The Guardian’s “10 things we’ve learned from the Lib Dem conference”

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow has once again collected together his thoughts on the ten main things we have learned from the last few days in Glasgow.

Here are the first three:

1 – The Lib Dems have no desire to give up power. Given that the experience of being in coalition has been so electorally catastrophic, you might expect the party to have some regrets. But they don’t, and there’s no appetite for a spell in opposition. As well as a desire for another try at government, the Lib Dems are also assuming there’s a good chance it will happen. If it doesn’t, the party is in for a psychological shock.

2 – Negotiations for a post-2015 coalition have already started. Officially the Lib Dems aren’t meant to be talking about “red lines”, or what they would do in coalition talks, just what policies they stand for. But in practice, even though private talks may not have started, a public negotiation has opened up with the Tories, via newspapers and broadcasting studios, with Nick Clegg starting to reveal clues as to what is and what is not on the table. The most significant revelation was his tacit admission that he could agree to an in/out referendum on the EU. Senior Lib Dems believe that the Tory proposals announced in Birmingham were in some respects just an opening bid (they remember how easy David Cameron found it to ditch his more rightwing ideas in coalition talks after 2010) and so it is not hard to start imaging how compromises could be reached. An in/out referendum in exchange for keeping the Human Rights Act? What makes this shadow bargaining particularly fascinating is that it’s a three-sided dialogue, also involving the voters too. The more seats a party has, the stronger its hand will be after polling day.

3 – The Lib Dems are divided over Labour. Activists would much rather see the party in coalition with Labour. A poll of candidates for the Sunday Politics and a poll of members for Lib Dem Voice both showed a preference for this by a margin of about 3 to 1. But, from Clegg downwards, Lib Dem ministers and other leading party figures (eg Norman Lamb, here, or Tim Farron, here) have spent the week telling anyone who will listen about their severe reservations about Labour in general, and Ed Miliband in particular. As a result …

You can read the remaining seven (and it is well worth doing so) here.


* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • “But, from Clegg downwards, Lib Dem ministers and other leading party figures have spent the week telling anyone who will listen about their severe reservations about Labour in general, and Ed Miliband in particular”

    A very, very bad move, which will weaken us further in the run up to the election, if this were possible. We should follow the same course as in 2010 of equidistance. Both Tories and Labour are equally bad news for the country and voicing these “reservations” about Labour just makes us look even more like the Tories’ poodle. Plus picking on Ed Miliband when we have an equally, if not more, unpopular leader, is frankly silly and hypocritical.

  • Paras 4 and 5 are more revealing —
    4 – A Labour/Lib Dem coalition is looking less likely. There are multiple areas where Labour and Lib Dem policies overlap and, particularly in the light of the views of the Lib Dem activist base, a Labour/Lib Dem coalition has until now seemed a strong possibility. After this week that’s more doubtful. Of course, this could be another example of shadow bargaining – ie talking tough, so Miliband doesn’t think the Lib Dems are a pushover – but it does not feel like that. Clegg sounds as if he isn’t keen on sharing power with Miliband at all.

    5 – Coalition is going to be harder next time around anyway. For all the talk about coalition (and there’s been a lot), no one expects a hung parliament to produce a coalition as quickly as it did in 2010 and, even if no one party gets a majority, there are good grounds for thinking it may not happen. Labour and the Tories would seriously consider running minority administrations and, in the Lib Dems, there is growing interest in alternatives to a formal coalition.

  • Denis Mollison 9th Oct '14 - 2:44pm

    “An in/out referendum in exchange for keeping the Human Rights Act?”

    I don’t see why either needs to be part of coalition negotiations. Both should be free votes in Parliament.

  • Denis Mollison 9th Oct '14 - 2:46pm

    And as to equi-distance, we should have our own vision, and – in the unlikely case of having the choice – go for the option that achieves a government closest to our vision.

  • RC —- I agree with you entirely and it is difficult to conceive of what on earth is going on in the heads of those who are not under ay circumstances. “…keen on sharing power with Miliband at all.”

