With this leadership election, let’s draw a line under the Coalition forever

As a Liberal Democrat candidate at the last General Election, I found myself working out answers to the inevitable questions which I knew would come about the Coalition Government. The questions that all Liberal Democrats have had to contend with in debates, on doorsteps and across the media since the Clegg-Cameron press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden in 2010.

I write this as someone who broadly supported the Coalition, while not being blind to its faults. I worked as an intern for a Lib Dem MP during the middle of the Coalition, and I was inspired to sign up as a Party member by Nick Clegg’s resignation speech; an act which came not out of any pleasure at his standing down, but out of the realisation that the Lib Dems’ electoral failure was leaving a gaping hole in British politics.

Since then my view of the Coalition has been mainly that I think we did some good things, that many Lib Dems can be proud of. However, rightly or wrongly, we have not been judged kindly for this period, and I believe that it is time to move on. Rather than continually look back at the past, it is time to take the present by two hands and look to the future. This is not a judgement on what happened during the Coalition; it is a rallying cry for us all to move forward together.

Sat in a small radio studio in East London on a cold November night, I was asked to justify the Liberal Democrats’ record in office. I said that while I would not be the first Liberal Democrat to admit that we could have done things differently during the Coalition Government, I pointed out that at the time the Coalition agreement was forged, I was 15 years old, still at school and that I had little involvement and certainly no influence over decisions that were made. This may sound like a cop-out to some or an ashamed disassociation to others, but few in our party today can or should take ownership over these decisions, whether they were right or wrong. I also said that I am not in politics to spend time dwelling on the past but to influence decisions that will shape our future.

Indeed, many of the architects of the Coalition agreement have long left politics, and since the 2015 General Election, the Liberal Democrats have transformed dramatically. The party now contains more members who have joined since 2015 than were in it before, only 3 of our MPs were Members of Parliament during the Coalition and in terms of issues and challenges, the world had moved on dramatically. So why haven’t we?

For too long, the Coalition Government has been used by the left as a political stick to beat the Lib Dems with, but we ourselves are guilty of introspection. By 2024 and the next General Election, the party’s role in a Coalition Government which began in 2010 will have little bearing on the decisions of voters, so we must refresh the narrative. People across Britain need us now more than ever, to step up and fight for the values of equality, fairness and openness. There is no time to rest on our laurels.

With this leadership election comes a new chapter for our renewed party, bolstered by a large number of new members and rejuvenated by its new MPs. It’s time we started to shape our future and draw a line under our past. So whoever you support and whatever your views, with this leadership election, it’s time to draw a line under the Coalition forever.

* Mark Johnson is a party member in Camden and was a Parliamentary Candidate in the 2019 General Election.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 17th Jun '20 - 9:14am

    Oh, yes PLEASE!

  • Yes! Lets get on with the future. Anew leader ‘clean’ of the coalition is needed. However putting my own two pennyworth into the discussion the deputy leader should have past experience to advise ,guide etc. People on this site will have their thoughts on who and why they want such and such a person. Let the discussion begin.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jun '20 - 9:43am

    I’m not sure it’s going to be as simple as saying “We don’t want to talk about it anymore” or “Don’t mention the coalition!”

    Regardless, the coalition ghosts will still come back to haunt you. Vince Cable has expressed regret that coalition austerity policies may have led to the Brexit vote. It was the regions that suffered the most that were the most leave inclined. It was more than just “may have”. That’s a spectre you’ll have to live with for a long time!


    But there is still a lot of resistance in the Lib Dems to the idea that there was anything wrong with Coalition economic policies. As Joe Bourke put it recently:

    “The whole problem with the macroeconomic austerity argument in the UK is that it is largely based on Labour spin.”

    Well no it isn’t! That’s just not facing up to reality. They haven’t even got it right themselves. They are still wedded to the idea of arbitrary fiscal rules which really don’t make any sense at all. There is only one fiscal rule that does. It is that if Govt spending is causing higher than desirable levels of inflation then it needs to cut back and/or raise taxes.

    So Lib Dems need to learn from past mistakes, get it right themselves and only then try to move on.

