The next coalition?

Does soul-searching over the 2010–15 coalition leave Liberal Democrats in danger of failing to take the credit for our real achievements in government and undermining our relevance by being reluctant to try again?

Even before the arrival of Covid19 we were in turbulent times. British politics since the referendum has been highly dysfunctional.

In the 2019 General Election, my sense was that the Tories and Labour had lurched to extremes. On the doorstep I found even Remain supporters switching from us to the Tories for fear of a Corbyn-led government. Labour seemed to have prioritised ideological purity over electability, which was the place from which they were attacking us over the coalition.

Under normal circumstances, their choosing, in Keir Starmer, a leader who would be a credible Prime Minister would change everything and point to a revival of their fortunes and ours. As it is, the proposed changes to constituency boundaries are likely to favour the Tories. If the country is to move away from having an anti-European, authoritarian and incompetent government, we will need to work with Labour — which has to include the possibility of coalition.

The combined effect of Covid19, Brexit and climate change means the country will need something other than a Labour–Tory tension rooted former times. We bring distinctive values to the table — on Europe, liberty, combatting inequality by improving opportunities, the Green agenda, devolution, fairer voting, and the sort of collaborative approach to politics that’s normal in most of Europe. We’d fail the country if we didn’t articulate these, or were unwilling to work with others to make them a reality.

Legacy of the last coalition

There were real achievements in the last coalition. Headlines include increasing the point where people start to pay Income Tax, the Pupil Premium, equal marriage and the Green Investment Bank. Crucially, we showed that coalitions can be stable.

What makes me think Labour’s attacks over the coalition were rooted in a shallow ideology is that, in hustings and interviews, I was surprised at how easy it was to deflect them. Pointing out how much things changed when the Tories started ruling on their own nailed the idea that we were “yellow Tories”. Pointing out that all the main parties went into 2010 with commitments to reduce the deficit nailed the idea that we were “enablers” of cuts that Labour wouldn’t have imposed. Pointing out that a coalition means working with others in the national interest showed us as responsible.

I suspect that Jo Swinson struggled because interviewers realised they had found a vulnerability and exploited it. But it doesn’t have to be like this. In 2015 I heard Sal Brinton give a brilliant defence of our actions over tuition fees, which is a shining example of how the most difficult part of the coalition legacy could be handled.

And for next time

The next General Election is likely to take place against the background of a severe recession. We’ll face a stark choice. On the one hand, we could go for the “comfortable” position of picking up protest votes without having to carry them into action (as Labour did in 2019). Or we can choose the demanding task of advocating Liberal Democrat values clearly and positively, which will mean working with others to make them a reality.

There are lessons to learn from 2010–2015, but we should also be proud enough of what we achieved to be willing to try again.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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97 Comments

  • No

  • James Moore 17th Aug '20 - 9:41am

    There really is no point re-fighting the 2015 general election. The coalition was an electoral disaster. There is nothing to be gained by reminding everyone about it – people have already formed their opinions.

    Focus on the issues that matter now.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '20 - 9:59am

    Welcome back, Mr Argent. They say that every cloud has a ‘silver’ lining!

    Just two points before we go any further. Yes, we will “need to work with Labour”; but WHICH Labour will that be, indeed, might there be TWO parties by 2024, claiming to represent a Labour and what’s the guarantee that either would want to ‘work’ with the Lib Dems? Secondly, the idea that the Lib Dems will automatically pick up ‘protest votes’ can no longer be vouchsafed. After all, we are no longer ‘the new kids on the block’.

    And finally, does anyone really know what ‘Liberal Democrat’ as opposed to ‘Liberal’ values are any more? Could they just be an excuse to complain but do nothing? As someone, who has ‘supped with the devil’ in local government and who is not ashamed of what happened in national government between 2010 and 2015, I do applaud Mark Argent’s loyalty. Who knows, he might be right and ‘one more heave’ may see him and whichever constituency chooses him as their parliamentary candidate next time turn that ‘Silver’ into ‘Gold’. He certainly deserves it for his efforts over the years.

  • John:
    “One more heave”…. Ok we are both showing our age by remembering that terrible election slogan.
    I cringed when I saw it on large poster in the centre of Stockport, and yes that election followed damaging stillborn coalition talks which, if had been successful, would have destroyed us even more than 2010-15.
    How many can remember which election that was?

  • No worries! The electorate will know who to blame for the A level results fiasco, won’t they???

  • Laurence Cox 17th Aug '20 - 11:28am

    A great deal depends on whether the FTPA is still in place when we get to the next election. We need to remember that one (but not the only) reason for coalition was to put the FTPA in place so that a Prime Minister could no longer cut and run for a General Election at a time that suited him or her. That Act effectively ensured that the Coalition Government would last for the full five years. To enter a coalition with any other Party without such an assurance would be the height of folly. Far better to offer Confidence and Supply in return for an agreed programme of reforms.

    One serious mistake that I believe Jo Swinson made (in constitutional terms) was to agree to Boris Johnson’s Bill setting an election date. Regardless of whether that date was the 12th December (as Johnson wanted) or the 9th December (as Swinson wanted), it effectively emasculated the FTPA by providing a means for a sitting Prime Minister with an overall majority to go to the country before the five years were up. I would hope that our Peers would use their delaying tactics to the limit under the Parliament Acts to prevent this in future.

  • The next Election is still nearly 4 Years away but we can already see that The Tories are going to be crushed. Its easy to make a case that they will crash to lower levels than in 1997.
    The most likely result in May 2024 is a solid Labour Majority, even without Scotland so they wont need Us. We will probably make a modest Recovery, say 30 Seats but we will still be on the sidelines.
    Still, a hung Parliament is a possibility so we need to work out what we want well in advance of 2024. I would suggest a very hard line, Electoral Reform guaranteed upfront or we dont even talk.

