The pointless question is….

No not the quiz programme.  I am asking about the Liberal Democrats – a minor, centrist political party in the United Kingdom.  A Party that for 86 years has espoused a fairer and more representative voting system but for some inexplicable reason in 2017 it lost all enthusiasm for coalition government.

Our current leader said during the last election campaign “I would be astonished if he (Tim Farron) countenanced any kind of coalition with Labour or the Conservatives.”  So here is the very big SO – why bother voting for us, after all there was no chance that we would be forming a Government.  If we weren’t going to countenance a coalition with either of the two main parties how were we going to bring our influence to bear in securing a second referendum, for instance.

This was a denial of our long standing, honourable and rational argument for a fairer voting system that more reflects the diverse views of the electorate.  An argument first made by the Liberal Party in their 1931 General Election manifesto.

The conditions of the present Election are one more proof of the imperative need of a reform in the electoral system if the real wishes of the voters are to be truly expressed at the polls.

The purpose being that

It asks that the electorate shall use its power to ensure that liberal ideas shall have a powerful expression and an effective influence both in the Government and in the coming Parliament.

In 2017, by ruling out coalition we denied ourselves the opportunity to “…have a powerful expression and an effective influence both in the Government and in the coming Parliament.”  What is more the electorate knew it and voted accordingly.  We can have the best and most desirable values and policies in the world but unless the electorate believe that we can bring those policies and values to bear what is the point in voting for us.

The time has come for us to eat real humble pie, take two or three steps back and embrace coalition governance with a real enthusiasm and clarity.  We could be building a “coalition in Parliament” for a penny on income tax to fund the NHS instead of our focus on a second referendum which will only resonate when Project Fear becomes Project Reality.

Most of all we should be bringing coherence back to the Party by recognising that the whole point of proportional representation is to establish consensus across political parties in the interest of the country.   Long live Coalition Government.

* Following a career in the Royal Navy Steve has worked at a senior level within health, local government, criminal justice and voluntary sectors. Wilts County Councillor (1989) and NW Leicestershire District Councillor (1995)

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29 Comments

  • Glenn Andrews 3rd Jan '18 - 9:29am

    We went into coalition with 57 MPs, came out the other end with 8. The reason we ruled out going into coalition with what was only likely to be 20-odd tops and turned out to be 12 MPs should be obvious.

  • You really think it would be obvious Glenn. It’s simply astounding some people can’t quite see why deciding against coalition this time around wasn’t ‘inexplicable’.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Jan '18 - 10:00am

    The whole point about proportional representation is that we haven’t got it, must strongly campaign to get it, but until the country has it, small parties tend to be squeezed out as the two main parties go head to head. As Glenn Andrews says, we suffered greatly from the last Coalition Government, and were right to beware of another. Surely nobody thinks it would be good for us to be in the place of the DUP now, upholding this appalling present government.

    There will be coalition governments in the future, I feel sure, but meantime a useful new response has arisen to the feared doorstep complaint of voting for us being pointless. We can point out that some, perhaps many, will have voted for Labour because they were assured that there was no danger of Jeremy Corbyn ever leading that party to victory and becoming PM.

  • Reginald Langman 3rd Jan '18 - 10:13am

    You are right to claim that smaller parties will be squeezed out under first past the post elections. However the next election is bound to be mainly about Brexit and your policies should be directed towards providing the electorate with a clear alternative to the main parties.
    Somehow one feels you are not promoting yourselves as clearly as you should. With a positive outlook
    you could be the Government in waiting.

  • Andy Briggs 3rd Jan '18 - 10:47am

    Spot on Steve! Unfortunately when I wrote something similar for LDV a few months a go I was shot down in flames, the appetite to make a difference seems to have deserted many.

  • To say that the electorate are cynical about politics and politicians is very much a given. But proportional representation is yet another tool by which unscrupulous politicians can ‘mug’ their electorate.

    Whilst the reasoning is that proportional representation allows ‘more diverse’ governance representing the electorate, the truth is that politicians duplicitously *pretend* to be different and diverse a few days before an election to garner votes, but deceitfully revert to type in the days after an election.
    A case in point: A (so called) Liberal tells the electorate there will be “no more broken promises”, and the electorate believe him. Days after the election we see a coalition of not one, but two ‘Tory boys’ in the rose garden.

    In the words of The Who, ‘Won’t get fooled again !!’

    The British prefer their more direct Hire ‘n’ Fire approach to politics and with good reason. So forget proportional representation which is yet another tool for deceitful politicians.
    What we the electorate really need to ensure that we get real voter representation is a true Power of Recall. If a representative MP goes ‘off piste’, we need the opportunity to bring him/her back to face their constituents and explain themselves or face an exit from their post.
    The electorate need more power over their ‘representatives’, not less.