    As you say —A very, very bad move, which will weaken us further in the run up to the election,
    ……….. voicing these “reservations” about Labour just makes us look even more like the Tories’ poodle.

    Bill le Breton in another thread describes this “soft Tory” approach as “chasing unicorns”.

  • Green Voter 9th Oct '14 - 3:40pm

    Is no one considering a minority government? What lessons have been learned about not giving in to the Tories?

    Is there no one high up in the party looking to make a change?

  • Tony Greaves 9th Oct '14 - 3:57pm

    They have jumped straight into the media-dug hole by obsessing with balance of power and coalitions already. We all know that you cannot ask people to vote for the balance of power; if it happens it’s a statistical accident. The more you talk about it, the less likely it is to happen, because it just puts people off voting for us. The Liberals in the past learned that the hard way. Now the history-blind people at the top of this party are already falling into the trap. And still six months to go…

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 9th Oct '14 - 4:00pm

    It is also not true that the party as a whole is desperate to “stay in government”. Most activists in all parts of the country are now quietly praying that one part or another gets a majority at the General Election. The point is that at the following election in 2020, they want to still have a Liberal party to belong to and fight for. Another coalition – with either party – will carry a high risk that the party becomes extinct.

    Tony Greaves

  • An appetite for power need not be the opposite of an appetite for opposition. The fallout from FPTP elections makes opposition much the more likely outcome and we should be ready to embrace opposition and be able to use the experience of government to make opposition more telling.

    I hope Sparrow is misreading the signs. Tory and Labour do not make simple polar opposites, whilst it might be easier to work with a Conservative than a Labour machine, it would be easier to work with Labour rather than Conservative policies, so in any comparison practicalities and policies would have to be somehow weighed against each other.

    In reality such speculation is futile as the opportunity of a choice is even more unlikely than a no overall control outcome.

    Point 5 “Coalition is going to be harder next time around anyway” is much more pertinent: to me it is essential that we are not desperate for power, seemingly at any cost. Our stance should be that we have served the country well in difficult times (all the stuff Nick Clegg said), we have no preordained right to remain in government, the outcome of the election will decide and that we will be prepared to listen to any other party that makes an approach, but that we will not participate in anything that we judge to be harmful to the country nor will we be prepared to override our own party’s democratic processes (i.e. members have their say on any coalition and who is Party leader).

  • Ah Tony Greaves, our éminence grise, as ever, a voice of sanity.

  • Glenn Andrews 9th Oct '14 - 4:17pm

    Tony, surely the ideal scenario for us (in electoral terms) is the SNP run amok in Scotland, UKIP grab a few in the East and we hold on to enough seats to form the opposition to the only two-party coalition on offer, the ONE NATION Con/Lab coalition…. I’m sure they would afford us plenty of ammunition.

  • Martin Land 9th Oct '14 - 4:17pm

    Clegg wants another coalition?

    I’ve only one thing to say to him.


  • John Roffey 9th Oct '14 - 4:35pm

    “6 – Nick Clegg is starting to look demob happy. Even if you don’t accept that there is anything significant about Clegg turning up for work wearing jeans, he is starting to sound like someone entering the closing phase of his political career. Many people in the party think he won’t stay on much beyond polling day, all that talk about serving a full term in government has dried up and Clegg himself is starting to talk about what might happen when he’s gone. His outburst following the Gatwick vote also sounded reminiscent of what an exasperated Tony Blair was saying about his own party circa 2006.”

    If there is any truth in this – NC could do the Party the greatest of favours by resigning so that the process of recovery can begin straight away.

    If the Party does as badly as predicted in today’s by elections – this would provide the perfect justification for such action and would redeem NC so that his political career need not be over – just set back.

  • Tony Greaves
    “……..Another coalition – with either party – will carry a high risk that the party becomes extinct.”