  • Most sensible article I have read on the Coalition on these pages. Agree 100%. Pity Swinson was of a different persuasion. Her answers on Coalition (I’m thinking the bbc QT) were frankly embarrassing.

  • I am a pro European, pro Coalition Liberal Democrat where does that place me in the present party agenda?

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 1:27pm

    @ Paul Barker,

    “The next Election is still nearly 4 Years away but we can already see that The Tories are going to be crushed………”

    It’s far too early to say. They should have been crushed in 2015 after the 5 years of inappropriate austerity but the Labour response was pathetic. The election campaign was insipid to the point of being boring. I say that as a member of the Labour Party so it’s not a partisan point.

    There was even a difficulty to get any sort of condemnation of the austerity package. Anti-austerity was seen as an “ultra leftist” position at the time. I don’t expect any better from Sir Forensic. He vacillated over the Bristol statue removal and it took him far too long to publicly express any support for Dawn Butler. He’s also given Boris Johnson far too much slack with the Covid response. When he does make criticisms they are only on minor details.

    So rather than say what he thinks he prefers to think nothing and only respond in the way his advisers have calculated he should.

    The public don’t want that. Even if they don’t fully agree, they want politicians who mean what they say and say what they mean.

  • Paul Barker Nov last year:

    `Its much too early to give up on our chances in this Election, the situation is highly unstable.
    The Government is currently more unpopular than Majors was on the eve of The 1997 Labour landslide.
    The Opposition is more unpopular than it was in 1983.
    Labour & Tories are each held up by the weakness of the other but that depends on most Voters continuing to believe that there cant be an Alternative.
    Maybe that can stick for another 3 Weeks but we dont know that yet.`

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 1:47pm

    Martin: Layla wasn’t involved in the Coalition, so has nothing to apologise for or defend. So if she became leader, she would be able to swiftly move the debate on, in the same way as Tony Blair was able to move on from questions about Winter of Discontent and the Longest Suicide Note in History manifesto.
    Barry Lofty: The Coalition will have ended 9 years ago at the next election. We could well end up in coalition again, there is nothing stopping that. saying to move on from the Coalition is not making any value judgement over it; rather it is saying it’s more worthwhile and more important to talk about what we are going to do now in a political landscape that’s radically different from that of the Coalition era.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Aug '20 - 2:06pm

    Alex Macfie: I could not agree more on ” moving on” from the last coalition, but many people seem to want to keep to bringing up the subject at every opportunity. My sense of being a Lib Dem often seems out of touch with certain pronouncements made by people on this site and from the party, but I suppose you cannot please everyone?

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 2:23pm

    Barry Lofty: The most effective way to shut those people down is to have a leader who has no personal link with the Coalition, by virtue of not having been an MP at the time. In this case it’ll increasingly seem like flogging a dead horse. Also someone unconnected with that period is better placed to analyze it dispassionately, but, more importantly, is in a position to call time on the questioning by pointing out she (as it would have to be) wasn’t involved.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '20 - 2:30pm

    @Paul Barker
    Johnson ‘winning’ in 2019 is a bit like Major ‘winning’ in 1992. However, we have moved on since then. Don’t assume that the Tories will be ‘crushed’ as they undoubtedly were in 1997. Labour, thanks to Kinnoch, Hattersley and Smith, had seen sense after 1983 and ‘Tory lite’ Blair was able to present a viable alternative. Will Starmer have time to do the same, especially if Momentum isn’t as easy to crush as Militant was in the 1980s? Perhaps he might turn out to be a steady pair of hands; although he clearly lacks the appeal of Blair.

    I would NOT take anything for granted. In many ways we are entering a post political era, where show biz and quick fix seems to count more for more people than the stolid unappealing confection usually offered in Parliament.

    I should imagine that Paddy Ashdown was a very disappointed man after the 1997 General Election. It could be that Davey/Moran might be in a similar position after the next General Election if Labour really does hold it together.

  • David Evans 17th Aug '20 - 2:42pm

    Indeed Alex – All Layla will have to face up to is the question “You say you prefer to look into people’s hearts, I presume that means you consider you *can* look into people’s hearts. Isn’t that a bit arrogant?” or “You use ‘… End of.’ as a closing line in a debate to indicate you will not discus the matter further. Is that particularly open minded and liberal?”

    Sadly, all I see many people here continually longing for some marvellous event that means that the Lib Dems suddenly stop being dragged down by the disaster that was coalition. In fact all it means is that they put off yet again actually facing up to our problems and doing the gut crunching hard work needed to earn people’s trust once more.

    This time it seems to be the jettisoning yet more Lib Dem principles in order to chase the illiberal chimera of Identity politics as a magic cure all.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Aug '20 - 2:47pm

    Alex Macfie: There you go Alex we differ on that already!!

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 3:06pm

    Your biggest problem isn’t the Coalition.

    It’s still the EU. There was, in 2016, only a minority of voters who had strong opinions either way. Most now take the view that we had the referendum then we spent the next 3 + years arguing over it and it was quite long enough. The consensus of opinion is that we’ve made our decision and have to make the best of it. We can’t keep chopping and changing and now say we don’t want to leave after all. That would leave us open to ridicule.

    But don’t listen to me. Get out on to the streets, or pick a phone, and talk to the voters. That has to be a cross section and not just your ardent supporters. You’ve already got their votes. 5% according to yesterday’s Observer/Opinium poll.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Aug '20 - 3:16pm

    And this country isn’t already open to ridicule, just listen or read the news on a daily basis??

