The collapse in Liberal Democrat support since the election is startling. At the general election they recorded 24% (having hit 30%+ in some campaign polls, though we will never know for sure how much of that was down to polling error). By the end of the year, most polls showed them losing at least half their election support and in the case of some YouGov polls up to two-thirds.

The reasons why Liberal Democrat support has collapsed are fairly obvious. A Populus poll of people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 in Lib Dem seats asked people in their own words why they voted Lib Dem and how they think they will end up voting at the next general election. In Populus’s poll the main reasons people gave for voting Lib Dem were believing in their values or principles, because they rated their local Liberal Democrat MP, because they thought it time for a change or didn’t like the main two parties, or as a tactical vote against Labour or Conservative.

As one can imagine, at least three of those reasons are now somewhat problematic – People who voted for the Liberal Democrats seeing them as a centre-left party pursuing liberal or social democratic policies may be unhappy seeing them working with a right of centre government (42% don’t think they will end up voting Lib Dem), people who voted for them as an idealistic alternative to the main two parties may not be happy seeing them working hand-in-glove with one of them (49%-50% don’t think they’ll vote Lib Dem next time), people who voted for them as an anti-Conservative tactical vote will obviously be less than chuffed (68% don’t think they’ll vote for them next time). The most loyal voters are obviously those who voted on the basis of their high opinion of the Lib Dem MP – but even there only 64% think they’ll remain loyal.

Unsurprisingly the main divide seems to be whether voters approve or disapprove of the coalition – most (but not all) of those Lib Dems voters who think the coalition was the right thing to do think they’ll back the party again, most (but not all) of those who disagree with the decision think they’ll end up voting for someone else.

If you look at where the lost Liberal Democrat support has gone (and I’m looking now at standard polls asking how people would vote tomorrow), the biggest chunks have gone straight over to Labour, or are saying they don’t know what they’d do at the next election. In YouGov’s final poll of the year only 24% of people who said they’d voted Lib Dem in 2010 said they’d support the party tomorrow, with 25% saying they’d vote Labour and 25% saying don’t know (the remainder split between voting Tory, Green, other parties or not voting at all).

The large chunk of former Lib Dems saying they don’t know what they’d do in an election tomorrow is, incidentally, a major reason behind the wide variance in the level of Lib Dem support different pollsters are showing. YouGov have tended to show the lowest levels of support with around 8 or 9 percent in their latest polls. ICM have tended to show the highest levels of support for the Lib Dems, with their last poll of the year showing them on 13 percent. Part of the reason for this is don’t knows – even ICM only actually find 11% of people saying they’ll vote Lib Dem – the 13% comes about because, based on past performance, ICM assume half of those former Lib Dems now saying don’t know will end up voting for the party in the long run.

Whether that turns out to be the case or not, it’s worth remembering that a fair chunk of those lost Liberal Democrats haven’t gone to Labour, or to minor parties or anywhere – they just don’t know what to do. Those people may yet defect to other parties or sit on their hands, or they may be won back for the Lib Dems in the fullness of time.

So what can the Lib Dems do to try and win those voters back? There are no easy answers. Some voters are probably out of reach for the time being – the Lib Dems used to win both anti-Labour and anti-Conservative votes, they are unlikely to be able to play both sides in the future. The second problem is that the Liberal Democrats could previously be a purist party that said all the right things, unburdened by the unpleasant compromises of government. A colleague characterised it to me as the Lib Dems fighting the last general election as if they were a virtuous maiden standing against two grizzled old whores, yet having got into government people have suddenly realised they were just like the other two. In a similar vein, the Lib Dems have often been able to trade on the popularity of their leaders – in 2001, 2005 and especially 2010 the Lib Dem party leader had the highest approval rating, Clegg now has the lowest approval rating.

The view of the Liberal Democrats seems to be that they need to highlight where they have made changes to government policy and to champion the more Liberal policies being introduced. This is probably right in principle, as polls increasingly show people are no longer sure what the Liberal Democrats stand for. As early as August 61% of people were saying it was “not very clear” or “not clear at all” what the Liberal Democrats stood for and YouGov’s regular trackers of party image have shown the proportion of people who think the description “It seems to chop and change all the time: you can never be quite sure what it stands for” applies best to the Liberal Democrats has gradually grown from 24% just after the coalition was formed to 36% now.

