What the academics say: How the Lib Dems won the Coalition Agreement

clegg cameron rose garden‘The UK Coalition Agreement of 2010: Who Won?’ is a fascinating paper written by Thomas Quinn, Judith Bara and John Bartle. It was published in May 2011, but I only stumbled across it yesterday. Here’s what it aimed to set out:

a content analysis of [the Coalition Agreement] to determine which party gained (or lost) most. ‘Gained’ and ‘lost’ here both have very specific meanings since they are based on comparisons of party positions as set out in their respective manifestos with the position of the new government set out in the agreement. In global terms we find that the agreement is nearer to the Liberal Democrats’ left-right position than the Conservatives’.

This is graphically illustrated by measure the two parties’ positions along a right-left scale:

coalition agreement 2010

… the two parties were on opposite sides of the divide (with the centre denoted by a score of 0). In the coalition agreement, 25.6% of (quasi-) sentences were coded ‘right’ and 24.0% ‘left’. Thus, the agreement’s ‘rile’ score was +1.6, which is just right-of-centre but much closer to the Liberal Democrats (a difference of 4.6) than to the Conservatives (a difference of 16.0)

The academic writers are, of course, too intelligent to fall into the trap of saying the Lib Dems won. In reality it was a lot more complicated than that:

The Liberal Democrats’ office payoffs were in line with broad norms of proportionality but on policy, the overall right-left placement of the coalition agreement was closer to the Liberal Democrat manifesto than to the Conservative one, albeit to the right of centre. When individual policy areas were examined, the picture was more complicated and both parties could legitimately claim victories.

The biggest victory for the Tories was the Coalition’s greater emphasis on deficit reduction. This, in turn, had a knock-on impact on major areas of policy (most notably welfare cuts) which weren’t anticipated in the Coalition Agreement.

The article is a useful reminder of two things.

First, while it’s commonplace now to argue the Lib Dem negotiators played their hand badly, that’s unfair: what they achieved was as much in line with the party’s manifesto priorities as could be reasonably hoped.

Secondly, that the initial Coalition Agreement is only half the battle. Politics does not stand still for five years and circumstances do change: governments have to react in office to those changes. We haven’t yet worked out how to achieve that within Coalition in a way that each side’s members can sign up to without descending into horse-trading that leaves the public shaking their heads in despair.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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32 Comments

  • Umm, surely who won when it comes to politics is determined by elections, and preceding them opinion polls offer a good measure?

  • Daniel Henry 6th Aug '14 - 8:35am

    Also, we could have done a better job at sticking to the agreement – the NHS reforms come to mind…

  • very interesting stuff. agree more should have been done ro stop ‘drift’ and as tories had most of the important ministries inevitably it seemed that it was then that tried to do the drifting – eg NHS, Gove Reforms etc.
    If there is a seco d coalition suggest LDs insist on number of govt posts being proportioned out according to votes cast, not seats won, and are just a bit cannier about which ministried they take on.
    not a criticism, just reflections the benefit of both experience and hindsight.
    (I still think coalition will be remembered as a pretty good thing except by those who disliked the reality of having to deal with Lanour’s deficit and by those appalled by some inept politics by the LDs (fees, nuclear power). Perhaps we expected more of our elected party – but hadn’t we the right to do so?

  • Tony Dawson 6th Aug '14 - 8:57am

    This measures well why ‘academics’ should not be allowed anywhere near politics. I can quite see those in the Cleggbunker as they see seat after seat disappear in May reassuring our departing Leader:

    “Ah, but don’t worry, the academics say you won.”

    Effectively, Nick Clegg and David Cameron are perceived as two peas in a pod. Bad news for the Lib Dems is that one pea is seriously more obviously edible than the other. As Raphael Behr says in today’s Guardian:

    “In any event, the prime minister won’t take advice from the opposition. He doesn’t even take advice from the Foreign Office or from those . . .who might be qualified to offer an opinion. . .,

    . . . . so many of Cameron’s problems, whether on policy or party management, flow from the same flaw. He knows Britain is full of people unlike him. He knows some of them should be in his government. Yet he is temperamentally disinclined to listen to what they actually have to say.”

    He could bedescribingt one Coalition Party head as much as the other.