  • Glenn Andrews 3rd Jan ’18 – 9:29am………….We went into coalition with 57 MPs, came out the other end with 8. The reason we ruled out going into coalition with what was only likely to be 20-odd tops and turned out to be 12 MPs should be obvious………..

    “It’s not what you do; it’s the way that you do it” goes the old song…

    We entered, meekly, into an ‘abusive relationship’ and seemed, not just to accept it, but to relish it…Imagine us, 7 years ago, being led by someone like Arlene Foster (her strength of character; not her politics) Cameron would’ve been hiding under the table..

  • It is the core of the argument, Steve. Liberal Democrats stand for a fair voting system and proportional representation in Parliament. The Labour party grew out of a recognition that the working man could never get a fair deal without having their own representatives taking part in making the laws we all live by.
    A century ago the Liberal Party won a landslide election on a single issue – Tariff Reform. We stood for free trade against Joe Chamberlain’s protectionist policies of fortress empire. Today we argue for fortress Europe while the Conservatives champion free trade. We should be arguing for remaining in a reformed EU on the basis that the UK and Germany are the only countries that can make the EU work effectively as an open and comnpetitive trading bloc.
    Richard’s comment goes to the heartof the issue:
    What would be the outcome of an opinion poll with the question ‘To provide a government with a working majority would you rather the Conservative Party: (A) paid a billion pounds of your money to the DUP or (B) agreed that it would apply to the EU to be a member of the Customs Union and Single Market post-Brexit to secure the support of the Liberal Democrats?
    Martin is of course right to say “Technocratically the coalition was a success, it demonstrated that coalitions can function effectively for a full term, however the political cost was far too high.”
    The challenge for Libdems is not to abandon coalition government, but how to make a political success of it. Many Libdem councillors have experience of working in coalition at local government level and in devolved administrations. It is by drawing on these experiences that a successful coalition approach can be found.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jan '18 - 3:56pm

    A good challenging piece, better comments, as a response.

    Katharine spot on, very definite, we do not have pr.

    Expats , very good description, but Nick is nicer than Arlene in personality, makes friends well, coalition means colleagues, means friends also. And so therefore and thus, no coalition, no close relationships. Many of that government were good people, Anna Soubry said in government, she likes the Liberal Democrats. Sir Joh Major was advocate for an ongoing agreement , such was his liking for the moderate influence.

    We need to emphasise us, and pr.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Jan '18 - 4:48pm

    Not this again! The problems with Richard’s hypothetical opinion poll question are (1) we wouldn’t ever have got that concession out of the Tories; (2) even if we did, the electorate would never give us credit for it, and (3) it would mean supporting the rest of the government’s hard-right agenda. The big advantage the DUP has over us is its detachment from mainland British politics. The Tories can’t hurt the DUP because the two parties are not in competition for votes, while the DUP only cares about UK government policy to the extent that it affects Northern Ireland.

    The trouble is we did NOT draw from experiences in local government coalitions for the 2010-2015 Coalition, and as a result we are now far too weak to countenance the prospect. So the reason the FDP leader Christian Lindner gave for pulling out of coalition talks after the recent German election applies to us as well: better not to govern at all than to govern badly.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Jan '18 - 4:50pm

    Sheila Gee: MPs are representatives, not delegates. Your suggestion would result in every MP being constantly subject to recall attempts by anyone with an agenda. It should only be used in cases where misconduct is alleged (I think it would be appropriate for Jared O’Mara, for instance).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jan ’18 – 3:56pm
    A good challenging piece, better comments, as a response….
    Expats , very good description, but Nick is nicer than Arlene in personality, makes friends well, coalition means colleagues, means friends also. And so therefore and thus, no coalition, no close relationships. Many of that government were good people, Anna Soubry said in government, she likes the Liberal Democrats. Sir Joh Major was advocate for an ongoing agreement , such was his liking for the moderate influence………..

    Ref…”but Nick is nicer than Arlene in personality, makes friends well, coalition means colleagues, means friends also.”….
    ‘Friends’ respect friends and tell them when they disagree… We were not friends we, in most cases where it mattered, were willing victims…NHS, welfare cuts, bedroom tax,secret courts , etc. were not OUR policies but we owned them and suffered the consequences..
    Before the 2015 election I posted details of conversations I had with a large group of 18-25 year olds about their voting intentions …They were, mostly, unhappy with the Tories but the comment that came up most, regarding us, was ‘untrustworthy’ (and often couched in ‘unambiguous terms)….The very group we had wooed in 2010 were, almost unanimously, not going to vote for us again…

    Nick may be a ‘nice guy’ but the American expression of where nice guys finish is apt….