That doesn’t mean it is easy to do though, going back to the Populus poll of Lib Dem voters in Lib Dem seats, Populus asked whether people thought the Lib Dems had made a positive impact in various areas of government policy. In no case did more than a third of respondents think that the Lib Dems had made a positive difference to government policy – the highest was on welfare reform, where 32% said that the Lib Dems had made a positive difference, 26% thought they had made a positive difference on the spending cuts, in most other areas less than 20% thought the Lib Dems had made a positive impact. Remember this was a poll of Liberal Democrat voters in seats with Lib Dem MPs – these are the people most likely to think positively of the Liberal Democrats and be receptive to their messages, if even a chunky majority of them think the Lib Dems are not making a difference, then the party are clearly struggling to get the message across.

Looking at the threats and opportunities for the Lib Dems next year we have the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election. Labour are now the very strong favourite, but until we see some polling (and a company called Survation is apparently currently conducting one) I’m wary about writing the Liberal Democrats off. Recall the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, fought at a time when the Liberal Democrats were polling almost as badly as they are today (they had just jettisonned Ming Campbell and stood at 11% in the polls), they still managed to win the by-election from Labour on a hefty swing. It would be a big boost to the party if they pulled it off. (as someone has pointed out in the comments, I’ve mixed up my Lib Dem interregnums – Dunfermline was after Charles Kennedy’s ousting, not Ming’s, and the Lib Dems weren’t in such a bad way.)

Secondly there are some policy areas that are due to be dealt with that they may be able to point to as Lib Dem achievements – such as House of Lords reform, control orders, or taxes on bankers (some of these things risk being the cause of arguments within the coalition too!)

Thirdly there are the local elections and the AV referendum in May. The local elections are likely to see the same sort of hefty losses for the Lib Dems that I predicted for the Conservatives yesterday. That brings us to the AV referendum – if it is won, then the Liberal Democrats will have something utterly solid they can tell their activists and supporters the coalition has delivered, if it is lost, then it will be a further blow to Lib Dem morale.

Is there a point when the Liberal Democrat position in the polls gets so bad they withdraw from the coalition (or the party splits?) – I don’t know, I don’t pretend to have any great insight into the views of Liberal Democrat MPs or activists. My guess is that the chances are greatly overestimated by people who would like it to collapse (the truth is I think we all overestimate the chances of exciting and interesting things happening!). Being outside the coalition wouldn’t necessarily help the Liberal Democrats much in the polls (it would give them the independence to promote their own policies, but the damage to their image has already been done) and the last thing the Liberal Democrats would want to risk in their present situation is an early election. I expect, like the Conservatives, Nick Clegg’s strategy is dependent upon seeing the job through until the economy has recovered and then pointing to what the Lib Dems have achieved and contributed to that.

When writing these round ups I try to present the good and the bad news. By necessity, this has ended up as a very pessimistic piece for the Liberal Democrats, though what can you do for a party that has lost half its support within a year? The harsh truth is that it’s not easy to see a light at the end of the tunnel for the party. So for a more optimistic point of view, I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Pack (personally I think a by-election victory would be more likely to change things than scrapping control orders, but there goes – Mark’s pieces on the 2011 challenges for the Lib Dems are also highly recommended):

“Imagine if at the end of next month control orders had been scrapped and there was Lib Dem MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth. The political landscape would look very different.”


150 Responses to “End of year round up – the Lib Dems”

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  1. Neil A

    If Westminster thought that the AMS system was the best for Scotland and Wales, why did they stick to FPTP for their own structure?

    I could suggest a number of possibilities. The one thing they would all have in common would be be a disregard for democracy in the utterly corrupt parliament of the UK.

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  2. @OldNat,

    Thank you for your kind remark.

    Hopefully we’ve reached a point where we both agree that the Tories, whilst clearly a small party in Scotland with no prospect of returning to formal government, are not “fairly meaningless”.

    Surely if, in addition to tacit support for most of the SNP’s policies, the Tories have also succeeded in acting jointly with other “Brits” against the SNP then that further underlines their meaningfulness. I don’t doubt for a second that you are sure that the interests of Britain and of Scotland are mutually exclusive. That’s entirely a matter for you although I have to say that I am slightly suspicious of 100% certainty about anything or anyone in this world (call it the cynicism that goes with the job). I personally support minimum alcohol pricing, and don’t consider it to be a “Unionism” issue. I have no idea what the merits of trams in Edinburgh might be, although in general I find trams to be a paean to an obsolete era (and a frightful obstruction when, like any good gas-guzzling Tory I am trying to drive through a city centre).