  • Frank Booth 6th Aug '14 - 9:27am

    Indeed politics doesn’t stand still for 5 years. Yet it has been perfectly clear from the start that NOTHING would make the LD leadership leave the coalition. And let’s not forget their biggest ‘win’ in the coalition agreement – a referendum on a voting system almost no-one really supports.

  • matt (Bristol) 6th Aug '14 - 9:35am

    Well, maybe the leadership won the first battle. But did they then lose the war?

  • Interesting certainly. One of the things that I think (in hindsight) could have made a significant difference was in the way departments were split up. Instead of having ministers of both hues in every department it could have been split so that the Lib Dems had full control over (say) DEFRA, in exchange for the Tories having full control over the Home Office. Clearly I would exclude the Treasury from this as that then touches all other depts. but it would have the advantage of making differentiation much easier in the public minds.

  • That fits my perception — and the sense of anger from the Tory right at us. The hard part is to get this message out yo the electorate as it is a powerful vindication of LibDem principles and pragmatism.

  • Nick Barlow 6th Aug '14 - 10:07am

    I’ve read the whole thing before, and I think the problem with the research is that it only codes less than fifty percent of the policies in the agreement, and is only a snapshot of a single moment. The Comparative Manifesto Project that it’s based on is good for showing the relative movements of party positions against each other and through time, but doesn’t look at how/if those manifestos are actually implemented as promised. To actually judge the government’s record (as opposed to its promises) on a left-right scale would be a separate piece of work.

    (Disclaimer: I am a student in the Essex Department of Government where Thomas Quinn and John Bartle work)

  • Tony Dawson 6th Aug '14 - 10:26am

    @Mark Argen:

    ” The hard part is to get this message out yo the electorate as it is a powerful vindication of LibDem principles and pragmatism.”

    Mark, I think you appear unfamiliar with what the electorate ‘want’ from the Lib Dems right now. It is NOT a vindication of anything, least of all principles(sic) and pragmatism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '14 - 10:28am

    Frank Booth

    And let’s not forget their biggest ‘win’ in the coalition agreement – a referendum on a voting system almost no-one really supports.

    No, that was a “miserable little compromise”. It was not the electoral system that the Liberal Democrats want, it was one which is just a small move towards it, and it was just a referendum on it rather than an actual implementation. Note that the Conservatives’ reforms of the NHS – which no-one really wants – went through straight, why not a referendum on that?

    As for no-one really wanting AV, despite the hugely biased “No” campaign and the totally incompetent “Yes” campaign, one third of those who voted still voted for it. That’s hardly “no-one”. If the choice is between the existing FPTP system and AV, I’ll back AV as better than FPTP, even though my preferred electoral system would be STV. So it would be wrong to claim I don’t “want” it in the way you are. If I have a choice of three things, and I am denied my favourite of these, it is a piece of trickery to deny me also my second favourite and give me the one I find worst using the lines about my second favourite “We aren’t giving it to you because you didn’t really want it”.

    Do people REALLY want an electoral system which forces them to vote Labour or Conservative rather than for a good local independent candidate or a Green Party candidate or a UKIP candidate who they prefer, because voting for who you really want risks splitting the vote and letting in your least favourite? I don’t think so, I think they were tricked into supporting it by a very misleading “No” campaign and by a “Yes” campaign that deliberately and disastrously chose not to explain what it was that people were actually being asked to vote “Yes” to. I mean this, I knew we were on a loser when I went to the London Regional Liberal Democrats conference a month or so before the referendum, there was a presentation by the people running the”Yes” campaign, and when I looked at the material they were using and asked them “Why is it that nowhere here is a straightforward explanation of how AV works?” the arty types and ad-men running it gave a reply which could be interpreted as “Oh, the plebs would get bored with that, and actually we’re a bit dim when it comes to maths as well, so we couldn’t explain it ourselves, so we decided instead to base the campaign around celebs issuing vague waffle”.

    The “No” campaign argued against AV as if it were proportional representation, which it isn’t. The core of their argument was that it was best to have an electoral system which props up the party that gets the most votes giving them a much bigger share of seats than share of votes, and discriminates against smaller parties by giving them a smaller share of seats than share of the votes. So a whole bunch of people, egged on by Labour, said “Yes, we’ll go for that, we hate the Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories, so we’ll vote for an electoral system which discriminates against them”. So that’s what they did – voted for an electoral system whose best aspect according to its Labour and Conservative supporters is the way it props up the Tories and gives us Tory governments even when barely a third of the people voted Tory. OK, and ditto it props up Labour when Labour is ahead of the Tories but still on barely a third of the vote.

