“The Lib Dems in the last Parliament were far and away the most effective opposition of my lifetime”

British writer Edward Docx has taken to the pages of the Guardian to praise the work the Liberal Democrats did in the last Parliaemnt and how this will become very clear when George Osborne announces his Autumn Statement next week.

The 20,000 people who joined the party in the wake of our election meltdown know that, as do the voters who are turning back to us.

Docx made several key points about the Liberal Democrat actions in the coalition years:

There were two oppositions in the last parliament: Labour and the Liberal Democrats. And, this week more than ever, it is worth saying that only the latter made any difference to the real lives of real people. Why? Because they were in government.

Refuse, in other words, to allow Osborne’s self-serving narrative to present itself as the only story. And, of course, this is exactly what the Liberal Democrats were doing day-in and day-out during the last parliament on behalf of the majority of reasonable and none-ideological people who did not vote Conservative.

Danny Alexander has taken some stick in his time, some of it deserved, but he was able to hold the Tories back:

For every fiscal decision in the last government, the Liberal Democrats (through Danny Alexander) asked for a distributional analysis so that they could see where the pain of cuts would be felt – whether on the richer or the less well off. What this meant in practice was that every time the Tories attempted something that placed an unfair burden on the poor, the Liberal Democrats first illuminated the policy for what it was and then either blocked it (often repeatedly) or insisted upon a reciprocal burden being placed on the better off.

We wouldn’t have had the tax credits fiasco:

..since the Lib Dems would simply never have agreed to the £12 billion welfare cuts figure in the first place. And, even if a deal were done to save, say, half that amount, they would have insisted on starting to cut top-down rather than bottom-up.

The excellent pupil premium (another Lib Dem social mobility initiative)

Watch out for the fierce erosion all those Vince Cable schemes and apprenticeships providing options and support for the 60% of people who do not go on to academic further education.

So those seeking more social mobility not less, those who believe in equity and the wider civic good, those who feel Britain can do better in its stewardship of the environment, those who want a firm but fair tax and benefit system, those who believe in – let’s face it – an actual Liberal society rather than a bogus “big society”, they need urgently to seek the restoration of a serious and effective centre-based real world opposition. And maybe that means taking renewed account of the Liberal Democrats.

I always said that I didn’t want the clearest examples of what the Liberal Democrats had achieved in Government to be obvious only if the Tories were in power at all, which I always feared was the likely outcome of the General Election. We have to take responsibility for our failure to get our message across during the coalition years, but we certainly weren’t helped by papers like the Guardian’s constant failure to recognise what we had managed to achieve. I know newspapers shouldn’t be doing any political parties any favours, but a bit of objective analysis over the years would not have been a bad thing.

Our recovery will be helped by people belatedly recognising that we did hold the Tories back by quite some way. What Docx doesn’t point out is that we did all this while making up just a fifth of the government. However, we can’t just rely on those laurels. Values based policy messages like Tim Farron’s speech on the economy in which he reasserted our insurgent, barrier-breaking, establishment busting nature are a key element of the #libdemfightback. At least we are able to set out a clear policy platform, unlike Labour who are “between positions” on so many issues right now.

A key priority has to be to communicate all of this in Scotland, Wales and London ahead of the elections next year. There are parts of Docx’s article that need to be on every Lib Dem leaflet. I suspect they will be appearing in our Oldham messaging. The “effective opposition” tag could also apply to the Holyrood and Senedd parties where both Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams have forced the SNP and Labour governments to change policy and, with just 10 parliamentarians between them, have strongly influenced the political agenda.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Dave Orbison 20th Nov '15 - 5:21pm

    Not in the opinion of the electorate.

  • Tony Dawson 20th Nov '15 - 6:10pm

    Docx’ article is a quite accurate statement of half a truth.

    The Lib Dem ‘leadership’ not only “spectacularly failed to communicate” that it was exerting an effect on the Coalition, it actually positively communicated for years a message which a key demographic bought in to. It actively projected the image of ‘we are all in this together’ to persuade those swing voters that the Conservatives actually believed in everything the Coalition was doing. So they DID vote for the coalition’s output. They voted Conservative. 🙁

  • Dave Orbison 20th Nov '15 - 8:02pm

    Ah yes it was the voters fault. It couldn’t have anything to do with Clegg or Alexander…. Betraying students, bedroom tax, secret courts, breaking up the NHS, freezing public sector pay year after year after year… Funny how some on here (not necessarily you John) talk in somewhat patronising ways about the need for compromise in Coalitions yet talk so dismissively about Corbyn and reject him out of hand. Still so long as we are prepared to tell the voters how dumb they were, I’m sure the LibDems will bounce back but then again…

  • @John Marriott

    “we would probably have had a repeat of 1974”

    Any argument predicated on the results of a speculative second election, following soon after 2010’s real election, isn’t an argument. When the facts were known in detail between 2010 and 2015, no member of the party could predict that the entire South West would be wiped out. So a completely hypothetical election, preceded by months of imaginary political activity following a speculative refusal by the party to form a coalition with the Tories ain’t no sure bet. You might as well argue that a second election could have return an increased number of Lib Dem MPs, leading to an entirely different coalition, where the party’s strengths could have been more manifest.

  • George Kendall 20th Nov '15 - 11:09pm

    @Dave Orbison

    If I recall correctly, you’ve been complaining elsewhere about us attacking Corbyn, and not the Tories.
    If so, shouldn’t you take your own advice, and do a little less attacking of the Lib Dems, and attack the Tories for a change?