  • Mark Blackburn 3rd Jan '18 - 5:55pm

    Is Nick a ‘nice guy’? Or is he an unscrupulous ambitious politician with a set agenda who knows how to cultivate a nice guy image? You could say that at least Arlene is what she says she is, whereas Nick could be construed as a hypocrite. We are still trawling along the bottom at 7% in the polls. And that is because we have lost trust, or Nick and his coterie have lost that trust as a result of trying to further their own centre-right ambitions. And now he’s a lord, although he’s publicly said on more than one occasion that ermine and all that stuff isn’t for him. He’s still the most high profile Lib Dem, so is it any wonder the public haven’t got much time for us?

  • David Evershed 3rd Jan '18 - 6:04pm

    The reason many Lib Dem voters deserted the Lib Dems after the coalition is because they were previously voting against the Conservative candidate rather than for the Lib Dem.

    Liberal Democrats should be attracting voters for positive Lib Dem reasons rather than because of tactical voting against a hated Conservative or Labour candidate. Then we will not see so many desertions the next time we enter coaltion.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jan '18 - 6:23pm

    Expats

    I do reel from being to kind , but have to try and understand , it is in my nature, as have now little interest in negativity as that is so typical. Perhaps you are right. Nick is not deserving of these considerations …answers on a postcard

  • David Evershed,

    this is an important point “Liberal Democrats should be attracting voters for positive Lib Dem reasons rather than because of tactical voting against a hated Conservative or Labour candidate. Then we will not see so many desertions the next time we enter coaltion.”

    Even with an unpopolar Labour government, the Clegg bounce and the promise of free tuition fees attracting the youth vote, we lost five seats in the 2010 election.

    Had we not entered coalition, there would almost cetainly have been anoter election within 6 to 12 months. No one knows what would have been the outcome of such an election i.e. whether we would have lost the tactical votes anyway and ended up with significantly reduced seats as 2015.

    Voters loyalty has to be earned on the basis of values, principles and actions in government. A reliance on tactical voting is always going to be an ephemeral strategy that can be blown away from one election to the next.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Jan '18 - 12:57am

    @ Joe B. I entirely agree that we should ask voters to vote for Liberal Democrats for positive reasons, and the sort of economic reforms you and Michael BG propose are the kind of reasons they might find to do so. Meantime, people with like-minded and progressive views are getting together in Parliament, and that is all to the good, surely safer and more constructive than a coalition could be at present.

    However, I am interested in one of your comments here, that ‘we should be arguing for staying in a reformed European Union’. Being positive and hopeful about the EU is clearly part of the argument for wanting to stay in, but I would like to know how you personally think it should be reformed?

  • Katherine,

    I think one of the big problems for us is, the EU as currently constituted is far from perfect and Libdems have been as critical as most of its shortcomings and weaknesses in the past. Of course, no International institution is perfect and never will be. However, support for remaining in the EU should not blind us to the major reforms that the Union will need to undertake in the years to come.
    The core of the EU is going to be the Eurozone, something the UK is highly unlikely to participate in. This necessitates a two tier EU – those in the Eurozone and those without.
    I would like to see us putting the case to the EU for a recognition of this reality and a restructuring of the trading relationship that places less restrictive obligations on members outside of the Eurozone with respect to regulations around free movement of labour and budget sovereignty. A greater emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity enshrined in the Masstricht treaties and a relinquishment of those competences not essential to the EU’s operations for members outside of the Eurozone, would be a key reform that could pave the way for a harmonious continuing relationship, not just for us but for other countries outside the Eurozone as well.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '18 - 4:13am

    The electorate didn’t reject us because we rejected coalition. If anything it was the opposite: many of our potential supporters didn’t vote for us because they couldn’t quite trust us not to go back into coalition with the Tories in the event of a hung Parliament. Momentum in particular was aggressively pushing the idea that that was exactly what we planned to do, both during and shortly after the election. In a hung parliament there are ways of influencing government policy in opposition. Rejecting coalition was the right thing to do both during the election campaign, and after the result came in.

