Saturday, 18 September 2010


I’m a great believer in coalition government. I’ve heard a lot about how it produces weak government but I’ve never seen any proof of this. What it undoubtedly means is that politicians have to work far harder to do their job.

During a period of coalition government in Scotland we prospered and enjoyed more sensible government than our counterparts in England with their “strong” government, even although the major partner in our coalition formed England’s government.

But for coalition to work there has to be a wide range of policy agreement in the parties coalescing, as well as in their support. The trouble with Britain’s electoral system is that it largely excludes small parties, which makes coalition much more difficult. In some European countries a number of small parties with similar views, will coalesce with a larger party which will provide the Prime or First Minister. In Scotland the Liberals and Labour managed to find enough of a left of centre bias in both parties to marry together quite successfully for 8 years.

In London the Liberals are finding it difficult to accommodate some of the policies of their senior partner. But then that’s not surprising considering the Liberals are a party of the centre left to left, and the Tories of the centre right to right.

So no-one could deny that Nick Clegg will have his work cut out for him at this year’s Liberal Conference. He will doubtless hope that being pushed off the front pages, despite being Deputy Prime Minister, by the Pope’s visit does not portend even worse things to come.

But in a week where the Business Secretary has criticised the Tory policy of restricting immigration from outside the EU on numbers rather than need, and some Liberal back benchers have reacted furiously to George Osborne’s assault on Incapacity Benefit recipients, it cannot be helpful that Shirley Williams, surely one of the Liberals most respected grandees, has criticised the coalition plans to reform health in England, yet again.

Lady Williams has said that the NHS, improved with extra money last year, is now delivering good outcomes on a par with European hospitals and much more cheaply than the private US health system. She accepted that modest changes would be in order but said that transformation to a system run by reluctant and inexperienced GPs dependent on private advisers could split the coalition.

Certainly Nick has his cheerleader, in the form of Joan Walmsley, who urged delegates to maintain party unity, and asked Lib Dems to avoid "rubbishing" Tory policies.

The thing about a workable coalition is that it really shouldn’t need to ask its members not to 'rubbish' the other party’s policies, but, if people as senior in the party as Shirley Williams and Vince Cable feel able to do it, then I can’t imagine the rank and file membership paying much attention to Mrs Walmsley.

What the bigwigs of the party have to remember is that, while they sit in the back of their ministerial limos and take home the ministerial salaries, it is the ordinary Lib Dem workers, councillors and MPs who face the doorstep wrath of the Liberal voters. Joan Walmsley, from the comfort of the red benches (having been rejected by the electorate on two occasions) doesn’t have to worry her privileged little head about such things.

Oh and Nick, power is not there for enjoying; it’s for using to make this place a bit more bearable to live in. If you think you are there to enjoy it, best leave now.



  1. The Lib Dems are being conned big time here as they are saying they have influenced Tory policy, self delusion. I posted in Caron's blog hours ago in invisable ink that they have achieved zilch as anything so far was in the tory manifesto bar AV which was GB's fingertip clutch to power. If the rank and file sign up then it just shows how low they will sink to act important. Cold N Westerlies the last few days with the chance of S Westerlies tomorrow isnt the weather fun and one knows how a Lib Dem writes policy.

  2. What have they really got out of it CH...? Not much except limos and position.

  3. I blogged today highlighting the almost otal lack of Lib Dem achievements so far. The coaltion is a con trick akin to the Emperors nwes clothes. Someone needs to shout out loud "We've acheived nothing !"

  4. Tris

    Nick Clegg continues his march towards the political right will the lib-dems follow him
    as Nick beckons them............

    He has already told left leaning lib-dems to 'Fuck off and join the Labour party'

    shouldn't moan Clegg is turning into the best Labour recruiting sergeant Labour has ever had.

    I'm told he gets a bonus for evry lib-dem who joins the Labour party(he has earned a fortune so far)

  5. He can say what he likes but 61% of people who voted Lib Dem in May would not do so again. No party could sustain a loss like that and hope to continue as an independent body.