    As for Trident, as a resident of Plymouth I would be delighted if the submarines and their warheads could be relocated down here so you may have your nuclear-free Scotland. We’d of course expect you to keep paying your share of the costs, mind you, although you’d be quite at liberty to make this a central plank of your case for an independent Scotland!

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  3. @Oldnat,

    You’d have to ask Labour about the arrangements they created for the Scottish parliament, as my lot opposed the whole thing. Personally I support PR, and AMS is an acceptable system to me. I had assumed you got AMS as part of Uncle Donald’s plan to use devolved government in Scotland as a pathfinder for a better system for Westminster.

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  4. When I say “acceptable” I don’t mean “preferred”. For me the obvious system for Westminster would be STV. I particularly love the fact that the electorate can choose between different shades of the same party within a single election. AMS allows too much control-freakery for my liking.

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  5. Neil A

    I suspect that we would enjoy a friendly meeting in an appropriate hostelry (don’t tell me that you are a teetotaller!)

    As for the Tories in Scotland – they remain (as do the LDs) a useful adjunct to Labour in opposing significant improvement in Scotland. However, that’s a pretty dreadful position for any of these 3 parties to be in. “Constructive opposition” is a requirement of any democratic structure. The performance of Labour and LD in this regard has been appalling. The Tories (who never thought they would have any role in Scottish politics again) have actually been cleverer. To that extent, I accept your point.

    So Annabelle Goldie has been more effective than Iain Gray? Probably true. Yet Barney and Amber want Iain Gray to be FM? That is really the conflict between party and country.

    Iain Gray as FM? What a total disaster that would be.

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  6. Neil A

    STV is my preferred system for all elections. Whatever my complaints about the LDs at Westminster , that they forced Labour to introduce STV for our local elections is a huge positive for them.

    Alas, their Westminster colleagues seemed to have the negotiating skills of a supine squirrel, and achieved little.

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  7. I was terribly disappointed myself. I am still a bit torn on the AV referendum. I’ll probably vote “Yes” on the “a change is as good as a rest” principle but I don’t hold out any great hope that it will lead to further reform. Perhaps it will lead to a further LibDem/Tory or LibDem/Labour coalition one day that will see a tougher stance by the LibDems, but it might just as easily put the whole issue onto the back burner for a couple of decades.

    I’d dearly love to be able to hand in a ballot paper where I’ve marked the names of people I rate as individuals, rather than any old donkey in the right-coloured rosette.

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  8. @ Old Nat

    “At a guess, your friend’s LD contacts are English. They were probably unaware that the LDs were in coalition in power in Scotland for 8 years.

    While being in coalition with Labour here did them no harm at all, their (currently) “Brief Encounter” with the Tories in England/UK looks like it has already been more damaging to them than it would have been to Celia Johnson’s marriage if she had actually gone to bed with Trevor Howard.

    (The above will be totally incomprehensible unless you have seen the 1945 English film!)”

    They might very well be English or they might downplay the importance of the Scottish Parliament.

    The above line is incomprehensible to me because I have not seen the 1945 English film. Lol. But I think I understand the gist of what you’re saying. I will reply in kind by quoting from the 1995 film Clueless. :)

    @ Neil A

    “I don’t think the LibDems being in two politically conflicting coalitions at once is a practical or constitutional problem of any kind. I think the problem would be a political one. Such an arrangement would provide excellent cover for the LibDems, allowing them to air their centre-left credentials, and their pragmatism, in a way that tempers the effects of their Westminster arrangement with the Tories. LibDem ministers in Scotland could rail against decisions from Westminster that LibDem ministers the UK are obliged to support.

    It is for this reason that I seriously doubt that it will happen. Labour would not want to hand such a life-raft to a party that they mean to try and destroy utterly. An SNP-LibDem government might work (particularly with tacit, but not open, Tory support) because the SNP don’t have to worry about UK-wide consequences.”

    I don’t think it’s a constitutional problem. It’d just be a slightly odd situation where you have the party railing against a party of government in one part of the country and joining with it in another. Of course this discussion could all be moot if the SNP maintains control of the Scottish Parliament.

