The Times: “Lib Dems are great survivors”

Writing in the Times (£), Philip Collins makes some predictions about the Liberal Democrats’ fortunes. He reckons we’ll be part of a coalition with the Conservatives after the general election. I suspect party members will have a different feeling until we see what’s on offer. Collins also has some fairly unpalatable recommendations for the party, such as ditching climate change.

He reckons we won’t face the wipeout many predict:

The party’s own polling is the clue to the relentless optimism of its senior personnel. Where they have a presence on the local council and the sitting MP, the Lib Dems are competitive. Ukip will help them against the Tories and the electoral system that Lib Dems have always hated is coming to their rescue. There has been a lot of speculation about where Nick Clegg will go after the election. My own bet is Sheffield Hallam, about once a fortnight.

This is how he thinks we should play a second coalition:

If the Lib Dems are given the chance to negotiate a second coalition they will have a moment to rectify this. In all probability, with 35 seats or so, there will be fewer seats at cabinet on offer, so clear definition will be imperative. Much as it will grieve parts of the party, the Lib Dems ought to let climate change go, along with a clutch of junior posts, to secure education for David Laws and business for Vince Cable. Nick Clegg himself should back out of his constitutional cul-de-sac and talk in public principally about fair life chances. By 2020, the Lib Dems might be able to campaign as a party of genuine accomplishment.

And he thinks we’d agree to an EU referendum:

There is no question of the Lib Dems not consenting to a referendum. The relevant question will be their price. Fortunately, George Osborne has supplied the answer. His absurd plan to deliver a surplus entirely through cuts to unprotected departments is tantamount to a proposal to abolish the police. After reclaiming the job of chief secretary to the treasury, the Lib Dems will demand a softening of this austere stance. The Tories, keen both to get off the hook and to blame the Lib Dems, will pretend to be upset and the Lib Dems will gain plausible licence to claim credit for all good things. With every Sure Start Centre that opens and every policeman that starts work, Mr Clegg will say “that wouldn’t have happened without us”. It would be an early gift and it would keep on giving.

He just hasn’t factored in the party’s internal democracy who will take a lot of persuading that this is a good idea or how the electoral maths might play out. In 2010, the electoral dice gave only one realistic coalition option. What will happen in May is anyone’s guess.

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52 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 20th Feb '15 - 1:35pm

    This Phil Collins, can he sing? 😉

    If he were to sing in his bath it might be the genesis of some political thought.

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Feb '15 - 1:39pm

    I really cannot imagine the Liberal Democrats will “let climate change go”. This is not a nice optional extra. It would be the height of irresponsibility to do that. The test is is it in the national interest? If the answer is no then there will be no deal, simple as that.

  • James Moore 20th Feb '15 - 1:51pm

    This may be unpopular for a number of reasons, but I’d genuinely think Nick Clegg would make a fantastic Foreign Secretary.

  • Indeed I think it’s well known that not even Osborne believes in his own fiscal plans. He’s just giving the Lib Dems the chance to look important. I’ll give Osborne this, he’s good at massaging egos. So senior Lib Dems will be satisfied and the country can continue along its centre-right path.

  • It is important, essential even, for voters to know the preferred choice of coalition partner for the lib dems, and what their red lines are. Otherwise no one can vote for them for any reason other than loyalty, and loyalty will not bring you close to 30+ seats.

  • Geoffrey Payne
    You fail to take into account the rest of that sentence which goes on to suggest we should forget about climate change “..to secure education for David Laws..”

    Now I happen to think that David Laws would benefit from some education.
    But I am not sure that forgetting about the future of the planet is the price I would want to pay to help the Yeovil MP secure an O-level in something beyond hedge fund profiteering.

  • A good opening offer with the Tories would be (i.e. all Lib Dem ministers) the Depts of Education, BIS and Energy & Climate. We’d also keep the Chief Sec to the Treasury, with the Lib Dem fiscal mandate. All in return for the Tories’ beloved EU referendum.

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Feb '15 - 2:12pm

    The Times is trying really hard to help bring about another Conservative Lib Dem coalition, as they think it is very likely the only way that the Conservatives will be in Government after May.

  • David Evans 20th Feb '15 - 2:24pm

    Not certain it is the only way, but Paul is pretty close to hitting the nail right on the head. I think the Times may regard Nick as a nice bit of insurance to have available, just in case.

  • The Tories and right wing press are quite happy to flatter the Lib Dems but make no mistake thy regard them as useful idiots. I hope the party isn’t easily flattered.

