the five major modernisation projects launched by political parties since May 1945 (what I term ‘the British Ways of modernisation’) had been based upon a similar ideological coalition between liberalism and a rival political ideology.”
    “The Conservative Party began its march towards the present ideological coalition between the forces and interests of conservatism and liberalism, not during nine days of frantic inter-party negotiation in May 2010, but 36 years earlier. In June 1974, following the failure of the Conservative Party to win a majority at the February General Election, two former Cabinet Ministers in the discredited and defeated Heath Ted Government, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph, established a new think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. Their purpose had been to create an institutional mechanism to transform the very terms of the postwar political settlement, which they claimed had left British politics ‘over-governed, over-spent, over-taxed, over-borrowed and over-manned’, and stranded on the social democratic middle ground of failed stateled modernisation. Thatcher and Joseph abandoned the technocratic blueprints of One Nation conservatism, for an ideological coalition combining market liberalism with a strong state. Their stated ambition was to move British politics rightwards towards a common ground founded upon the aspirations of the British people, rather than a compromise between politicians.”
    “Consequently, it was perhaps not entirely unexpected that the Cameron-Clegg coalition should boldly promise in 2010 ‘a programme for partnership government’ with ‘the potential for era-changing, convention-challenging, radical reforms’. After all, more than three years before the coalition’s formation, in 2007, David Cameron had affirmed that ‘I have a philosophy – liberal Conservatism – which has the answers to the great questions our country faces’. A coalition between conservatism and liberalism had long shaped Cameron’s thinking on both domestic and foreign policy questions.”

  • And what about December, 1916, Joe ?

    It could be argued that was the major single precursor of the Strange Death of Liberal England, Scotland & Wales…

  • John Marriott 9th May '20 - 8:42pm

    I see this thread is evolving into a history lesson courtesy of Messrs Bourke and Raw. I bow to their superior knowledge; but, when it comes to politics it often, as they say, takes two to tango.

    I can’t speak for 1916 (just so far only read the first chapter of Dr Trevor Wilson’s book on the demise of the Liberal Party); however, I remember 1974 and the years following as they coincided with my return to the U.K. after four years abroad and my joining the Liberal Party in 1979.

    Those years, before North Sea Oil revenues kicked in, were characterised by the failure of the ruling Labour Party, bolstered by the ‘Lib Lab Pact’, to get to grips with Trades Union militancy. Make no mistake, many people were sick and poisoned to death with the likes of Messrs Jones, Jenkins, Basnett, Evans, Scanlon and particularly Scargill, who seemed to be running the show, with attack dogs like ‘Red Robbo’ at Longbridge and later Derek Hatton in early 1980s Liverpool. Oh, and let’s not forget the visit from the IMF. No wonder Thatcher and co got elected when it all culminated in the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’. After an initial wobble, Thatcher benefitted from Labour’s woes post Callaghan, the breakaway SDP and, of course, a little skirmish in the South Atlantic. So, bolstered by North Sea Oil revenues, Thatcher and her neoliberal monetarists were able to dismantle much of British industry, see off the NUM and – you know the rest.

    Now, what if Thorpe’s Liberals had taken up Heath’s offer in February 1974? Yes, I know that Thorpe was probably a ticking time bomb; but might things have turned out differently? Of course, we shall never know. But it’s fascinating to speculate. You’ve only got to read the ‘what iffers’ in LDV.

  • Martin Pierce 9th May '20 - 10:17pm

    All I will say is that it was brave and honest on Caron to repost that, given everything that followed.

  • @ Joe Bourke. Aye well, Joe, LLG badly underestimated Baldwin and the Tory party, overestimated his powers of persuasion and popularity … and too busy counting the money … plus Asquith was a proud stubborn worn out old man.

    The telling moment for me was well after the Maurice vote. In September,1918, LLG sent the Master of Elibank (ex-Chief Whip) with an olive branch to Asquith – to serve as Lord Chancellor in an LLG Coalition. Asquith brusquely refused. Elibank kept four pages of notes ending with ‘today, I witnessed the end of the Liberal Party.’ (Elibank papers, NLS, Edinburgh).

