The coalition had a majority of 76.

While we’re rejecting stuff, here’s something else to reject. The notion of a progressive alliance or progressive majority involving the Lib Dems wants rejecting, badly. You might think 2010 killed it, but it stumbles on. (Before you all write at once, yes, I believed in it, but I got over it and there’s no reason you can’t.)

Back then, everyone thought the new government would be unstable and chaotic because it was a coalition. There were those of us who started a whole web site. As it turned out, though, it was chaotic because the Tories and Lib Dems together kept pratfalling, like that time Cameron left the West Country in the pub and it went all soggy and Francis Maude tried to dry it out with petrol. The coalition, as such, could not have been more stable.

There were maybe three reasons for this. First of all, the Lib Dems were never going to pull out of it because what happened to them at the elections would have happened to them at the elections. Second, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act constrained the Tories from pulling out of the coalition. As such, it was a costly signal, a self-binding commitment that made a stable agreement possible. And third, the Lib Dems and the Tories agreed on much, much more than they would ever have admitted, basically everything with a £ sign in front of it. Clegg was even willing to give up their support for the EU in the election campaign. The ultimate evidence of this is how many of their voters seem to have swung to the Conservatives.

(A thought: does anyone have a read on how much Tory-Lib Dem tactical voting existed? Everyone tends to think of this in terms of Lib-Lab tactics, but there’s no reason why it doesn’t work the other way.)

Since it was a stable government, it’s no surprise that it was able to push its programme through. It had, after all, a parliamentary majority of 76, and the coalition whip worked reasonably well until they let Michael Gove have a go. Although they often had to give Tory backbenchers the Gina Ford controlled crying treatment, the margin provided by the Lib Dems was easily enough to keep them in line when it came to anything important. The whips could simply use Liberal votes, denying the troublemakers any leverage.

Compare the current situation. The Tories no longer depend on the Lib Dems, but then they don’t have no 76 majority no more. Rather than depending on the Lib Dems, they depend on the 6 most marginal backbenchers on whatever issue is up for a vote. Unlike the Lib Dems, Tory backbench rebels usually aren’t facing certain termination in the event of an election, so it’s entirely down to the whip to keep them in line. Every substantial vote can be a crisis. It’s the political version of Back To ’95, good times for lobby correspondents. Ironically, the coalition had the effect of concealing the Tories’ internal coalition.

Question: were the Lib Dems more of a “restraining influence” than the 6th most marginal Tory? Well, the only issues they ever disagreed with the Tories about were the civil libertarian ones. On things like the budget, they didn’t do any restraining, so that’s no loss. The 6th most marginal Tory on, say, the snoopers’ charter is likely to be a lawyer, so I think we have a reasonable chance on that one. The only reason to be defeatist about this is if you still, after all I’ve said, believe in a progressive majority with Lib Dems.

This calculation changes, of course, if the SNP suddenly discovers it doesn’t mind Tories that much after all as long as it gets what it wants.

11 Comments on "The coalition had a majority of 76."

  1. “The ultimate evidence of this is how many of their voters seem to have swung to the Conservatives”

    But if you check Ashcroft’s post-election poll of how people voted, most Lib Dem voters from 2010 went to Labour. The problem was the distribution of that against Labour then losing votes to SNP, Greens and Ukip.


  2. Heh. I can be seen in internet arguments all over the place trying to explain to continuity-LibDems that “LibDem restraint” doesn’t look like a hill of beans to most of us… but they don’t seem able to see it that way…

    Will Hutton is claiming the Tory grandee fix is in to stay in the EU – not sure, but that suggests to me that they’ll go for DevoMax for Scotland and EVEL, thus creating a defacto larger majority…


    1. If the LibDems had wanted to keep the new voters they got in 2010, they would have had to constantly repeat the message throughout the 2010-15 period that they were restraining the Tories in X,Y,Z …… They didn’t. In fact at one period, about a year into the Coalition, the LibDems were saying that they didn’t really need these new “protest voters” and that their strategy was to show that they were a “serious” governing party (which would deliver them votes from “serious voters”). Being serious apparently meant pretending that there were no disagreements in the Coalition. There were echoes of this in the 2015 election campaign, with Clegg talking about stable government taking tough decisions.

      It’s too late to say afterwards that the LibDems were a restraining influence. They needed to demonstrate it throughout the Coalition. The voters that they needed to hang on to know that there are some Tory ideas that are bizarre, and sitting quietly in a Coalition with the Tories doesn’t retain their loyalty. Voting for the bizarre Lansley health bill was the last straw. The “serious voters”, who would vote LibDem because the LibDems could demonstrate their ability to be in government, didn’t exist.


        1. It was the project of the Orange Bookers to take the Lib Dems towards neo-liberal economics while retaining a liberal social identity. That success has been stymied by Cameron being liberal-enough socially to mop up that wing of voters – while the others left in droves.

          The question is – as Blairism is a similar project, and the recent deafening clamour from the neo-Blairites show that they have not gone away, is this the possible fate of the Labour Party in, say 10 years time?


  3. This calculation changes, of course, if the SNP suddenly discovers it doesn’t mind Tories that much after all as long as it gets what it wants.

    Stranger alliances do happen, but not many spring to mind. And this might be about the only thing that could restore the fortunes of Scottish Labour…


    1. I was thinking along the lines of “quietly abstain/don’t whip opposition votes, in exchange for a strong Scotland Bill and some money” rather than any kind of formal alliance.


      1. That’s a reasonable assumption of what the SNP might accept, but surely any half-decent Scottish Labour leader* would tear them apart for it? It would be very difficult to sell even a very favourable Scotland Bill (which in and of itself is a poisoned chalice, considering) as “standing up for Scotland” if the price is pretty much a quiet and supplicant Westminster SNP group.

        *yes, yes, i know.


      2. I think the SNP tactics around the EU referendum will be very interesting. Scotland is generally pro-EU – a high turnout there could easily swing a close result. But Brexit could be a short-cut to Scottish Independence. Which way will the SNP jump?


Leave a Reply to yorksranter Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.