  • Daniel Carr 4th Jan '18 - 7:05am

    ‘Is Nick a ‘nice guy’? Or is he an unscrupulous ambitious politician with a set agenda who knows how to cultivate a nice guy image? You could say that at least Arlene is what she says she is, whereas Nick could be construed as a hypocrite. We are still trawling along the bottom at 7% in the polls. And that is because we have lost trust, or Nick and his coterie have lost that trust as a result of trying to further their own centre-right ambitions. And now he’s a lord, although he’s publicly said on more than one occasion that ermine and all that stuff isn’t for him. He’s still the most high profile Lib Dem, so is it any wonder the public haven’t got much time for us?’

    Ah, he’s not in the Lords…

  • There is a need to think about how we see the political world. Many involved in politics look upon it as left and right, with left as sometimes described as socialism and right as a supporter of capitalism. Of course this is not how the vast majority of people see the world. Of course there is no way in which we can encapsulate how the vast majority of people see the world as they see it differently. The reason that so many people see all politicians as the same is that this is a true reflection of the world. If your reaction is that this is simply my personal view, then good we are on the same wavelength. We do need to start to think about what the Liberal Democrats are for. And of course what the other parties are for. If we say, and we have over the years, that we believe in involving people in decision making then we need to develop our approach to community politics. Not just as a means of winning elections, but because this is what we believe in. We need to find how we then apply this to running a council. How should we involve people? And then how to we involve people in running the country? And of course is this what we believe?

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jan '18 - 1:17pm

    Coalition government and preferential voting go hand in hand. We need both and one leads to the other. One view is that it is only by going into another coalition will we at last change our disastrous electoral system. We will soon be experts, at least in the UK on coalition politics and do we really want the DUP to have a pivotal long-term influence on UK politics?

  • paul holmes 4th Jan '18 - 5:33pm

    It seems to me that a fundamental mistake is to believe that because electoral arithmetic after any given election might mean a Coalition is possible therefore we must enter such a Coalition. That simply is not so -even in countries which have PR which we of course do not.

    In Feb 1974 the Liberal Party refused Ted Heath’s coalition overtures because the Tories would not move on introducing PR. In 1977/8 the Liberals spent 18 months in a loose Confidence and Supply style arrangement with Labour. In 2010 the Liberal Democrats entered a full blown Coalition with the Conservatives. In 2015 the DUP entered a firm Confidence and Supply arrangement with the Conservatives which unlike the 1978 Lib/Lab Pact did produce concrete ‘successes’ for the DUP voter base but unlike the 2010 Coalition did not commit the DUP to voting for issues they do not support.

    That is four different ways of responding to the possibility of a Coalition. The same can be seen in countries with PR. In 2017 the German FDP refused to conclude Coalition talks with the CDU and the Greens because they could not get the deal they wanted. The SPD, having spent two consecutive terms in Coalition with the CDU (think Labour and Conservatives in Coalition in Britain!) said no to a third Coalition term but are now, maybe, thinking again.

    Belief in Coalition Government combined with a particular opportunity of it occurring does not mean abandoning your critical faculties and Party Principles in pursuit of power at any cost. The DUP, coming from a part of the UK where all elections are by PR, have shown how to deal with Coalition without destroying your Party. The Liberal Democrats previously spent 4 successful years in Coalition in the Welsh Assembly and 8 successful years in Coalition in the Scottish Government.

    The fact that (in my opinion) we should never have entered the Westminster Coalition in 2010 and that having done so it was handled appallingly badly, does not invalidate the idea of ever again going into a Coalition. But neither does a future possibility of Coalition mean that we have to enter one regardless, ‘just because we can’.

  • Steve Spear 4th Jan '18 - 5:37pm

    Paul Holmes of course we would not enter coalition or any other arrangement at the cost of our principles the point I was making is that we shouldn’t be ruling it out before the election.

  • paul holmes 4th Jan '18 - 9:44pm

    Steve, sometimes it does make sense to rule out Coalition in advance. In 1997, with the Conservatives collapsing wholesale after 18 years in power, it made absolute sense to say we would not work with the Conservatives. I can see too the sense in the calculation behind saying we would not seek Coalition with either Party in the circumstances of 2017.
    @JoeB, I am not sure what your point was about us losing 5 seats net in 2010. It certainly was not because ‘tactical voters were leaving us’ since we actually increased our vote share in that election. Only by 1% from the 22% we gained in 2005 but an increase even so. We lost seats overall because the new Leaders team let the Targeting Strategy run away from them. We started out with a little over 90 serious Target Seats which was our highest ever and gives the lie to the claim that Targeting hollows out the Party everywhere else. But the brief Cleggmania that followed the first good TV debate (followed by two much weaker performances) led to far more Seats being brought into the Pool and even more deciding they could win even though they actually came third in reality. As a result effort was too diffuse and we made a net loss.

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