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  9. @SoCalLiberal,

    Having just had an election where one of your Democrats filmed himself literally shooting down his own party’s legislative proposals for a campaign ad, surely it doesn’t seem that wierd??

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  10. @ David

    “So this friend of yours whose a political strategist is it his day job? I do hope not, ‘cos if he honestly believes that load of rubbish he isn’t very good at it.”

    Just simma down na (as John Bercow and Nadine would say). He’s an American political strategist and he doesn’t know that much about UK politics. He was just pontificating. And his pontifications made me think that this might be the Lib Dem mindset.

    @ Neil A

    “I quite believe that SoCalLiberal’s friend is being told those things by LibDems. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re hoping will happen. Are they right? Dunno, but I am certainly not putting any money on it.”

    Yeah, that’s what I got from it. The Lib Dems thus far don’t seem to be in infighting mode, their leaders and MPs at least. And with poll numbers going the way they are, you might think panic would settle in. But the Lib Dems may not be thinking this way. Instead they may be glad that they’re back in the government for the first time since the 1930′s (or was it the 20′s?).

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  11. @ Old Nat

    “I fully understand that this isn’t a UK politics website – since NI is normally excluded from all polling.

    I also understand that the English really want to discuss their own politics here – without these damn Scots and Welsh intervening.”

    Don’t forget the Californians who develop odd obsessions. :)-

    @ Barney Crockett

    “Labour/snp coalition?
    I have posted previously that this is almost ruled out until the snp drop the independence line which at some point they will. It is also the case that the SNP are held together, being from left and right, by a dislike often expressed as contempt for Labour. An additional small point this time round is that between them Labour and SNP are likely to hold a huge majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament”

    That’s what I kinda figured. But I was curious. The Labour Scots and the SNP Scots on this blog appear to get along but I’m not sure that’s representative of their respective party leaders.

    I found this committee hearing from last January on Scotland and Jim Murphy and Pete Wishart seem to really not like each other. It was striking that the Labour cabinet secretary was getting along far better with the lone Tory and the Lib Dems questioning him than the SNP MP.

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  12. @ Neil A

    “Having just had an election where one of your Democrats filmed himself literally shooting down his own party’s legislative proposals for a campaign ad, surely it doesn’t seem that wierd??”

    LOL. I suppose not. :)

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  13. @ Old Nat

    “If Westminster thought that the AMS system was the best for Scotland and Wales, why did they stick to FPTP for their own structure?

    I could suggest a number of possibilities. The one thing they would all have in common would be be a disregard for democracy in the utterly corrupt parliament of the UK.”

    Hmmm. I think they may have wanted experimentation. Or they wanted to make sure that one party didn’t wind up dominating the chamber.

    It reminds me of what Congress did to D.C. as part of the 1974 Home Rule Act. Congress requires that two seats of the D.C. City Council must be reserved for members of the minority party. Even when they’ve finished well behind the other candidates. There isn’t a single municipal government in the whole of the United States that operates this way (where a minimum number of legislative seats are set aside for the Republican Party). But Congress required it anyway.

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  14. @ Nick Hadley

    You may not like me for saying this but I think one of the biggest helps to Labour was the Lib-Con coalition. And if the Lib Dems had backed Labour, it would have greatly harmed Labour (though not neccesarily the Lib Dems). It would have been one thing if let’s say the Tories had 287 seats and Labour had 282 and the popular vote shares nationwide were 36% Conservative and 34% Labour. But in this election, while it’s arguable that none of the parties won, Labour lost. 13 years is a long time in power, people wanted a break, and they wanted Brown out.

    To create a coalition keeping Labour in power would have created a great deal of resentment against Labour. I think the voter response would be “I thought we voted those boobjobs out, why are they still here?” Plus you also create a somewhat odd issue had Brown left and a new unelected Labour Prime Minister taken power. You would have just had an election yet managed in short time to wind up with another unelected Prime Minister. The coalition probably would have wound up splitting up, forcing a new election in which the Tories would have been returned with a sizeable majority.

    That said, the Lib Dems might not have been harmed as much. Their voters are by and large much closer to Labour than to the Tories. So there wouldn’t be feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Similarly, tactical voting would have continued to benefit Lib Dems. May not continue to happen for them as things currently stand.

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  15. @SocalLiberal

    “I thought we voted those boobjobs out, why are they still here?”

