Je ne regrette rien? Would Lib Dem members have voted for Coalition knowing what we know now?

by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2013

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Since the Coalition began, I’ve been asking the question about whether members support the party being in coalition with the Conservatives. Pretty consistently, across 16 separate surveys, around 80% have said yes. But I realise this question is, to some extent, skewed by the fact that we are where we are. Some members who are deeply unhappy with the way the Coalition’s panning out acknowledge that the party has little choice but to try and make it work.

So I thought I’d pose a counter-factual. Imagine, knowing what we know now, you could rewind to May 2010: what would you have supported with the benefit of hindsight? Here’s what you said…

62% would have supported the Coalition in May 2010 – even knowing what we know now

Had you known in May 2010 what you know now about how the Coalition has worked and what it has achieved, which one of the following options would you have supported?

    62% – Coalition with the Conservatives

    20% – A Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement (ie, no coalition deal so no Lib Dem ministers and with MPs free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)

    7% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition

    6% – A Labour-Lib Dem coalition (if agreement could have been reached)

    3% – A second general election in 2010

    1% – Don’t know

A sturdy 62% of Lib Dem members in our survey would still have opted for Coalition with the Conservatives if we could turn back time (though with lessons learned from the mistakes we made first time round).

However, that leaves a significant minority who would have preferred to avoid it. The most popular second option is a Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, backed by 1-in-5 members.

Of course we don’t know how that would would have worked out had it been tried. My guess is not happily. The party would have got pretty much the same amount of electoral pain for propping up a Conservative government with precious little opportunity to influence from within. Soon enough the Conservatives would have engineered an excuse to pull the plug on the deal and triggered a second election (after all, there would’ve been no fixed-term parliaments act) which would’ve seen the Lib Dems viciously squeezed. It’s possible we would’ve ended up retaining more MPs than we will in 2015; but at the price of not having implemented (m)any of our policies in government.

I think a similar scenario would’ve played out in the event of a minority Conservative government, too, favoured by 7% of members. And very few people think a Lib Dem-Labour deal was a realistic goer (even though it’s the preferred option of more than half our members).

Here’s a selection of your comments:

In May 2010 there were few choices available. The only stable outcome was a tory/lib dem deal.

We could not have afforded another GE and we would have lost seats if it had been held.

A limited arrangement solely to address economic crisis, existing for a max 2 years, then another G Election

We had no choice. It doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

But confidence and supply should have come with a Fixed Term Parliament Act as a condition.

in any of the other case there would have been a second election and we would have been hammered

Going back on our tuition fees pledge has seriously damaged our party. If coalition wasn’t possible whilst keeping our promises, we should have taken confidence and supply.

I still think we had to do it – but it was always going to be a poisoned chalice!

We prevented a worse outcome for the country. A more astute leadership than Clegg would have avoided many of the pitfalls.

a coalition is still the right answer but the way it is handled needs to change entirely

Hang on a minute- nothing else was possible mathematically!

But with better negotiation and a clearer strategy to differentiate and eventually to disengage.

The idea that a Labour/Lib Dem government could have happen is clutching at straws. We made our bed and we failed under Clegg and Co to make the best of it, looking back all the time gets you nowhere, learn from the success and the mistakes for the future

There was no alternative in 2010. There remains no alternative.

But with an opt-out for libdem MPs who had promised not to support an increase in tuition fees.

Election result and world conditions made stable govenment crucial. I disliked it from the start, and still do, but that’s what the electorate landed Parliament with.

Coalition was the best (least worst!) option on the table. It has been our awful management of the coalition since that decision over flash point issues (fees) and issues not covered in the Coalition Agreement (NHS).

Although I’ve been disappointed by many things about the coalition, and some of the other options look tempting with hindsight, I’ve no reason to think that any of them would have brought fewer opportunities for disappointment. We did ‘have a choice’ but no good one.

Had not realised Clegg and Alexander would go native and accept the right wing Tory economic analysis
We have helped ensure the best possible government this parliament given the outcome of the 2010 election through our actions.

Labour (258) plus Liberal Democrats (57) = 315 – to gain a majority a Government needed 323 votes out of the 644 (650 – 5 Sinn Fein and the Speaker) so such a coalition would have needed support from smaller parties – only the SDLP (3) and possibly the Alliance (1) could be relied on. Who would want a Government dependent on the SNP, DUP, or even Plaid?

Lib Dems could have a confidence & supply on issue-by-issue basis including the budget. We were not in a strong enough position to demand the changes that were needed to clear this crisis: make those who caused it pay for it.

It was the best of a lousy set of options.

But we should have played the negotiations better, and gone for STV at locals without referenda over AV at all.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Just over 600 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 23rd July.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
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  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and edited the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.