    He also mentioned LLG’s bad dose of ‘flu and how shaky he was. It’s been downhill ever since, with a 1923 slight bump up. A bit like Huddersfield Town, I suppose, but no mention of Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock or Robert Jenrick, thank goodness.

    Off now to watch iplayer Britain’s got talent.. awful stuff.. but the boss likes it…., and looking forward to Keir Starmer’s painless forensic dismantling of BoJo next week. Living the Dream……

    PS John Marriott. Try reading Maurice Cowling (Tory historian), ‘The Impact of Labour, 1920-24’, Cambridge University Press, 1971. More interesting than cutting the lawn…. Can you really imagine Thorpe J.J. serving as Home Secretary along side big Cyril and Clem F. ?

  • Don’t want to go into coalition,but want PR that would result in coalition government that we don’t want.

    Well it’s a view..

  • Caron, you were spot on when you wrote: “For me, electoral reform, so that people can get the Parliament they ask for is critical. Not a talking shop, not a convention, but actually implementing it within 5 years. The others will try to stitch us up on that but we mustn’t fall for it.” We did fall for it, because first the Coalition deal didn’t include actual reform, only a referendum on switching to the Alternative Vote, which we didn’t really want and isn’t a proportional system, and second, we accepted a promise from David Cameron to remain neutral on it, which he broke under pressure from his backbenchers. Not insisting on proportional representation to be implemented within five years was a historic mistake that set the cause back for who knows how long. As a decade ends since that mistake, we need to acknowledge it and take up the cause again. We can’t go on as we are. The system we have keeps delivering bad government and it’s killing this country.

  • AdrianSanders 10th May '20 - 9:30am

    “Secondly, I like Nick Clegg’s style. He takes the trouble to go and talk to the 1000 demonstrators outside where he was meeting the Parliamentary Party. Can you see either David Cameron or Gordon Brown doing that?”
    I was there in Smith Square at the meeting and outside talking to the crowd. There were no more than 300 hundred people there and most of them were Liberal Democrats, so no, I don’t suppose Cameron or Brown would have with that crowd, but any Liberal Democrat Leader would.
    Proportional Representation, not simply electoral reform, should have been number one in your list and in the highly unlikely event should similar circumstances conspire again in the future, it should be be our opening gambit. It was in previous elections, it was abandoned by Clegg and his advisors in 2010.
    Our line should be: “Do not pick up the phone unless you are prepared to put PR in the first Queen’s Speech of our coalition Government”. Without it there is nothing to talk about.

  • John Marriott 10th May '20 - 10:24am

    @Joseph Bourke
    Thanks for your comprehensive ‘Ariston’*like reply, which my more vernacular ‘analysis’ did not really require or, indeed, deserve. Why use five words, when twenty five would do? So, in a couple of sentences, WHAT are you actually saying? Occasionally brevity does win out, you know!

    * in case LDV followers are unaware, I am referring to the advert for Ariston products back in the 1990s, which ‘go on and on’.😀😀

  • @ John Marriott Sadly, and in short, he’s wrong, John. It was much earlier than September 1971 and Barber’s Competition and Credit Control Act.

    Remember the HP boom of the fifties and ‘Never had it so good’ ? Dad got a telly to watch the Coronation and an A30 baby Austin. Buses were for common folk.

  • John Marriott 10th May '20 - 11:09am

    @David Raw
    Some people can display their knowledge derived from extensive study, some, like you, and hopefully people like me, whilst benefitting from Further Education, have also learned our trade from the university of life!

    Has that ferry gone past your house again, heading down south? When it does, then we really can talk about the end of the beginning.

    Stay safe. Keep taking the tablets! 😀😀

  • Sue Sutherland 10th May '20 - 2:32pm

    The problem with Coalition was that two very clever people with little political nous were the Lib Dems who got the most publicity all the way through. First of all we broke a promise, revealing ourselves to be just like the other two parties. So why should anyone need a third? Then, when we had supposedly gone into Coalition to help solve the financial crisis, a major plank of our requirements was to change the voting system. I realise that everyone else on this page wanted us to do that but, quite frankly, this had been seen as a self serving policy by the general public for many years so to insist on this during a recession, when people were suffering, was political wantonness. For most people it was totally irrelevant and this was a blindness the whole party suffered from.
    Most of the parliamentary party were congratulating themselves on their new found powers, believing they were more prepared for Coalition discussions than the Tories, while the Tories were plotting our demise. This was hubris and we are still in the political mire that nemesis placed us in.