    Well, if that’s what they think, then what they are saying is that right now as the Tories won “first past the post” in the 2010 general election, we should have a pure Tory government right now. So if people really thought and voted logically in the referendum, their biggest criticism of the Liberal Democrats now would be all those things they are doing to stop us having a government which is purely Tory in policy. Well, is that people’s biggest criticism of the Liberal Democrats? Do we get people coming on to Liberal Democrat Voice to insult us and say “Nah nah nah nah, dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, you are stopping us getting the Tory policies that we should be getting because that’s what the country voted for first-past-the-post in 2010”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '14 - 10:36am

    Lennon

    Instead of having ministers of both hues in every department it could have been split so that the Lib Dems had full control over (say) DEFRA, in exchange for the Tories having full control over the Home Office.

    Would that stop people using the term “coalition policy” for whatever it is that comes out from the departments which are fully Tory controlled, and assuming that the Liberal Democrats are fully in support of it? As a good example of that assumption, see the article in yesterday’s Guardian where a teacher who is leaving her job due to disgust at government education policies repeatedly refers to Gove’s eccentricities as “coalition education policies”. It would still mean Liberal Democrat MPs having to vote for Tory policies in Parliament, and that would still lead to the accusations of dropping our principles and supporting what we used to oppose. Only more so, since the policies in those pure Tory departments wouldbe even more Tory.

  • Frank Booth 6th Aug '14 - 11:05am

    Matthew – the reason I said it was the Lib Dems biggest win is because that was the thing the Tories found it hardest to agree to . To my mind that’s a pretty good definition of negotiating success – getting the other side to do what they really don”t want to – and in the Tories case it was a referendum on AV. I know there were 30% who voted in favour of AV, but ultimately most of those really want PR. I failed to see how AV was a move towards PR so I couldn’t support it. It’s just a different system entirely that can produce even more unproportional results than PR.

  • Matthew: I think that the problem with the AV issue is that it was the Conservative side that proposed a referendum on a system that was only actively supported by some elements in the Labour party. I can see why we fell for it. I amongst many others have longed for even a miserable change away from the appalling FPTP. In short, we were duped. An AV compromise was only ever a realisable possibility in coalition with Labour. Nonetheless idiots who voted NO because AV is not PR make me despair. I have a feeling that before long we shall cease to hear people admitting or even bragging that they voted NO, when it becomes clear that they are the true ‘Tory enablers’.

    In hindsight Lib Dems should have stuck to their guns on PR, however if a referendum had gone ahead, I think in the circumstances, the outcome would have been little different and possibly a bit worse.

  • Frank Booth 6th Aug '14 - 12:07pm

    Martin – with the rise of Ukip AV may be the best thing that could happen to the conservative party. If you believe the problem is politics is a left wing split, I understand why you’d support AV. However it looks as if the right may be more split now, so no AV could benefit the left.

    Not that the Cleggites ever wanted to re-unite the left anyway. AV was about pure party advantage, breaking up the current system as they saw it for their own PERSONAL benefit.

  • Frank Booth:I often hear it said ” It’s just a different system entirely that can produce even more unproportional results than PR”, but rarely seen the statement justified. Given that for any single elected post this system is most widely used, you would have thought that there would be more complaints about it. In the UK the system is that each constituency votes for a single elected representative, so in these terms it would surely elect the candidate who is the most representative.

    Presumably you are suggesting that there is a possibility that the overall outcome might be less proportional, but there is hardly any suggestion that it is a realistic likely outcome. In fact I think you are indulging in specious sophistry.

  • No! The issue is about having a more representative electoral system. I support the Lib Dems because of their support for representative democracy, liberal values, internationalism and the EU. Emphatically not the other way around.

    AV could actually have been more harmful to Lib Dems at the next election. This is immaterial, the principle is more important. The problem in UK politics is that it is a cynical stitch up between two fiefdoms.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '14 - 3:07pm

    Frank Booth

    I failed to see how AV was a move towards PR so I couldn’t support it. It’s just a different system entirely that can produce even more unproportional results than PR.

    The “No” side were right on this – once the electoral system had been changed to one where people express a preference order, it would be a natural next step to move to proper STV, which is proportional.

