How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn’t have come as a surprise

Under-factionalisation and higher than normal levels of leader loyalty are in fact two of the reasons Grayson identifies as resulting in the coalition.

It may come as a surprise to many within the Labour Party that a political organisation could suffer from having too few factions.  But apparently it’s true and as Richard Grayson, author of the Compass publication the ‘Liberal Democrat Journey’, puts it, the Lib-Dems are “under factionalised”.

The consequence of this “under factionalisation”? Well it is part of the story that resulted in the Con-Lib coalition we are witnessing now.

Under-factionalisation and higher than normal levels of leader loyalty are in fact two of the reasons Grayson identifies as resulting in the coalition which so upsets the so-called “political compass” particularly for those of us who saw a Lab-Lib coalition as the far more natural partnership.

Grayson goes on to discuss why this came about. Drawing on the political traditions starting with William Gladstone and Neville Chamberlain, that got us to this place; where the natural ties between small state Liberals and smaller state Conservatives found common ground and why this small cadre within the Lib Dems took the rest of their party with them.

Grayson argues that the coalition agreement has allowed the leadership of both parties to pursue its zeal for cutting public spending. It does this having explicitly ruled out major cuts in 2010/11 in the election campaign, and having opposed the scale and timing of the cuts now introduced by the government.He argues that the decisions made by this government on Treasury matters “illustrate its overwhelmingly small state centre-right ideology”.

Importantly, Grayson goes on to discuss what this means for us now and how the left, and particularly social liberals should respond to the coalition. Grayson suggests that there are clear signs of concern within the Liberal Democrats.

He states that some activists say that they are now ashamed to face many of those they met in the election campaign who backed the party. In particular he makes reference to the voters who deserted Labour for the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010 and say they will never support the party again and feel badly let down by the fact the coalition was formed.

However, Grayson argues that while some people may drift away from the Lib Dems this is unlikely to result in a significant realignment of the centre left – particularly while the ideological barriers to Lib Dems joining Labour, on issues such as civil liberties – continue to persist.

Grayson instead argues that now is the time for the Social Liberal Forum and other social liberal elements within the Lib Dems to be more radical and look to challenge the free market orthodoxies which led to the current crisis.

He suggests that if they fail to do this

“The party can be happy with morsels from the Conservative table, enthusiastic, surprised and occasionally ecstatic to see little bits of Liberal Democrat policy implemented. If they take that approach, then the party will become as hollowed out as Labour under New Labour.”

This analysis is a long overdue discussion on the state of play in the Lib-dems and well worth a read; download it here.

20 Responses to “How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn’t have come as a surprise”

  1. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise: //bit.ly/desCjJ

  2. Annie B

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise: //bit.ly/desCjJ < Hum, interesting

  3. Peter Lord

    "@leftfootfwd: How the Coalition came about & why it shouldn't have come as a surprise: //bit.ly/desCjJ < Hum, interesting">good read

  4. Jim Melly

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise: //bit.ly/desCjJ

  5. Alan W

    I never doubted that Clegg would prefer a deal with the Tories over Labour. He so obviously belongs on the Yellow Tory wing of the Liberals. However, I was somewhat surprised how easily he was able to carry the rest of his party into a full coalition deal, especially one which doesn’t even get them PR.

    Clearly the parliamentary arithmetic was a big factor. If a deal with Labour had been capable of producing a majority, I don’t believe Clegg could ever have sold this appalling Lib-Con coalition.

  6. LockPickerNet

    How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise: //bit.ly/desCjJ via @leftfootfwd

  7. Rachel Hardy

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise //bit.ly/desCjJ

  8. Robert

    I think myself Clegg would have gone with the Tores anyway, and I do not blame him. The thought of working with brown would have been to much for me and anyone else.

    The sad fact for all his belching and then insults at the liberal i would have been insulted to see brown sitting next to Clegg smiling that famous smile. I think Clegg did as well as he could.

  9. Richard Dawson

    @andwhatthen re //bit.ly/desCjJ interesting piece albeit total bollocks in places but explains that LD are not an annex of Labour !

  10. Chris

    I don’t think many expected Clegg to go to the Tories because before the election nobody had heard of him until after the first debate. Also, the media did a crap job of actually explaining the policies the LibDems were actually campaigning on. So, I know many people were mislead by the LibDems use of the language of a progressive party, while advocating regressive policies such as the slashing of tax credits.

  11. Rich

    Saying the Lib Dems have higher levels than normal of leader loyalty is pretty damn funny to anyone who’s been to a Lib Dem conference. We’ve frequently voted down policies it’s been known the leadership wanted, or significantly altered them with amendments. Lib Dems as a party are much more about the open debate rather than falling into easily seen factions.

    The big reasons Lib Dems have supported this coalition is the way the Labour acted during negotiations, and the reactions of the Labour party rank and file after. It was very well demonstrated that Labour has a long way to go when it comes to working with others.

    While many in the party, including me, are unhappy with some of the policies of the coalition, we also realise that coalitions and compromise are the end result of a reformed voting system. We’ll never get everything we want or like. Labour needs to realise this like we have.

  12. Linda

    Why the coalition shouldn't have come as a surprise //bit.ly/dwxvUx

  13. Chris

    @Rich

    LOL, that is an interesting spin on the Lib-Lab negotiations! Clegg was never serious about going into a coalition with Labour, which was arithmetically possible. The first demand the LibDems made was immediate cuts to public spending, going completely against what Labour and they had campaigned for during the election.

    The reaction of the Labour rank and file is perfectly understandable as the LibDems had just spent the past four weeks campaigning in Labour areas as the anti-tory party. To then join in a formal coalition with them is hypocritical in the extreme, in my constituency for example all the leaflets they delivered carried an inaccurate graph stating Labour couldn’t win and the tag line “Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories and stop their savage cuts here.” The result was the progressive vote was split and the tories won the seat.

