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Have the German FDP been smarter than the Liberal Democrats?

November 29, 2017

When I heard that the Free Democrats had pulled out of coalition talks with Angela Merkel my mind went back to events in Britain in 2010. What if the Liberal Democrats had decided not to enter into coalition with either David Cameron? Was a coalition with Labour ever a serious runner? Would the electoral carnage of 2015 been avoided if the party had stayed in opposition? As a casualty of that election, it’s a very personal conundrum, as well as an intriguing counter-factual.

I’ve kept a diary for most of the last 40 years and during the coalition negotiations in the second week of May 2010 I kept detailed contemporaneous notes. Now re-reading them for the first time in seven years the first memory that is jogged is just how tired, pressurised and rushed we felt. In the election on Thursday 6th May I’d won a stunning victory, with a 11,366 majority over Labour, despite a massive boundary change that favoured them. My result had been announced just before dawn on Friday. On Saturday I’d gone up to London on an early morning train, having barely slept since Tuesday. The Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet (I was the shadow BIS Secretary, covering higher education among other things…) met at 10.30am at Local Government House in Smith Square.

Nick Clegg told us that he’d had spoken with David Cameron and had “listened” to Gordon Brown on the Friday. He felt we had at most 3 days to put together a deal. After that we would probably lose public goodwill. At that stage he felt the problem with the Tories would be policy substance. The problem with Labour was the Commons numbers. I spoke in favour of making all effort to reach a deal with Labour, as long as Gordon Brown departed and we got agreement on electoral reform. Nick summed up by saying that if talks failed then there would be a short period of Tory government and then an early election.

There lies the biggest difference between the German and British situations. The German election was on 24th September. The FDP leader Christian Lindner pulled out of preliminary coalition talks on 19th November. He had the benefit of a rested and clear mind to consider the benefits to his party and his country of almost two months of discussions about the mere possibility of a coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Green Party. The German constitution (written largely by the British in 1949) allowed plenty of time and the German media and public were used to long coalition negotiations. The shock in Germany is that this is the first time that negotiations have been de-railed. In Britain in 2010 there was no constitutional breathing space and a “hung” parliament was a rarity. The media were demanding a swift conclusion.

The German President, rather like the Queen, has a largely ceremonial role. But he has a key role enshrined in the constitution to facilitate the formation of a stable government. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now urging the SPD to reconsider their opposition to continuing a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. He could insist on negotiations taking place for another couple of months at least before contemplating a dissolution of the Bundestag. The Queen has no such powers. We knew that it was Gordon Brown who would control the timetable. He could resign at any time and at that point the Queen would have to invite Cameron to form a government. Our negotiation leverage was effectively in the hands of one of our negotiation partners.

The second difference between Britain in 2010 and Germany in 2017 is the parliamentary numbers. Inside my diary is my candidate’s ticket from the Bristol West election count. I had taken it out of my pocket on the train to London and scribbled out some numbers on the back. Taking account of the non-voting Speaker, his deputies and the Sinn Fein MPs meant that for a bare majority a coalition would need the backing of 322 MPs. Assuming that the then small number of SNP MPs would be too tricky to be reliable we could possibly scrape a majority with almost everyone else, other than the DUP. I made a column of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and NI Alliance: 258+57+3+3+1= 322. Throw in the Ulster independent Lady Sylvia Herman but take away two Labour MPs who would need to be Deputy Speakers and we were short by one.

Such a government would have teetered on the edge of disaster every day, soldiering on in the hope that the mutinous ways of numerous left wing Labour MPs would be curtailed. I doubt if the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott would have been more loyal to a multi-party coalition than they had been to the single party Labour governments of Blair and Brown. The British “rainbow coalition” was much more elusive than Germany’s “Jamaica” of the CDU, FDP and Green Party, which could command a comfortable majority in the 2017 Bundestag.

But over the next three days in Westminster in May 2010 it wasn’t just the numbers that pushed the outcome towards what to me had been the unthinkable and unpalatable outcome of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. It was the policies that could be agreed and the attitude of the two larger parties. At the first of two full meetings of the Lib Dem Parliamentary party (“PPM”) on the Monday Nick Clegg told us that the Tories had proposed a full blown coalition, agreeing to many of our top policy demands on taxes, schools and the green economy. On constitutional reform they agreed to a fixed term parliament, a 95% elected House of Lords and a free vote on a referendum on PR, with the Tory leadership promising to vote for the legislation.