    Failing to support AV because it isn’t proportional is silly unless you think FPTP is better than AV. So, why do you think a system which forces people to vote for one of the two main parties out of fear that if they did so they would split the vote and let the other in is better than a system which gives challengers to the established parties a chance because people who prefer the challenger can give second choice to the established party and so not split the vote if the challenge doesn’t take off?

    When the “No” side won the referendum, the universal response from commentators was not “That means AV is too timid a reform, the people have said they want a more radical reform of the electoral system”. I did not see that line used anywhere. Instead, the conclusion as drawn “the case for electoral reform is over – the people have shows they don’t want it as they’ve rejected even the minor reform of AV”,

  • David Allen 6th Aug '14 - 3:36pm

    “In the coalition agreement, 25.6% of (quasi-) sentences were coded ‘right’ and 24.0% ‘left’.”

    I think that what the academics are saying is that they looked at this as the written equivalent of body language. When they saw a sentence that had a lefty ring to it, like “we believe in fairness”, they “coded” it as “left”. When they saw a sentence that had a right-wing ring to it, lile “traditional values” or “sound finance”, they coded it as “right”.

    So surprise surprise, a document that had been written to sound as even-handed as was possible (and, in many ways, to conceal its true nature), gets scored as even-handed.

    Comparison is then made with the LD manifesto, whose mood music was very slightly left of centre, and with the Tory manifesto, which of course had some “stirringly” right-wing mood music in it. Surprise again, the coalition agreement mood music came out closer to ours.

    The actual balance of policy proposals was of course quite different!

    Academics who use unrealistic measures like this have nothing useful to say about real politics. LDV, in publishing their stuff, are clutching at straws.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '14 - 3:45pm

    Martin

    Matthew: I think that the problem with the AV issue is that it was the Conservative side that proposed a referendum on a system that was only actively supported by some elements in the Labour party. I can see why we fell for it. I amongst many others have longed for even a miserable change away from the appalling FPTP. In short, we were duped.

    No, I don’t think so. AV is a compromise, it keeps the single-member constituency which many people like, it isn’t proportional, but it does resolve one problem with the FPTP system which is the split vote problem. On those grounds it has merits in its own right. Furthermore, the opinion polls were looking promising on it until fairly close to the referendum, it was only when the big guns from Labour and the Tories started coming out against it, backed by their cronies in the press, that support dropped and the “No” side moved ahead.

    Yes, like a lot of what we are getting from the coalition, it was a compromise that was far from our ideal, but at least better than what the Tories would do if they had a full majority. We should have stated this clearly from the start, painted it as a minor reform which just cleans up the split-vote anomaly, while keeping the basic principle of a Parliament in which each constituency elects one MP. Instead, the Cleggie mistake which we have seen time and time again on so many other of these compromises was made: painting it as if it is wonderful, as if it was what we wanted in the first place, over-exaggerating what was obtained, and thus leaving us wide open to be attacked for siding with something that was not one of our original promises. As with much else, we should instead have said “It’s a compromise, yes, but it’s all the Tories would concede, and so as it’s a move in the right direction, let’s have it, if you want more and better, next time vote in more LibDem MPs so we have more negotiating power”.

    We were let down by the fact that although Labour officially did not take a line on it, so far as I recall no-one significant in the Labour Party joined in the campaign to support it, while many leading Labour figures vocally opposed it. However, as I keep saying, we ought to have exposed the utter hypocrisy of the Labour anti-AV people in pouring condemnation on the Liberal Democrats for “propping up the Tories” while endorsing an electoral system whose main benefit according to them was its distortion in favour of the largest party i.e. propping up the Tories.

    We ought also to have devised some simple scenarios which demonstrate how AV works and how it resolves the “don’t split the vote” problem. We could have shown how it could help an independent challenger to a lazy and complacent “safe seat” MP, how it would enable people to vote for a special interest candidate who was unlikely to win without fear of letting in someone they didn’t like etc. I really don’t think AV is so difficult it’s impossible to explain, for example, I don’t think it’s more complicated than the points system used in the football World Cup, and the lines we were hearing about how team X could still get through if team Y beat team Z by a certain number of goals etc surely involve more basic maths than explaining AV. However, I really was told by the people running the “Yes” campaign that they had decided not to produce any literature which actually explained how AV worked because their analysis showed people were turned off by it. As a result, because people didn’t know how it worked, they didn’t get to see the potential benefits, and they were easily misled by the embarrassingly innumerate lines used by the “No” campaign. For example, a favourite line from “No” was to argue that AV could lead to a third placed candidate winning. That is nonsense, because AV means the third placed candidate gets eliminated leaving the final count between the first and second placed candidate. The only way it could happen is the unlikely scenario where there are fourth and fifth placed candidates whose next choice goes mainly to the third placed candidate, so that after they are eliminated the third placed candidate is no longer third placed.

