RogerBW's Blog

The Wreck of the Liberal Democrats 11 June 2015

The obvious story of woe of the recent General Election in the UK is that of the Liberal Democrats, who lost 66% of their vote share and 85% of their parliamentary seats compared with five years ago, leaving them about as much of a political force as the DUP. What went wrong?

The coalition agreement with the Conservatives is the core of it, of course. For a start, many of its traditional supporters are disillusioned Labour voters who reflexively treat anything Conservative as Evil. But even apart from that, the Lib Dem arm of the coalition failed to distinguish itself from the Conservative arm. Sure, they didn't get everything they wanted. But they didn't protest in public about anything they didn't get; they never voted against the Conservatives even on things which had supposedly been important points of principle; and they allowed their own leadership, never mind the Conservative leadership, to sabotage the attempt at a move away from FPTP voting (both in what was offered, with no possibility of genuine reform of constituency sizes or of the uselessness of the majority of votes, and in how the campaigning was conducted).

What I think they needed was a bit more brinksmanship: here are the things we're prepared to compromise on, here are the things we are not, and if you can't work with that then bye bye coalition. Being in power for five years at the cost of all your accumulated reputation is not better than being in power for one year and then walking out on a point of principle. As far as public perception went, all the compromising seemed to be coming from one side.

This chart of opinion polls:

suggests that most of the ill-will came straight away in 2010 (before the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum, though partly during the publicity for it). Was there a feeling that, of all the things they could have insisted on pushing through, they could have picked a more important one? Not where I was, but maybe.

It's a shame, because they did (and do) a really good job at the local council level. Forty years of useful slow work, thrown away in one grab for power.


  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:46am on 11 June 2015

    Yeah, that. I was a long term Liberal and then LibDem voter, though never a party member. I was part of the left wing bit of their support. I hoped for a chance to reform the structure of the constitution and return the balance of power and opinion a bit more closely to People Who Agree With Me.

    Not that I ever voted in a place where I had the slightest chance of influencing the outcome which is one of the reasons I am enthusiastic about Electoral Reform.

    And Nick Clegg blew it all. At the moment when he he had a lever and a place to stand he just fluffed it. If you can't play hard ball at that point you just shouldn't be leader of a political party. The whole aim of Liberal/LibDem politics has been to get one of the major parties over a barrel and force them to end FPTP. And he couldn't do it.

    In fairness to him it's probably not that he was tempted by the glories of office (I doubt there are many glories to being deputy PM.) I think he believed that it really was his moment of destiny and he had to Save The Nation.

    The pillock.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:56pm on 11 June 2015

    Rhodri James (former accidental LibDem councillor in Cambridge) pointed out to me there was no need for a referendum. The electoral system can simply be changed by parliamentary act. He thinks the LibDems should simply have insisted on an act to change the voting system or walked away, because coaltion was always going to destroy their electoral support therefore it was only worth doing for an absolute gaurantee of an electoral change.

  3. Posted by John Dallman at 03:01pm on 13 June 2015

    When someone feels he has to Save The Nation, and this involves office, titles, ministerial cars, etc., one is entitled to suspect that there might be a little bit of vested interest involved.

    Clegg also appears to have believed that Cameron's nice social-liberal face was the real chap, and that Cameron could carry his party with him on that front. And not done anything when he discovered he was wrong.

    He is also an Orange Book Liberal, a faction who actually believe all the ideas about economics that the Tories use as cover for shifting national income towards the rich.

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