The most important factor for Liberal Democrats in any 2015 Coalition negotiations

The Silly Season continues with yet more speculation on what happens after the 2015 election. Monday’s Independent carried the loaded headline:

Lib Dem Supporters spell it out: we won’t be fooled by Nick Clegg again over support for a coalition

That Liberal Democrats will be wary about any future coalition, with anybody, should come as no surprise. The deductive reasoning powers of the average goldfish could have worked that out.

The article quotes people like Martin Tod, Gareth Epps and Cllr Richard Kemp, all of whom are saying quite reasonable things, none of them suggesting that Nick Clegg fooled us in 2010, although they all said they’d look more closely at any future deal. Gareth Epps took the chance to have a good go at the Home Office’s poster vans, an issue on which he finds himself in agreement with the leader, at least two other Liberal Democrat members of the Cabinet and virtually every other Liberal Democrat parliamentarian and member.

My guess is that you’d find just as many Liberal Democrats sceptical about a deal with Labour. Remember who introduced the controversial Work Capability Assessment in the first place? Who wanted to lock people up for 90 days? Whose legislation was used to detain David Miranda the other day? Who started an illegal war with Iraq?

What concerns me most about the article is a source close to Nick Clegg again insulting party members:

But the Deputy Prime Minister’s allies fear he would run into entrenched opposition from activists for a fresh Tory-Lib Dem pact – even if that was the election’s logical outcome.

One said there were now some “totally irrational people” in the party who would not accept another coalition with the Tories under any circumstances.

“It would be much harder a second time round to get it past the party. There will be people far less willing to take things on trust. It would be very hard for Nick to get through,” he told the Independent.

The final paragraph of that quote is absolutely fine. It certainly doesn’t do any harm for the other parties to know that Liberal Democrat membership will be sceptical of any deal. It should be as much a message to Labour that if they think they can come and present their manifesto and expect us to meekly sign up to it, they’ll be told to take a running jump. However, the phrase “totally irrational” is one which should never have survived the journey from brain to lips. Sources close to the leader would be well advised to stop slagging people off who don’t agree with them. It’ll just put people off and widen the disconnect between leadership and grassroots.

It is way too early to start talking coalition deals now, anyway. What matters is the relative standing of the parties the day after polling day. That will dictate our options. I’ve been round that particular block before, in 2003 after the second Holyrood election. Our vote had pretty much held up, while our Coalition partner between 1999 and 2003 had lost six seats. On the strength of that result, we got Labour to agree not just to STV to local government, but to spend more money on health promotion and we brought back free eye and dental check ups which had been in our 1999 manifesto.

If we want Liberal Democrat values to be implemented by the next government, we need lots of Liberal Democrats to be elected. The biggest factor in the sort of Coalition deal, if any, struck in 2015 will be the number of Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. We need to all be out knocking on doors now to lay the groundwork for the best possible result. We know that people are ready to listen to us again – it’s up to us to get out there and seal the deal. Nick Clegg’s friends would be best placed to say things that motivate members and keep away from the things that make us mutter under our breath. Think charm, not offensive.

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

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  • Why would Labour want to form a coalition with the party that arrested journalists, sent GCHQ into The Guardian, made the Work Capability Assessment worse, created racist vans, raised tuition fees, despite promising to scrap them, and screwed up student loans so HE is now unsustainable in the long run under current funding arrangements, introduced ridiculously strict immigration targets that hurt the UK, and so on?

    Works both ways.

    Take responsibility for what your government did, instead of casting aspersions on everyone else.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Aug '13 - 9:38am

    Actually, thanks to Lib Dems, Work Capability Assessment has been improved. That doesn’t mean to say it’s anywhere near fit for purpose, of course but better than what Labour had. Labour did pretty much all of the above, or would have done in power.

  • g asks, why would Labour want to form a coalition with a party that when in coalition allows its coalition partner to do the sorts of things Labour likes doing?

    Think that one answered itself, really.

  • Caron,

    Agree in considerable parts but have a difference of opinion on your view of 2015.