  • Grahame Baker 17th Jun '20 - 10:30am

    We have the opportunity to totally refresh. Wera and Layla as leader and deputy leader, don’t care which way round, with Ed in a senior post. That would give us a new look and challenge the other parties who are still wedded to “suits” and macho stances. Let’s use these women to take us forward with their fresh outlook and give us something to believe in

  • James Fowler 17th Jun '20 - 10:38am

    We have to own it I’m afraid. I think history may be kinder to it than many members are now. Socially I see it as the last version of a liberal, outward looking government. Economically it was regrettably committed to a myopic and complacent but popular policy of austerity which ironically ended up destroying the contentment and security that made liberalism possible. I’m both sorry and not sorry that we took part in it, but I don’t like expunging history. We did it, we were there. That’s both an achievement and a regret.

  • @Peter Martin: I’m not entirely sure anyone else is reading the exchanges between you and Mr Bourke. When the “usual suspects” hijack an LDV comment thread by arguing the t*ss about minute details of economic policy is when everyone else stops following it.
    The Lib Dems’ opponents will always be there to remind the party and voters about the Coalition. The only question is what Lib Dems do in response. It will be difficult to pin responsibility for the Coalition on a leader that was not involved in it and who responds along the lines of the OP (whose analysis sounds very similar to Layla’s). The likes of Peter Martin will increasingly find they are flogging a dead horse.

  • James Fowler: It’s not about “expunging history”. The point about history is that it is exactly that: the past. It happened, but whether it was good or bad, it’s less important than what we do in the future. We need to be like Tony Blair when he became Labour leader, and insist on being defined by what we do now in response to current political debates, rather than by past battles. Blair had the advantage of having no involvement in his party’s period of unelectability in the 1980s, and similarly we would benefit from having a leader who had no connection with the Coalition, so cannot reasonably be expected to either “own” or “apologise” for it.

  • We cannot let it go because it will haunt us for 20 years. By simply saying let it go or words to that effect we bring it back into focus again. We made ghastly mistakes as a party which leave us tarnished maybe for ever. Perhaps the simplistic answer is to make a real break , perhaps end the name Libaral Democrat and revert back to being a Liberal Party and nothing else, with a total range of left of centre social cohesion policies, hopefully the existing group that still have that name, will agree and join! Alternatively go the whole hog, a new name entirely eg The Progressives..

  • I have noted and read this article a number of times. It gives me some concern that members who have stuck with the party through thick and thin are being airbrushed out.
    Many of us built local organisations from scratch and gave the base upon which numerous Councillors were elected, and seats at local level were handed on, now we long term members are seemingly not relevant. Our knowledge and expertise in winning elections has been cast aside. The Party is about more than who is the leader, it is about principals and attitudes. It is not good enough to reject members of longstanding with the cry we have more members than ever before. Respect to all should be demonstrated and this is not achieved by forgetting those who built the party base at local level, well before the coalition and had have then had to witness being decimated by the central party forgetting there roots, and those who sought to adopt a process that fed into the cult of personality. The leader who ever that might be and the party hierarchy need to return to the base and restore the link with local parties and value them accordingly.

  • A very good article IMO, however the left will continue to beat us with the coalition stick whoever we elect as leader. The question is how we respond. Jo – who IMO did a very good interview with Andrew Neil in the recent GE – was rather less good in the QT when challenged on her record in coalition. All she could think of saying was “sorry, we made mistakes”. This came across as both weak and insincere. We had – and missed – a real opportunity to say to the floating voter that, while we took no pleasure in making cuts that were necessary to protect the economy at the time, it was absolutely the right thing to take those tough decisions. Of course we made mistakes – as all governments do – but we make no apology for doing what was right for the country; had we not gone into government the austerity would have been very different and it’s unlikely we would have seen the country emerge from the downturn faster than the rest of the G7 and with unemployment down by over a million.

    That would be my answer at least. But to put it another way, we either follow Wera’s example and completely repudiate the coalition or we stop apologising. Either way won’t win round the far left but might win back floating voters.

  • It takes about 10 years for a defeated party in government to recover. “Remember the Winter of Discontent” (Labour) or “remember the poll tax” (Tories) had less resonance as time went on, so by the next election, “remember student fees” will similarly fade and people concentrate more on the record of the incumbent government and the offers of opposition parties. We will move on, but only when the electorate are ready.

  • theakes – I was almost with you until you used the word Progressives, one of those words which means very different things to different people. Or is it just that I still remember it being used many years ago by Conservatives and Liberals operating an electoral pact on South Tyneside and in neighbouring areas? It has ranged from “anyone who can work with Labour” to “anyone who can unite against Labour!