Later in the afternoon there was a dramatic shift in the dynamics as the news broke that Gordon Brown had undertaken to step aside as Prime Minister at some point later in the year, if a coalition of the progressive parties could be put together. I wrote in my diary that I had jumped around my office with joy. I clung to the hope that a coalition with the Tories could be avoided.

The second PPM of the Monday started at 10.40pm, again in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall. It became clear that any hopes of a deal with Labour were fast fading away. Nick had spoken to both Cameron and Brown about PR. The most they were both prepared to offer was legislation on a referendum for AV. But Brown’s negotiation team was being much more difficult. While the peers, Peter Mandelson and Andrew Adonis, were being constructive, the MPs – Harriet Harman, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were being obstructive on policy. Our top demand for a rise in the income tax threshold was not possible, nuclear power had to be expanded and renewables couldn’t grow, the Heathrow 3rd runway had to go ahead, ID cards had to stay, no enthusiasm for political reform and on tuition fees they were not prepared to agree a cap. On AV, Brown’s offer was undermined by Balls admitting that there was no way they would get it past the PLP. One of our negotiation team, David Laws, added that the overall attitude towards us was “sneering”.

I spoke at a quarter past midnight, saying that despite the Tories being more amenable on policy, they were still our long standing enemy. They had opposed most advances for ordinary people. I reminded colleagues that during the election Chris Grayling had defended the right of hotel owners to refuse a double bed to gay people like me. We should go back to Labour, so I would be able to look my constituents and a lot of my personal friends in the face and tell them that we had tried as hard as we could to reach a progressive party deal.

Tuesday 11th May (election plus 5 days) was a frustrating day of waiting to be summoned to another PPM for an update on the negotiations. It had been agreed that we would meet at LGA House. My flat was just round the corner so in the early evening a few colleagues joined me there to wait and watch the rolling BBC news coverage. Ed Davey fell asleep on the floor. Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and Sarah Teather complained that I didn’t keep any alcohol in the flat. So we decided to go downstairs to Pizza Express Millbank and as we left the BBC reported that Brown had resigned as Prime Minister and Cameron was on his way to Buckingham Palace. I texted Chris Huhne (one of our four negotiators) to ask what the hell was going on? He replied “relax, it’s fine” and I tried to enjoy my pizza.

We gathered in LGA House at 9.30pm and did not emerge till about 1am. Nick reported that Labour were “in a muddle” and while Gordon Brown was keen to do a deal his team were not. There had been no further negotiations with Labour after the morning but significant progress had been made with the Tories. A document was circulated titled “Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations Agreements reached 11 May 2010. Over six and a half pages of A4 I could read what looked remarkably close to a summary of the Lib Dem manifesto on many issues. Nick described it as “an astonishing opportunity for us” and recommended acceptance. Fifty MPs, myself included, voted in favour and none voted against. All the Peers present and all bar one of the party’s federal executive members voted in favour too. To some extent our votes were just a formality as Cameron was already in Number Ten and Nick was lined up as his deputy.

At the time I was pleasantly surprised by the policy outcome but still uncomfortable with the politics. But I thought if the deal was actually implemented then enough voters, perhaps a different mix to our previous supporters, would back us in the general election that we now knew was five long years away, thanks to the agreement for fixed parliamentary terms legislation. In any event, we had done the only deal that was possible, given the attitude of Labour and the undesirability of a Tory minority government and another election in the autumn of 2010.

The policies in that agreement were largely implemented but the Liberal Democrats suffered electoral near annihilation in 2015. Two years earlier we had felt the pain of our German sister party as the FDP crashed out of the Bundestag altogether, falling just below the 5% threshold needed for MPs. Ironically, their PR system had always given them greater representation than us, despite being far less popular. They had gone from 93 MPs to zero. In 2010 we had won 23% of the vote but had just 57 MPs, under 9% of the membership of the House of Commons. A German voting system would have given us 150 MPs and the Tories about 230. It would have given quite a different impression of the government to the Tory dominated vision that the public saw for five years.

In the end, it wasn’t the policies that undid the Liberal Democrats. It was our inability to make it clear just how much we had achieved or indeed how much we had blocked…such as a referendum on EU membership. The coalition negotiations had concentrated on the policy deal, which was the right thing to do in the 3 active days of discussion. But little or no thought was given to how the government would operate in terms of the distribution of ministers, advisers and other support. I will write about this in another blog.

