WATCH: Lib Dems at 30

Enjoy this video which shows the Lib Dems’ highlights over the past 30 years.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • John Marriott 3rd Mar '18 - 6:48pm

    @John Littler
    Points well made. Those who keep knocking the Coalition should remember this. And all you ever hear about is Tuition Fees! We all know that Vince is a big hitter. It’s just a pity that his delivery in the clip is so low key.

  • Good summary John and points that need to be made over and over again. Good advice too about running depatments rather than serving as junior ministers.
    Politics is all about compromise to muster support for geting things done. That applies whether you are in coalition as the current government is or have a stonking majority as Tony Blair did after 1997. It was compromise on all sides that brought about the good Friday agreement.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Mar '18 - 7:12pm

    @John Littler “1 primary negative issue, which for the LibDems you’d say: the hike in University tuition fees;”

    But there is so much more to it than that: relatively few people (though possibly a significant proportion of Lib Dem supporters) care about tuition fees per se.

    But on the back of high profile personal pledges, an election campaign which made a big deal of the issue and attacked the positions of Labour and the Tories, and an election campaign which revolved around Nick Clegg’s “new kind of politics” and “no more broken promises”, the Lib Dems’ biggest problems arise from the destruction of trust in the party and its politicians.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Mar '18 - 7:21pm

    Someone had a list of 100 things we had done or stopped in Coalition. But I think that a lot of us now are hoping people forget the Coalition PDQ – the public relations battle was lost long ago and we are not going to win it now. But list of things for our new members would be helpful.

    [Just two things I know a lot about because I was closely involved where we had real influence – scrapping Tory plans to sell off the national Forests, and the new coastal access and path in England (this latter very much down to us). The amendment that was passed, unanimously in the end, to remove the forest estate from the Public Bodies Bill was my amendment!]

  • Peter Watson 3rd Mar '18 - 7:29pm

    @Tony Greaves “scrapping Tory plans to sell off the national Forests”
    From outside Westminster these looked like Tory and Lib Dem plans which were thwarted by a 38 Degrees petition and Tory & Lib Dem MPs realising just how unpopular the idea was amongst their core voters.

  • John Roffey 3rd Mar '18 - 8:04pm

    @John Marriott – “We all know that Vince is a big hitter. It’s just a pity that his delivery in the clip is so low key.”

    I do not wish to be too hard on the Party – but, realistically, isn’t it time for a fundamental rethink of the Party’s policies [or at least its key policies]? This is VC’s keynote speech at the September Conference.

    Even the biggest hitters will have trouble concealing their concerns – knowing that another has to be made soon – and it has to relate, some how, to what they previously said.

  • One of the lessons of the coalition is should we ever be back in the coalition is to have some “stand up rows” in public so that the public know where we are different and making a difference. And campaign hard for things publicly.

    One of the problems and it is a credit actually to Nick Clegg et al is that they were too concerned for the coalition to last and be stable (!) and not to spook the financial markets etc. This was with a background which is difficult now to remember of the financial meltdown, Greece etc. And of course if the coalition had collapsed in chaos it would have made things tough for us in the future. You can unfortunately be too keen to escape one fate that you fall into another trap!

    I remember canvassing two households in 2015 that had been reasonably sympathetic to us in the past. The first said I am not voting for you – you went into bed with the Tories. The second said I like the coalition – I am voting Conservative! This was our problem!

    There was a good campaign leaflet/booklet from HQ on the achievements of us in coalition. And again we to have done more on this in the future if we are back in a similar situation. And indeed highlighting the “softer” issues that @Tony Greaves mentions. It is instructive the Tories have done quite a bit on animal welfare and plastic in the environment recently.

    While the battle may well have been lost on people’s views on the coalition – people do revise their thoughts as a sense of perspective kicks in and I think subsidiary messaging should be on the coalition and pointing out where it was actually quite good!

    It is a bit though – we did not “stand our ground” more as Vince says we do – over some of these issues such as um… tuition fees!!!!