    I would be careful of using such expressions in the presence of an English (British) speaking lady Socal.

    From the night-owl correspondence I gather we LDs have been useful for something.

    I think it will be the Cons who suffer most in 2011 simply because their partner has ‘suffered enough’ at 9%..

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  16. AW
    “…a virtuous maiden standing against two grizzled old whores…”

    Another lovely image! I can hardly wait to see your description of Lab!

    Another great piece of analysis. Thanks

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  17. @Amber/ Martyn

    ‘Sleep all day. Party all night. It’s fun to be a LibDem…’

    Definition of a student, circa Spring 2010?

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  18. Loved the piece Anthony…well judged.

    You are quite right about LibDems splitting: no one can know.
    But we’ve got a historical evidence – if not polling evidence – that the Liberals haven’t come well politically out of coalition with the Conservatives.

    That’s why I think AV referendum is central to all this. If that’s won then they’ll find it easier to survive.

    But if that’s lost then without the Conservatives standing aside in certain seats it becomes harder for them Then of course their really no longer a viable coalition partner for Labour and the choice to the electorate is back to where it was in the post 1945 to 1959 world…..

    That AV referendum loss would be the only thing that might splinter the LibDems. But I think the larger part would stay with the coalition and the coalition must on balance be likely to survive its preagreed term….

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  19. @ Howard

    “I would be careful of using such expressions in the presence of an English (British) speaking lady Socal.

    From the night-owl correspondence I gather we LDs have been useful for something.

    I think it will be the Cons who suffer most in 2011 simply because their partner has ‘suffered enough’ at 9%.”

    I did not realize “boobjob” was that offensive. I’ll be careful. I will not repeat the same mistake Chuck Berry made with “Ding-a-Ling.”

    The LD’s are useful. You guys are getting a lot of what you want on civil liberties and prison reform (much to the frustration of the 1922 folks).

    The LD’s have suffered but they can always come back. Wasn’t Labour in the high teens in 09′ with all their cabinet secretaries in a position to lose reelection? Politics can change in the blink of an eye. The LD’s have been around forever (your Prime Ministers, when the LDs were known as Whigs, used to terrorize the North American colonists). One bad couple of months isn’t going to destroy you guys.

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  20. @ Howard

    I should probably (since I’m about to go to bed) clarify:

    1. Please don’t take my reference to the LD’s as Whigs as an insult.

    2. I feel your pain on tuition fee increases because I went through a similar thing with Obama and extensions of income tax cuts for the wealthiest (who like Clegg vowing to cut, not increase tuition fees, Obama had promised to let the tax cuts expire).

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  21. I think Mark Pack’s idea on supporter’s campaigning will be fulfilled, especially on voting reform. The movement is cross party but clearly LDs are numerous.

    Encouraging is the attitude of less partisan Cons and Labs and I think this can work well as long as LDs are careful not to give any semblance of leading the campaign.

    However, if the campaign is won, it will be undoubtedly the LDs who get some credit and this will reflect itself in the polls.

    Perhaps other bandwagons will appear onto which these activists can jump.

    Other than that, It’s grin and bear it time.

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  22. There is I am afraid no point in being Pollyanna-ish about the future of the Lib Dems. Laws’ book makes it clear that the wise-guys running the party had decided before the election that the Tories were right about the economy (but had not told the voters). It is obvious that these wise-guys feel much more comfortable in tory company than with the great un-washed. I think that candidate selection has been more socially elitist than is the case with the tories. This is all fine if they can find the voters to suit but I don’t think they can
    They also need money and Jay B is right on this score. Who wants to fund them? I don’t think we have had any post-election offering on this.
    Earlier this week I visited a friend in hospital who I would describe as a die-hard Lib Dem, a member in a seat (Aberdeen South) which the Lib Dems fight very hard. She is not voting Lib Dem in the forthcoming election (where the seat is Lib Dem held). The earth is shifting IMO

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  23. NB – Down our way, the Lab attack dogs have been called off the Libs.

    We are to offer welcoming smiles and tempting policies.

    Far from being a party Lab want to “destroy utterly” they are rather a party they hope to appeal to. The penny has finally dropped that they are acting as human shields to the Tories and fire is to reign down on blue instead.

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  24. @ Sue Marsh

    “We are to offer welcoming smiles and tempting policies.”