Looking back, the Liberal Democrats got a great policy deal in 2010 but were unable to convince the public that we played a positive role in government. It looked, unfairly, that we had been bit part players in a Tory government. By the end of the 2010 Parliament we felt that we knew how to operate as a junior coalition partner and would strike a harder implementation bargain in any negotiations in 2015. Against almost everyone’s expectations, the chance never arose. The FDP have got their second chance and are safeguarding their position. As Christian Linder has said, for them “it is better not to govern at all than to govern wrongly.”

The Liberal Democrats did well to achieve a credible policy deal in 2010. But over the next five years they were out manoeuvred by their much larger coalition partners (and their friends in the media) and denounced by Labour, the party that had ran away from government. William Hague is reputed to have boasted in 2010 that the coalition deal would “kill the Liberal Democrats”. His view was similar to a former Lib Dem leader. At the end of the first full meeting of our parliamentary party on the Saturday after the election Charles Kennedy had said “the Tories will play with us like a cat plays with a mouse before killing it.” In 2015 Britain’s liberal mouse was left twitching. In 2017 British politics is hard to predict from this side of our departure from the European Union. It remains to be seen whether the mouse will get the chance to roar again.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael BG permalink
    November 29, 2017 5:01 pm

    The party made one mistake in its 2010 manifesto and the MP’s didn’t put it right during the negotiations and made two bigger mistakes.

    We promised “Fair votes” in our manifesto instead of STV, this mistake might well go back to 1992. This mistake made it easier to go for AV. The mistake was made worse by including a referendum in the Coalition Agreement, we should have done what was done for the Euro elections and others by Labour and the Scottish Parliament with STV for local elections – just made the change without a referendum.

    All of our MPs should have known they should not have made any agreement where they didn’t keep their not voting to increase tuition fees personal promise. They should have known abstaining was breaking their word. This should have been especially noted because of our promise during the campaign of no more broken promises.

    Our MPs and Lords should not have ditched our economic policy as set out in our 2010 manifesto, where we promised an economic stimulus, a job for everyone who needed one and not dealing with the deficit until we were clearly back to strained economic growth.

    Having read your parliamentary experience you should have clearly pointed out both of these red lines at least at the Monday meeting and ensured we didn’t follow Conservative economic plans but agreed a compromise position between the two positions. As a history graduate I would expect you to know that cutting government spending during a recession is the wrong thing to do.

    I don’t recall seeing anything written down about a 95% elected second chamber in the agreements with the Conservatives or any discussion of a tuition fee cap with Labour in David Laws’ book “22 days in May”. What I recall reading is his joy at ditching our pledge on tuition fees and agreeing cuts to the budget straight away and the proposal to Labour to accept the Conservatives economic policy.

  2. November 29, 2017 5:39 pm

    On electoral reform, I think people underestimate just how strongly opposed to any move away from FPTP are BOTH the Tories and Labour. AV was a mild step in the right direction. But there was no prospect of Tory MPs agreeing to vote it through in the Commons. They did honour the Coalition Agreement and vote for the legislation enabling the referendum. Labour made it clear that they couldn’t even guarantee that. Their subsequent behaviour in the referendum makes it clear that they weren’t interested in reform. I think the real mistake we made here was having the referendum too soon. If it had been in say June 2014, on the same day as the MEP elections, then we might have won.
    I won’t go over tuition fees again – there are two contemporaneous blogs about it written in 2010.
    On the deficit, we did say pre the election that we saw the need for cuts. Clegg was criticised for saying “savage cuts”. In government we did make sure that there were tax rises too (the cuts/tax rises ratio ended up near to Alisdair Darling’s position) and that the low paid were exempted from the pay freeze.

    • November 30, 2017 6:43 pm

      I remember when I read the coalition agreement (and I was a voting rep at the special conference, so you can believe me that I read it closely), that I thought that the Tory boundary changes would be put to the referendum together with AV – that is that there would be one question on both.

      Of course, while they were in the same Act of Parliament, only AV was subject to referendum.

      I suspect that we might have got that if we’d asked for it in 2010. Would definitely have given us a fighting chance in the referendum if at least a large part of the Tory party was supporting us. Of course it would have pissed off Labour who would see the whole thing as a gerrymander against them, but we ended up with both big parties against us, and this would have given us just one.