  • It took Labour 18 years to recover after 1979 and the Conservatives 13 years before they could get back into Government (via Coalition) and 18 years before they could win a majority in 2015.

    Both Blair and Cameron brought about a resurgence in their Parties fortunes by repudiating their past image in Government. In both cases it wasn’t just a bit of marketing gloss they really did make some significant changes in their Party policies.Whether good or bad depends of course on your point of view.

    We need a clear repudiation of the grim Coalition years. Comforting ourselves with the (totally unproven) idea that ‘history will see things more favourably’ does not remotely alter the reality of how the voters have seen us for the last 10 years.

  • The only way to draw a line under the Coalition is to say you’ll never have one again.

    That’s the reason why the Coalition is raised – because people view the Lib Dems as likely to support a Conservative government. If there is any chance of that then many possible voters won’t support the Lib Dems.

    So unless the leadership candidates are willing to say “I will never put a Conservative PM into office” then they aren’t drawing a line under the Coalition.

  • Geoff Reid: I just threw that word out, I am sure there are many, many better names, let us not be pedantic over one suggestion. With great respect I am absolutely sure that you can identify a much better one. It is the principal that I am trying to put forward not the name.

  • Did I just hear Ed Davey banging on about Europe at PMs questions. Or was I imagining it?
    If I was not I can only conclude that this party needs to not only rid itself of the coalition but also to stop banging on about Europe, it is not want the public, the average voter wants at the present time. The battle has been lost. Let’s accept it, god knows it breaks my heart to say it, bit there we are.

  • Like you Roger I have been a Ward Organiser for a long long time. At the last GE only one person mentioned the Coalition to me out of at least 1000 and they were a Labour voter anyway. Maybe we lost less than 100 votes to the Labour lend us your vote supporters. A lot of them have disappeared through age I regret to say. I used to have an interesting chat on my rounds. Our big opportunity is getting disaffected Tories back with a steady Eddie leader in this neck of the woods.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jun '20 - 1:13pm

    Why is is that no-one is saying what ought to be the obvious thing about a coalition?

    It has to be a compromise between the parties, so what it does is not what the party would do if it formed the government on its own.

    Also, in this case there were five Conservative MPs for every one Liberal Democrat MP. So what the Coalition did was according to this balance. It was the disproportional electoral system that led to this. A system which elected MPs accurately in balance with the parties’ votes would have give three Conservative MPs for every two Liberal Democrat MPs, and that would have led to a coalition in which we would have much more say over what it did.

    The other issue with the disproportional electoral system is that by pushing the number of Conservative MPs up and the number of Liberal Democrat MPs down, it meant that the alternative coalition with Labour was not really possible, as it would not have had a majority. So we didn’t really have a choice. And when people voted “No” to the referendum on electoral reform, they said that’s what they wanted – the party that gets the most votes to be pushed up so that it has complete control. So the Coalition gave the people of this country what they said they wanted in that referendum – a government dominated by the Conservatives even if they didn’t really get a majority. As no other coalition was possible, we couldn’t challenge the Conservatives more by threatening to move to the alternative one if they didn’t give in to us – and Labour did nothing to assist us in doing that.

    Instead, Labour pushed the completely false suggestion that all of us in the party were keen supporters of everything the Coalition did. That was complete nonsense, but our Leaders should have made that very clear. By not doing so in any of the following general elections our Leaders have succeeded in allowing the way our party was seriously damaged to continue.

    The supposition that small parties can get whatever they want from a coalition and the reality that they can’t has been a common issue in many countries. Clegg should have worked carefully to deal with this issue, and he was told to do so by many experienced members of the party. But he did the exact opposite, so making a difficult situation worse.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jun '20 - 1:24pm

    @ Alex Macfie,

    As theakes says you need “to not only rid {yourselves} of the coalition but also to stop banging on about Europe”

    otherwise “the likes of {the Lib Dems} will increasingly find they are flogging a dead horse.”

    @ Joe B,

    “LibDems will need to present an alternative narrative that is distinctive from the consistently rejected program advocated by the Labour party based on bribing people with their own money…..”