    Tempting policies? Please explain. I thought the whole point of Labour at the moment was to avoid anything that looked like a policy, so as to have maximum possible strategic flexibility.

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  25. @ Robert C

    You may already know this but in case you don’t: Professor Richard Grayson, a LibDem of some standing, has accepted a place on Labour’s policy committee.

    Ed Miliband has said the Labour has no problem working with the Dems or being in a coalition with them. 8-)

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  26. robert

    sue’s tempting policies are, opposition to the nasty parts of the govt’s policy without explaining what labour would do differently as well as a continuation of lip service to electoral reform

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  27. welcoming smiles

    crocodiles are famous for their smiles as are sharks

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  28. RiN
    “…lip service to electoral reform”

    May I suggest you have a short memory?

    Lab and GB seriously courted LDs with AV. There was I recall a discussion in Parliament pre the GE plus a commitment to AV in the Lab manifesto.

    If the AV referendum is lost, the LDs will know who to blame for a failure to grasp electoral reform: NC…and the rest of his Tory sympathising colleagues.

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  29. with 13 years of majorities labour could have had a referendum whenever they liked, that they did not speaks volumes

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  30. RiN

    The Cons who didn’t have AV in their manifesto and only agreed to a referendum to get the LDs on board.

    If the AV YES campaign fails, all LDs should recognise that the blame lays with NC.

    That failure could spell put back electoral reform for a very long time.

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  31. mike

    how many senior labour figures come on tv denounceing any kind of deal with the libs, why, because they were not prepared to vote for a fair votes ref

    if the AV ref fails, it will be because most of the two big parties are against real democray

    or maybe you think that supporting labour for ever and ever is an aceptable price to pay for AV

    read carol lucas on the labour party in the gaurdion

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  32. RiN

    I refer you to my oriiginal comment at 2.13pm in reply to your comment “…lip service to electoral reform”.

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  33. @Mike N
    “If the AV YES campaign fails, all LDs should recognise that the blame lays with NC.”

    I quite agree. AV YES will fail because voters will take this opportunity to punish Nick Clegg.

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  34. @Mike N, RiN

    (Part of this is from memory, part deduction, so don’t take this as gospel, but…well, here we go)

    Red’s stance on AV is currently up in the air, and the timeline is as follows

    Before 2010 election
    Gordon Brown was (still is?) a strong proponent of AV. This was opposed prior to the election by Ed Balls and John Prescott (amongst others). Red resolved this by putting a referendum on AV (not AV itself) in the Red manifesto. The envisaged scenario was a Red government would organise the referendum, with Cabinet members free to prosletyse pro- or anti- as they felt fit, in the same way as the 70′s EEC referendum.

    After 2010 election, before Ed Miliband became leader
    Following the resignation of Gordon Brown but before the election of Ed Miliband, Red went into headless chicken mode, operating from the collective gut instinct of its members. Hurt by the loss of government and blaming Yellow, the gut instinct was simple: Yellow was bad, Yellow wanted AV, therefore AV was bad. A simple, comprehensible position, albeit appallingly unethical (which is what you usually get when you work from your gut).

    After Ed Miliband became leader
    Since Ed Miliband became leader, Red’s position has become more complex. Both brothers Milibands are proponents of AV (it comes from their father), as are some other Reds, but other Reds (chiefly Ed Balls?) are agin. So there are many things going on here: internal politics between Balls and Miliband, external politics between Red and Yellow, and honest confusion over whether AV is right for the country and/or the party. Since Red doesn’t have a settled will on the matter (GarryK informs us that Red is 1/3rd for, 1/3rd agin, 1/3rd dunno, and I assume he knows what he’s talking about), Red is retreating to its gut and adopting its current position of “Well, we want AV, but we’re not going to fight too hard and,if it fails, we’re going to blame Yellow”. The rest of us are gazing in bemusement that a major political party can tie itself into knots over a such a simple question, but there you go.

    Hope that helps, regards, Martyn

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  35. Martyn

    Every issue for the parties becomes political. Essentially, each issue is assessed for how it can be used and what it will achieve for the party in question. That’s political life.

    I see nothing amiss with Lab’s stance.

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  36. @Liz,

    I honestly hope you are wrong, and let me tell you why.