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 3:25pm

    Barry Lofty: The thing is that time spent arguing about the Coalition is time not spent talking about our current policy programme. That’s why we need a post-Coalition leader, as someone who has no Coalition record to defend so doesn’t have to waste time answering questions about it. We can’t recreate the Coalition, even if we wanted to (the Tory Party of Johnson is totally different from that of Cameron). So we need to talk about the present and future, not the past.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 3:27pm

    Peter Martin: Nobody’s got any votes, as there are no elections. Most voters don’t know what we stand for, and have probably forgotten we exist. Come the next election, the 2016 referendum is likely to be ancient history, as all opposition parties focus on the Tory government’s record over the previous 4½–5 years, which is not likely to be a very pretty one.

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 3:29pm

    @ Barry Lofty,

    When the Covid rules allow, you need to get out and about a bit more. Go and have a look around America, Australia, the rest of the EU. Sure, there’s lots of places with better weather, interesting scenery etc. But when you get back you’ll see that the UK isn’t such a bad place to live after all. That’s why many people are prepared to risk their lives to get here on inflatable dinghy.

    Yes, our democracy is messy and seemingly chaotic at times, but, as has often been said, it is the least worst of all options.

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 3:44pm

    @ Alex Macafie,

    “Nobody’s got any votes, as there are no elections”

    Of course that’s true. The poll in 2024 (probably) will be, as the cliche goes, the only one that matters. But the numbers reported in opinion polls won’t be that far out. If they say 5 you could get 7. Or you could get 3! So you have to start to take notice of them sometime before 2024.

    “Most voters don’t know what we stand for”

    Have you asked them? Try doing some research rather than making assumptions. My prediction? You’ll find they know very well that you want us back in the EU, but they won’t know much else.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Aug '20 - 4:01pm

    Peter Martin: Sadly Covid or not I don’t expect to be travelling very far at the moment, although have visited many countries in my lifetime and yes the UK is lovely place to live but along with many others countries in the world at present we are governed by a nationalistic, right wing, self serving bunch of incompetents which detracts from the normal pride I have for our country.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 4:25pm

    Peter Martin: You cannot know what the polls will be in 2024 based on opinion polls now. A lot could change between now and then.

    “You’ll find they know very well that you want us back in the EU, but they won’t know much else.”

    And of course, that’s what I was saying. And it’s what Layla Moran has been finding out based on her own research. Do you really think I didn’t know that?

  • Barry Lofty 17th Aug '20 - 4:26pm

    Joseph Bourke: Thanks for your post, it says much about my own thoughts on the Coalition, particularly the words of Councillor Paul Harris.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 4:28pm

    Joseph Bourke :

    The Tories won in 2015 because of the coalition not in spite of it

    Yes, people voted Tory because they thought that that was a vote for continuation of the Coalition. And the reason they voted Tory instead of Lib Dem was that we had failed to distinguish ourselves sufficiently from the Tories. By conducting the Coalition as a love-in, instead of a business arrangement, we made it look as if it didn’t matter which of the Coalition partners they voted for, so they might as well vote for the larger one. We must not make the same mistake again in Coalition. No rose-garden love-ins!

  • Two points: my 5 year old has benefited enormously from universal free school meals. This was a good AND popular policy (with parents) the Lib Dems introduced. However, Lib Dem Mps dont ever mention it for some reason.

    Second point if we say to the electorate vote for us so we can provide better governmet than the current lot but at the same time we say last time we were in govt we were terrible then that does not bode well!

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 4:56pm

    Mike Read: Any leader who was a minister in the Coalition will be attacked over their voting record. It won’t be a question of us saying we were terrible, it’s what they will think. We need a Leader who can answer in relation to things like the bedroom tax, “That was a Tory policy not ours,” which means it’s best that the Leader wasn’t involved in it. Only a post-Coalition leader will be able to to the differentiation that we should have done at the time. At the same time, the Coalition belongs to a different era, and we need to talk about our platform for now, not the past.

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 5:14pm

    @ Joe B,

    I’d agree on your point about wishful thinking. However you could have chosen a more reliable reference to back it up. Your first link (natcen) says:

    “Given a straight choice more than half of people (57%) would remain in the EU, while 35% want to withdraw.

    That sounds like very wishful thinking at the time it was published!

    Saying the Tories won because of the coalition is yet more wishful thinking. If the general opinion was that the Lib Dems had done a good job in restraining the excesses of the Tories, why did your vote collapse and why did they, much to everyone’s surprise (including their own), go on to win a majority?

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 6:12pm

    @ Alex,

    “Do you really think I didn’t know that?”

    You do make me wonder. If the one thing that everyone knows about the Lib Dems is your position on the EU, and yet your poll ratings are worryingly low, why obsess about the coalition?

    That is something which cannot be changed in any case.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '20 - 6:19pm

    @Alex Macfie
    Failure to distinguish themselves from the Tories? Do you remember the yellow Budget Box that Danny Alexander used on the front bench before the disentangling? I wonder if he’s tried that tactic with his Chinese bosses?

  • Kevin Maher 17th Aug '20 - 6:58pm

    @ Andy Hyde. ‘One more heave’ I believe it was the October 1974 GE with Jeremy Thorpe peering down from a Billboard menacingly.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 6:59pm

    Peter Martin: The Coalition is something that people like you always bring up at election time, and it does affect our poll ratings as the 2019 GE campaign shows. That’s why I support Layla, as she has no personal Coalition voting record to defend. And as I said, who was on which side in the Brexit battle is (IMO) not likely to be an issue in the next election campaign, because the Tories will own Brexit and the mess that it will have put the country in. And BTW

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 7:01pm

    Peter Martin: The Coalition is something that people like you always bring up at election time, and it does affect our poll ratings as the 2019 GE campaign shows. That’s why I support Layla, as she has no personal Coalition voting record to defend. And as I said, who was on which side in the Brexit battle is (IMO) not likely to be an issue in the next election campaign, because the Tories will own Brexit and the mess that it will have put the country in, and any opposition worthy of the name will be attacking them over that and not fighting battles from 8 years previously. Both Lib Dem leadership candidates say they consider rejoining the EU to be an aspiration, and would seek to take the country with them in any campaign to do so (lead rather than impose).