  • Happy Birthday Lib Dems, still going strong and time to move onwards upwards put the setbacks of the past behind you and celebrate.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 12:40am

    The problem for all those who believe we did anything close to a good job in coalition (John, John, Joe and Tony), is that the electorate did not agree with it at the time, and they don’t agree now. For all the wonderful lists we can create of coalition successes, lists of bad things can be created that are five times longer. However, even worse is that it only takes two or three things to totally trump whatever we say – Austerity for the poor, cheap money for bankers, and Tuition fees. Punish the weak and innocent, Reward the strong and culpable, and break your promise.

    Our leaders’ performance in Coalition destroyed 50 years of hard work by generations of Liberals and Lib Dems, but none of them had the courage to say sorry. No wonder we are stuck on less than 8% and going nowhere.

  • David Evans,

    I think it is understood that much of the good work behind the scenes was overshadowed by the public perception of broken promises or being seen as too keen on proving coalition can work. The party is not alone in facing periodic setbacks.
    The Liberal party managed 11 MPs in 1979 under David Steel and the Libdems after the Thatcher era in 1992 sent 20 MPs to Westminster. It was not until 1997 after 18 years of Conservative governments that we got to 46 under Paddy Ashdown. We made marginal progress in the Labour years getting to 52 under Charles Kennedy in 2001 and the high water mark of 62 post-Iraq, dropping back to 57 in 2010 after the worst financial crisis since the great depression.
    We should learn the lessons of coalition, not least don’t make promises you can’t or don’t intend to keep. Having said that we have seen major changes underway since 2015 with the EU referendum, the return of infighting to the Tory party and the rise of a traditionally socialist Labour party. The political mood can change very quickly.
    It’s important to learn the lessons of the past but at the same time to move on and rebuild on the basis of the values that have sustained Liberalism in the country for 150 years.
    If our generation of Liberals and Libdems have messed up when we had a shot at government, there are 100,000+ members (many newly joined) to pass the baton too.

  • Joe Bourke 4th Mar ’18 – 1:44am…………..I think it is understood that much of the good work behind the scenes was overshadowed by the public perception of broken promises or being seen as too keen on proving coalition can work…..If our generation of Liberals and Libdems have messed up when we had a shot at government, there are 100,000+ members (many newly joined) to pass the baton too……

    Not so much ‘overshadowed’ as ‘obliterated’…As long as we keep harping on about ‘the good we did’ we will get nowhere (Tony Greaves realises that we should “forget the Coalition PDQ” and admits the battle has been lost)…
    As for our ‘reinforcements; unless my maths are worse than I thought, that equates to around 150 votes per parliamentary seat? We might escape being beaten by a penguin but we won’t win seats…

  • Day to day conversation isn’t dominated by the coalition years any more but in order to slowly (very slowly) change public perception the party should be willing to highlight achievements, acknowledge limitations and apologise for mistakes. The conversation now instead is dominated by brexit so party should be consistent in the message that it was an error to propose a referendum with no idea what leave would mean (while not repeating the mistake and thus planning for lib Dems post brexit), a choice was made that seems to be more mistake by the day and should have the option to reverse this mistake. The party also needs to handle that there are many people who can’t stand the politics of Brexit and it is stealing oxygen from day to day issue such as education (if only lib Dems had a real example of ongoing lib dem policies in action in this sector….), environment and health – real areas of strength for the party traditionally.

    In short, I think this video does a good chunk of the above but perhaps a bit too much focus on buzzwords and not enough on policies or results.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 12:16pm

    Joe Bourke, It isn’t understood that ‘much of the good work behind the scenes was overshadowed by the public perception of broken promises or being seen as too keen on proving coalition can work’. It is only stated by those who don’t want to face up to the mess we are in. Quite simply the public don’t believe in ‘the good work behind the scenes’ and neither do I. It was just a series of hair brained ideas deliberately designed by the Conservatives to keep Nick and Co busy on Red herrings while they got on with undermining us.

    However, even more importantly, it is not a periodic setback, it is a disaster that has squandered 50 years of hard work and now threatens our continued existence as a parliamentary party.