    Even without a coalition the risk of the party becoming extinct is already there. I see today that the SNP membership figures have now gone above 100,000.
    All the Unionists back-slapping of some of our people at the conference in Glasgow seems to indicate a political short-sightedness beyond belief.
    I don’t know how many members our party has in Scotland but it is not 100,000.
    Do we even have as many as 5,000 members in Scotland ???
    It seems highly likely that the number of Liberal Democrat MPs from north of the border will be reduced on 8th May.

    In England and Wales it is not impossible that in the popular vote we will come behind not just UKIP, but The Greens as well.
    I see that The Greens will be putting up more General Election candidates than they have ever done before. This will result in an inevitable reduction in Liberal Democrat votes as was seen this last May in local elections where they stood.
    The Greens elected 3 MEPS, three times as many as we managed in the campaign that centred on Clegg in search of his unicorns.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Oct '14 - 5:15pm

    Elsewhere in the Guardian there is this level headed peice from Martin Kettle.

    In his interview with Evan Davies, on Monday, Clegg admitted he had been to naive to trust Cameron in 2010 and 2011. He or his minions seems to have learnt nothing.

    I reckon that about 3 or 4000 sometime Labour voters in each of our Tory facing held seats is presently still making up their mind about whether or not to continue voting for us tactically. Without equidistance these will not vote for us. Simple.

    Can we find more than this number from the Tories? Of course not. In 1983 some of us were not only squeezing the Labour vote down to thin air, we were desperate to get Tories to support a good local Liberal MP in Steve Ross. Even with Pym telling those Tories that a landslide for the Tories was bad for democracy, we found it very difficult to persuade them to change their voting habits to ‘keep a good local MP in Parliament’. In 2015 that will be impossible. The dog whistle will blow. In fact with Cameron on Tax Cuts it already has.

    These briefings, these steers that there’ll be Coalition with the Tories Mark II may already have cost us a further 20 seats. 35 down to 15. Those doing the briefing should be shot.

  • It is not just Labour that we have to worry about in Tory-facing seats.

    Check this out which also includes a list of defections of councillors from our party to the Greens‘defectors’-explain-their-decision-to-‘go-green/

    * More and more disaffected Lib Dems are moving over to the Green Party

    * Greens polling neck and neck with Lib Dems

    * Green Party membership over 20,000 for first time, up 45% in 2014

    * Greens standing in at least 75% of constituencies at the 2015 General Election

  • Tony Dawson 9th Oct '14 - 8:18pm

    It is sad but true that one good conference speech does not add one iota to a vacuum of political judgment.

  • Stephen Campbell 9th Oct '14 - 8:20pm

    Speaking of the Green Party..

    I noticed on Facebook recently a graphic extolling the virtues of the Lib Dems had as one of its points:

    “We’re the only party where members decide policies” or words to that effect. Have you forgotten that Green Party members decide their party’s policy? Have you also forgotten, so soon, that the Greens received more votes and more MEPs in this year’s European Elections? An election which, incidentally, was carried out with PR which you’ve always been in favour of.

    I wouldn’t get carried away with thinking you’re the “most democratic party”, especially how I see every day on this site that the left in your party has been basically jettisoned in favour of Clegg’s “strategy” of becoming a slightly nicer version of the Tories.

  • John Roffey. If he wins in 2015. Look at the Lord Oakeshot poll in his seat and the figures for whether people think he is doing a good job as there MP. They were MILES behind Vince, Julian Huppert etc – probably that lack of a serious insurgent campaign there will save him but that’s not something to rely on.

    And how much will it destabilise the party if there is a Hallam seat poll 3 weeks out from polling day showing there is a risk of him losing? (which is a more credible scenario)

  • As Tony Greaves has said, talking of Coalition makes it much less likely – who knows, maybe that is their master plan to save the party from another Coalition. 😛

    I have always been much much more sympathetic to Nick than most, but his dislike of Labour does no one any favours. The whole point is that we go above party politics.

    As for Danny as the next leader? Really, Nick? Really? Danny is a nice man, but even before you putting the kiss of death on his chances by backing him, he was never going to get any support from our membership.