  • Alex Macfie 17th Aug '20 - 7:03pm

    John Marriott: No I don’t, which probably means no-one else does. What he does now, as a private citizen with no involvement in active UK politics, is of little interest to me. I’m not sure he’s even a party member anymore.

  • David Evans: absolutely spot on, reading some of the epistles on this site you would think we were smelling of roses instead of …. Until everyone faces up to the reality you describe, we are doomed.

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 8:39pm

    @ Joe B,

    I’m not quite sure what your point is. The figure you picked out was 24% for leaving the EU. The figure I quoted was actually higher at 35%. Of course with the benefit of hindsight we can look at the way the questions were phrased, and the ancillary questions which were included and say “ah but 38% wanted a reduction in the EU’s powers”. This was never going to happen anyway.

    If David Cameron, or his advisers, had looked at this report all they would have seen were the figures 24% and 35% and they would have assumed it was quite safe to hold a referendum! Serves them right! But from a scientific perspective it’s not just the figures that matter, it is the message that comes across with them. So, the report is flawed. Especially if they put out what I’m guessing is a condensed version of barely two sides of A4.

    Incidentally it was a sign of the times that the report included the phrase “The major parties are all committed to cutting the national debt and balancing the budget” There has been a lot of effort put into explaining why this is impossible for a country like the UK and hardly anyone is still saying that. So we are making good progress!

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '20 - 8:54pm

    @Alex Macfie
    Well, I do and thought that it was excruciatingly naff!

    I see that Messrs Bourke and Martin are at it again. Personally, I think that David Evans makes more sense. Yes, the Lib Dems are in grave danger of arguing themselves into a footnote when someone in the years to come decides to write another chapter in the history of British politics.

  • I see we are still debating the 2010-2015 coalition.
    Can we save ourselves some time and disown the 2019 election campaign, NOW, and not still be suffering the fallout from it in 2024?

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '20 - 9:24pm

    @Alex,

    “….it does affect our poll ratings”

    It (the coalition) obviously didn’t do you any good in 2015 (7.4%) and 2017 (7.9 %) but your vote share did start to recover slowly after that to 11.6% in 2019. But you’ve dropped back again so you need to be asking why.

    “Both Lib Dem leadership candidates say they consider rejoining the EU to be an aspiration”

    They probably need to say it a little louder. The popular perception is that if you were in govt tomorrow you’d rejoin on whatever terms were on offer. This would mean we’d be fully fledged EU members complete with the euro and Schengen just as fast as you could make it happen. I’d say this is mainly what is holding you back in all except the most strongly ‘Remain’ areas.

    To some extent the Labour Party is suffering from the loss of their Leave former voters too. They’ll probably (or hopefully?) come back once the Brexit question has been fully resolved but that’s not quite yet.

    You’re putting your faith in the economy being a mess in 2024? It’s quite possible it won’t be. It depends on how the Govt runs it. Rishi Sunak looks to be a lot smarter than George Osborne. That’s a more important factor than whether Boris Johnson is less smart than David Cameron. Of course BJ could do something stupid like sacking him or insisting he follows policies which he disagrees with and he resigns.

    So it could be in a mess. You’d like the electorate to then think it was all our fault for leaving the EU? It’s more likely they’d blame the EU for being spiteful and engaging in economic warfare.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Aug '20 - 11:00pm

    Question, to any, why this level of discussion on something so typically, obviously, rehashed?!

    The coalition obsession means as with Alex here, new leadership, the only response!

  • We lost the 2015 election because during the coalition years the Tories were ruthless. They organised in seats like Yeovil, they bused workers in for months from miles away. We lost our campaigning edge and our eye was not on the ball. I mention Yeovil because I know Tories who went there but I have no doubt it happened in many other seats we lost. We were to eager to enter into coalition, why did it have to be just 2 parties, why not press for a multi party coalition in the wake of a national economic disaster. The ones who walked away would have been blunted in future attacks on the coalition. That of course is all in the past. The future should be one which is not centred on the desire to enter into government at Westminster. Our future is dependant on how we recover in our communities. The big society is a failure. Our crusade should be against a selfish society, and for the creation of a caring, compassionate society built around re-invigorated local communities which people can identify with. We need to burst the Westminster bubble and return to our roots.

  • Lorenzo, It was the Lib Dems who were in coalition, not just Nick, Jo, Tim, Ed or Vince. You may want Layla to be leader of the Lib Dems, but answering for coalition comes with the job and ‘It wasn’t me’ is not an acceptable answer for almost all of the electorate. You are just trying to wish the problem away, and it won’t work.

  • When the new leader comes to contemplate the post-pandemic messaging for the LibDems over the course of this parliament, it will remain important to remain focused on the issues that are uppermost in the minds of voters, whether current Libdem supporters or not. The longer-term trends in British Social Attitudes are a guide to where the focus of that messaging should be.
    For now, the Conservatives remain more trusted on the economy than Keir Starmer’s Labour even as the competence of the Prime Minister is brought into question https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2020/06/17/conservatives-still-more-trusted-economy-can-they- However, as the YouGov piece notes: the economy is largely a valence issue. That is to say, rather than specific policy positions, many voters care more about who they perceive to be best at achieving a universally agreed goal, such as managing the economy well.
    Valence in politics is about the affinity of voters for a political issue or party. People support the party they think can best deliver prosperity, or the parties that most closely fits their biases, or the candidates for whose images and stories are the most pleasing, or they vote in opposition to candidates and parties with negative valence (as seems to have been the case with Jeremy Corbyn and many former Labour voters in the 2019 election).
    As Mark Argent concludes in his piece “There are lessons to learn from 2010–2015, but we should also be proud enough of what we achieved to be willing to try again.”