    This sounds very much like Mrs Thatcher’s ” there’s no such thing as public money – there is only taxpayers’ money”. It’s been done before. So, if you’re looking for an “alternative narrative” for your austerity economics you’ll have to think up a new angle.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 1:30pm

    AlexB: Where are you based? Where I live (Richmond Park, part of the SW London ‘yellow triangle’) the Coalition rarely came up as an issue, and when it did it was from people who had no intention of voting for us anyway. We were successful in squeezing the Labour vote where we were clearly established as the challenger to the Tories. However, we were less successful those target seats where Labour was also competitive. In those Labour-facing or 3-way targets, attacks on us from Labour over the Coalition seems to have got much more traction than in Tory-facing target seats. Anyway you only have to look at the flak Jo got over the Coalition in various TV debates to see that it was still a salient issue, and probably will continue to be as long as we have a leader with a Coalition-era voting record.
    My take on this is that anti-Tory voters were prepared to, if not forgive then at least overlook our Coalition past where it’s clear that only we can defeat the Tories — they have this as a higher priority. However, where Labour was competitive, the same voters were more likely to hear the message that we are “Tory enablers”.
    Disaffected Tories will be much easier to win over to us now that Jeremy Corbyn is gone (I got many people on the doorstep saying they wanted to vote for us, but were voting Tory to “keep Corbyn out”). With JC out of the picture, sort Tory votes in Tory-facing Lib Dem target seats will be ours for the taking, regardless of who becomes our leader, if (as I consider likely) this Tory government becomes chronically unpopular. They are not going to be scared by Keir Starmer!
    However, if we are going to make any headway in seats where Labour are currently competitive, we’ll need to be able to shut down questions about the Coalition, and the best way to do that is to have a leader who was not involved in it so can’t answer for it. I fear that Ed as leader would effectively restrict us to our current Tory-facing targets.

  • Paul Barker 17th Jun '20 - 1:36pm

    OK lets look to the possible Futures. The most likely result of the 2024 General Election looks like a Labour Victory with a solid majority so the Coalition question wont arise, this time.

    However, there is a possibility of a Hung Parliament with Labour needing Us or The SNP for a majority. We should be thinking & talking about whether we Rule Out a Coalition with Labour or if not what Price we demand. Do we go for Proportional Representation as our Red Line & if so, when do we say that ?

    Lets not get our hopes up, the people who matter in Labour are dead set against Electoral Reform & will probably prefer The SNP. If that means losing Scotland so what ? Labour has very little to lose North of The Border.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 1:43pm

    Joe Bourke: Why are you addressing [17th Jun ’20 – 1:13pm] to me? As far as I’m concerned, time spent discussing the Coalition is time not spent attacking the present shambles of a government or setting out our proposals for government in the future. “Drawing a line under the Coalition” is not about accepting Labour spin, but about shutting it down by moving the discussion onto our current and future plans. This will be easiest with a leader who was not involved in the Coalition.

    Peter Martin: If Brexit turns out to be a phenomenal success, then there will indeed be no point in us “banging on about Europe”. But if, as is more likely, it proves a failure, rejoining may become a popular campaign issue. I don’t think that’ll happen immediately, and of course we should be smart about it, but the idea that “Europe” will stop being an issue any time in the next 10 years is fanciful.

  • John Marriott 17th Jun '20 - 1:45pm

    @Peter Martin
    I gather that your politics might just centre around the Labour Party. I also seem to recall that you once bemoaned the fact that there does not exist a LDV equivalent in your party of choice. Doesn’t it say something about the tolerance of the Party you enjoy poking fun at that your views are consistently given prominence by the editors? Clearly, ‘free speech’ is alive and well and living in the Liberal Democratic Party. Like you, I like to have a bit of fun with my former Party and the obsessions of some of its members. However, there is one thing that I would never doubt about it and that is its sincerity and its willingness to indulge awkward so and so’s (myself included).

  • Alex Macfie,

    understanding “You can’t solve these problems by ‘ending austerity’ We might have to pay a lot more tax” is a crucial element of setting out our proposals for government in the future.
    If the only narrative you have is “All tories are evil” and you can’t point to actual experience of government to demonstrate what you might do differently, then that narrative is no more likely to cut any mustard with a thinking public than it has in past campaigns.
    We missed a potential opportunity after the 2017 election to force a referendum on Mrs May’s Brexit deal in exchange for a conditional supply and confidence agreement for fear of losing some voters and we will have to suffer the consequences of that lost opportunity now for possibly decades to come.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jun '20 - 2:09pm

    @ John Marriott,

    I do take your point. However, I don’t argue that Lib Dem voters should vote Labour. I’d be happy to see some sort of progressive alliance if Lib Dems promised to do their best to make sure their voters wouldn’t support the Tories if they stood aside for Labour. Just as Labour would have to do the same if they stood aside for the Lib Dems.