  3. Mike Drew permalink
    November 29, 2017 6:21 pm

    One aspect that you appear not to take account of is that Labour were clearly rejected by the voters. While we might feel closer to Labour less people voted for them than the Tories. If we had managed to form a cos.tion with Labour we would have found that the coalition as even more unpopular than the Tory/ Lib Dem one we did achieve.

    • November 29, 2017 6:35 pm

      Yes Mike, we did very much take that into account. In fact we had been very clear before the election that we would talk first to the party that had the most votes and most seats. That mantra was drummed into every candidate. It would have been quite shocking to many people if we’d kept the unpopular loser Brown in office. Though if we had, I’d probably still be an MP….

  4. Michael BG permalink
    November 29, 2017 10:48 pm

    Thank you Stephen for replying to my comments.

    I do understand the desire to be able to make a difference by being in government, but on a national level we need to understand that the way the economy is run determines how much liberty the poorest have. (I remember talking to voters who phoned me to explain why we were talking of going into government with the Conservatives.) I do not recall from David Laws book the Conservatives agreeing any changes to their economic policy. However I do remember the Coalition government turning a recovery into a recession (even if later it was technically upgraded). I also remember “there is no plan B” or in the words of Theresa May “nothing has changed”, while reducing the deficit was put back and back. Your quote from Nick Clegg shows how far his beliefs are from our Keynesian heritage. Are you saying that you did not study in history the failures of the National Government and its budget cuts increasing the 1930’s recession? Are you really saying it was our idea to increase VAT to 20%?

    I recently re-read our 2010 manifesto with its economic stimulus, a job for everyone who needed one and not dealing with the deficit until we were clearly back to strained economic growth. From your answer it appears you are not aware of these promises and were not aware in 2010 and didn’t do anything to try to get the Coalition Agreement to be closer to our position than the Conservative economic policy which was agreed to. We need to understand our failure on the economy.

    There is no way we can know that if one of our red lines was the introduction of AV for the House of Commons without a referendum if the Conservatives would have agreed to it to get five years of government. The mistake was the referendum and holding it on the same day as we lost over 90% of our Euro MPs would have been unlikely to change the result. Even if you are right we could have got STV for local government without a referendum instead.

    I understand why I didn’t realise that what was agreed in the Coalition Agreement on tuition fees was not good enough – I hadn’t read the pledge that all our MPs had signed. I don’t recall any of our MPs pointing out that abstaining on tuition fee increases was not good enough in May or June 2010.

    It is disappointing that you do not recognise these three major areas of failure in the Coalition Agreement and are not concerned that you didn’t do anything at the time to try to sort them out, particularly on the economy and tuition fees.

  5. Julian Heather permalink
    November 30, 2017 8:48 am

    Fascinating stuff ! Thanks, Stephen, for posting.

    It’s interesting and helpful to be reminded of the impossibility of doing a deal with Labour in 2010, and that although Gordon Brown himself was keen for a Lab/Lib Dem coalition, the maths made it impossible, in terms of seats. Also interesting to read, in relation to the Labour negotiation team how “While the peers, Peter Mandelson and Andrew Adonis, were being constructive, the MPs – Harriet Harman, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were being obstructive on policy .”

    There was also the fact that a succession of senior figures in the Labour Party appeared on TV saying they thought Labour should go into opposition, rather than try to carry on in government via a coalition. If my memory serves me correct (and it may not have done), these senior figures included John Reid, David Blunkett and Andy Burnham. So it appears that many in the Labour Party weren’t going to countenace a coalition, and wanted to go into opposition to regroup – probably quite sensibly given how Labour had been in power for 13 years, and given how umpopular the Labour Government had become.

    One intriguing comment you make on the policy negotiations with the Labour team was that “…on tuition fees they were not prepared to agree a cap”. That reads as if the Labour team were assuming that Lord Browne’s recommendations on the funding of higher education would be implemented in full (the Labour Government having commisioned it). So, if there had been a majority Labour Government in 2010, the hike in tution fees would have happened under Labour, but without the £9000 cap that we introduced, a cap that wasn’t being proposed by Browne.

    And you are quite right to highlight our policy successes – “Looking back, the Liberal Democrats got a great policy deal in 2010 but were unable to convince the public that we played a positive role in government.”

    Like you, I am proud of what we achieved in Coalition, particularlu the impact on poorer households of raising the tax threshold, year on year, the incrediblyeffective impact of the Pupil Premium on helping kids from poorer backgrounds, our successes on the Green Economy, and the attempts (not so successful) at wholesale constitutional reform.