    The “Yes” campaign was just so badly run that all those involved with it, in my opinion, should never ever be placed again in any position which has an influence in our party’s campaigning strategy. And I did explain in public why I thought it was going wrong and how I thought it would lose us this vital referendum BEFORE it all happened, when the polls were still in our favour. Those who were at the London Liberal Democrats regional assembly may recall my words “Remember my name, and what I said when we lose this”.

  • David Evans 6th Aug '14 - 5:11pm

    The winners were the Conservatives (it got them into government, and saved Cameron’s bacon) and the leadership of the Liberal Democrats (who had it as a fig leaf to hide behind and a stick to legitimise its actions that drove many longstanding grassroot members out of the party). The losers were the a wide spread of Lib Dem activists and voters, and the British people, many of whom now have no Lib Dem at any level of government to take up the battle for them when the other parties disown them.

    Any apparent Lib Dem victory was soon seen to be illusory while the damage was long lasting, and when exacerbated by Nick Clegg’s subsequent actions (NHS reform, Secret Courts etc etc) looks increasingly likely to be permanent and fatal to us as a party.

    The grandiose expression in the report “Gained’ and ‘lost’ here both have very specific meanings” does well to hide the fact that while the words have specific meanings, the measurement of those words is totally subjective, personal and unimportant, while the actions they allowed are objectionable, perverse and totally out of line with any of the spin put on the agreement at the special conference in Birmingham by those who benefitted.

    “By their deeds shall you know them.”

  • David Evans, while the Lib Dems were losers as a party the British people were better off with the coalition because the only alternative was a short lived Tory minority government followed by another election which the most probable (I would say almost a certainty) outcome was a Tory majority and possibly a huge majority. I certainly don’t think that the leadership have made the best of the coalition but not being on the inside of the day to day negotiation it is difficult to judge fully.
    I agree with Mathew that the Leadership often oversold coalition compromises without explaining that they were compromises. We do however under sale the one major constitutional change that was achieved – fixed term parliaments. Wthout which Cameron could have rigged as. Issue to ” go to the country” and win what the right wing wanted.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Aug '14 - 10:48am

    David Allen

    Academics who use unrealistic measures like this have nothing useful to say about real politics. LDV, in publishing their stuff, are clutching at straws.

    While I agree we must be suspicious of the methodology used here, and question what it really means rather than just jumping and saying “Look, this means we have won”, there is a very useful point that can be taken from this. If what is coming out from the coalition is way to the left of what the Tories really wanted, as is being suggested, it’s an indication of just how far right the Tories have moved. People who would once have been fairly mainstream Tories are now considered on its left fringe (note what Baroness Warsi said about Ken Clarke and William Hague). So one point that can, and I think should, be made about the coalition is that if what comes out of it seems as if the Liberal Democrats have rolled over and given in to the Tories, in part that’s because the Tories have moved so far to the right since they were last in power that a compromise way to the left of what the current Tories really want still comes out as looking somewhat to the right of the Tories as people remember them from the past.

    I think this is an indication of just how dangerous would have been the line “Oh, we should have just let a minority Tory government get in, let them call another general election and win it outright, then people will see how bad the Tories are”. And also of how dangerous is Labour’s considered view of UK politics “Nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten LibDems, they let in the Tories, nah nah nah nah nah, destroy them forever and let’s get back to the good old two-party system, nah nah nah nah, Nick Cleggs smells, yah boo belly poo bum”. If Labour gets its way, we WILL see a majority Conservative government soon, maybe even in 2015 if the “nah nah nah nah nah” line works to shift LibDem voters in LibDem-Tory seats to Labour, and so hands those seats to the Tories. This has already happened in local government – councils that were once LibDem now firmly back in Tory hands thanks to the nah-nah-nah-nah-nahs. I joined the Liberal Party in the 1970s because I could see all around where I was living the Liberals were able to challenge Tory dominance and end the myth of the “true blue” south, where Labour never could and couldn’t be bothered to, it was all part of the cozy old pals’ act that my home county was 100% Tory in its MPs in return for places up north being 100% Labour in MPs. I hope we can hold on to Lewes and Eastbourne, but the two Worthing constituencies and Mid-Sussex once looked like they were coming our way, now they are firm Tory holds.