    For some time now, I’ve been agitating for a devolution of power from central government to the people. This position rests on the assumption that sixty million people, acting independently as adults and in their own interest, can examine positions carefully and choose better than 600 MPs can. But this assumes that people act like independent adults and do their own thinking. What if we just don’t do that?

    Under the scenario you outline, the people will let Clegg do their thinking for them (which is exactly what “Clegg is bad. Clegg is for AV. Therefore AV is bad” boils down to) and act as emotional children, not dispassionate adults.

    If that is what happens, then the people will lose twice: firstly, we will lose an electoral system that is more responsive to our needs than FPTP, and secondly we will have relegated ourselves to the position of irresponsible children, forever relegated to playing on the edge of our carpet with our toys whilst politicians make decisions for us without a care for our wishes or well-being. That’s not a victory, that’s a defeat.

    So I hope you’ll forgive me if I hope that your outlined scenario does not come to pass.

    Regards, Martyn

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  37. Richard in Norway:

    Well….you make it sound like Labour did absolutely nothing….

    And that’s as unfair…

    It’s a fair point that they were reluctant to do as much as they might….The latter is a point that might also be fairly made of their general approach to government and not just to constitutional reform.

    Nevertheless, Devolution is a huge achievment and one which it was argued would destroy the political structures of the UK. The London Mayorality is another important change.

    There were also experiments both with different electoral systems and with different forms of regional and local government.

    It’s true that Labour never made these high profile like say NHS stuff or education…but then these matters never had the political centrality to the Labour Party or its consituent parts that it has had say to the LibDems….

    That of course makes the LibDems compromise over a referendum on AV instead of let’s say, PR, AV and FPTP even more puzzling…

    But leave that aside: I think the plurality of electoral systems, devolved government including London and the other more timid regional reforms and the local government changes and the removal of the principle of heredity from representitive access to our legislature have made it significantly more likely that there will be more consitutional changes including that in the way we elect the House of Commons.

    That’s why I’m neither persuaded that the AV bus is the bus to catch or is the bus going in the right direction. Indeed, I’d argue, like the reduction in parliamentary representation and equalisation of the consituencies, the reforms of the coalition are so party-pris they’re unlikely to stand. And in revisting them Labour is bound to have to set them into a larger context of reform.

    The drift of LibDem voters and LibDem activists to Labour may oddly reinforce this tendency.

    Therefore, this will not be the only chance we’ll have for electoral reform in this generation…. that posistion is not consonant with the current political realities in both the LidDem parties and Labour parties and to be fair probably increasingly in the Conservative party.

    Finally it would make alot more sense if we chose the electoral systems for both branches of the Parliament together since to some extent the suitability of one is dependant upon the suitability of the other.

    But knowing us we’ll do as ever and hobble along with piecemeal change.

    Of course in my view the real democratic threat to the UK is the lack of true accoutability of our European insiututions and that is something none of the political parties want to talk about because if we’re honest all politicians like sytems that make them personally powerful….

    Happy New Year to one and all

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  38. (reposted due to HTML problem)

    @Mike N

    You said “…Every issue for the parties becomes political. Essentially, each issue is assessed for how it can be used and what it will achieve for the party in question. That’s political life…”

    That’s a fair point, because it’s true. But you highlight the essential point: political parties (of whatever stripe) may no longer be the solution, they may actually be the problem – if parties assess issues on whether it is good for them qua parties rather than us-as-people, then should we still suffer parties to exist? Don’t get me wrong, there’s no realistic chance of us getting rid of them, but by the use of devolved administrations and referenda we can wrench some power back from their cold, dead, useless, squalid grasp.

    Regards, Martyn

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  39. @ Martyn

    I am yet to be convinced that AV is any better than tactical voting. So you get to put your guy first even though he may not have a chance of getting in and select as second your tactical vote. Any further options are probably going to be impossible to make without significantly watering down your principles.

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  40. @Liz

    I’m surprised – given what happened in the 2010 GE, you still think tactical voting is a good idea?

    As for your actual point, I’m not sure ranking parties involves watering-down one’s principles: if anything, refusing to rank them would, if you see what I mean.

    Anyway, I’m off to catch a train. Happy New Year, regards, Martyn

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  41. Martyn

    “…but by the use of devolved administrations and referenda we can wrench some power back from their cold, dead, useless, squalid grasp”

    I’m against referenda. A referendum here or there (eg to enter the EEC) makes sense. But I firmly believe that vested interests will hijack referenda and that they are inherently unfair. And, they are expensive and time-consuming.