    But I do hope that Lib Dems don’t forget they are the party of Keynes. If you said that loud and clear you’d be on the right track. Instead it looks more like you’ll be saying things like ” schools.. need to cut spending by £3 billion to balance the books.” “You can’t solve these problems by ending austerity” and “We might have to pay a lot more tax”.

    I may not be an expert in how to win elections but this line doesn’t sound very promising! You might want to check it out in your focus groups.

  • I was against coalition from the start. Confidence and supply would have lasted because the Tories wouldn’t have wanted an early election.

    Good policies like free school meals were overwhelmed by all the regressive Conservative policies that were waved through.

    That said Lib Dem politicians could do a better job of defending their record. For example if confronted about the bedroom tax they could point out that Labour introduced the Local Housing Allowance – the bedroom tax for the private rented sector. Also that local authorities have £millions to pay for Discretionary Housing Payments to people affected.

    They don’t seem that well briefed unfortunately.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 2:35pm

    Joe Bourke: If we had done as you suggest after 2017, then we would be utterly finished as an independent party. Like Sir John Simon’s National Liberals, we would exist (if at all) as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Tories. We also would not have got our referendum, because the ERG faction of the Tories would have stopped it in alliance with Corbynite Labour.

    Peter Martin: We are not the Brexit Party, we cannot tell our voters whom to vote for if we don’t stand a candidate. Whether we want them to or not, some potential Lib Dem voters will vote Tory if we don’t stand, and where we do stand there’d be no perceived difference between us and Labour. All in all it would be a big present to the Tories.

  • Matt (Bristol) 17th Jun '20 - 2:47pm

    I hear what Matthew Huntbach says, and he is right, but I feel the answer is to do what Andrew Ducker says, and rule out ever putting a Tory PM into office.

    (you can add caveats if you want, my more nuanced version would be ‘we will never put a Tory PM into office unless there are other parties of the left and centre-left also participating in coalition, and said PM has committed to a close relationship with Europe and meaningful democratic reform’. But that’s too much nuance).

  • @ Paul Barker “Lets not get our hopes up, the people who matter in Labour are dead set against Electoral Reform & will probably prefer The SNP. If that means losing Scotland so what ? ”

    How very revealing, Paul….ignoring the fact that the Electoral Reform Society announced on 31 January this year : http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk › Press Releases, “Keir Starmer announces support for constitutional convention and proportional representation. Posted on the 31st January 2020”.

    “If that means losing Scotland so what ? ” Most revealing and unlikely to win many votes In Orkney, East Fife, Caithness and Edinburgh West or East Dunbartonshire for that matter. Be careful what you wish for.

  • John Marriott 17th Jun '20 - 3:36pm

    A bit of a digression, folks….

    I’m half way through Trevor Wilson’s seminal ‘oeuvre’ on the decline of the Liberal Party between 1914 and 1934 – far more informative than Dangerfield’s, I have to admit, David Raw, and thanks for recommending it to me. We’ve just had the Labour Party gaining power for the first time in December 1923. This election also saw the reuniting of the Asquithian and Coalition Liberals, fighting on a platform of free trade and social reform. Although coming second to Baldwin’s Tories, who foolishly fought on a platform of tariffs, it was the Liberals, who came a respectable third, who agreed to “give Labour a chance”.

    The fact that the MacDonald administration didn’t last long was largely due to MacDonald’s antipathy to Messrs Asquith and Lloyd George. Had he been more magnanimous, it was speculated that a kind of Confidence and Supply arrangement with the party that, before WW1 certainly helped to nurture it, might have meant the Labour Party staying in power for much longer, possibly even to the end of the decade. By the time Labour returned to power in 1929, the world was about to experience the kind of peacetime economic upheaval, the like of which we could be about to experience today. Clearly in that situation, all bets are off, as they were back then. Given a few years of sensible, pragmatic government in the latter half of the 1920s, perhaps the UK might have been in better shape than it was after yet more years of Tory misrule and the need for a National Government, which brought the ruin of both MacDonald and sadly the Liberal Party, might have been avoided.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jun '20 - 3:56pm

    @ Marco,

    “Good policies like free school meals were overwhelmed by all the regressive Conservative policies that were waved through”

    There was the 5p levy on plastic bags too. Don’t forget that! 🙂

    But the big problem was you went along with QE to the tune of about £275 billion , during the years of the coalition, which was perceived as largely to bail out the banks, at the same time as saying there was no money in the kitty to fund essential spending on the NHS and education.