  • Paul Pettinger

    Are you suggesting that Rupert Murdoch’s Times does not have the best interests of Liberal Democrats at the heart of what they are promoting? Surely not?

    Murdoch and his Newspapers have always been exemplary in their promotion of Liberalism and in their unstinting loyalty to the cause of the Liberal Democrats.

    In the next couple of weeks we can expect The Sun on Sunday to pitch in with headlines like —
    “THE ECONOMY — IT’s CLEGGIE WHAT DUN IT” .
    Page 3 will switch to pictures of David Laws stripped to the waist in the fields around Yeovil.
    And pigs will be sighted flying in formation over Paddy Ashdown as he commands his activists from The WendyHouse.

  • Julian Gibb 20th Feb '15 - 2:50pm

    his type of language is why you will lose seats in Scotland.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/a-horrifying-thought/

  • @g
    “It is important, essential even, for voters to know the preferred choice of coalition partner for the lib dems, and what their red lines are.”

    What a good idea, but only after Labour and the Tories do the same first.

    I mean, seriously?

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Feb '15 - 3:17pm

    It’s Paddy Ashdown CH – in the Wendy House.

    On Jan 29th The Times carried an opinion piece – not from a former Lib Dem voter, coming back to the Lib Dems – but from the Conservative Party activist Tim Montgomerie entitled ‘Nick Clegg is the unsung hero of our times’. It’s like a ruddy faced farmer fattening up their prize pig.

  • RC, my point is that your hope of turning a terrible situation into merely a bad one relies wholly on tactical voting in your favour. Which tactical voters does your party want, right or left? You can no longer appeal to both.

  • What they have in mind as far as “survival” for the Lib Dems in this context is something like the scene in Alien where Sigourney Weaver discovers her crew mate, who has been taken over by an alien but is somehow weirdly still alive. This is what a second coalition with the Tories would be like.

    He begs her to kill him.

  • David Faggiani 20th Feb '15 - 3:31pm

    Nice ‘Alien’ reference, RC. Especially as that scene is only in the Director’s Cut 😀

    I for one can’t work out if this last-months-of-Parliament optimism we seem to be experiencing is meaningful and substantial, or like the rush of narcotic endorphins people are said to experience on their deathbed. Either way, I can’t stand the suspense much longer. I’m so glad D-Day is only 2-months-and-change away.

  • Nick Collins 20th Feb '15 - 3:54pm

    ” I’d genuinely think Nick Clegg would make a fantastic Foreign Secretary.”

    Perhaps a bit ambitious: Governor -General of The Falklands, perhaps?

  • Nick Collins 20th Feb '15 - 3:58pm

    Sorry, “perhaps” twice in one sentence. Perhaps apposite ‘though; Nick Clegg as the perennial “perhaps” man.

  • paul barker 20th Feb '15 - 4:48pm

    I firmly beleive that a Referendum should be a absolute No. The only compromise I would see as acceptable is that we would allow the Tories parliamentary time but vote against the bill allowing the Referendum; either there would be a majority without us or not. On balance my preference is for Opposition while we work on breaking open splits in Labour & the tories & winning Local & Byelections.
    On the question of when the Polls will shift, it could be not till April so lets all try to chill.

