There are plenty of places you can go if you want to read about how any deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would ‘kill the Lib Dem vote’ (Phillipe Sands), cause it to be ‘swallowed’ by the Tories (in a more thoughtful piece by Anne Perkins) or could invite a mass-migration of Lib Dems into Labour (see the tweeting of HopiSen).

See also  the commenter, ‘How could I be so stupid?’ on Rentoul’s blog for a Tory-hater’s perspective.

The basic premise is distressingly tribal.  If you voted LibDem, you are being betrayed if the elected MPs then support a Conservative administration.  This premise is: if you vote Lib Dem you are finding an alternative way of opposing Tories. That is all your LibDem vote means – a neat way of standing against Tories in places where distaste at Labour-support somehow prevents that option being used.  So if you don’t oppose Tories, then you are not doing your job.

Let’s remember a few things.

  • Voting Lib Dem means supporting a fairer voting system
  • A fairer voting system means that most of the time power in Westminster is divided between different political blocks that have to negotiate with each other
  • The negotiations are only meaningful if there is more than one outcome possible!  Read some of the Guardianistas and you would think that the only allowable result is Lib-Lab.  What sort of ‘new politics’s is it that offer,s as an example of how to proceed, some automatic stitch up between two of the parties – and one that explicitly rejects Clegg’s honest pledge to first talk to the party with the largest mandate?
  • For those who believe, passionately, in possible coalition politics as a default setting for the future, the next few months and years are crucial.  They are a chance to show the voting public how it produces better, more democratic, more negotiated, um, more liberal and democratic outcomes.   Personally, I don’t think a presumption that it must mean a permanent soft-left coalition is a good advert.  When that ‘coalition’ has just dropped 5% in the national polling, it is a very awkward advertisement indeed.

The anger from the Left at being denied first-dibs reminds me of the same sense of entitlement that characterises the Tory attitude to power, ironically.   ‘What right have you liberal nobodies got to prevent us taking control?’ seemed to be the dominant attitude of a Tory press gone mad after Cleggmania.  Now we have the equally insulting “Don’t you realise that we in the Labour party know perfectly well what all your voters wanted and curse you for not realising it”.**

What I find particularly galling is their pleasure at the logic of a future two-party squeeze eliminating the LibDems at the next election.  Yeah, nice way to show your disgust at the current electoral system: revel at how its perverse results might give you some revenge some day. Remember this whenever you hear Labour types making pious statements about electoral reform, just after extolling their efforts in getting voters to vote tactically.

No, LibDem voters did not want a Tory government.  Well, they are not going to get one!  In an excellent post at Liberal Vision, Angela points out that if we end up with a Lib Dem-Tory coaltion, a vote for the Lib Dems has prevented the Tory government most feared: the majority Tory government that would have been able to force through inheritance tax cuts, subsidies to marriage, a ferocious line on immigration and Europe, a gerrymandering piece of political reform and so on.   How sad that some LibDems might think our leadership of Clegg, Huhne, Laws and Cable might be unable to change anything in a Tory government!*

Of course, negotiations might fail to produce enough.  Of course, it is possible that a Labour deal might be tempting, particularly since his fingernails have finally given way. But voting Lib Dem has ensured that the Conservatives are negotiating at all.   If there had been no LibDem surge and the 3rd party was left with 40-5 seats (the likely result for most of 2005-7), the Tories would have been negotiating only with themselves, in my opinion.   If a Lib-Con alliance of some sort now operated for a few years, the Lib Dems could say, proudly, that they achieved something at this election.

*they could certainly restrain the EuroScepticism according to a Tory defector or move civil liberties further up the agenda

** here is a PERFECT example from Polly Toynbee.  Apparently they would only deal with Tories because ‘the establishment leans on them’ and ‘dragooning’ them. If the Lib Dems don’t resist the Conservatives, they lack “intellectual, political and moral fibre”, and to take an “inauthentic view of legitimacy”.  And here is the killer, the begged question, the you-are-no-different manoeuvre:

True legitimacy resides in a coalition of principle between the parties that stood for election on the most closely shared values. Their voters are the ones that confer legitimacy.

Lib Dems have opposed Labour for 13 years, but when it comes to the crunch, Polly says they have no choice.  That’s democracy?


18 thoughts on “Wanted: a good demonstration of how these things can work out well

  1. It’s not our fault if the Conservatives are incapable of the kind of compromise or party discipline for a coalition government; that has nothing to do with a presumption of a permanent ‘soft-left coalition’ – although that presumption would be a lot less self-evident if concerns about tactical voting didn’t come to the fore: Vote Electoral Form, have some possibility of a future Lib-Con coalition.

    My prediction;

    Year 1: Electoral Reform
    Year 10-or-so: The Tory party breaks up into libertarians and conservatives. The Eurosceptics go with the latter and join up once more with UKIP and the Libertarians take some of the right leaning Lib Dems.

  2. Giles,

    Although I realise your point is directed at the left-leaning commentariat/blogosphere, it must be said that the overwhelming narrative across the media as a whole is that only a Lib-Con deal would be credible.

    1. Maybe I read too much of the Guardian. But, yes, I must admit that even from Labour MP’s I’m beginning to get that impression. Maybe I am misrepresenting the strength of the Polly view

  3. (Hmm, my comment seems to have disappeared. Attempt at reposting):

    Great post.