  • Alex Macfie,

    it is just such fear and misguided assumptions about what voters expect from a political party in a position of influence that prevents the party from achieving its aims. Even if the offer of a supply and confidence agreement had not been accepted by the Tories, it would have demonstrated that the commitment to a referendum on Brexit was real and took precedence over party electoral advantage. The same offer could have been made to Jermy Corbyn in 2019. Instead we are where we are with Brexit and this conservative government.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 4:18pm

    Joe Bourke: It is you who is making assumptions, like Nick Clegg did when assuming good faith on the part of the Tories. We have already seen what voters expected from us in government and how they punished us for falling well short of it. You are assuming that the Tories or Labour would have been acting in good faith, and would have been in a position to deliver what they promised us as quid pro quo for propping them up.
    In the case of propping up Corbyn, we know he secretly wanted Brexit to happen, and he and his poshboy revolutionary socialist advisers would have made sure that the referendum didn’t happen or resulted in a Leave victory.
    It’s all very well talking about putting a principle above party electoral advantage, but when the party’s continuing existence is up for debate, that existence is itself worth preserving as a matter of principle. And in any case, such noble self-sacrifice would not have got our principle put into practice. To think it would have is incredibly naïve — it’s Clegg all round.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 4:20pm

    @Marco: The Tories wouldn’t have exactly “wanted” an early election, but they would still have called one at the earliest opportunity if we hadn’t gone into coalition with them. And they would most likely have won outright by blaming us for standing in the way of stable government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jun '20 - 4:24pm


    I was against coalition from the start. Confidence and supply would have lasted because the Tories wouldn’t have wanted an early election.

    Of course they would have gone for an early election. Had the Coalition not been formed, the Conservatives would have formed a minority government, having the largest number of MPs. Then they would have worked hard to win another general election, supported by Labour.

    Yes, because that’s what Labour wants – to destroy us so they return to being the sole opposition. They’ve done that by the way they’ve behaved towards us since the Coalition. The result has indeed been to boost the Conservatives, turning seats we used to win or where we were close competitors to them back into safe Conservative seats. That’s the difference between us and Labour – we tried to do something to modify what the Conservatives wanted, whereas Labour just wants to push the Tories up to give them a majority. Labour have been very successful with this.

    If a minority Conservative government had been formed in 2010, the Conservatives, supported by Labour, would have pushed the message that any problems in the country were due to us refusing to join a coalition, resulting in there being no stable government, so what was needed was another general election to get rid of us.

    If we had got an unexpectedly high share of votes in the 2010 general election, there might have been the worry from the Labervatives that if there was another general election we’d go up even further and maybe win overall. But it wasn’t like that. We got an unexpectedly low share of votes in the 2010 general election. It was clear our support was going down, so we’d do badly if there was another general election soon after. Also it was well known that we’d spent most of our money in the first general election, and couldn’t afford to do that much to do well in a second well.

    So very different from the previous general election where no party got a majority, February 1974, because that’s when we did show a huge increase in vote share. Yet it was still followed by another general election a few months later, and to some extent it was lack of money that meant the Liberal Party couldn’t pay to improve more in the October 1974 election.

  • Alex,

    I make no such assumption. A supply and confidence agreement is conditional and time-limited, It is not a coalition government. Much of the argument here has been that it is not the act of entering a coalition or supply and confidence agreement that is the problem, but rather what you do during the arrangement. If that is the case then there should be no fear of such arrangements (or notions of noble self-sacrifice) which have worked well enough in devolved administrations.
    For a party that is committed to electoral reform and proportional representation, straight thinking on how to deal with a hung parliament is essential.
    The Irish Green Party served in the Irish government from 2007 to 2011 as junior partner in a coalition with Fianna Fáil. The party suffered a wipeout in the February 2011 election, losing all six of its TDs. In the February 2016 election, it returned to the Dáil with just two seats. It has just entered coalition again (with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) as the fourth largest party in Ireland with 12 TDs and a radical agenda for speeding up Ireland’s carbon emissions reduction that incorporates much of the Green Party’s manifesto.

  • Re early election – remember that for most part of 2010-15 the polls were saying LD vote was collapsing into Lab vote and Con vote collapsing into UKIP vote. It was a big surprise when Cameron won a majority.