  • Chris Rennard 20th Feb '15 - 4:48pm

    Phil Collins was a member of the Commission that I chaired some years ago on behalf of the voluntary sector into what it wanted from the ‘Big Society’. I too was disappointed that he was not the singer/songwriter/drummer ex of Genesis and was only a former (but very talented) speech writer for Blair.
    I do not think that he is seriously expecting Lib Dems to drop commitment to tackling climate change here – but rather suggesting that if we try to form another coalition (with fewer MPs), then we should expect fewer cabinet and ministerial positions. I think it was disappointing that the 2010 coalition negotiations barely resulted, if at all, in us getting a proportion of Ministers in relation to the number of seats that we won. With Cameron desperate to be Prime-Minister, we should have got something nearer to the proportion of votes that we won. This is of course more easily achieved when forming coalitions in most European countries with more proportional voting systems, but we should have at least got one Minister in every department, and we were wrong subsequently to give up ministerial positions in Foreign Affairs and Defence. We should have looked at outset to for agreement on the sort of proposal recently made by Nick Harvey that a junior coalition partner in our sort of position in 2010 should have had a Deputy Secretary of State wherever it did not have a Secretary of State.
    I hope that Phil Collins is wrong about our position on a referendum on EU membership. I believe that we are right to continue arguing that one should only be held, if and when, there is a proposal for more significant powers to be transferred to the EU from the UK. Parliament has already legislated to the effect that no powers can be transferred without a referendum. We should not be negotiating during the election, but we should be explaining why our economy, our commitment to tackling climate change, and our peace and security (especially given Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine) require stability in relation to our membership of the EU. In last year’s European elections we failed to convey more than the fact that we supported being ‘IN’.
    It is a quite right for the article to point out that Osborne’s economic plans for the next Parliament either involve measures such as abolishing the police, or are by implication fundamentally dishonest. We need to expose the threat of Osborne’s plans if he tried to implement them in a future government. The Times saying that Osborne’s plans mean ‘no police’ or us pointing out what else might not be financed (or suggesting that otherwise he is telling porkies about his ‘long term economic plan’ would be powerful. The so-called ‘plan’ is hiding significant cuts or significant tax increases – if the aim is as stated to eliminate the deficit and achieve their desired economic outcome. The tax bribe for being married (with the associated expensive advertising campaign to promote it about to begin) is wrong in principle, but if it can be afforded then we are right to be arguing for the money to go towards extending free childcare for two year olds.
    I am not comfortable with the suggested approach in the article to coalition negotiations. People do not see the votes of their elected representatives determining outcomes. I believe that some of our party’s current problems result from people seeing the outcome of negotiations when ‘coalition works, but not the differing positions of parties that have led to that outcome. We have suffered as a party because of this. In general, too many decisions are taken by negotiation within government (whether within one party or between two different ones). Our government/executive is not properly held to account by Parliament; and far too little power is presently devolved. We not only want to see Parliament to be elected and representative, but we want it to be able to exercise its functions properly by letting many more decisions be taken on the basis of the votes of parliamentarians, rather than as a result of private negotiations. This would bring much greater transparency to the decision making process – and people might feel that they are getting more of what they voted for from their MPs.

  • Thank you for the common sense of the last paragraph: I predict that in the supposed circumstances opposition to a further coalition in the Party would be overwhelming. In 2010 the big selling point was a referendum on a change to the electoral system. What could Conservatives (or Labour for that matter) offer that is in anyway comparable?

    I should have thought that the Tory’s referendum is a much greater stumbling block that Collins assumes. Lib Dems do not want to be hand maidens for a UK withdrawal from the EU. Furthermore Cameron is demanding a vaguely specified ‘renegotiation’: whatever that might entail it is unlikely to sit well with a Lib Dem vision for Europe.

    Doubtlessly, Nick Clegg could be an excellent foreign secretary, but it would be inconceivable in the context of a Tory led administration (it could work well with Labour though)

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Feb '15 - 5:05pm

    @ Martin – “Furthermore Cameron is demanding a vaguely specified ‘renegotiation’: whatever that might entail it is unlikely to sit well with a Lib Dem vision for Europe.”

    The re-negotiation is so milquetoast in its stated ‘ambition’ it is unlikely to even require treaty change!
    So what is so incompatible with the lib-dem vision for europe?
    Are we talking entry into the euro?
    Schenghen?
    Full accession to the justice competence?
    Participation in fiskal-europ including the ESF, etc?

    If so, will any of that turn up in a manifesto…

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '15 - 5:20pm

    Paul Barker, my opinion is that love of the EU toxifies the Lib Dem brand and refusing a referendum would make it worse.

    I don’t agree with most of what Philip Collins says here, but I’ve heard worse opinions.

  • “There has been a lot of speculation about where Nick Clegg will go after the election. My own bet is Sheffield Hallam, about once a fortnight.”

    My understanding is that prior to the election he will have the fight of his political life trying to hang on to Hallam, I understand the Conservative candidate is not intending to take any prisoners…

    Regarding a potential coalition, I wonder if the LibDem’s have achieved any real degree of internal reform to make the ratification of a new coalition agreement any more democratic, simpler and quicker than in 2010…

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '15 - 6:02pm

    I’ve just remembered that the other day I suggested I was against a referendum. Sorry, I didn’t think. But it is important to get the Lib Dems on the negotiating team if we have one. We can’t just have a bunch of right wing eurosceptics posing as the authentic voice of Britain.

  • David Allen 20th Feb '15 - 6:32pm

    “I predict that in the supposed circumstances opposition to a further coalition in the Party would be overwhelming. In 2010 the big selling point was a referendum on a change to the electoral system. What could Conservatives (or Labour for that matter) offer that is in anyway comparable?”

    Yes, but who supposes that the leadership of this party gives a tinker’s cuss for what the activists think? Like the Tories and Labour, the Lib Dems are controlled by their donors. Activists are for manipulating into line, that’s all.