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '20 - 3:10am

    @ Joe B,

    The response to these type of social attitudes survey questions depends very much on the alternatives the respondents are presented with.

    If the questions are phrased in such a way as to suggest that the choice is between lower Govt spending and higher taxes, then don’t be surprised if they choose lower Govt spending. Even if lower spending will reduce the tax take anyway. Most people won’t see that. Even supposedly well trained economists don’t see it.

    What would they say now if they were given a choice between no extra Govt spending to support the economy during the Covid crisis and very much higher taxes “to pay for it”? Why isn’t that question being asked now in the same way it was in 2015?

  • David Evans: The attacks on Jo over the Coalition in the last election campaign were about her personal voting record as a Coalition minister. It will be far more difficult to mount any Coalition-related attacks on a leader who does not have a Coalition voting record to defend, in much the same way as attacks on Tony Blair over things like the Winter of Discontent and Militant fell flat.

  • Peter Martin: I don’t have “faith” that the economy will be a mess in 2024. I just think that’s the most likely scenario. And the Opposition will seek to blame it on the Government, simple as that, nothing to do with the EU. For sure, the Tories will seek to put the blame on a dastardly EU, but they’ll be the only ones seriously invoking it as an issue, and it is unlikely to cut much ice with the electorate. And any Lexiters seeking to leverage Brexit would be in the awkward position of seeking to defend a right-wing Tory government.

  • Peter Martin: We’ve dropped back in the polls principally because of lack of media attention (i.e. people have forgotten we even exist). Part of that is just typical mid-term drift, exacerbated by the lack of elections (which always provide a small party with the oxygen of publicity). But it’s not helped either by having an Acting Leader who has had insufficient cut-through in the media, and has Coalition baggage.

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '20 - 11:53am

    @ Alex,

    There are reasons to be optimistic about the economy post Covid. And post our EU involvement. I wouldn’t wish the economy to be in bad shape simply to remove the Tories from power.

    Rishi Sunak won’t want to admit too much publicly but it looks very much like he’s well aware of developments in economic theory. viz MMT. He’s been doing exactly what the MMT textbook suggests he should be doing in this kind of situation. He’s been using the fiscal currency issuing power of the central bank to keep the wheels of the economy turning. Nothing like this has ever happened before even in wartime.

    So much so that some MMT economists think he might be in danger of overdoing it, creating inflation and so end up giving MMT a bad reputation!

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-17/what-is-modern-monetary-theory/12455806

  • I think we may be harking back too much, agonising over ‘The Coalition’ , while a decade later we should be looking forward and asking ourselves how we are to harvest the post-Covid weather. There will be a huge number of first time voters, thoroughly cheesed off with this week’s villains, the biassed bunglers of the A-levels.

    There are also two big ideas waiting to be understood and seized — let it be by LDs, please!! ! I mean the invisible elephant in the debating chamber through all this thread so far: UBI, of course. And coupled with that the new initials, M.M.T.

    The glory of MMT is that it shows all those doubters about the ‘affordability’ of UBI how in fact it could be ‘paid for’. MMT, if I get it, is the very antithesis of Magic-Money-Tree-Granma-Thatcher-Think. It is the final exposure of the needless folly of the Tories’ cruel “Austerity” — to which LDs assented, believing the trick that the Tories pulled, in calling it Neo-Liberalism. Or what sounded like it, neoliberalism, a.k.a. Thatcherism. M.M.T. stands for Modern Monetary Theory. It looks to this old man very much like ordinary monetary theory, sixty years ago.

    And it can work for the UK, thanks to our past refusal to join the Euro, thus retaining our freedom to manage sterling, all those years ago and still today. Look it up: the essence is not difficult, and is crucial.

    I’m still trying to sell my home, or I’d try to say more to justify these sweeping assertions. I’ll simply close by urging and begging LDV readers, talkers, and correspondents: please check it out. Codiv 19 weakens the Tories for a decade. It gives the Lib Dems a great opportunity to seize the high ground and this quinquennium’s New Voters, and to campaign strongly and soon, with a simple message:

    “MMT and UBI!” Look ahead, and look over your shoulders: other parties are groping still, but not for long . . . .

  • @ Alex Macfie “The attacks on Jo over the Coalition in the last election campaign were about her personal voting record as a Coalition minister”.

    Oh no they weren’t. It was about preposterous claims to be candidate for Prime Minister, about not hesitating to press the nuclear button, and a bit more. I’m afraid your favoured candidate will be filling Andrew Neil and Emily Maitless with lip smacking anticipation.

    The Liberal Democrat Party is where it is because of what it is, it’s level of competencies and what it has done. There’s no magic cure. As Charlie K. would say, ‘You better get used to it’ . Why not get back to the unglamourous route of local government, community politics and local organisation ? You never know, the political weather might change.

    But…. sadly, having witnessed, known and supported with varying degrees of enthusiasm no less than ten different Leaders of the Liberal Party and the successor Lib Dems, I’m sorry to say the current contest is the equivalent of Accrington Stanley versus Stockport County competing for a place in the European Cup.

  • Alex Macfie 18th Aug '20 - 1:25pm

    @David Raw: I was referring specifically to Coalition-related attacks. The “nuclear button” thing was a most absurd pile-on over an answer that virtually any leader of a mainstream UK political party would have given (except Foot and Corbyn). And actually Layla so far seems to have done well in handling hostile interviewers. Compare her with Ed when being questioned by Julia Hartley-Brewer for instance.

  • Alex, you’re quite nimble footed into changing the subject on to’Coalition attacks’ … or as might be said, “It wasn’t me, Sir, it was a Big Boy wot dunnit”.