    Devolved administrations…depends to what level devolution goes.

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  42. @ Liz

    I think I get your point – that tactical voting ISN’T a good idea; & that AV basically enables people to vote tactically in addition to voting their heart/ gut/ conscience.

    Therefore AV isn’t a good idea in itself (regardless of the whole Clegg thing).
    8-)

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  43. @SocalLiberal

    “You may not like me for saying this but I think one of the biggest helps to Labour was the Lib-Con coalition. …….”

    I think you put the practical case against the formation of a rainbow coalition in the wake of the May 2010 GE very well, and it was an argument that obviously ultimately prevailed. It was the basis of what the likes of John Reid, David Blunkett and Andy Burnham were saying and their early negative interventions did much to scupper the embryonic and doomed Lib Dem and Labour talks. Of course, they may well have been right and we will never know, but what an historic and unique opportunity presented itself, albeit fleetingly and tantalisingly? It needed daring, ingenuity, brinkmanship and rare courage but I believe it was do-able. The Tories, when the prospect briefly surfaced, were labelling it the “coalition of the losers”, but would it have been? We live in a representative democracy where a workable majority in the House of Commons constitutes the right to form a government. No one single party won in May therefore, per se, they were all “losers” and while it was true that the Labour Government had been rejected, the Rainbow Coalition could have featured a much more cross sectional balance of its constituent parts than the current Conservative led administration. Brown would have to have gone and the Lib Dems could and would have assumed a much greater involvement, quite properly considering they would have been in a much stronger and influential position. More Cabinet seats, a referendum on PR, far more influence on economic policy (Cable as Chancellor?) and a common approach on a whole range of shared social policy objectives. The Browne Report would have undoubtedly been cast into the long grass too.

    Look, I fully admit that the formation and maintenance of a Rainbow Coalition would have been fraught with difficulty and its architects would have been taking a colossal political gamble with both their own and their respective parties futures. But what a prize could have been won, what a dream realised and what a sunnier upland for the Lib Dems to have attempted to scale.

    Now all Nick Clegg has to look forward is to write his political memoirs in 2015 entitled:”How I enabled David Cameron to become Prime Minister and killed my party in the process”! Only he’ll be Lord Clegg of Hallam by then, and taking the Tory whip in an unelected House of Lords!!!!

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  44. @Amberstar
    That is exactly what I meant. I can’t see myself voting for AV.

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  45. When you talk with Liberals about the future, they talk about voting systems which don’t interest people worried about funding their children through university, paying for their old age, the quality of schols, job prospects etc.
    In most circumtances emotions do trump intellect and if people feel like giving Clegg a hard one that is exactly what will happen.
    In parliament, SNP MP Angus McNeil got quite emotional about quite how unimportant the referendum was which puzzled on-looking Lib-Dems but not me
    No one answers where the money is coming from for a Lib Dem future.

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  46. @John Murphy, @Barney Crockett

    I can’t pursue this further since I have to catch a train, but John is saying that a “No” vote will be OK because electoral reform is so important that (a referendum on) PR will follow at some point, and Barney is saying that a “No” vote will be OK because electoral reform is so unimportant that the status-quo is acceptable. Could you two please get together and work out which of you are wrong?

    Regards, Martyn

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  47. @Martyn:

    Even after all these years infallibility eludes me…..

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  48. I think the lib dems may well get savaged in Wales, Scotland and the north of England but it’ll be interesting to see if they will start appearing more attractive to tory voters in the south of England.

    I would expect the lib dems to recover to possibly 15% later in the parliament.

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  49. The lib dems biggest problem – as ever before – is getting their message across. They’re making a difference in gvmt in many, many areas but how do they penetrate through a media where the narrative is stacked up against them. Yes they’ve made tactical mistakes but they’ve had some significant victories which have had little or no coverage. And then you’ve the scandal of the telegraph! I’m still waiting for their undercover recordings of Tory mps talking about lib dems. And the b’cast media just parrots everything that’s written. Disgraceful!

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  50. I think that the biggest prob the Lib Dems will have in May is finding candidates,as a rule they recruit on the basis that they are the nice party unlike` the two raddled old whores’ -this time around they will be receiving the kind of hostile reception that Labour and Tory candidates are used to…as nice non political types their candidates will melt away.IMO

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