  • John Marriott,

    you write above “let’s not forget the visit from the IMF. No wonder Thatcher and co got elected when it all culminated in the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’. After an initial wobble, Thatcher benefitted from Labour’s woes post-Callaghan, the breakaway SDP and, of course, a little skirmish in the South Atlantic. So, bolstered by North Sea Oil revenues, Thatcher and her neoliberal monetarists were able to dismantle much of British industry, see off the NUM and – you know the rest.”

    The link to the PSA article is a continuation of the theme up to the point of the coalition. Make of it what you will.

    In terms of brevity, I will employ the defence of the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”

  • @ John Marriott Just took the tablets…… all quiet but windy on the north eastern front.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 3:54pm

    Joe Bourke 10th May ’20 – 3:01pm
    Thank you for the quotation, not Winston Churchill after all,
    Aristotle had the same problem.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 3:59pm

    Sue Sutherland 10th May ’20 – 2:32pm
    Change the voting system, to STV!
    get it right!
    Then have another election.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 4:05pm

    10th May ’20 – 3:59pm
    The problem is set out in the DPM’s book, urgency that the Tories should implement the coalition agreement urgently.
    They did not do so quickly enough because their donors did not like the policy
    (and where would they be without them?)

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 4:34pm

    Joseph Bourke 9th May ’20 – 8:23pm
    and they also disliked Winston S Churchill, a man who had fought in our contemptible little army in the Great War in France and a descendent of one of the greatest generals of all time, anywhere. The son of a Tory cabinet minister, He was still distrusted in 1940 when he became PM with the support of the parliamentary Labour party, his friend David Lloyd George, and, apparently, King George VI.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 4:40pm

    Jo Hayes
    Is this a policy for two general elections?

  • marcstevens 10th May '20 - 5:08pm

    There was nothing liberal about the bedroom tax, abolishing the AWB, tripling tuition fees or many of the other unsocial measures undertaken throughout the coalition years. The lowering of the tax threshold was one of very few achievements I can think of. The freezing of council rents came in after the coalition was over, a surprising but welcome social conservative measure. The coalition was fantastic for the libertarians and free market obsessed orange bookers who frequent this site, but was and always will be a disaster for social liberals. As a low income council tenant I still haven’t recovered from it. That’s why we set up Lib Dems for change to oppose it despite being accused of betrayal by the OB clique on this site, now where have you heard that word before. The great Charles Kennedy was against it, most of the Clegg clique MPs have gone, hopefully for good, so in some ways we can move on when the future direction of the party is clearly defined under the next newly elected leader.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 8:36pm

    Joseph Bourke 10th May ’20 – 6:41pm
    Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins has commented on Churchill’s performance as Chancellor and on his speculation on Wall Street with his own money and with his letter/s to his wife about the prospect of more before the Wall Street crash.
    ISBN 0 333 78200 9 Macmillan 2001 1002 pages.
    ISBN 0385 607415 Clementine Churchill by Mary Soames (youngest daughter) 621 pages.

  • Richard Underhill 21st May '20 - 2:59pm

    Caron Lindsay | Sat 9th May 2020 WISE WORDS
    “it is in the interests of both Labour and the Tories to derail this process. They want to maintain the current duopoly that the current electoral process creates. Of course they do.” Turkeys don’t have a habit of voting for Christmas.
    For me, electoral reform, so that people can get the Parliament they ask for is critical.
    Not a talking shop, not a convention, but actually implementing it within 5 years. The others will try to stitch us up on that but we mustn’t fall for it.
    If we can’t achieve that, then no deal. End of.
    The SNP voted for Christmas in 1979 and got Mrs Thatcher with an overall majority.

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