    I would also point out that when the exit poll said 316 for the Tories everyone thought that’s it they’ll govern for 5 years – ie a majority is not essential

    In addition after 2017 the parliament lasted 2.5 years based on C&S between Con and DUP.

    I actually thought that in 2010 a coalition with Labour could have been viable. Lib + Lab was about 315 seats so more than the Tories.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Jun '20 - 6:26pm

    Joe Bourke: Sometimes “the only winning move is not to play”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jun '20 - 7:58pm


    Labour didn’t really want a coalition with the LibDems in 2010. It would have been difficult for it to work well without an actual majority. But also, Labour knew that whatever government was formed, it would have some difficult decisions to make that it would get criticised for. So they preferred to drop out and not get blamed for it. They were keen to see a Conservative-LibDem coalition, because they knew they could use that to destroy us, as they did – blame us for everything the Coalition did and make out all of it was what all of us really wanted, as if a five-sixths Conservative government and a 100% LibDem government would be exactly the same.

    That is why we needed to be very careful about the Coalition: make it clear that we would have only a minor influence in it, that we were accepting it only because it was the only majority government that could be formed, and state clearly that it was down to the disproportional representation system supported by the Labervatives but opposed by us that caused all this and.

    But instead, our useless leader did none of this, and instead helped Labour destroy us by making it out that what they said was all true. So he made a difficult situation far worse.

  • @ John Marriott Glad you found it worthwhile, John, though not so sure I agree with, “The fact that the MacDonald administration didn’t last long was largely due to MacDonald’s antipathy to Messrs Asquith and Lloyd George”.

    It was also due to inept leadership in the Liberal Party, the cunning of the Tories in laying a trap for them, and the flight of many anti-socialist middle class former Liberal voters to the Tories after Squiff put Labour in to bat. The old man also seemed to have lost his judgement (and then lost his seat).

    Try reading about the Zinoviev letter for the Tory dirty tricks..

    What is the Zinoviev Letter? | Gill Bennett – YouTube
    https://www.youtube.com › watch
    Video for the zinoviev letter gill bennett▶ 1:40
    Allegedly written by Grigory Zinoviev, head of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow, the letter …
    28 Aug 2018 – Uploaded by Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press)
    Gill Bennett: “The Zinoviev Letter – The Conspiracy that Never …
    https://www.youtube.com › watch

    Video for the zinoviev letter gill bennett▶ 26:33
    Gill Bennett was chief historian of the UK Foreign Office from 1995-2005, and senior editor of its official history …

  • Matthew Huntbach – I agree that the whole arrangement should have been presented in a completely different way – no rose garden, sit in their own corner of commons instead of mingling on the front benches and run an entire department themselves not jointly.

    However I’m not sure what the basis is for saying Labour didn’t want a coalition. It seemed to be that Brown really wanted it and Mandelson and Harman would have made it work.

    In my view Clegg and Laws were determined to work with the Tories come what may. They were peddling the myth that Labour crashed the economy by spending too much and that we could have been like Greece.

    Labours main failings ie Iraq war and under-regulating the banks had been supported by the Conservatives. Not talking to Labour first as the incumbent government was unconstitutional. In the end the Conservatives ran rings around the Lib Dem negotiators.

  • Joe Bourke underlines the warning from a politician from one of our sister parties in Europe while the Coalition was in full swing. Speaking on the Conference Fringe, he said “Nobody ever says thank you to the junior partner coming out of coalition”.

  • Denis Loretto 18th Jun '20 - 11:25am

    Two points –
    1. Labour under Tony Blair was re-elected after it was pretty obvious that the Iraq war was a debacle.
    2. The Lib Dems made a major recovery in local government and EU elections and in the opinion polls during 2019. In those campaigns I found the only people who dragged up the coalition were Labour activists. The downfall came afterwards and is well analysed in the Thornhill report.

    We are most likely to be able to move on from the negative aspects of the coalition by shutting up about it ourselves. In my view the remarks by Wera Hobhouse were ill-judged.