    We do need to learn the lessons of the past, but all I see is comments from almost everyone including Vince is that we are right, people will return, and things will be just fine again, but never a single attempt to consider why they should return to us when they believe we left them.

    Quite simply the Lib Dems are not moving on, because almost everyone is refusing to face up to the fact that 90% of the population are not listening to us. Instead we are returning to the irrelevance of the Liberals pre Jo Grimond: nice people discussing how unfortunate those poor Jarrow marchers are and how Land Value Taxation, Women’s rights or Free Trade (choose your favourite) is all that is needed, if only all those other people would realise it.

  • David Blake 4th Mar '18 - 12:49pm
  • David Evans,

    we have local elections coming in May. The first significant test under Vince Cable’s leadership. Let’s see how we do before we start pronouncing the party dead in the water or stalled at 8%. Maybe things will start to look a bit brighter in the summer.

    Interesting take from Tim Farron in the Independent, that we were saved by the EU referendum (in the same way that we got a boost from opposition to the Iraq war), although as I recall there was a big membership jump immediately following the 2015 election as well as the referendum.

  • paul barker 4th Mar '18 - 2:49pm

    Im sorry but I think that all the comments on The Coalition are wrong. We have to go back to why 23% of Voters backed us & what they were expecting, it wasnt a Libdem government. We can all see now how shallow our support was, how many of “Our” Voters backed us as a Protest against Labour/Tories, as the “Best of a Bad Lot” or even to “Give the Little Ones a Chance”. The idea of us in a Coalition didnt cross most of our Voters minds & we didnt talk about it till after they had Voted.
    I honestly believe that a lot of those who had Voted “For” us thought that we were getting too big for our boots – our Role was to keep The Big Parties in line, not to act as though we were a Big Party ourselves. Our support stated to crash from the moment we entered Government & I actually think the same thing would have happened even if we had somehow got a majority. We simply had not prepared our base for what we did & our view of ourselves was totally out of line with the way “Our” Voters saw us.
    I am always banging on about how well our Recovery in Local Votes is going but it is still shallow & vulnerable to big Political “Events”. We have a very long way to go.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 3:27pm

    JoeB, Vince and our party in general are getting very little media coverage at all. We are winning far fewer council by-elections than we need to indicate we are progressing and in just over 12 months the only Lib Dem policy most people about will cease to be relevant.

    Do you really believe we can afford to wait even longer?

  • paul barker 4th Mar ’18 – 2:49pm…………………Im sorry but I think that all the comments on The Coalition are wrong. We have to go back to why 23% of Voters backed us & what they were expecting, it wasnt a Libdem government. We can all see now how shallow our support was, how many of “Our” Voters backed us as a Protest against Labour/Tories, as the “Best of a Bad Lot” or even to “Give the Little Ones a Chance”. The idea of us in a Coalition didnt cross most of our Voters minds & we didnt talk about it till after they had Voted……………

    I think you are completely wrong..In 2001 we had around 19%, 2005…22% and in 2010 ..23%…
    That shows that our voter base, far from being ‘shallow’, had stayed pretty faithful over a decade…
    It was the post 2010 performance of our leadership in supporting policies that were completely at odds with our Liberal values, rather than any change in our voters’ beliefs, that put us on 7%…

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 4:24pm

    Ah Paul Barker,

    Of course. Why didn’t I think of it? It’s all the fault of those people who voted for us up to 2010. The wrong sort of voter and the wrong sort of success.

    Tell me how many voters have told you this is what they did? Or is it just fond imaginings?

  • Peter Watson 4th Mar '18 - 4:33pm

    @paul barker “I actually think the same thing would have happened even if we had somehow got a majority”
    Sadly, that might be true.
    I think that a lot of voters did not know what Lib Dems really stood for, or rather, they projected on to the party what they believed it stood for. Perhaps this was a result of various local campaigns which often emphasised what Lib Dems opposed (anti-Labour here, anti-Tory there, anti-SNP somewhere else). So maybe it was inevitable that once the party was in the position of making decisions and implementing them on a national stage, it would alienate one wing or another (though unfortunately it appears to have lost voters in all directions).