    The voters (not to mention the media) will want to know what your preferred option is if it looks like a hung Parliament. The 2010 situation left a situation where you were not so much ‘Kingmakers’ as there was only one choice.

    The likely situation for 2015 is that there will not be a choice between tacit support of the Government (confidence and supply if you will) or a full-blown Coalition.

    My own view is that Coalitions have actually to be coherent on the values of the parties involved – I think the lesson for me post-2010 is that the LD/Tories actually have very few values in common and full-blown Coalition was a mistake, especially on a timescale set by the media and the markets, not what was best for the majority of people in the country. I am not saying that Labour/LD are compatable either.

    I think before 2015 you will need to make some things clear:

    i. It is nonsense to say that if given a choice it will be the biggest party who takes priority. The ‘biggest’ party will not have a majority of the voters so the focus should be on who is the best fit, and who will allow the best Government from a LD point of view.

    ii. What will define whether you form a Coalition or a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – give yourselves the option to say no to a Coalition

    Currently there is silly season on what Labour’s policies for 2015 will be (almost 2 years before an election and when we don’t know what the individual Coalition’s parties’ policies will be either) – I think that silly season 2014 will be focusing on what the LD will do. There is a view, fair or not, that Clegg favours a continuation with the Tories, and Cameron does as well, so it will take some real fancy footwork to convince potential voters that an agreement has been made between the leaderships to continue no matter what.

    I don’t see you being given the luxury to maintain equidistance, and in fact this will be impossible, as you will be in Government with one of the parties.

    As with all these questions the mistakes were made in the few days after the election and the impression, reinforced since, of the Rose Garden. Remember a lot of your past voters were defectors from Labour, whether you like it or not, and will be very keen to see real differentiation between the aprties – in my view only poossible under a new leadership

    I am speaking here as a life-long LD voter (well since 87 anyway) who sits on the left and who has not been impressed with the way that this Government has operated, especially the leaderships. I accepted that there was no chance of a pact with Labour (my preferred option) but I was singularly unimpressed by how it was managed.

    I will only vote LD in 2015 if I am convinced that you have not made any deals with Cameron and also that you are honest about the mistakes that have been made in Coalition. You surely do not agree with all the policies enacted, so what would you amend or repeal if you have the chance?

  • peter tyzack 21st Aug '13 - 9:54am

    typical media comment, they really don’t get the way we work do they.. I wasn’t ‘fooled’ or even persuaded by Nick but by the terms of the draft coalition agreement and by the members of our negotiating team. Yes we have learnt a thing or two about the process, we have learnt that neither of the other two parties will keep to their word and when we do it again we shall be a lot more astute.
    But for now we must campaign solely for public support to increase our number of MPs and BE the government, and stop talking about ‘what-if’.!

  • Steve Griffiths 21st Aug '13 - 9:55am

    The opinions expressed by one of the ‘Deputy Prime Minister’s allies’ reminds me of the recent discussion thread begun by Mark Valladares on the 18th August, here:

    Our accuser is unknown to us and clearly disagrees with our views and resorts to personal attacks, but on this occasion using press briefing rather than the anonymity of an exchange on the internet. Whoever it was in the DPM’s ‘circle’ that made that remark should do well to read that thread.

  • In 2010 the prospect of radical electoral reform was able to motivate Lib Dems to support an agreement for a coalition. Where will electoral reform be in 2015? Probably much more modest and therefore less of attractive to Lib Dems.

    In the less than likely event of a hung parliament, it is likely that the Labour vote will improve and so be the more likely prospective partner. What distinctive Lib Dem policies could be brought into an agreement? Perhaps a much more radical democratic vision for the House of Lords? Options for PR in local democracy? Could Ed Miliband hold his party together for a coalition? Is it more likely that they would go for a minority government?

    As for G’s question: on the basis of their past performance one has to say that those things seem to be the sort of things that they Labour do! Tribalism will be a much more important obstacle.

  • @Caron Lindsay

    “Actually, thanks to Lib Dems, Work Capability Assessment has been improved”

    With all due respect Caron, that is not true at all.