    The big selling point in 2010, the AV referendum, was cooked up as a scheme for persuading left-of-centre activists to vote for Tory-led government, along with a non-existent financial crisis which supposedly reached its climax just the week after our election. The AV referendum, naturally, bit the dust. The financial crisis did likewise. The people who declared that disaster would strike if they were not in power to abolish the deficit have hardly dented it, yet they absurdly still pretend to have a long term master plan. Who says that the masters of shock doctrine won’t be able to “offer something comparable” this time?

    The Who sang that they “won’t be fooled again”, but as I am sure they knew well, most people can effortlessly be fooled repeatedly. The beginning of wisdom is to recognise that one was fooled the first time. Most Lib Dems still have not. They don’t want to admit it to themselves, because it is too painful to do so. Sadly, it will be even more painful to get fooled again.

    Mr Collins is right. The leaderships of the Lib Dems and the Tories will do everything they can to help each other into continued right-wing government, in a grossly cynical way, and will continue to satisfy the requirements of their rich donors. Anyone who still believes in the traditional Liberal Democrat principles of standing up for individuals and communities against powerful vested interests should be out.

  • Excellent article by Philip Collins and exactly what will happen if the Tories are again largest party but short of a majority. The LDs will agree to an EU referendum, but only on condition the Tories abandon their target for slashing back spending to 35% of GDP and Cameron abandons his tax cut plans until a surplus is achieved

  • David Allen 20th Feb '15 - 6:43pm

    Beat this for pure cynicism – the mindset of our coalitionist lords and masters:

    “There is no question of the Lib Dems not consenting to a referendum. The relevant question will be their price. Fortunately, George Osborne has supplied the answer. … The Lib Dems will demand a softening of (his unachievable promise of massive cuts). The Tories, keen both to get off the hook and to blame the Lib Dems, will pretend to be upset and the Lib Dems will gain plausible licence to claim credit for all good things. With every Sure Start Centre that opens and every policeman that starts work, Mr Clegg will say “that wouldn’t have happened without us”. It would be an early gift and it would keep on giving.”

    The gift that keeps on giving. Remember that scene from “The Magic Christian”, with bankers diving into a vat of urine to pull out banknotes? Well, now imagine those divers, wearing our leaders’ faces…

  • I fundamentally disagree with the article in terms of what posts we should have in Government. Environment is the only department we’ve really being able to introduce important Liberal beliefs and actually got some good press coverage.

    BIS has being a complete disaster – allowing us to take ownership of tuition fees and actually having very little positive press – we should have avoided that one like the plague.

    Scotland is dominated by coverage about the SNP so avoid that one.

    I’d like education and justice, the latter to get the odius chris Grayling away from a job he clearly can’t do.

  • A second Tory-led coalition including the Liberal Democrats would spell the complete extinction of the party. If the Lib Dems can stay out of government they may have the chance to heal their wounds, reorient the party, and start winning votes again. But more of the same promises more of the same: a trend leading to zero MPs, zero MSPs, zero councillors, zero existence as a viable political entity.

  • Paul In Wokingham 20th Feb '15 - 7:44pm

    The Spectator article by James Forsyth articulates the point made many times on this forum that we are being “written out of the script” and that eventually the “Lib Dems are irrelevant” meme starts to resonate even in our strongholds.

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/politics/9447962/why-the-lib-dems-arent-scared-of-this-election-and-why-they-should-be/

    Having said that I continue to think we will get about 30 seats. But I confidently predicted 3 MEPs would be the minimum return right up until the results were coming in…

  • Jonathan Pile 20th Feb '15 - 8:25pm

    Coalition 2.0 is always going to be a deal with less lib dem influence and more right wing policies than is good or acceptable for the party or country. a coalition with labour won’t be much better in its terms or for the party. All the options seem bad . Opposition is the best option for the party but single party labour or Tory government will be bad news for the uk . A fine mess

  • Richard Church 20th Feb '15 - 9:01pm

    I’m all in favour of ditching climate change. We to ditch coal, oil and gas (in that order) to do it, and we need to do it fast.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Feb '15 - 11:04pm

    Worrying how many contributors seem to believe that another coalition with the Tories would result in anything other than a bloody civil war and the likely end of our party as an effective political force.

    The Times line is a win/win for the Tories. They get an NC-led Lib Dems back in coalition if required AND the death of our party by 2020 or very soon afterwards.

    Clearly I am missing something as to why Tories such as Tim Montgomerie might consider NC is an unsung hero.