  • David Evans,

    I understand your points and accept your analysis of why support for the party tanked. Where we would differ perhaps is, I think it is an invevitable result of moving from a position of being what was considered by the public mainly as a protest movement to a party of government; and being held accountable for the collective decisions of government.
    The Leadership was selected by Libdem members in a contested election and the MPs by local parties. They are the voice of the Party in Parliament and elected on the basis of the Libdem Manifesto. As representatives of their constituency, in government they have the authority and responsibility to make decisions and compromises on the basis of national and local interests.
    The Libdems, like the other mainstream parties, are a coalition of differing views particulary when it comes to approaches to economic and social liberalism. In opposition those views can be debated ad infinitum In government the debate is over, decisions have to be made based on the circumstances you find yourself. The ability and willingness to take unpopular decisions when necessary, is what distinguishes a party of government from a perpetual protest movement.
    A significant element of the support built up prior to 2010 became disillusioned when faced with the harsh reality of government and sought greener pastures elsewhere.
    If and when the opportunity to govern again presents itself, we need to have our eyes wide open as to the issues the party will be judged on and prepare both the membership and electorate for what is to come.

  • John Marriott 4th Mar '18 - 5:56pm

    Paul Barker’s comments hit the nail squarely on the head. “Our” votes, as he said, were not core votes by any means. I find the continual referring back to “tuition fees” a frankly feeble excuse for electors losing faith. As someone, who happens to think that we encourage far too many people to take traditional university courses, I would, wouldn’t I?

    As I have also written several times before, whether it’s because of our voting system or not, people here seem conditioned to a choice between A and B. It used to be the Whigs and the Tories. Then it became the Liberals and the Conservatives and, finally, after WW2, the Conversatives and Labour. Even in the age of universal suffrage and dissatisfaction with the status quo, it’s still hard for many voters to break that habit.

    Until fairly recently, under a PR based system, Germans tended to choose between the ‘Conservative’ CDU/CSU and the ‘Socialist’ SPD. As neither party normally managed to achieve an absolute majority that left room for the ‘Liberal’ FDP, which acquired the title of ‘Das Zünglein an der Waage’, something that tips the balance either left or right. Ironically, I do not think that the FDP ever had any members elected by what the Germans call a ‘direct mandate’; but have always relied on ‘additional members’ being elected from party lists to the Bundestag (a bit like in the Scottish Parliament, I believe).

    So, the sad fact is that, until we have a voting system for our General Election that fairly represents voting preferences AND until the electorate in general accepts that this may normally, but not always, lead to coalitions, the Lib Dem’s are stuck where they are.

  • paul barker 4th Mar '18 - 5:58pm

    The problem with our increasing vote shares in The Noughties was that it wasnt always the same people & voters in different places has different ideas of who WE were, rather than who we were against.
    By saying that our support was shallow I mean that many people voted for us withjout a clear idea of what we stood for & how we intended to get it. At its simplest, we simply werent put in the same category as Labour & The Tories. They were seen as potential Goverments & we werent, mostly.
    I dont think its useful to allocate blame for that, its a result of The Tory/Labour monopoly & the near-dissapearance of a Liberal voice in the last Century, its inevitable that we built up as a series of Local Islands & a general feeling of not being the other two.
    We are rebuilding, via Local Government first & this time we have to put a much tighter focus on being seen as the same Party everywhere, on repeating a small number of simple messages & on saying what we will do & sticking to it. At some point, that will mean talking about Coalition again & this time we mustnt dodge the awkward questions.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 6:25pm

    As I asked before Paul Barker, Tell me how many voters have told you this is what they did? Or is it still just fond imaginings?

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 6:28pm

    JoeB being blunt, I repeat my question to you. “Do you really believe we can afford to wait even longer?”

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 6:32pm

    Martin your point is almost right, but you should have ended your post ever so slightly differently. Not “Nonetheless, people who have trusted a party to be the equivalent of ‘none of the above’ are unlikely to continue support when that party becomes one of the above” BUT “Nonetheless, people who have trusted a party are unlikely to continue support when that party betrays that trust.”