    Might I suggest you visit
    Where you can take the test, see “exactly” the ludicrous wording and questions that are asked by the DWP and the ATOS assessment, to assess your abilities.

    This is the *revised* WCA test that was introduced by the current coalition government.

    And that statistics speak for themselves, If the WCA had been improved, we would be seeing a reduction in the number of successful. Obviously this is not the case and the appeal rates have remained roughly around the same. The Tribunal appeal system is logged up with some applicants having to wait in excess of 12 months for a hearing.

    I would urge everyone to look at the ESA test in the link that I provided, and then decide if you think what the DWP is doing is fair and proper and whether as Liberal Democrats in a coalition government, you believe you are carrying out your duty towards proctecting the sick, disabled and vulnerable

  • Please sack all the special advisors who are driving a huge wedge between party leadership and supporters through their self-serving thinking. They need to leave way before any coalition can be discussed for the reasons exposed by the freudian slip in paragraph 2 of the excerpt.

  • sorry i missed out the word “appeals” at the end of the sentence
    And that statistics speak for themselves, If the WCA had been improved, we would be seeing a reduction in the number of successful

  • Caron, you missed my point.

    I was objecting to the holier than thou posturing, which surely now only works with the faithful, when in reality the Lib Dems are, at best, no different from the other parties.

  • I think it’s doubtful Labour will be willing to ally themselves with the toxicity of the Lib Dem brand.

    I also think it’s difficult to see a situation where it will become necessary. Firstly, because the most likely outcome of the next election – despite Ed Milliband – is an outright Labour victory and, secondly, because even if Labour fail to secure a majority it’s pretty unlikely that the gap will be such that the Lib Dems are going to be both able *and* required to plug it. It’s unlikely that the Lib Dems will secure as many seats in the next election as the last, personally I expect around 30 with several current Scottish LD seats going to the SNP. I find it more likely that they would ally with the nationalists, offering the SNP devo-max in return for support on key policies.

    None of this, of course, means the Lib Dems shouldn’t be planning for it. What else is there? Accepting a return to the hinterlands as inevitable offers no great strength to their arm.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '13 - 10:47am

    We have been badly damaged by the assumption that a Parliament in which neither the Conservatives nor Labour has more than half the seats means we have the luxury of being able to choose which to form a coalition with, and to demand any price for it. If you start from this assumption you move on to supposing we chose to form a coalition with the Conservatives when we could equally well have formed one with Labour, and that either we are weak or much more right-wing than the impression we gave previously, because the current government shows much more of a Conservative flavour than one which reflects the Liberal Democrat manifesto. We have lost a lot of support and come in for a lot of criticism based on this supposition.

    The reality is that it simply does not work like that. Here are some reasons why, all of which we saw in May 2010:

    1) The presence of MPs who are neither Liberal Democrats nor from the two major parties means there may only be one of the major parties where a coalition with us has a majority. A government without a majority is generally seen as weak, we would get the blame for making the country unstable if we refused to form the one coalition which would have a majority.

    2) The party of the two major ones which won the most seats is generally considered to have won the election and
    so has the right to form the government. If we formed a coalition with the other one, that would be seen as us denying the will of the people and backing the loser in the election.

    3) Coalition requires agreement of both parties forming it. If one party is unwilling to form a coalition and prefers to go into opposition, we are forced into coalition with the other.

    4) Our bargaining strength in forming a coalition relies on the support we are getting outside. The bargaining tool
    all parties can use in forming a coalition is “if you don’t agree with us, we’ll force another general election”. This is
    a strong bargaining tool for a party which has reason to believe it would gain seats in an early general election,
    but a weak bargaining tool for a party which has reason to believe it would lose seats.

    On 4), although we can’t say it in public, the reality is we had spent all our money and couldn’t afford to pay for another general election campaign. We ended the May 2010 general election the biggest losers – having started off with a big boost, our final result was worse than expected. Had it been the other way round – us starting with poor predictions but coming out better than that, we’d have looked to be on an upward trajectory, and so likely to improve if another election was called.