  • Green Voter 9th Oct '14 - 10:41pm

    The “most democratic party”? Since Clegg ignored the party on secret courts, I do not see why this term is still used

  • Liberal Al 9th Oct ’14 – 10:41pm
    “As for Danny as the next leader? Really, Nick? Really? Danny is a nice man, but ………,,”

    People say he was a very good press officer for the Cairgorms National Park.

  • peter tyzack 10th Oct '14 - 10:24am

    I read this thread in disbelief – disbelief that anyone who attended conference can skew their views of the prospect for our Party in the ways expressed above. The reliance on ‘polls’ and press reports to ‘inform’ views, of the party and our Leader, when they are so clearly out of our opposition’s storybook(s) makes me despair.
    Step 1 in campaigning is don’t believe the rhetoric of your opponents; step 2 is stick together, support your leader and be united in your campaign; step 3 is don’t give up.. many above seem to have forgotten all three.

  • Step 4 is believe the voters, who are leaving us in droves

    and Step 5 is have the courage to take responsibility for your repeated failure in elections – Nick.

  • What I take from all this is that the only coalition that the LDs are up for is one with the Tories (or possibly even Tories + UKIP).

    Equidistance is humbug.

  • Sorry, should have said “LD leadership”

  • Julian Tisi 10th Oct '14 - 1:40pm

    Not sure I agree with much of the Guardian’s analysis. In particular, the discussion on how the party leadership don’t want a coalition with Labour. I don’t think Nick or anyone else in the party leadership could have been clearer as they have on many occassions that they would certainly be willing and open to working with Labour.

    I was there at the fringe when Norman Lamb reportedly said he didn’t want a coalition with Labour. He didn’t in fact say such a thing but he did raise concerns about a future Lib/Lab pact which were I think bang on.

    Part of the problem is equidistance – we can’t just bash the Tories and be nice about Labour even if we disagree with them, just to keep them onside. If we disagree with Labour we have to say so, or we risk losing our identity.

    The other problem is Labour’s attitude to coalition itself. Whereas the Lib Dems are pluralist and get the idea of sharing power and compromise, much of Labour simply can’t countenance the idea. Coalition to them would mean perhaps having some Lib Dem ministers but no real policy concessions. Whereas if this is all that would be on the table from Labour, as it was in 2010, we should definitely say No.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Oct '14 - 1:45pm

    Peter T – we agree on very little but I like to believe we listen to each other.

    You write,’I read this thread in disbelief – disbelief that anyone who attended conference can skew their views of the prospect for our Party in the ways expressed above.’

    I think being at conference is THE problem. It is almost impossible to stay in touch with not just how the press are reporting the conference but the little things that give away how they are being briefed.

    It is quite clear that they were being briefed – in fact a couple actually named Norman Lamb as a source of this line, so he wasn’t seeking annonimity for the line he was giving – that the leadership did not think Labour could regain a poll lead against the Tories but neither could the Tories gain a majority in the next Parliament and that this therefore openned ‘the golden uphills’ (actual quote) of a second Coaltition with the Tories.

    Setting aside whether in private or in May 2015 this would be a good thing and sensible to plan for, it seems to be a rather stupid thing to have as your communication tactic for the conference. It might be a good message to get across to Conservative voters or Conservative considerers in Bristol West, but in the vast majority of our marginals it is absolutely the wrong message.

    If for one moment you were willing to accept that this message was being given out, would you think it sensible or mistaken?

  • Nick Collins 10th Oct '14 - 9:21pm

    People have learned some things from the LibDem conference? Do you mean that some people were actually paying some attention to it?

  • My firm advice to the leadership is to play down all talk of a future conclusion and to respond that some form of minority government looks more likely and it is up to the leadership of the two main parties to explain how they would approach such a situation, adding that as democrats, Lib Dems would remain open to discussion.

    The party should present itself as relatively sanguine about the prospect of minority government: in 2010 the economy was in more peril than it is now; in coalition we have set pointers in a position for recovery and the need for a coalition is not as pressing as it was then.

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