    A much better outcome would be a Labour/SNP coalition giving us time to elect a new leader and reaffirm Preamble-compatible policies. Then, by 2020, both ourselves and the political playing field would be in much more promising condition.

  • ‘ Where they have a presence on the local council and the sitting MP, the Lib Dems are competitive. ‘

    Anyone got a clue what that means and when the polling company concerned is going to publish the data that ‘competitive’ is based on.

    I understand that these were single constituency polls that included Solihull & Wells so why the delay in publishing the supporting data?

  • jedibeeftrix Personally, nearer 40% would be fine by me, but if the LDs again hold the balance of power it will not be 35%

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Feb '15 - 8:43am

    Re “Clearly I am missing something as to why Tories such as Tim Montgomerie might consider NC is an unsung hero.”

    … particularly why any Lib Dem might consider this view to be a positive. That NC is mentioned in such terms proves why he simply can not lead us in the next parliament. If the ‘accolade’ revolves around the collective decision by Liberal Democrats to enter into coalition at a crucial time for the country then Tim Montgomerie should have said so.

  • Denis Mollison 21st Feb '15 - 9:05am

    If another hung parliament gives us leverage we must use it for significant reform, before the political balance swings back to the usual FPTP alternation between two big parties. Proportional representation for local government should be a minimum demand.

    From what is said above, breaking the power go big donors should be another red line: a cap of £ 10 K or less on individual donations, and NO donations from businesses. Instead a simple funding formula based on number of votes won – perhaps £1 per year for each vote for the party in the most recent election.

  • Denis Mollison 21st Feb '15 - 9:06am

    PS – for “go” read “of” – how does “predictive text” achieve these transformations?

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Feb '15 - 9:31am

    Denis, I have fallen foul of this numerous times.

    Also when we might omit say a ‘not’ thereby completely and embarrassingly changing the entire meaning of the sentence.

    The LDV team appear to have a policy not to improve the user experience by providing an edit button – perhaps including highlighting any amendment to the original text or a delay in the ability to reply etc.

  • Denis, the 2010 election gave us significant leverage and Nick totally blew it. As you indicate PR for local government should have been a minimum demand, not the half baked referendum idea that we got. However none of this would have saved us from Nick’s failure in government. The 2010 result did give him a lever to move a Tory government more into line with Liberal Democracy. Sadly Nick got hold of the wrong end and used it repeatedly to move the Liberal Democrats more into line with the Tory government. Doh! 🙁

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Feb '15 - 1:56pm

    David Evans 21st Feb ’15 – 12:54pm

    I agree David and now, apparently for the purposes of the election, we are being differentiated again. If it all went the way NC and his latter day Thatcherite free market allies wish, I personally fear what Coalition 2.0 would look like – and even more the effect it would have on our party.

  • In 2010 there had to be a coalition to get fixed term parliaments otherwise Cameron would have been able to call an autumn election. Given the relative numbers of MPs the Tories had much the better hand – the precise deal deepened on the bargaining ability of the the negotiators. I doubt that any achievable outcome would not have been criticised by many. Many Tories feel that Cameron gave too much.
    This time it is not as necessary to achieve a coalition and a minority government can exist successfully provided there is sensible discussions with the other parties in parliament. So there should be a much better deal for parties being asked to join a coalition government. I just hope that some real though is being given as to changes in parliamentary procedures to enable a permanent no overall control parliament.

  • “I just hope that some real though is being given as to changes in parliamentary procedures to enable a permanent no overall control parliament.” Mike Drew

    I agree, as it seems many are under the impression that if no overall majority government can be formed, a second election will swiftly follow…

  • That’s why the Liberals Democrats should be thinking of ways they can work collectively with other small parties in the 2015 Parliament (SNP, Plaid, Irish parties, Greens, even UKIP) to maximise their leverage against Labour and the Tories.

  • Philip Thomas 21st Feb '15 - 7:00pm

    I’m happy to accept a European referendum so long as we use the European Parliamentary elections franchise. Then we can see off the Europhobes for another 40 years. However, I don’t think the Tories will do a deal. They’ve already said “If we lose the next election, we’ll form a minority government”…

  • SIMON BANKS 22nd Feb '15 - 4:51pm

    The comment about letting climate change go appears to mean abandoning our hold on the Energy and Climate Change portfolio, not abandoning policies on climate change or persuading ourselves it isn’t happening. That is arguable, but I have no doubt at all that we should set conditions for any coalition that prevented rowing back on current policies to combat climate change. The Tories certainly can’t be trusted on this, so I’d argue we’d do better to let “business” go. In any case, advice from “The Times” should be supped with a very long spoon.

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