    I am actually frightened of the prospects of a majority Tory government, and I mean that literally. The Conservative Party is just SO right-wing, so eccentrically extreme, so much in the hands of the global financial elite, that I believe even one period of majority government by them alone will have huge and long-lasting damaging consequences to our country. If Margaret Thatcher with the policies she had in the 1980s were in the Conservative Party now, she would be regarded as a dangerous leftist, and would be unlikely to find a constituency party willing to have her as their candidate. Yet the logic of Labour, the logic of those who said “No” to AV and therefore kept us with this electoral system which puts an almost impossible barrier on any challenger to the established two parties succeeding, the logic of Labour’s delight in our party being destroyed and its hope that we are destroyed forever, is handing this country to these people.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 11:55am

    @ Matthew Huntsbach,
    I too. Am terrified of a Conservative victory at the next election. I am unsure why it is assumed that the Conservatives would have won an outright victory after a short period of minority government though. If they couldn’t’ win an outright victory when Labour were so unpopular, and many of us saw David Cameron as an unprincipled chameleon, what would have changed? I might have voted Labour as a tactical vote as the least worst option, others may have done the same.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Aug '14 - 10:21am

    Jayne Mansfield

    I too. Am terrified of a Conservative victory at the next election. I am unsure why it is assumed that the Conservatives would have won an outright victory after a short period of minority government though. If they couldn’t’ win an outright victory when Labour were so unpopular, and many of us saw David Cameron as an unprincipled chameleon, what would have changed?

    Consider the line that would be used, by both the Labour and the Conservative Party, and their friends and supporters in the press “We are having another general election, thanks to the Liberal Democrats. Thanks to them, Britain has no stable government. They refused even to co-operate in forming one. Instead they played political games, insisting that we give in to their policy obsessions, which no-one else supports. So we have to get rid of them”. See how effective that Labour-Tory ganging up against the Liberal Democrats was in the May 2011 referendum.

    Consider that the Conservatives in that short period of minority government would have held back on the sort of extreme policies that have made the coalition unpopular, leaving them until after they had won the next general election they would have been planning from the start. Consider that any economic problems during that time, and failure to balance the books and tackle the deficit, would have been put down to “It’s because we can’t govern due to not having a majority due to those Liberal Democrats”. We have already seen Tories and the Tory press make extensive use of the “blame the Liberal Democrats” line in the coalition when they want an excuse as to why things haven’t worked out well – and then forget the Liberal Democrats, it’s all down to successful Tory policies when things do work out well.

    Consider that others like you may have thought “Well, I don’t want a Tory government, and the LibDems clearly aren’t going to win this general election, and it’s them being there which is causing us to have to go to the polls again, so I’d better cast a tactical vote for Labour”. This would have included many living in places where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are the main challengers, thus boosting a poor third placed Labour candidate to a good third placed Labour candidate, or even a second placed Labour candidate – and handing the seat to the Conservatives. As I said, we have ALREADY seen this way of thinking lead to Tory gains in local government.

    Consider that the Liberal Democrats were already a busted flush by the time of the May 2010 general election. The great boom in the opinion polls put down to “Cleggmania” (in fact it was more due to Liberal Democrat activists all getting out and doing their pre-election leaflet delivery once the date had passed when a general election HAD to be called) came to nothing – the share of the vote the Liberal Democrats obtained was much lower than expected, much lower than the opinion polls had predicted, and no better than the share they were getting in the polls before the election campaign had started. But the mistaken belief that “Cleggmania” was leading to huge gains had led to Liberal Democrats throwing everything into the May 2010 general election. There was no money left to fight a general election in 2011 had one been called. A similar situation can be seen when there was a general election in 1951, just a year after the 1950 general election. The Liberal Party could not afford to fight it, it slumped into its worst result ever. Even in 1974, when the Liberal had done unexpectedly well in the February 1974 general election (the last one where no party won a majority) they were unable to keep up the momentum and do better in the ensuing one in October 1974. Rather, the fact that a Labour minority government had been formed help Labour win a few more votes with the “we’ve won really, but just confirm that by voting for us” line.