    All these are reasons why, although I am very unhappy with the policies and direction of the coalition government, I accept why it had to be formed, and I think we probably are getting out of it as much as we can expect. My criticisms of the party leadership are not on its modest achievements in the coalition, but on the way its boasting about them as looking pleased with itself about them is damaging our reputation, because it simply feeds the critics who work on the false assumption I mentioned at the start.

  • “As for Labour, the amount of vitriol that has come from their quarter is likely to make rebuilding trust very difficult – not impossible, but highly unlikely. So, even if there is another hung Parliament, I’m not sure that a viable coalition could be formed even if anyone had a ‘dancing partner’.”

    Yes indeed, Labour have directed a fair amount of vitriol at the Lib Dems, Clegg in particular, for propping up their opponents. But can’t you see – are you totally blind to the fact that – the Lib Dems have directed far more vitriol in the opposite direction? Day in, day out, we hear this once “equidistant” party regularly blaming Labour for all our problems, while backing the Coalition and the Tories – including Jeremy Hunt over Murdoch, including Cameron over his attack on the Guardian?

    Unless we totally change that stance, the public in 2015 will know exactly where the Lib Dems stand. Ready to do another deal with the Tories. Not ready to do anything else.

  • @ Carol Lindsay

    The Work Capability Assessment was changed by the coalition government I don’t understand how you can say it was improved, in my opinion it has become harder to get points and this made it worse. Please can you state which changes made it better?

  • Clearly the “source close to Nick Clegg” (and we know what that means, don’t we?) wishes to influence opinion and exert pressure. The only question is to what end. There are two logical possibilities:

    One, to up the ante in negotiations with Cameron, by playing up his party’s reluctance, and thereby making it easier to demand a higher price. No doubt these negotiations are, in effect, already in train – they could hardly not be, as the Coalition is bound to operate on the basis of continuous ongoing negotiations.

    The other, to soften up his own party for a renewal of the deal with the Tories. Thus, labelling prospective opponents of such a deal as “totally irrational” paves the way for dividing Liberal Democrats into two camps, a minority of sceptics who can be painted as an unrepresentative bunch of losers, and a majority of decent people who may have scruples but in the end will resolve or swallow their doubts and sign up.

    In the interests of fairness and reasonableness, I have put forward both of these possible motivations for the actions of this Clegg-like source. Of course, the first would be understood as admirable by Lib Dem members: the second as manipulative, to say no more.

    Which is correct? Or are both explanations, perhaps, simultaneously correct?

    Well, one way to identify a leader who is trying to maximise his bargaining power – Explanation 1 above – would be to identify other things he is doing which also lead in that direction. One obvious option would be to play up the competition. If you walk into the Ford dealership and ask for a discount, you might do well to mention that you’ve also got an appointment at the Toyota garage and you really like Japanese cars. It isn’t so likely to get you a discount if you tell the Ford man that you think Japanese cars are rubbish and you’ve really set your heart on a Mondeo.

    How is Nick Clegg doing on that score?

  • Matthew

    I disagree with you on point 2).

    The perception may be there but it is erroneous in my view, especially with or electoral system. If there was a huge difference then the LD would not be able to form a Coalition so the situation probably on arises if there is a 20 or so seat difference and I do not think that is enough for compromising on your values.

    The problem I see with the current Coalition is that the LD didn’t negotiate well enough and were not prepared to say ‘No’ – it left the party in a weak position with less influence than it should have had.

    The option to align with the ‘smaller’ other party but remain truer to the values campaigned on would in the end be the more responsable approach.

    As I said you will not be able to avoid answering the question and giving some idea on who you would align with. I think you are caught between a rock and a hard place to be honest. If you say something then the other wing of the party will howl and you may lose some voters. If you say nothing then voters like me will not vote for you as I (we) consider the leadership to be far too close to the Tories to there ever to be a Coalition between them and Labour – even just for the fact Labour would probably request another partner to Clegg

  • Nich Starling 21st Aug '13 - 1:24pm

    G obviously isn’t aware that current anti terrorist policies were drawn up by the last Labour government. Furthermore, we’ve had no extraordinary rendition or illegal wars since 2010. I know Labour fail to remember anything before May 2010, but G could always Google it.