    What you don’t mention (I think) is the positive impact we had on helping to get us out of the appalling economic mess caused by the international banking crisis (not helped by Labour running a deficit in the “good years” prior to 2007/8). We did provide economic and politicl stability at a time when many other countries were teetering on the edge of “bankruptcy”, and were the country that led the international community in terms of recovery.

    It’s just a shame, as you say, that we failed to get the credit for all the good things that we achieved in the coalition, and instead got smashed at the 2015 election !

  6. fairp0rT permalink
    November 30, 2017 9:03 am

    I certainly found on the doorstep a fair appreciation of the coalition being a good government but that those who thought this did not want Labour to ruin it so were voting Tory (in Thornbury and Yate)

  7. Michael BG permalink
    November 30, 2017 1:51 pm

    Julian Heather your memory of senior Labour figures appearing on TV and stating they didn’t want a coalition with us, matches my memory. However, David Laws in his book “22 Days in May” makes no mention of asking for a cap on tuition fees with either the Conservatives or Labour, perhaps Stephen’s memory has let him down. In David Laws’ book the MPs of the negotiating team stated they didn’t have the power to change Labour’s economic policy to implement the Conservative one. They wouldn’t commit to the full increase to the Personal Allowance we wanted without deciding how it could be financed. It is clear that the Tories were better prepared than Labour, however if Nick Clegg had not had such a strong preference for David Cameron and the feelings among him and the negotiating team that Gordon Brown would be difficult to work with, given time Labour might have come round. It is unlikely that Labour would have promised everything the Conservatives promised but failed to delivery. As they were honest about what they could deliver the Labour option might have been preferable because they didn’t over promise and under perform. It is unlikely it could have lasted 5 years.

    Neither the reduction in the Personal Allowance nor the Pupil Premium, beneficial as they are, are “Liberal” policies and could have been in the Tory manifesto. Green policies are not unique to the Liberal Democrats, even if we did implement some very good green policies which were later scrapped or watered down by the 2015-17 government.

    You quote Stephen, “Looking back, the Liberal Democrats got a great policy deal in 2010”, which hadn’t registered with me. Unfortunately we didn’t get a great policy deal in 2010 and we should have recognised this at the time. However even if we didn’t recognise this at the time and I didn’t realise at the time how bad a deal it was, we need to recognise it now and ensure that our red line policies are not Conservative light like the Pupil Premium, but are clearly Liberal like scrapping identity cards and more importantly drive economic policy to reduce inequalities and provide jobs for everyone who wants one and no longer find it acceptable that 5% of the working age population is needed to be unemployed to control inflation. We need to remember that liberty is for everyone and we need to ensure our policies increase it for the poorest in society.

    Stephen, I have read your December 2010 blog – “Why I abstained in the tuition fees vote” and like me you have a problem with remembering what the NUS pledge was. It was not as you seem to believe to oppose a rise in tuition fees or work for a fairer system. There was no alternative to the pledge to “vote against any increase in fees in the next Parliament”, but there was an addition, so as well as doing this those who signed the pledge also promised “to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”, which implied a fairer alternative to tuition fees. However my original point was not about the December 2010 vote, but the failure of MPs in May 2010 to recognise that only having an abstain option in the Coalition Agreement rather that stating all Liberal Democrats would vote against all increases to tuition fees but would support a fairer alternative system to tuition fees was a broken promise waiting to happen and would be problematic as we had a political broadcast during the general election where we promised we were the party of no more broken promises.

    However, I don’t think that the tuition fee issue was our biggest mistake, it was as big as our mistake to reduce the working conditions of public sector workers, so putting off the two biggest parts of society who had voted for us in 2010. Our biggest mistake was accepting the Conservative economic policy and not delaying the cuts to government expenditure until we had secured long term economic growth. This includes increasing VAT to 20%. It was our support and backing for Conservative economic policy which destroyed our national vote share from the region of 15% since 1945 to less than 6% since 2015 (or earlier).

