Saturday, 16 April 2011

Can the Liberal Democrats survive another coalition?

Also posted today on LibDem Voice here as part of Liberal Burblings bloggers takeover.

We already know how hard a coalition is with the Tories. So what would happen if we get another choice of forming a coalition with this Tory party or Ed Miliband’s Labour at the next general election?

At the moment, perhaps the most likely scenario is a coalition with Labour with less Liberal Democrat MPs. On the plus side Ed Milliband will be wanting to put his new ‘radical’ (maybe) mark on Labour’s story in power. Now this is something we can help him with. We have learned a lot from our coalition with the Tories. We will also prove to the electorate that we are not an offshoot of the Tory party, although some Labourites will return to their belief that we are an offshoot of Labour.

In this coalition I believe we will have a job of holding back the authoritarian tendency of the Labour party. We will have to fight that battle as hard as we can. Otherwise we will lose our Liberal distinctiveness in this new coalition. We would also have trouble dealing with poverty. Labour believe in throwing money at the poor while we believe in giving the poor a hand out of the situation rather than making them feel a bit better off.

In a coalition with Labour we would need to avoid Labour not allowing us to implement some of our policies. Labour will believe that Lib Dems have come home to Labour. We will need to remain progressive and ensure Labour are more so (than they are at the moment). There would be just as many challenges in a coalition with Labour as there are with the Tories.

Scenario 2 would be the Tories, again. By now we understand each other, we can work together. The problem is that this will look really bad with the electorate. It will install the idea in many minds that the Liberal Democrats are on the side of the Conservative party. We will give the impression that we are perhaps a right-leaning party rather than a left-leaning one.

The Tories are, of course, more likely to have less MPs than they do now and if this is the same for us then the coalition will be more fragile and open to attacks from the Tory right and unhappy Liberal Democrats. Negotiations would be much easier, as will the working relationship. The danger from a second coalition with the Tories is from the electorate rather than the Tories themselves. If the electorate didn’t understand why the Liberal Democrats are a party of a coalition and what we stand for they certainly won’t after this coalition. Unless….


Firstly, let’s understand that we will lose some voters forever especially if we are in a coalition again with the Tories because many Labour voters will find it hard to support us.

So with fewer MPs do we have less power? Well, maybe at first, but as the coalition continues, then no. It all depends on the numbers. If it is still our vote that ensures legislation is passed or not and if we still have MPs in key ministerial positions then we will have almost the same influence as we enjoy now.

What we need to do in any second coalition is remain distinctive, we need to change the system so the Deputy PM or Ministers can have open discussion defining where each party is coming from and make it clear that we, along with our partners have agreed a way forward. We need to demonstrate what difference we have made. We need to be better at communicating and reacting to the test of government.

Thanks to Paul of Liberal Burblings and to Liberal Democrat Voice


  1. I think the Party has to learn from the Coalition "experience" and that hasn't finished yet.

    We could do what Genscher's FDP did in 1982 and switch directly from one party to the other but that looks opportunistic on the one hand and I just sense that a long period in Govenrment wouldn't give us the chance for policy renewal.

  2. The question to be asked is whether the Lib Dems will even survive another election, let alone another coalition !

    Selling out comes at a cost and the electorate won't forget !!!