  • David Evans 21st Aug '13 - 1:34pm

    The most important factor for Liberal Democrats in any 2015 Coalition Negotiations will be that the Lib Dems won’t be involved. That chance has gone for a generation and Nick blew it.

  • Nich Starling

    G obviously isn’t aware that current anti terrorist policies were drawn up by the last Labour government. Furthermore, we’ve had no extraordinary rendition or illegal wars since 2010. I know Labour fail to remember anything before May 2010, but G could always Google it

    None of this has anything to do with what has happened with the Liberal Democrats in government.

    But, it’s worth pointing out, that Labour didn’t engage in any illegal wars, at least not technically, and Clegg had to apologise to the House of Commons for saying they had.

    Deal with the world as it is, and the liberal democrats as they now are, rather than simply throwing counter-accusations against Labour.

    PS I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Labour Party. I have voted for them. I have also voted Liberal Democrat.

  • Liberal Neil 21st Aug '13 - 2:52pm

    “Labour didn’t engage in any illegal wars, at least not technically,”

    That’s OK then.

  • Liberal Neil, I didn’t say it was. I was just pointing out that the ‘illegal wars’ rhetoric is not accurate.

  • Liberal Neil

    Iraq was an important point, but in the past. I opposed the Iraq War and agreed with Kennedy at the time. It is funny though that most of the supporters who I knew were Tories, and a lot of my friends who voted Labour in 2001 didn’t in 2005 or 2010.

    If Iraq is such an important point then I don’t understand why the LD went into coalition with a party that, if anything, was more hung-ho about going to war. I remember at the time the Tories asking why wait for UN approval (ironic for a party that lied about supplying arms to the same dictator in earlier years).

    I agree with g’s comment that you need to do more than just throw the Labour performance back at them when discussing things done by the GOvernment. You can use the ‘Labour were worse’ during the 2015 election campaign but in 2013 the Coalition is in power and needs to take responsibility for things that are happening now.

    Take the Guardiangate case – Labour put in place these illiberal laws but it seems that they were used (wrongly?) by the current Government, and there has been no LD condemnation of this. Did any of the senior LD know about Government involvement in this detention, and if not, then why don’t they condemn it as they would have before 2010?

  • Mark, thanks for a reasoned response.

    “it is my sense that whilst we have attacked their record in government, they (Labour) have often attacked us for doing things that they would have been pretty happy to do themselves had they been in government still.”

    Yes, oppositions routinely have a go at the government whenever there is a problem, while quietly thanking their lucky stars that it wasn’t their own job to tackle the problem. We’ve done it, the Tories have done it, now Labour are doing it.

    “Also, I sense that their vitriol towards us is more personal than ours towards them. … their sense of betrayal that we could do a deal with the Conservatives is palpable.”

    Er, actually their sense is that we already have done a deal with the Conservatives, thereby administering them a great big slap in the face. They are smarting about that, and they are liable to hit back in anger. So they do have something of an excuse for being vitriolic, whereas we don’t. I’m not siding with them, mind you. Some of the things some of them say are dreadful. I’m just trying to see it fairly.

    “I fear that the personal emnity may prove to be a greater hurdle than some might hope.”

    Well yes indeed, so, shouldn’t we make it a priority to do something about that? What if Miliband wins by (say) 10 seats ahead of the Tories? Are we going to say that we can only deal with the Tories, because there is too much personal enmity between us and Labour?

  • @ Carol Lindsay

    I am a bit disappointed that you have not responded to comments made by myself &
    Amalric 21st Aug ’13 – 12:10pm
    matt 21st Aug ’13 – 10:15am

    You are the author of this thread and I think it would have been polite to offer a response, to what is a very important issue for millions of people up and down the country that is being affected by this policy.