    If they lost 61% of their MSPs then they would hardly be worth Iain Gray considering as coalition partners. I'm thinking their Scottish loses may even prove worse than that, as Scotland traditionally looks for other parties to vote for than an adjunct to the Tories. With Labour 10% ahead of the SNP it seems likely that they will get the cream.

  6. Hi Norfolk.

    Welcome to Munguin’s Republic.

    I saw your excellent post (you're on our bloglist) and left a comment.

    If I were a Liberal Democrat I would be spitting feathers with the party and with Nick Clegg in particular.

    They have been bought for a referendum on AV, which is not even PR and a few other things that will, in all likelihood, not happen because they are, when the money in available.

  7. LOL Niko.

    You're probably right (if you'll pardon the word). Although I think you might have chosen more temperate language to couch it in!! :)

    The Liberals used to be a party of the left, and to be honest Niko, as Tony Blair and Pete Mandelson moved your lot to the right to take up the vote in the prosperous SE of England, they were way to the left of least in England, and therefore in the UK. They fitted in well with Labour in Edinburgh, but the most Left wing policies came from them, and not Labour.

    They are not really suited to coalition with a right wing party.

    Of course any argument that Chris Huhne (Nick's opponent) would have kept the party to the left are belied by his enthusiastic adoption of Tory policies in his current cabinet position.

  8. Munguin

    It will be interesting to see what tactic Labour takes with the Liberals.

    They may well decide to decry them as an “enabler” of Tory government in London, in the hopes that, as both you and Niko suggest, they will take seats from them. Labour in Scotland is less right wing than the English party. On the other hand as both Clegg and Cameron have found out, it is embarrassing if you have rubbished a party, its leader and its policies during the election campaign, and then embrace them all two days later in coalition. Even the apathetic Scottish electorate might see through that.

    Losing 61% of 16 would leave them with 6 (and a wee bit) MSPs, which depending upon what happens with other parties, might not be enough to bring to a coalition table with any party in Holyrood.

  9. The danger for Labour is not to fall in to the trap of blaming the Lib Dems and letting the Tories get away with it. Labour have far more Tory/Lab marginals than LD/Lab marginals.

  10. I don't think that Labour will be stupid enough to do that Norfolk. The Tories are the old enemy (although I often can't see daylight between their policies). I just see them blaming the Liberals for enabling Tory cuts.

    (Although Labour cuts would have been steep too.)

  11. The LibDems are inbetween a rock and a hard place.

    Frankly, if they had refused coalition, they would be accepting they represent nothing beyond a protest party - never serious about gripping power. Yet, having chosen coalition, and relevance, they are bound to lose part of their internal wing - the leftwing.

    But to be fair to Clegg, and I occasionally do endulge him, I have read the 'Orange Book' and agreed with much of it - on Europe, on Welfare, on re-organising the tax system [so those earning least, pay least].

    They are in power now, and they are no longer able to enjoy the protection of opposition.

  12. Good point Dean.

    They are not able to oppose and yet, in government they are forced into doing things that they don't believe in, or if they do, their followers don't believe in. This is because they are so junior in the coalition that they are invisible. They are only there as voting fodder albeit that they have the Deputy Prime Minister and several cabinet members.

    I too agree with their policies on many things. I just don't see any of them being implemented.

  13. Well, they have got their tax re-organisation in place. It is thanks to LibDem influence that the coalition has lifted the lowest paid out of paying tax altogether. That is something which I strongly support, and it is down to Clegg, not Cameron!

  14. Has it happened yet Dean... or is it an aspiration?

  15. Tris,

    If it was published in the budget it will happen. Accept it, don't deliberately pretend that it isn't happening, just because you don't like a Tory government being progressive.

  16. Dean
    I'm not ignoring it. I was asking you if it had happened. I didn't know.

    So no one pays income tax now till they have £10,000, is that right? Don't take everything as an insult.

    Well, that is excellent. Well done to the Coalition. Praise where it is due.

    (I missed most of the budget.)