  14. Richard Grayson

    @Rich: ‘Saying the Lib Dems have higher levels than normal of leader loyalty is pretty damn funny to anyone who’s been to a Lib Dem conference. We’ve frequently voted down policies it’s been known the leadership wanted, or significantly altered them with amendments.’

    I have been to many many LD conferences and I agree – but that has not been the case recently. The point I was making in my piece was about how the party has become over the past couple of years. My comments on leadership loyalty were specifically framed in the context of a situation where two leaders had been lost in quick succession and the party has rallied round a third.

  15. noelito

    really insightful stuff on the libdem journey from richard grayson, greed for power corrupts all our parties! //bit.ly/dxJrAp #fb

  16. Rich

    @Chris

    From hearing directly on the reports on the negotiations, the Labour team was not negotiating well, and was unwilling to agree to implement Lib Dem policy. Frankly anything I hear from Labour about the negotiations is a bad piece of fiction.

    As for being hypocritical, you pointed out yourself the arithmetic. We got a lot of our policies into the coalition. Plenty of the agreement does include items we campaigned against, but as I’ve had to continually point out to Labour members, this is a coalition, a compromise. Unfortunately few seem to understand what these words mean. As for splitting votes, the Lib Dems lost a few seats to tories when people went and voted Labour. Talking about Labour being progressive after its years of its heinous civil liberties policy is laughable, and a good demonstration of the gulf that exists between us.

    @Richard Grayson

    I think it still is the case myself, as the membership has managed to keep the policy areas it likes. I’ve talked to plenty of people at conference about the things they do and don’t like about the leadership. I don’t think the members who go to conference are more ‘loyal’ than they have been. We’re still a fractious lot who enjoy the debate, and end up going with the majority after a good argue. Something the medias usually been bad at reporting from my experience at conferences alas. Any debate is reported as a split in the party.

  17. Chris

    @Rich

    “From hearing directly on the reports on the negotiations”

    Ah sorry didn’t realise I was talking to such a well connected Lib Dem apologist, strange how everyone on the internet is so well connected…

    The Lib Dems admit it openly that they made demands for cuts immediately, which was obviously untenable for Labour since they actually have principles. Also, Labour knew the talks weren’t serious when at the very beginning of them the Lib Dem team announced a pre-planned meeting between Darling and Cable was cancelled, this is a fact confirmed by Cable himself. Clegg never wanted a deal with Labour because fundamentally he is a centre-right politician, he believes in a small state and welfare as only for those at the absolute bottom of society.

    I said pointedly that the arithmetic worked.

    Now, there is compromise and then there is capitulation that is what the coalition represents in terms of the Lib Dems as a progressive party. Social Liberals have almost completely surrendered to the Libertarian orange book wing of the party, how else could they agree to VAT rise, cuts to the state that go far beyond what is necessary, cutting the school building fund not because it was unfunded but to instead fund Gove’s ideological baby – free schools.

    “Talking about Labour being progressive after its years of its heinous civil liberties policy is laughable”

    I believe that Labour did go too far down the authoritarian path, they were too ready to believe police officers demands for more powers and too ready to appease Daily Mail readers. However, it is interesting that the change the LibCons made to policing was to massively increase police power by allowing them to prosecute people for certain crimes without the involvement of the CPS. While spun as reducing paper work it breaks the fundamental principle that grow out the miscarriages of justice of the 1980s that the police are investigators and the CPS are prosecutors. Another interesting change, also spun as paper work reduction, was the scrapping of the forms introduced after the Stephen Lawrence report to monitor police use their stop & search powers.

  18. Richard Grayson

    @ Rich ‘I think it still is the case myself…. I don’t think the members who go to conference are more ‘loyal’ than they have been.’

    The evidence for my argument that conference is more loyal than it has been is that there has not been a single major defeat for the leadership on the conference floor since 2005 when the part-privatisation was referred back. The only big defeat the leadership has suffered (on tuition fees) was done behind the scenes on the Federal Policy Committee. If anyone can point to a big public defeat since 2005 I will stand corrected, but I am pretty sure there hasn’t been one.

  19. John Green

    Richard Grayson has written an interesting and relevant paper. This is not surprising given his position within the Liberal Democratic party.

    He has highlighted the major worries for those in the Labour movement who harbour ambitions to get back into power quickly. The coalition has put together a progressive and reforming programme that appeals to centre-right voters and coalition MPs of both parties. This has been done at speed and the government is already putting its programme into action.

    Labour should realise that a great deal of horse-trading preceded the formation of this coalition, which has provided a lot of cement to keep the structure in place. Both leaders are acting with recognisable statesmanship and are taking their parties with them. There will inevitably be a shedding of the extremists on the fringes of both parties, as there was with the formation of New Labour. This will only strengthen the alliance.

    The coalition can be optimistic that the major part of the economic mess they have inherited will be cleared up by the end of this parliament. It is highly likely that both leaders and their parties will agree to fight the next election as an official coalition. This is a doom-laden scenario for Labour.

    What should Labour do? It should immediately stop pathetic attempts to fracture the coalition alliance by attacking the credibility of the Liberal Democrats. This is seen for what it is; sour grapes. The party should make a point of supporting the coalition when appropriate. It should face up to the fact that most of the electorate know that they were lied to by Labour about the true state of the economy. If this fact is doubted by the Labour leadership, then do some research. Attacks by Labour on the coalition plans for cuts in the private sector have no credibility whatsoever.

  20. enterprisecafe

    A rather interesting post RT @leftfootfwd: How the Coalition came about and why it shouldn't have come as a surprise //bit.ly/desCjJ

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