    Interesting to know what Ms Moran actually said about the Coalition in her 2015 election address – when she lost……. no doubt Andrew Neil’s researchers are on it just now. I hope Ms Moran does her homework, which she clearly didn’t when putting out a statement in July about Cambridge Hospital figures. i.e. Full Fact : Layla Moran’s child malnutrition figures are wrong Conclusion. 4 weeks ago.

    As for the rest, you’re not into the subtleties of an unhesitating ‘Yes’ on Mutually Assured Destruction,something apparent to every other European power bar France, . but I admire your enthusiasm.

  • Peter Hirst 18th Aug '20 - 2:10pm

    Without PR a full coalition would be political suicide. Can Labour be trusted to deliver? We would need to be as certain as we can be that it would. I don’t see a future for the UK without electoral reform and a new constitution delivered by the people via a Citizens’ Assembly or something similar.

  • Alex Macfie 18th Aug '20 - 3:38pm

    @David Raw: I wrote in 18th Aug ’20 – 10:45am

    “The attacks on Jo over the Coalition in the last election campaign were about her personal voting record as a Coalition minister.”

    [Emphasis added] So I was referring explicitly and specifically to Coalition-based attacks, not attacks based on her comments about being PM, or about pushing the nuclear button.
    Layla was not a public figure in 2015. It’s rather like when Tony Blair stood in the 1982 Beaconsfield by-election, under Michael Foot’s left-wing leadership. Attacks on him based on whatever he said or put in leaflets then didn’t gain traction when he was leader. Attacks of that kind can be turned around against virtually any politician who tries to use them, since we all have a past. This makes them weak and, frankly, desparate.
    As for the child malnutrition figures, these were misreported by the newspaper in which they were published.

  • John Marriott 18th Aug '20 - 3:48pm

    @Peter Martin
    You are obviously enjoying yourself. Don’t you wish that you had a similar platform within the Labour Party to air your views? Are you sure that you haven’t accidentally finally found a home?

    @Joseph Bourke @Joe Bourke
    What’s this ‘valence’ thing you are on about in your ‘orange’ persona? I looked it up and it seems to mean veering to the centre rather than the extremes, not, it would seem, what you are saying. I will agree with you, however, when you state in your ‘blue’ persona that our electorate seems to prefer single party government. The problem is that it just does not understand coalitions, even though that’s often what single party government turns out to be.

    PS Why are there two versions of Mr Bourke?
    PPS To the editor(s) : How do the two (or should that be three) gentlemen manage to get so much stuff into a thread? I’ve been waiting since around noon to send this off, due to a ‘flood warning’?

  • David Franks 18th Aug '20 - 6:04pm

    the real problem with the last coalition was the appalling way it was managed. the love-in that was the rose garden launch was the start of disaster. The two behaving like long lost brothers was a huge mistake. Far better to make clear we have huge differences but are putting Country before party. Second big mistake was not publicly dumping collective responsibility. As the smaller partner, when you are doing something you do not like it is absolutely essential you retain the right the right to say so out loud.

  • John Marriott 18th Aug '20 - 6:28pm

    @David Franks
    Wake up, Mr Franks, politics at national level at least is just a new branch of show business – and has been for some time. I’ll tell you one thing, despite all the mistakes it made, I just wish I was living under that coalition today, with or without COVID. Life since 2015 has only been made bearable for me thanks to the arrival of four grandchildren. My worry now is what sort of future they are likely to have unless we collectively mend our ways.

  • John Marriott 18th Aug '20 - 7:16pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    I see you are in ‘blue’ mode. However, what do YOU think, not what does Mr Pack think? All I know about him, besides his being the new Party President, is that he reckons the Party should stand candidates in ALL elections to give people a chance to vote Lib Dem. is that what you think as well? If you do see fit to reply, please do so in your own words without resorting to the words of others. You can reply in orange mode if you wish, just as an ordinary ‘Joe’, hey?

  • Alex Macfie, you say, “As for the child malnutrition figures, these were misreported by the newspaper in which they were published”. I’m sorry, Mr Macfie, but to say the least, that is dissimulation – if not a bit downright naughty.

    The figures issued by Ms Moran were published in several national and local newspapers….. all with the same numbers…… and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust issued the following statement :

    “Child malnutrition – a statement on inaccurate figures 16 July 2020
    Figures reported in some national and local media on the number of children admitted to hospital with malnutrition at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are inaccurate.

    The correct number of young patients admitted between January 2015 and January 2020 is 33, and not 915 as has been reported. This has understandably caused considerable concern to many. We fully recognise that malnutrition in children is an important public health issue that should be subject to public scrutiny and open debate, but it is equally important that this takes place on the basis of the correct facts”.

    Of course you will support who you like – and I’m not advocating support for the other candidate. But this is the least inspiring contest in my memory in the last sixty years. Don’t say you haven’t been warned……

  • @ John Marriott And there was old me thinking a vallence was ‘an ornamental drapery hung across a top edge, as of a bed, table, or canopy’.

    The world is very confusing these days, but it looks like you’ve finally scared off Glenn, matey.

  • John Marriott 18th Aug '20 - 9:48pm

    @David Raw
    Too true, good buddy. However, when Messrs Bourke and Martin get going, with all those long complicated words (and plenty of them as well), I get quite nostalgic for the simple pleasures of ‘Glenn’ versus ‘frankie’ versus ‘matt’ on Brexit – bless. Or ‘Michael 1’ and his opinion polls. Which reminds me ………
    (Response composed at 8.30pm; but delayed because of ‘comment flood protection’)

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaah. Little Frankie and his unicorns. An emptier would without him.

