The Lib Dems’ contempt for the electorate will do them no favours

Liberals didn't abandon Nick Clegg; he abandoned them


Whatever you think of the current Labour Party, there’s no denying that it knows how to lose an election.

The morning of 8 May brought a crushing defeat, but for all the upset there was no time wasted. Miliband resigned and straight away conversations started about what could be done differently – and under who – to win in 2020.

Coming, as it did, on the morning the party hoped to walk victorious into Downing Street, this was admirably resilient. But what of the night’s other losers, the Liberal Democrats?

While there is no consensus on why Labour lost it, the Liberal Democrats can be under no illusions: five years of propping up a Tory government had ground voter support down to a nub.

Yet somehow, the party seems to have missed this message. Its leaders speak as if the electorate lost the election, not them – as if no mistakes have been made, save for by the voters.

Nick Clegg, stepping down, said the results had been ‘crushing and unkind‘. Paddy Ashdown said the outcome was ‘cruel‘. You’d think the public had failed to support them out of spite.

Clegg went on to say his MPs had lost their seats because of ‘forces entirely beyond their control’ and that the ‘politics of fear’ had cost them – the latter point was echoed by Vince Cable.

In a moment of undisguised contempt for the electorate, Clegg evoked a Liberal Democrat councillor who, on losing his seat, said he wholeheartedly accepted the voters’ verdict if it was their thanks for the scraps begged from the Tory table.

The notion that the coalition might have been a mistake, meanwhile, is not indulged at all. The party is agreed – it was brave and selfless to leap at power like a dog after a stick, and a move all should admire.

If a failure must be considered, it’s that the party did not adequately communicate its greatness. Yet this too can be someone else’s fault. One councillor told me they blamed the lack of a Liberal Democrat mouthpiece on Fleet Street.

Even Norman Lamb, who at least accepts some wrongdoing, seems to only give ground on the tuition fee U-turn, otherwise defending the Liberal Democrats’ time in Toryland.

One might expect something like humility from a party that lost 85 per cent of its MPs, but the talk is mainly of rebuilding, and – with the coalition not disavowed – it’s on these toxic foundations.

The year after entering the Conservative coalition, Lib Dem party membership plummeted 25 per cent. Herein lies the key.

The Liberal Democrat voter base was, in no small part, composed of people on the centre-left. Did Clegg and co really expect to get into bed with a right-wing party and retain that support?

For many, this loss will seem well earned and richly deserved. Here is a party that not only helped the Tories into power, but continued to support them even when its own values were the price.

Whether or not the party did the right thing by sporting a Tory leash (it didn’t) is neither here nor there. The voters have decided it was wrong and, until the survivors distance themselves from the decision, they will be starved of support.

Clegg may mourn a sad result for liberalism, but liberalism is alive and well. Its followers didn’t abandon his party; his party abandoned them.

What matters now is who liberals choose to support in the future and, at this stage, it’s not the Liberal Democrats.

Michael Havis is a blogger and reporter. Read more of his work here

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

13 Responses to “The Lib Dems’ contempt for the electorate will do them no favours”

  1. Eddie Wizard

    Utter infantile and barely disguised political point-scoring tripe

  2. Grichlea

    The truth obviously hurts some people!

  3. James Chilton

    For many years the “old liberals” had dreamed about taking their rightful place as governors of the people. So, when the chance came, the Lib Dems compromised their “principles” for the sake of being in a coalition government.

    At the election they were spinning the tale that they did this noble deed of self sacrifice for the good of the country. But lots of people didn’t believe it.

  4. tom

    It would be nice to have some, you know, evidence to back to the assertions in this post – links from 2010 talking about how all the Lib Dem voters will turn Labour (!) do not count.

    Looking at the actual election results:

    In Scotland the LDs were wiped out by the same SNP wave that hit Labour.
    Outside Scotland, the Lib Dems lost 39 seats, of which 27 (i.e. 70%) broke *Conservative*.

    So that means:
    Lots of 2010 LD voters were left-wing, but do not understand tactical voting or FPTP


    Lots of 2010 LD voters actually ended up voting Conservative.

    Either way, this is what Clegg and co are getting at when they describe the results as “cruel”, and you can kind of understand what he’s getting at.

    A load of lazy assertions from the left flank calling the results their just desserts is not very insightful.

  5. Selohesra

    The polls & the media share much of the blame. They bigged up Labour’s chances of being next government and much of middle England did not want that & thought best way to stop it was to vote Tory. Had they realized that actually Labour were heading for disaster they may well have voted LibDem to prevent Tory majority.

  6. stevep

    The Lib Dems deserved everything they got on election night.
    5 years ago they pitched themselves as a progressive left-of-centre party to capture disillusioned Labour voters (including myself, who voted tactically, like a fool), only to find them getting into bed with Cameron.
    They have let the Conservatives in twice now. Once, by the aforementioned Cameron deal. Twice by ensuring no voter with a conscience would vote for them at the last election because of their treachery, their subsequent collapse benefiting the Conservatives twice as much as Labour ( Scotland is a separate issue). They deserve to rot in a dung heap of old Country Life, The Spectator and Horse and Hound magazines for the next 50 or so years.

  7. AlanGiles

    I’d just make the point that Clegg resigned within an hour of Miliband, however Jim Murphy took NINE DAYS and wanted his ego massaged with the vote of confidence and his petulant resignation speech.
    Farage resigned of course the same day as Ed & Nick – only to reinstate himself three days later

  8. Torybushhug

    Liberal is a dirty word.
    The public have come to detest all things liberal because too often liberal imperatives privilege those that want to glean advantage from British fairness.
    Clegg was trumped by Farage during the EU debates, why, because people saw straight through simplistic liberal populism. For example; Liberals tell us we can only co-operate on cross border policing by being in the EU, and yet the EVIDENCE gives many examples of nations not in the EU that do just that. The liberals convinced themselves they are the guardians of evidence, nothing could be more wrong, they are guardians of unimaginative weak minded bias.

  9. stevep

    No it`s not “cruel”. Cruel is expanded tuition fees, the bedroom tax, two recessions, reduced workers rights and five more years of the same and more due largely to Cleggs` vanity and the Lib Dem`s treachery.

  10. AlanGiles

    And “contempt” is a pompous little man who calls ordinary people “trash” and knocks back £150 steaks while contemplating the poor, announcing he wants to be leader and then backing down three days later because he doesn’t like media scrutiny. All parties have people who don’t show their party in the best light

  11. stevep

    Yep, but Clegg`s certainly showed his party where darkness and obscurity lies and given the voting public a bitter lesson in trust.

  12. Cylux

    It’s hard work being the protest vote and the ‘not labour, not tory’ vote when you’re actually given a shot at power and blow it as badly as the lib dems did. The reversal on tuition fees pretty much annihilated their student support, with student driven campaigns against them up and down the nation. Plus if you want to get Tory, you’re better off voting Tory and cut out the orange book middle-man altogether.

    Secondly their god awful decision to ‘compromise’ for a referendum on Alternative Vote rather than for their preferred model – they lost, majorly, (no real surprise, it’s not like there was the enthusiasm to campaign for the system they didn’t want) and even if they’d have won, all the AV system would have done would have been to entrench the two party system even further. Quite possibly losing even more seats than they did.

  13. Harold

    The Lib Dems in my area always positioned themselves as the alternative, most were “wet” Tories who did not like the Conservatives but were conservatives, consequently I think they voted for various parties or not at all as they were never part of any political parties base.

Leave a Reply