  • Dave Orbison 20th Nov '15 - 11:55pm

    George Kendall. I think if you go through my posts you will see that I positively support a strong LibDem party, one that is left of centre. I do not attack LibDems as you state on a blanket basis. . I do speak out when I see posts attacking Corbyn as I’d prefer to see the LibDems work with him against the Tories or where, as per this article, I think there is an attempt to rewrite history and represent the Coalition as some great achievement. In my view it was a disaster for the UK and a disaster for the LibDems. I don’t think it helps the LibDem cause by insulting voters by saying they were stupid and just didn’t get how wonderful the Coalition was. If you like playing the role of a critical friend. Shoot the messenger if you like but let’s face it I’m not alone and whilst you may not like what I say, I think persisting with this ‘we were great in Government’ will only turn the LibDems into a laughing stock.

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Nov '15 - 1:05am

    @Dave Orbison

    I think the whole point of the Edward Docx article is that the electorate should be revising its opinion… Even if you will not…
    I agree that the Liberal Democrats made huge mistakes in coalition, first by breaking the tuition fees promise (a pledge always in their power to keep) and secondly by allowing the NHS reforms that were not in any manifesto. But it is also apparent that in many many areas the Liberal Democrats stopped the Tories from doing things they wanted. Things that they are now doing, with little or no coherent opposition from Labour, who unfortunately have a Leader who constantly allows himself to be sidetracked by the Tories and the media off the real issues facing people and into discussions of depth of bow, shirt buttons and the nuclear button

    I would not blame the electorate for failing to notice the realities of the coalition years… The Party spent far too much time stressing agreement with the Tories rather than disagreement, and the media joined in the collective Lib Dem bashing led virulently and myopically by Labour. How much resource did both Labour and the Lib Dems waste in Sheffield Hallam rather than fighting the Tories?

  • Dave Orbison 21st Nov '15 - 6:45am

    @Andrew McCaig – re the Coalition – I think there two sides to the equation. I have no doubt that the LibDems stopped the Tories in some respects. But you simply cannot ignore the other side of the equation i.e. that they enabled the Tories to implement some really dreadful legislation in any event. Furthermore, they failed to foresee the likely longer term affects the Coalition would have i.e. the GE result in that the LibDems would lose many seats and improve the chances of a Tory Govt.
    The problem I have with the likes of this article is either it wants us to just look at one side of the equation or it assumes based on the GE result the electorate were stupid and were not aware of the two sides of the equation. Whereas an alternative explanation exists and that is that voters understood perfectly both sides of the equation and just did not like it. A ‘confidence and supply’ position would have stopped the worst excesses of the Tory zealots and ensured the opposition parties received full credit. Coalition defenders say that this was not sufficient for the markets etc. but that’s just their opinion it is not fact.
    As for Corbyn. You refer to him being distracted by issues such as ‘bowing, top buttons and so on’. I do not think Corbyn is distracted at all. He is focussed on issues and raising them effectively: tax credits, our relations with Saudi Arabia and despite the pressures on him is not joining the band wagon on Syria airstrikes etc. The Tory media are whipping up a storm and leading an unprecedented attack on vilifying someone who was democratically elected leader of the Labour Party. The Murdoch press have an agenda and sadly what’s left of the media are following in their wake. This attack is partly politically motivated and partly personal as Murdoch and Brooks seek payback for Labour’s role in the run up to and conduct of the Leveson Inquiry. There is little that can be done about this unless you believe that The Sun should choose who runs which party.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Nov '15 - 7:55am

    If we take all this on face value, the absolute and total failure of our then party leadership to demonstrate it to our voters must also go down as the most spectacular failure in the post war history of our party.

    Never has the political vision and service of so many been smashed by the miscalculation and political arrogance of so few.

  • “The 20,000 people who joined the party in the wake of our election meltdown know that, as do the voters who are turning back to us.”

    I loathe being co-opted in this fashion, I re-joined the party in the wake of the election because it had become apparent the current framework had driven itself into the ground and was in danger of extinction. I personally saw the last government as an aperitif for the current government, the friendly warm up lap.

    You censor and judge our posts, but then you speak for us and get it completely wrong – similar to the Snoopers Charter and completely illiberal. 🙁

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Nov '15 - 5:45pm


    I really don’t think you can mainly blame the Liberal Democrats for letting the Tories get a majority in 2015. It was the Labour failure to win so many marginal seats like Pudsey (where I was living at the time) that did that. And of course the increase in Labour vote in a few seats was enough to let the Tories defeat the Liberal Democrats. A huge contribution to the decision of former Lib Dem voters to vote Tory was the enthusiasm of Labour to paint the Liberal Democrats as “Tory-lite” on every single issue, even ones where Labour would have done exactly the same… I do not deny that Nick Clegg contributed in a big way to this impression himself, as Stephen Hesketh says.

    Re. Corbyn, he is continually scoring own goals which the right wing press are only too happy to follow into the net… And then typically a couple of days later he changes his mind on these peripheral issues like singing the National Anthem, upsetting the left wingers that got him elected… That is his big problem, not his policies in most areas. Replying as he did on shoot-to kill and then having Hilary Benn appear to contradict him and numerous MP’s tweet against him was just one example of the train wreck in Labour Party news management at the moment

  • @John Marriott 20th Nov ’15 – 10:35pm

    “Perhaps I should have chosen the verb ‘could’ rather than ‘would’, if you want to be pedantic.”

    You really view the difference between ‘could’ and ‘would’ as pedantic? Seriously?

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