  • Alex Macfie 18th Jun '20 - 1:47pm

    Denis Loretto: Do you mean Wera’s remarks about Ed? If so I agree, as well as on the need to shut up about the Coalition (and this includes, BTW, die-hard supporters of it). She was also mistaken in her earlier statement that we “shot ourselves in the foot” in Tory-facing targets by attacking Labour, because actually we were successful in squeezing the Labour vote in those seats (including hers).
    But I also think that to get people to shut up about the Coalition we’ll need to have a leader unconnected with it. If Ed were to become leader, he’d face the same barrage of attacks on his Coalition-era voting record as Jo did on hers, and it would be impossible to “draw a line” under it. Wera seems to be too ready to amplify the Coalition critique of our left-wing opponents. Layla’s approach is more sensible; as she wasn’t an MP during the Coalition she can’t be held responsible for it and she is ready to say that and that it’s time to move on and talk about our future direction. And unlike Wera, she understands why it was necessary to distance ourselves from Labour in the last election.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Jun '20 - 2:04pm

    This issue is to this party what Iraq was to Labour. i agree with Denis we do not need the stance of Wera on this, we might though need an alliance with Labour if Starmer backs pr, we must have an alliance with Labour.

    This party cannot compete with Labour if they are mainstream. That is to be worked out.

    I would rather we had the Coperative party as our aim, fight a few seats we could win, with Labour, or the Democratic Socialists of America, be independent but again only fight with Labour, again only if that party are mainstream.

    we need to see a realignment of the centre left. Only Starmer and layla can do it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jun '20 - 2:38pm

    Denis Lorretto

    The Lib Dems made a major recovery in local government and EU elections and in the opinion polls during 2019. In those campaigns I found the only people who dragged up the coalition were Labour activists.

    We have come nowhere near to returning to where we were in 2010. There are so many places where we then had good second places, but are now third placed. The effect of the Coalition does seem to have left most people thinking we are a party of right-wing economics, what used to be called “Thatcherism” and now gets called “neoliberalism”.

    I feel we need to explain properly that being a small part of a coalition does not mean you can get whatever you want out of it. Also how it was disproportional representation that led to us being just a small part of the coalition in 2010-15, and that we would have been much more powerful and so much more able to push it more towards what we want if there had been proportional representation.

  • Peter Martin 18th Jun '20 - 3:05pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “They {Labour} were keen to see a Conservative-LibDem coalition, because they knew they could use that to destroy us…”

    I can’t help thinking you’re making out the Labour leadership of the time to be much more competent than they actually were. Politicians cling on to the trappings of office like the proverbial something to a blanket. The only reason Labour stood aside in 2010 was because they didn’t have the numbers.

    Labour won 258 Seats. The Tories won 306 seats. So, as the largest party, the Tories had the first go at putting together a Govt.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jun '20 - 3:15pm

    @ Marco

    I would have preferred a coalition with Labour in 2010, but I can see the point that as this would not have had a majority and the one with the Conservatives would, it made sense to do the one that was done.

    It does seem to me that Labour made use of this to try and destroy us – pushing out the false message that all of us in the party were in full support of everything the Coalition did. That was clearly nonsense, coalitions don’t work like that, they have to involve compromise. Also, if we really wanted to force the Conservatives to give in to us, the only way we could have done that would have been by Labour supporting us when we did stand up against them, and offering to form the alternative coalition if we left. If those of us in the party who did stand up against Clegg got support from Labour, we could have achieved far more, but Labour joined in with the right-wing supporters of Clegg to dismiss us.

    An essential aspect of multi-party systems is that this leads to coalitions, so I think we need to deal properly with that, and explain that this will inevitably mean a compromise coming somewhere between the two parties. To me, it is an important aspect of liberalism that we see that is how politics should be run, because that is true democracy. The idea that it is better to have one-party government, so passing control away from elected Parliament to the leader of the one party is illiberal, and ultimately what it means is fascism. I am a liberal, not a fascist.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • expats
    Russell 1st Dec '22 - 5:15pm.....The reason inflation is so high is because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine...... Don't forget the 'B' word...* *Brexit ...
  • Helen Dudden
    Restricting heating wont help. Black mould has been a culture in the many years of social housing. The lack of repairs, housing that was not that great to st...
  • Geoff Reid
    As a Methodist my instincts are usually to avoid interfering in private grief. However while the influence of bishops in the Lords may be marginal, this is grea...
  • Mick Taylor
    I rather fear that this sort of casual racism is far more common that any of us like to admit. I remember canvassing in a by-election that the BNP won. I, perh...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    When my mother was in her 90s and suffering from Alzheimer's I took in a photo of Obama and explained that he was the new US President. "Oh, he's a negro!" she ...