    I’m sick and tired of being told how much closer the Lib Dems are to Labour than they are to the

    Tories. After Brown made his resignation speech, you even had Alastair Campbell and Lord Adonis

    spinning away on the BBC with this idea. There are actually large differences between Labour and

    the Lib Dems on several issues, and any Lib Dem more worried about a Tory deal than a Labour one

    has forgotten the last 13 years (or they’re an MP with a seat in a Lib-Lab marginal).

    On civil liberties

    * Lab – proto-police state
    * LD – freedom bill


    * Lab – Yarl’s Wood
    * LD – earned amnesty

    political power

    * Lab – centralization, large donations,
    * LD – decentralization, donations and lobbying reform


    * Lab – if blogosphere is any guide, an uncaring attitude to those who don’t earn the very

    lowest incomes, 10p tax abolition
    * LD – £10,000 tax threshold, explicit higher taxes on the wealthy

    foreign policy

    * Lab – Iraq war, trident
    * LD – the opposite

    financial regulation

    * Lab – technocratic
    * Lib – radical reforms on top

    electoral reform

    * Lab – deathbed conversion, and even then only AV
    * Lib – the heart of the party

    Scientific evidence

    * Lab – when it’s ok with Mr Dacre
    * LD – so far so good

    Sure, there are areas of closer agreement, but then that is true of the Tories also.

    1. Really glad I found the comment! LIke that earlier one pre election, really good (now being dragged off by toddler so can say no more)

      1. Thanks very much!

        Just pisses me off how unquestioning the televisual media is sometimes. Everything is about personalities and rhetoric.

    2. Hello, the thing is, from most voters point of view these policy distributions are meaningless… or at least their not aware of them. It’s simply that the tories are for the rich, against the unfortunate/undeserving, less socially liberal, more reliable with finances.

      Or to put it another way – lib dems and labour are closer togeather on aims, if not necessarily on means. It’s much easier to negotiate on the means than the aims.

      Or to make a slightly different point. More lib dem voters hate the tories than hate labour.

  4. (Giles, I think I have two comments (both the same) caught up in the spam filter or something. Guess it was too long.)

    Are there really that many libertarians in the Conservatives?

  5. Great post.

    Like it or lump it, the Conservative party won most votes – how anyone on the left that supposedly supports electoral reform doesn’t realise that the Tories therefore must be allowed to put their case for forming a government first is beyond me. That’s exactly what they’ve done for the last few days, but have failed – as yet, and I emphasise that no fat lady is singing in terms of Lib-Tory talks – to seal the deal, so it’s equally sensible that we talk to Labour and see what they have to say. To me, the only way the Lib Dems have a right to walk away from talks with the Tories is if they fail to provide a reasonable concession on electoral reform, which it seems that once Brown stepped down they’ve done to some extent – the details of the referendum they offered are as yet scant, but it’s getting more and more difficult for Lib Dems to do anything less than support a Tory minority…

    Alex, spot on – there are as many substantive differences between Lib-Lab as there are between Lib-Tory – the difference is that most activists (and many in the Parliamentary party too) feel, as a gut instinct, that they’d be more comfortable working with Lab than Con – not sure that a gut instinct is a strong enough basis for decision-making at this time…

    In sum, if (and it’s a big if…) the Tory referendum offer is substantive (i.e. in an acceptable timescale, with assurances about format and which options will be on it), then surely a Lib-Con deal is the right way to go now – and I say this as a former Labour sympathiser who considers himself on the centre-left of the Lib Dems…

    1. From my limited experience of Lib Dem Activists, I have met more who are furious at some aspect of Labour’s betrayal of liberal values than anti-Tory tribalism. Amazing the number for whom 2007 was a key year.

      Thanks Prateek. I have no fingernails left – something Brown and I have in common

    2. most activists (and many in the Parliamentary party too) feel, as a gut instinct, that they’d be more comfortable working with Lab than Con

      Yeah, I know. Certainly the Conservatives do have some, ahem, rabid, frothing at the mouth-type people that Labour don’t seem to have. But in a hung parliament that should be moderated (although I am worried about rumours of Michael Howard and IDS going into the Cabinet – but for the right wing press that wouldn’t be a coalition of the losers, oh no), and anyway, you know what you’re going to get from such people. Faceless PR bores like Ed Balls are always scheming, and are prepared to run against their student selves in order to have power. I don’t trust ’em.

      1. And, let’s face it, every party has its lunatic fringe. I am assured. I think what matters are the ones we can see. None of them are near Tebbit right now, I think

  6. It astounds me how the outcome of the election has lowered people’s IQ by quite a few notches. As a Lib Dem supporter I have faced the wrath of ordinary people who voted for our party and are now incensed at the coalition. ‘The maths,’ I keep telling them. That normally calms the emotional rhetoric churning out of their angry mouths. If we only had 57 MPs and a pre-election pledge to talk to the party with the most votes and most seats then it doesn’t leave much room to wiggle around in. Clegg’s pledge was the most moral and most democratic one to make. One of my angry colleagues suggested that Libs ought to have spoken to the Labour party first but she then went on to say that she didn’t like the Unionists. So, even a pick and mix Government couldn’t have satisfied people. If people voted for the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out then a protest vote doesn’t have as much a moral right as one cast straight in support for a party does it? The politics of tactical voting has unleased the forces of hell! We really need to change the electoral system so people know exactly what they are voting for.

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