    The idea that had the Liberal Democrats “stood firm” after their disappointing result in May 2010 and left Britain without a stable government people would have come flocking to them in the ensuing general election later in 2010 or early in 2011 flies in the face of all experience. As we have ALREADY SEEN, if the Liberal Democrats in that situation had turned around looking for backing from Labour in standing up against the Conservatives, they would have got none. Instead, Labour would have joined with their old pals the Conservatives in kicking the Liberal Democrats to pieces and saying “We need to return to the stable two-party system”.

    Standing firm like this MAY have worked had the Liberal Democrats done unexpectedly well in the May 2010 general election. If they had gained a much higher share of the votes than predicted, there would have been a fear that they were on the way up so would do even better in another general election called shortly after. However, I suspect even then the other factors I’ve mentioned would have come into play, leading to the 1974 situation, a small drop, but enough to give the minority Tory government a majority.

    I am absolutely sure about all this Jayne. Believe me, if I had not thought with 100% certainty that the above was the scenario we would see, I would never ever have given any sort of support to a coalition of the Liberal Democrats with the Conservative Party.

  • Simon Banks 11th Aug '14 - 5:41pm

    I admit that when I looked at the coalition agreement, I was quite impressed. But the massive minus for Liberal Democrats was the clear statement that deficit reduction trumped all other priorities, together with a lack of indication of how the deficit would be reduced. That dwarfed other points.

    Of course, having hammered out the agreement, we promptly let through a Tory minister going plain against it with a major reorganisation of the NHS.

  • Peter Watson 11th Aug '14 - 7:34pm

    @Simon Banks “having hammered out the agreement, we promptly let through a Tory minister going plain against it with a major reorganisation of the NHS.”
    You obviously weren’t paying enough attention 😉
    The reorganisation wasn’t top-down, it was bottom-up imposed from the top so was entirely not inconsistent with the promises made. Apparently.

    P.S. Can we really disown it as having “let through a Tory minister”? The original bill was

    Presented by Mr Secretary Lansley
    supported by The Prime Minister, The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable,
    Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Eric Pickles, Danny Alexander, Mr Simon Burns and Paul Burstow

    so perhaps it was “ours” as much as it was the Tories’.

  • so perhaps it was “ours” as much as it was the Tories’.

    But of course, the Lib Dems share equal responsibility with the Tories for everything the coalition does in any case. That’s the meaning of coalition.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Aug '14 - 8:28pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach,
    Thank you for taking the time to explain.

  • Matthew, I know you “100% believe” your view. You have stated it many times previously, and I am sure most here who have followed these arguments know it, and many accept it as gospel. I think what you neglect is, had the agreement been negotiated from positions closer to traditional Lib Dem centre left positions (ie those that you and I would generally support, along with many others here), we would not have lost so many activists, so many supporters and voters, so many members. We would also not have lost our generally regarded “nice guy, honest broker” image. We have now lost that for a long time anyway. The results you point to are largely as a direct outcome of that. We would have been able to have used our high moral ground approach to influence the course of events.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    “And also of how dangerous is Labour’s considered view of UK politics “Nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten LibDems, they let in the Tories, nah nah nah nah nah, destroy them forever and let’s get back to the good old two-party system, nah nah nah nah, Nick Cleggs smells, yah boo belly poo bum”. If Labour gets its way, we WILL see a majority Conservative government soon, maybe even in 2015 if the “nah nah nah nah nah” line works to shift LibDem voters in LibDem-Tory seats to Labour, and so hands those seats to the Tories.”

    Sorry, but this is pure wishful thinking. All the polls make it quite clear that the main shift in opinion since 2010 has been ex-Lib Dem voters going over to Labour. That is why Labour have edged ahead of the Tories. So from Labour’s campaigning point of view, dissing the Lib Dems is absolutely the right things to do, and it is their best hope of winning an election.

    You seem to be saying that Labour haven’t a clue about how to campaign, and that if they had more nous, they would be nicer to the Lib Dems. Well, I know it’s not fun to get dissed. However, we won’t get away from it by telling Labour they have got their tactics wrong. They have not.

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