    And, it’s not that long since Paul B. was flying a flag for Ms Swinson (Douglas Academy and LSE) ahead of Corbyn J.B. (Adams G.S. 1960-68, two A-Levels, grade E,) in the opinion polls at 19% to 17%. Summat must’ve gone wrong there, Sitha.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '20 - 7:51am

    @David Raw
    Aye, lad. We mebe auld; but even at are age, I reckon we could still tek on t’ World. (Attempt at a Yorkshire accent from someone from the East Midlands, which I was prevented from sending late last night because of ‘flooding’)

    @Joseph Bourke
    Some of us don’t need a think tank to tell us that the Lib Dems’ position might be “as good as it gets”. And so?

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '20 - 2:21pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    I’m not sure whether comparing me (and I assume David Raw) to a pair of Muppets gets us very far. Mind you, the two old gentlemen you mention might be considered to be a reasonable facsimile of us both, although I hope we are a bit more handsome!

    Without wishing to put words into his mouth, I am sure that David, who has come in for some flak from certain LDV contributors recently for his trenchant, down to Earth views, would accept that he and I appear to be beating our heads against a brick wall much of the time.

    As someone who has spent a good deal of his time since the late 1970s campaigning to break the two party stranglehold on our politics; but clearly not as long nor with the same distinction as Mr Raw, my argument against Mark Argent’s and, I assume, your view is that I do not accept that the Lib Dems will necessarily scoop up protest votes for ever and a day nor that, if you set out your stall of ‘Liberal values’, people will be queuing up to buy.

    I can’t offer you any links or wise quotations; but what I can suggest, for what it’s worth, is that someone tries to make it clear to voters that, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want and sometimes you need to accept the rough with the smooth. It might not be very exciting; but compromise is often the best policy. As I said on another thread, we could be entering a post political age, where ‘good causes’ lack the resonance they once commanded. By all means applaud the NHS; but wouldn’t it carry more weight if you actually paid more for it?

  • David Murray 19th Aug '20 - 7:04pm

    Before the Lib Dems ever consider a future coalition, they should read Nick Harvey’s Report for the Institute for Government, entitled ‘After the Rose Garden’ – Harsh lessons for the smaller party in a coalition to be seen and heard in government. It catalogues the mistakes that were made and the actions needed to make coalition work better, should we be faced with a similar situation ‘in the national interest’. As we were new to it, we let ourselves be exploited by the Tories, who ruthlessly targeted our Lib Dem seats in 2015.

  • @ John Marriott Water off a duck’s back, matey.

  • Peter Martin 20th Aug '20 - 5:56am

    “All parties want more jobs, so picking the Conservatives is about perceived competence, not ideology.”

    Of course all parties say they want more jobs, especially well paid, rather than minimum income, jobs but politicians say lots of things they don’t really mean to get elected. Who would have guessed? Like they want lower house prices. That would put many house owners into negative equity and you can’t use negative equity as collateral for the bubble credit based economy.

    They, or at least those who understand how modern capitalism works, don’t want to create better jobs because they see unemployment and underemployment in “mini jobs” as a necessary way of combating inflation. Whenever did anyone last hear a politician talk about the NAIRU? The “non-accelarating inflation rate of unemployment.” This is just a fancy way of saying that workers need to be kept in fear of losing their jobs otherwise they might start demanding higher wages.

    I might be more useful if you started explaining how the economy really works than yattering on about “valence”. Unless you a chemist of course.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAIRU

  • John Marriott 20th Aug '20 - 9:43am

    @Joseph Bourke
    You don’t know what a ‘post political age’ means? Wow, aren’t there any books about it yet? That’s probably because I, or rather my dear wife, first coined it! In fairness, you then go on to offer a ‘passable’ definition of what it might be. Without wishing necessarily to join you in the ‘name dropping‘ stakes, I would, of course, like to return to Sir Michael Phillip Jagger, briefly of the LSE, who famously wrote; “No, you can’t always get what you want…..But if you try sometime you find you get want you need”. Apparently Mr Trump likes that, because he’s been illegally using it for a number of years at his rally’s. You can use that as an excuse for anything, can’t you?

    You see, as you rightly said, it could be argued that, since the fall of communism, we are all ‘capitalists’ now. With that in mind, it might be possible to construct a philosophy, if you could call it that, which accepts, like American clinical psychologist, the late Frederick Herzberg (worth a read if you haven’t already – no links, I’m afraid), whose motivational theory was predicated on his view that there were two kinds of people, the majority of whom really just wanted a roof over their heads and a steady income, while the minority was motivated by a desire to do more.

    Put simply, not every recruit at police college wants to or indeed has a chance to become a chief constable, nor does every student training to be a teacher want to be a head. Similarly, not every person joining a political party has aspirations to be its Leader, although, in the case of politics, where there really are no rules or qualifications (other than being sane and not having a criminal record), you never know. As Shakespeare wrote in ‘Twelfth Night’, “Some are born, great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness trust upon them”.

    So, while people like you, and possibly me, get their jolly’s out of arguing the toss about who said what and why, most people just keep their heads down and do the best they can under the circumstances. Is it not therefore surprising that many have such a cynical view of politicians or political thinkers. Post political age? Why not? After all, they say they’ve seen it all before. Must stop there, otherwise my response will be deem too long.

  • John Marriott 20th Aug '20 - 10:25am

    And.. at the risk of being ‘flooded out’, what about Johnson camping in Scotland (with a three month old baby?) and Parliament, like most institutions, nowhere to be seen to challenge him and nobody seems to be bothered. The man is a joke, a slightly better educated and more articulate one than the ‘Leader of the Free World’ (but, watch, Donald, the putative ‘World King’ has you in his sights); but still a joke. Why aren’t more citizens demanding the recall,of Parliament? Unfortunately, many people have fallen for his branch of irreverent incorrigible schmalz because “they are all as bad as each another, aren’t they?”. Now, that’s the post political age. The Romans had a phrase for it : “Bread and Circuses”.