  • John Marriott 4th Mar '18 - 6:54pm

    I really do admire David Evans’ tenacity. If only life were as perfect as he would like it to be! I spent thirty years as a councillor working with and against the members of other political parties and none, at County level helping to manage an annual budget of around £1 billion.

    As has already been said, being a party of protest will only get you so far. The day will inevitably dawn when you will have to make uncomfortable decisions, which may offend some people.

    Usually, Tories and Labour see their campaigns as a first step to power. They already have a reasonable idea of what they are going to try to do if they gain power. For many Lib Dems the ‘campaign’ to get elected is what seems to be a comfort zone which monopolises their thoughts and planning with little given to what they might do if they actually win. I get the impression that what motivates Party HQ is having a Lib Dem name on the ballot paper “so that voters have a chance to vote for us” period.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 8:25pm

    John, and as you know, I am not in favour of us being a party of protest. I am against it. However I am even more against all those who choose, based on no more evidence than their own wishful thinking, that all the people who stopped voting for us, were not people who believed in a better way of doing politics, an end to broken promises and fighting to get the best for your local community, but instead were no more than a bunch of malcontents who had no faith in anyone.

    Perhaps you do believe that a lot of people who supported you over the years were just a bunch of malcontents, but I don’t think you do.

  • OnceALibDem 4th Mar '18 - 8:45pm

    LibDems in Government – Making it legal for the security services to break the law and then keeping it secret.

    Its difficult to see why the party should be trusted in the future.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 9:12pm

    Once a Lib Dem – Of course the key question is which minister made the order and whether any Lib Dem was made aware of it.

  • John Marriott 4th Mar '18 - 9:39pm

    @David Evans
    We Brits love building up our heroes and then knocking them down. The Lib Dems’ sales pitch was often that they were different from the ‘old parties’, which was a dangerous stance to take. When the halo slipped now and then, they were doubly punished at the ballot box.

    On a personal level, the people who regularly voted for me and my colleagues to represent them over the years, many of whom I never actually met, did so, I would like to think, not out of any strong political ideology but rather because of the regular FOCUS leaflets (they didn’t just hear from us at election time) and the fact that we did actually got things done.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '18 - 11:32pm

    John, It wasn’t a halo, it was honest politics. Did you ever promise anything you knew you didn’t want to deliver or knew you couldn’t? I sincerely hope not.

    Likewise, based on what you have said, I think that you don’t believe many of your voters were a bunch of malcontents, but voted for you because you did a good job and kept them informed. Presumably your conclusion was based on speaking to a significant number of them over the years. As you got things done, it also implies that they didn’t vote for you as an idle protest, but because of your record. That is a perfectly honourable position. But as such you can’t then agree with Paul Barker that most of our vote was a protest, because the evidence from your own voters contradicts it.

    Putting it simply, either you were a successful councillor and kept getting re-elected because you did a good job and people saw it, in which case your evidence contradicts Paul’s or you were a charlatan and misled your voters for many years (which I do not believe for a second) in which case the evidence you have, does allow you to agree with him.

    There are no other alternatives.

  • OnceALibDem 5th Mar '18 - 9:09am

    David – Well if not why not. Either Nick knew and was complicit, or didn’t know and can condemn it.

    It’s fairly hard to believe such a decision being made without quad approval if not cabinet, its not the sort of thing that would lie within ministerial competence really. It would run completely counter to para 2 of the coalition agreement as to how government would operate:

    But if it was done outside of that, that would be an outrageous abuse of power and you would expect someone to have spoken out about it before now.

    Even more, it is the sort of thing that should be exposed and criticised as a point to take on board for future.

    Nick has written about doing just that sort of thing with regard to security services so why is he silent now:

  • John Marriott 5th Mar '18 - 9:32am

    David, thanks for your assessment. I really hope that I don’t or rather didn’t come over as a charlatan! I think where we, or maybe it’s me, are getting confused is how, or rather why, some of us get elected and keep getting elected.