    I totally respect that yesterday there was a rolling news story on David Mirrander and civil liberties and numerous articles on the subject s were published by LDV and this may have taken up most of your time and attention.

    But like I said above the issue with the WCA where you said “Actually, thanks to Lib Dems, Work Capability Assessment has been improved.” I believe you where wrong and could have engaged more to explain your conclusions, Incidentally I wonder did you have the time to take a look at the test that I linked to in my post

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '13 - 10:58am


    I disagree with you on point 2).

    The perception may be there but it is erroneous in my view, especially with our electoral system.

    Yes, but there’s the problem. Most ordinary people when they think about politics, which is not often, think in terms of perception rather than logical argument. Much though I dislike Clegg and have argued so much against the way he is leading our party, underneath I do feel we were placed in a very difficult situation by the results of the May 2010 general election, and actually what we’re getting out of the coalition is about as much as could really be expected. However, I can argue until the cows come home about this in a way that uses careful logic, but it won’t work. For most ordinary people, Clegg has betrayed his principles, given up all he stood for in return for being “in government”, that’s their perception and they’ll leave it at that.

    That explains the curious way in which I spend most of my time on this site attacking Clegg, but on the few occasions where I feel he’s been subject to unfair comment and I’ve defended him, I get jumped on by people who ignore all I have written previously, ignore the logic I’ve tried to use, and just suppose that what I’m saying comes from being some blinkered party loyalist.

    Unfortunately, any argument which depends on us having a much bigger share of the vote than share of the seats won’t work with most people. That’s partly a matter of perception – people perceive our party in terms of the share of the seats it has, not in terms of the share of the votes. It’s also due to the illogical and innumerate nature of our commentariat and most of the population. Sad to say, they just don’t understand the argument because they lack the numerical capacity to work through it. How many times does one come across leading commentators saying how poor they are at mathematics as if it’s something to boast about? No-one would boast about being semi-literate in the same way it’s considered fine, even admirable, to boast about being only semi-numerate. The electoral system argument does not work because most people in this country, led by its opinion-formers and the leading members of both the other parties, approach it with the way of thinking “Er, that’s all a bit too mathematical for me, so it must be a rubbish argument”. See how the “No” side in the AV referendum used that line, and they won, by two-to-one.

  • Dave G Fawcett 22nd Aug '13 - 11:57am

    Jack – ‘I expect around 30 with several current Scottish LD seats going to the SNP. I find it more likely that they would ally with the nationalists, offering the SNP devo-max in return for support on key policies’.

    Whatever happens to Lib Dem seats in Scotland it will not matter if the Scots vote for independence. labour will find it very difficult to form any kind of government in London without the cushion of their seats in Scotland.

  • All the Lib Dems can do NOW is maintain LD former (pre-Coalition) principles and show some strength in the next two years – no more supporting Tory policies when we now know Tories are not only wrong but will never support our balancing. They really are the nasty party and have been pushed, by us, as far as we can push them to do “the right thing for the citizens as a whole”. Note the difference Mr. Cameron, not “the right thing” for Tories which is what Mr C means but “the right thing for the citizens as a whole”.

    It’s true that Labour are trying to garner more ex-LD members and voters by repeating back our own principles to us. But we have seen Labour’s post-election rhetoric turn to non-compliant actions before, and know they will also prove untrustworthy in a coalition, so their (few) warm words cut no ice with us. We have NO natural party of alignment – even the one Green says the Greens thought of all their green policies before LDs did – so all possible coalition parties are anti-LD now .

    As we believe the electorate might vote by default for a hung parliament, we must decide if we would prefer to force a minority government to govern until we (in effect) call another election by voting against them. Or more likely, we line up with other parties to bring the government down if they propose the extremes they normally do.

    A period out of government will be good for the party and I leave you all to state why this might fit your own principles best. Before that we have to see off UKIP’s one-policy principle because there is just a possibility they can form a coalition with the nasty party, force an “Out of Europe” referendum then defeat the nasties – and then what?

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