    • November 30, 2017 2:28 pm

      My article is based on my handwritten contemporary notes, not my memory after seven and a half years. On tuition fees, this was very badly handled…on top of three years prior to the 2010 election where the leadership (including me as the shadow sec for HE and the chair of the policy group on adult education) wrestled with the Federal Policy Committee to get a credible fees policy. You can read about this in another 2010 blog on HE funding.
      On jobs – the unemployment rate never reached the terrible levels predicted by Miliband and Balls and fell month on month from 2012 onwards. The coalition inherited an economy that had shrunk dramatically, a huge fiscal deficit (swallowing 12% of GDP) and the prospect of higher borrowing costs if things weren’t brought under control. The situation by 2015 was much better. We got zero credit. Finally, to describe the pupil premium as a watered down Tory policy is absurd. It’s the most progressive thing any government since 1945 has done for children from the poorest households. It will be much more effective in improving social mobility of this group than reducing the graduate contributions of people who’ve already succeeded.

  8. Michael BG permalink
    November 30, 2017 10:59 pm

    Thank you Stephen for replying to my comments. As I have stated David Laws does not report any discussion of a tuition fee cap with either the Conservatives or the Labour Party. Do your notes make it clear who said Labour had rejected a tuition fee cap and who reported it and at what meeting you were informed of this?

    You lost the party debate to change party policy on tuition fees. Therefore it seems you are saying that you didn’t make an issue of the lack of keeping the tuition fee personal promises because you made the promise but didn’t really believe in it! If this is the case then you have explained why you didn’t take action regarding the tuition fee issue and I expect there were others in the same position such as David Laws (which comes out in his book) and Nick Clegg.

    You have not answered my question regarding the National Government’s cutting the budget and making the recession worse in the 1930’s and if you as someone who has studied history understood that by supporting cutting government expenditure in 2010 and 2011 the recession would get worse as it did in the 1930’s. Have you forgotten the News reports of the UK having a double dip recession (upgraded afterwards)? Do you not believe this was caused by the economic policies of the Coalition government? It should not surprise you as someone who has studied history that the party of Keynes and Beveridge which rejected their economic policies lost the majority of its support; that a party promising a job for everyone who needs one and an economic stimulus in its 2010 manifesto lost support when it didn’t keep these promises; and seemed to not to be bothered by the ditching of their manifesto’s economic policy; and seemed to have brought into the Conservative economic narrative.

    Do you really think having 8% of the working age population or 2.57 million people (June to August 2011 unemployed were not terrible? I remember when unemployment reached 1 million people and everyone agreed this was a terrible thing. I remember when the Thatcher government said having more than 1 million people unemployed was a price worth paying. I don’t understand how a fellow member of the Liberal Democrats can believe that having 1 million or more people unemployed in the UK is acceptable.

    I recognise you are a few years younger than me, so it is possible you have no memory of the Conservative party promising equality of opportunity in the 1970’s (and maybe before this which I can’t remember as I was too young). If I have understood the Pupil Premium correctly it is supposed to provide a level playing field for children eligible for free school meals. It supposes that if children are given a good education they will be successful in the competition for jobs and so this will improve social mobility. It may well increase social mobility for some. “For some”, but not everyone. When UK governments ran the economy to ensure that less than 3% of the working age population were unemployed economic inequality declined sufficiently (the most ever) and social mobility was good (there are lots of examples from before 1979). This policy was the most progressive policy any UK government has ever pursued.

  9. Janet Berridge permalink
    December 4, 2017 3:43 pm

    Comparing the LibDems’ situation in 2010 with the FDP’s in Germany in 2017 does not hold up. We were in a strong position; Christian Lindner was not. We put country before party; he has not. Just look at Der Spiegel, issue 48/2017 — it places the German “Liberals” to the right of the right-wing CSU!!

    • December 4, 2017 4:16 pm

      Hi Janet, the point of my comparison is to compare the decisions two liberal parties made in similar but not identical situations. Actually I would flip round Your suggestion of who was strongest. We were in quite a weak position in 2010. The timetable was out of our hands, there being no constitutional protection for government formation. We were also keen to avoid another election, when we would have lost seats. I can’t be sure but it might have been a better result in terms of MP numbers to have risked that early election. Hard to see us doing worse than eight, the eventual result in 2015. But we would have had hanging over our heads the jibe “they had a chance to be in government but ran away. What’s the point of voting Lib Dem?”

  10. Julian Heather permalink
    June 11, 2018 9:55 am

    Stephen – The Lewisham East byelection on Thursday gives us the perfect opportunity for the mouse to roar again !

    • June 13, 2018 3:54 pm

      I hope you’re right. I’ve not been able to get there (we’ve just had a gruelling council by election in Bristol) but have been impressed by the energy of the campaign that I’ve seen via Facebook.


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