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

by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

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. Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll run last Thursday and Friday.

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 more than 20 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? I asked this same question just over a year ago. And again last week. 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)

    9% – A minority Conservative government with the Lib Dems in opposition

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

    1% – A second general election in 2010

    1% – Other

    1% – Don’t Know

Strikingly, these figures are near-identical to a year ago. Exactly the same proportion, a sturdy 62%, would still have opted for Coalition with the Conservatives if we could turn back time (though doubtless with lessons learned from the mistakes we made first time round). And exactly the same significant minority, 20%, would have preferred to avoid it through a Conservative-Lib Dem ‘confidence and supply’ agreement. As I wrote last year:

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 9% 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 sample of your comments…

• I still think it was the right decision. The problem lies not with the decision but with our failure in the early days not to realise that people in the UK don’t understand coalitions in the same way that many people in mainland Europe do. Plus the printed media who were disgruntled about the Tories not running the show.
• I think a lot of what we wanted to achieve was kyboshed by the Tories superior political machine – AV and Lord’s Reform. I can see why we wanted to be “in government” however we’ve suffered very badly for it and poll ratings do not seem to be improving.
• None of the other options are remotely realistic: we would either have suffered equally (as in a confidence-and-supply agreement) whilst achieving very little, or Cameron would simply have called a second election.
• The problem with confidence and supply is the minor party has no real say in policy. The coalition will / has caused us pain (and will see a haemorrhaging of votes) BUT has given experience of government and has helped neuter the Right. We never fully recovered from the Student fees issue and that will be our albatross up to and through 2015. The best we can plan for now is damage limitation and a rebuilding post the election.
• I support the coalition – but we should have been more realistic about the day to day working of government. We got policy wins, but we failed to get process wins. We should have paid more attention to making our achievements more visible.
• we had no choice
• a Lb-Lib coalition was not sustainable and we have achived more (depsite the pain) in coalition than we would have had we sat on our hands.
• This government has been disastrous for the country and the most egregious actions it has taken were without a mandate. Disgraceful and shame on Lib Dem ministers.
• We said that we were not afraid of coalition government.This was our opportunity to show we meant it. We have learned lessons and would approach it differently next time.
• Coalition, yes, but we should have done things differently (e.g. we should have said we’d vote against any tuition fee rise)… that is obviously said with hindsight, of course.
• Definitely. Just regret in terms of Comms we were naive
• It has been a successful government which has achieved a lot, especially in the area of pension reform. Sure there are things I don’t like – but I probably wouldn’t have liked everything a purely Liberal Democrat government would have done.
• A deal of one sort or another with the Tories was the only option apart from walking away. However, a confidence and supply deal would very likely have lasted just long enough for the Tories to call a election as soon as the polls favoured them.
• We have been very naive in our dealings within the coalition. In 2010 I wrote to Nick Clegg (I didn’t expect an answer – nor did I receive one)stating that although I was in favour of the coalition we must make sure that we did not get ‘shafted’ by the Conservatives. Sadly, this is exactly what has happened.
• Not ideal but more effective and more stable than a Tory minority govt. Labour were a shambles at the time and would not of been capable of forming a sensible govt. They may be better now.
• Though I detest the Tories and all they stand for. I rather be in their camp and be able to stop some of their more outrageous policies. Though we should of stuck fast on tuition fees and on policies that have created a Country “OFs, and HAVE NOTS”. AT ground zero we are going to be slaughtered because we allowed the Tories to take us too far right, which have harmed and dramatically increased suicide in our Country. We have to take some of the blame for the non-caring attitude, the increase in disability attacks. We have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt, that we still care for people more than big profits.
• In favour of coalition if Nick Clegg was competent – however he is not – so best option minority conservative admin
• We had to find out what being in coalition would be like. Also the country needed the stability this brought. Coalition with Labour would have been preferable but they were not ready to recognise the extent of changes needed to turn Britain around. Never the less, coalition with the Tories has been very unpleasant.
• There was no alternative if we wanted to be in government for the first time since WW2
• Coalition to stabilise the economy. Should have brought down the Government after AV or failure of Lords Reform.
• I believe this option would have brought stable government and still allowed our party to be differentiated from the Tories in the eyes of the general public.
• It was a rotten choice.
• Coalition has provided what PR should have done and as I’m on the right of the party coalition with the conservatives, while uncomfortable at times, has been worthwhile.
• I am appalled by the social policies or rather lack thereof by the Tories also by the lack of credit given to LibDem compromises and advancements.
• Any other choice would have given the impression that Lib Dems aren’t serious about politics
• We should have held out for PR and if Cameron hadn’t given us that we should have walked away. I never believed the line about that bringing the markets crashing around our ears.
• There was no other option that would have provided a stable government. We put country ahead of party. We will get no credit for it.
• The only way to achieve some of our policies

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
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  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    One comment

    And then there's the awful warning of the Free Democrats. Used to be standard argument against PR (along with Israel) "Oh, hardly anyone votes for them but they're always in Government…" Now without a single seat in the Bundestag.

    by Serena Hennessy on October 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm. Reply #

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