    I can only speak for my area. With the exception of Lincoln and possibly the more working class areas of some of the county’s market towns, if you campaign wearing a blue rosette in both local and national elections you are usually guaranteed success. The only way you appear to be able to change that is by working consistently week in week out via leaflets, media etc. And then you have to run often just to stand still. Relax that effort, as I inevitably did as I got older and your majority starts to shrink.

    I often compare our efforts here in North Hykeham a bit like a gardener working to keep the weeds (in our case Tories) at bay. As soon as you slacken off, and n my case retire, they are back!

    Our new generation of Lib Dems around here prefers to go to conferences and parrot the advice from Party HQ. No wonder, when they stand in local elections, they get quite frankly derisory support. I have given up telling earnest young and not so young members that you only succeed around here when to work an area regularly, not with so called ‘Action Days’ just before an election is due. That’s one of the reasons why I have not renewed my membership this year.

    You and I have argued before about how to raise the core voter base for a third party in a country still wedded to a binary choice. You know what my views are. In a General Election, unless the party has a strong local presence and a candidate who has worked their patch and not just been parachuted in, the third party vote will tend to reflect the national opinion polls. I could go on; but I fear I might be boring you, and probably myself as well!

  • David Evans 9th Mar '18 - 1:23pm

    John (Marriott), as you say, we have crossed swords with each other on several occasions, but we agree on many more points than we differ, and I can say I am deeply saddened to hear of your decision not to rejoin the party after so many years. I would like to say, very clearly, that you were and still are in my opinion an excellent Liberal Democrat and I hope that you will still be around to provide support and wise advice to us all well into future.

    I am afraid that our party in so many ways seems to have gone back to what my parents told me it had largely become for many in the 1940s and 1950s – a group of well intentioned people, very willing to discuss how bad it was for those Jarrow marchers over afternoon tea, but with no idea or willingness to get out there and do something effective about it. Now as you say, it is a quick action day or two, and pop off to conference, to which I would add joining a debate or two on LDV promoting yet another new policy idea none of the public listen to.

    So many good Lib Dems, who knew being a successful Lib Dem was not an choice for an easy life, gave up in dismay and disgust due to the mess our leaders made in coalition, and now I see a second wave leaving, not merely standing down, due to growing disillusion at the increasing number of trite easy soundbites being put forward by those with no idea of how hard it actually is to achieve anything as a Lib Dem.

    It took about four generations of Lib Dem activists to build up our party from the near oblivion that Jo Grimond (and others) inspired us to get out of. We had help from new members who joined with us via the SDP (or we joined with them, I’m not precious about it) but we worked hard and got on with it. Those generations learned how to do it the hard way from each other and delivered growing success over the decades.

    Sadly the Nick Clegg generation have just about destroyed all that in a twinkling.

  • David Evans 9th Mar '18 - 1:23pm

    P.S. Do excuse, I’m off to conference.

  • paul holmes 9th Mar '18 - 2:38pm


    I think you make a lot of excellent points in your penultimate comment. I too am sorry to hear that John Marriot has not renewed his Membership and have been alarmed at how many of the ‘Old Guard’ have not done so. Although I confess I nearly succumbed to that temptation twice myself in recent years.

    I think that most of the Members/Activists who joined before me in the 1960’s and 1970’s and with and after me in the 1980’s and 1990’s had one particular thing in common. They knew that our Party had struggled badly since 1922 and that there was no easy way to success. By the 2,000’s a view developed that our record levels of success were now the norm, that we had a right to be heard in the media and a right’ to be elected’ often a ‘right’ that some thought was in the gift of Party Committees.

    With 60% of our Membership new since 2015 they need to know that our record success of 1997-2010 was highly abnormal for the nearly a century since the Liberal collapse in 1922 and was very hard won in a hostile Two Party, First Past The Post system. A couple of Brainstormed Whizzy policies, a Street Stall and some Twitter/Facebook posts will cut little ice in and of themselves.

    Now I too am off to Southport.

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