  • John Marriott : Not much to contribute to your last post other than feel as bemused as you in regard to our so called leader, he was a joke before getting elected as PM, without wanting to be pompous it does make wonder how so many people in the UK could fall for his false bonhomie? Mind you the last election did not offer much in opposition, all the more reason not to have handed him an election on a plate!

  • Johnson’s welcome enough in Scotland….. so long as he keeps himself to himself….. though the midges will have an opinion and his former girl friend Petronella Wyatt (and mother of one of his many children) says he can’t cook.

    Meanwhile, unlike Mr Johnson & Co, the Scottish Parliament still works. Just off to watch First Ministers Questions on the TV.

  • Coalition meant willingly playing Little Sir Echo to the Tories and austerity. Clegg loved it but the rest of the party leadership happily played along too. The public still largely see the Lib Dems as unprincipled Tory acolytes.

    Swinson, with Davey’s agreement, tried a “we made mistakes but we also made achievements” line in the 2019 GE. It wasn’t the worst thing Swinson did (sadly there were plenty of worse things!), but it largely failed to convince the public. When you’re explaining, you’re losing.

    For Labour, the Coalition record is a gift that keeps on giving. Expect Labour to trot it all out again in 2024, in much the same way that the Tories are still blaming Gordon Brown for all the mistakes that have been made with the economy this century. However, by 2019 it was possible for Labour to laugh sardonically and point out that Brown had long ago quit the scene. By 2024, the Lib Dems best bet (whoever is leader) will be to seek to dismiss Coalition as past history, promise no deals with Tories, and move on.

  • Peter Martin 20th Aug '20 - 1:00pm

    @ John Marriott,

    With all respect due to your good lady, I’d say she would have been better describing the late 80’s, the 90s and the early part of the 00’s as “post political”. Then the so-called Washington consensus held sway. We saw silly titles of books such as the “End of History.” As if !

    The GFC of 2008 and should have ended all thoughts on such lines. At least by anyone of any intelligence, but many haven’t managed to move on. We still get lectured that they really know best even though the state of the economy, even before the COVID problem, should have been enough to keep them quiet for at least a little while.

    So we could be in a ‘post post political’ era.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Consensus

  • Barry Lofty 20th Aug '20 - 2:06pm

    Re the Coalition, for goodness sake change the bl–dy record!!

  • @ Barry Lofty Yes, I see you point, Barry, and I agree it’s a bit inconvenient.

    For me as a then fifty year long activist several times elected Councillor it was something of an eyeopener. Can you give me any guarantees I won’t happen again ?

  • John Marriott 20th Aug '20 - 4:33pm

    @Peter Martin
    What happens, or doesn’t happen, in Belarus might be a good test of whether or not we are living in a post political era. If the moustachioed one beats a hasty retreat, I might have to eat my, or my wife’s words. Otherwise, are you calling my wife and me thick, because that’s how you come across at times? Mind you, being a ‘Liberal’ I ought to concede that you could be right (but don’t tell my wife I said so).
    @Joseph Bourke
    We took our younger son and his three year old brother camping to Chapel St Leonards when the former was six months old. Unfortunately he developed an ear infection straight away; but we were able to make it home to Lincoln and medical assistance in a couple of hours. Not for us the wide expanses of the USA. I guess you were lucky in more ways than one. Call me old fashioned or a wuss; but I reckon that anyone exposing such a young child as Master Wilfred Johnson to the vagaries of our british weather without the protection of a solid roof – and walls to match, is asking for trouble – not forgetting those Scottish midges! Mind you, Johnson’s life appears to have been one long gamble anyway.

    PS Have you anything to say about Herzberg?

  • John Marriott,

    I would not be too hard on yourself. Occasional ear infections are virtually unavoidable for most infants growing up.
    I have not read Herzberg, but your description of his motivational theory seems one grounded in an objective observation of the human condition that gels with experience. However, If we are talking behavioural theory as regards voter behaviour, I think it is a little more nuanced.
    Voters cannot consider all of the possible factors in a typical campaign and election simultaneously, nor would they want to even if they could. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to gather and understand the information necessary to employ many of the standard predictors in a voting model, far more effort than most people are willing to expend. Research suggests that most individuals adopt decision strategies that use only a very small number of all possible decision criteria when making their choice: Some individuals are issue voters, others are party voters, and yet another set of people focus on the characteristics of candidates as people. There isn’t a one size fits all criteria.
    The Brexit saga has overturned a lot of long-held assumptions around voter behaviour, particularly with the Conservative capture of many previously solid Labour seats in the North. Hence, I have given up on assumptions and advocate holding to core Liberal Values and the policies of Alternative Liberalism as the way forward.
    In these COVID times where many businesses may be facing collapse, the Lucas Plan http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/nerve/the-lucas-plan/ is a form of Industrial democracy grounded in this liberal tradition.

  • Barry Lofty 20th Aug '20 - 5:57pm

    David Raw: David I have to concede that you certainly have the knowledge of working at the ” coalface” of politics, I certainly cannot compete at that level, but I am sure we would agree on most things.

  • Peter Martin 20th Aug '20 - 7:37pm

    @ Joe Bourke,

    Why are you quoting an article in the Torygraph by an unreformed neoliberal (or Thatcherite if you prefer)?

    Surely you must be aware of the flaws in Allister Heath’s arguments. But you can’t bring yourself to express them?

    Incidentally, I have heard Trotskyite suggestions that it would be better to pursue entryism into the Tory rather than the Labour Party. It could have been a mistake on my part to assume they were joking! But for what it’s worth I think Comrade Rishi Sunak is doing a pretty good job! 🙂

  • Peter Martin 20th Aug '20 - 7:42pm

    @ John Marriott,

    No I wasn’t meaning you or your wife. That is unless she or yourself has ever expressed a view that we had reached the “end of history”!

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