Election results #4: why were the Liberal Democrats wiped out?

[No-one seems to be reading or commenting on this series, but what the heck: I’ve started, so I’ll finish. See part 1 on the Conservatives, part 2 on the SNP and part 3 on Labour.]

Today, in a Liberal Democrat piece on the Conservatives’ plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, I read this:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience.

Now that is inspiring.


But what did we get from the Liberal Democrats in the election?


Who could be be inspired by that?

This is not just useless. It doesn’t even rise to the level of “useless”. It’s a complete abdication of what the Liberal Democrats are about. Their campaign gave people literally nothing to vote for. It just gave them two people to vote against. “We’re not Ed Miliband or David Cameron. Vote for us!”

Yes, the LibDems got punished for having been part of a very unsatisfactory government. Yes, they can legitimately complain that they put the interests of the nation ahead of theirs as a party, and ought to get more credit for that. Yes, the electorate blamed them for not being able to prevent Conservative policies, which isn’t really fair. All sorts of “yes but”s.

But the bottom line is that people want to vote for something. People vote Tory because they think (rightly or wrongly) that Conservatives will give them a strong economy. They vote Labour because they think that means more equality between rich and poor (again, rightly or wrongly).

What do people vote Liberal Democrat for?

The answer has to be all the things in the quote that opened this post: fair, free and open society, liberty, equality, community, freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, freedom of conscience.


Those are things to vote for. Not “We plan to take a slightly different approach to reducing the deficit that’s sort of in between what Cameron and Miliband would do.”

[On to #5: why UKIP won 12% of the vote but only one seat]

21 responses to “Election results #4: why were the Liberal Democrats wiped out?

  1. Pingback: Election results #3: why did Labour lose? | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. I’m not sure how any of the parties have really presented a positive vision of the future in line with their fundamental values, although I guess governing for a decade suggests the Conservatives are viewed by most as having done that?

  3. Well, as I noted in the previous post, I very much agree that Labour also failed to say anything compelling about what they stand for — or perhaps I must accept reality, and say what they used to stand for.

    What the Conservatives did right was just to project an aura of competence — a sense that, hey, we’re the Government, you know we can do this but you don’t that about the others. I think in the end that’s all it came down to. Except, of course, in Scotland — the one place where there was a genuine alternative on the table.

  4. Maarten Daalder

    Just lurking, I’m just not the qualified to make actual comments on politics.

    However, in this case, the LibDems election result mimics their Dutch counterpart, D66, whenever they get in government (always as part of a coalition), they will get punished by the voters in the next election.

  5. To be fair, it is a recognised phenomenon: minority parties are always punished for being in a coalition, because their natural supporters tend to blame them for what was done in their name by the stronger member of the coalition. But nothing in the Lib Dem campaign did anything to mitigate this. If anything, it fed the idea that they were Just Like The Conservatives But Less So.

  6. I’m still reading, and enjoying, these.

    And I think you’re right in all of your analyses so far.

  7. I have been reading all of these, and I think they are very good. I read them by email via RSS so probably don’t show in your statistics.

  8. Andrew Hickey

    As my friend Jennie put it “You can’t put a Rizla between the other two — let us be that Rizla!”
    The problem is that there is a split in the Lib Dems, not between left and right as most people think, but between centrists, who believe that being moderate and “in the centre ground” is actually a positive attribute, and radicals like myself who think the opposite. All those in charge of the party’s campaigning this time are centrists, and we needed a radical campaign, like the ones we had in 1997, 2001, and 2005, when we actually *gained* seats, and people liked us…

  9. Thanks to all who have been reading, and have turned up in the comments to say so! It’s encouraging. I now reinterpret the low comment-counts of recent posts as tacit agreement with my analysis. If I want more discussion, I need to get back to saying things that people disagree with :-)

  10. marion taylor

    I have read every post and it is refreshing to hear from someone that doesn’t “rant” and offers a balanced point of view. So thanks for your ideas.

  11. I have read all of your posts and enjoyed them. As an American, it is interesting to get a thoughtful perspective on the political happenings somewhere else.

  12. I read it and so did my wife!

  13. I’m enjoying these posts but don’t have much to add.

  14. Pingback: Election results #5: why UKIP won 12% of the vote but only one seat | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  15. Pingback: What the 2015 budget means for me, and why it’s vile | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  16. Pingback: Election results #1: why did the Conservatives win? | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  17. Pingback: Tim Farron, Lib Dems and the Political Centre Ground | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  18. David Williams

    I believe the real problem occured not during the election campaign but immediately after the May 2010. The LD sold themselves to a coalition in which they first were best palls, and that meant their guard was down. then they accepted a set of policies which were so toxic and yet were not part of any narrative that they seem like they were committing hari-kari.

    Take the easiest one the Alternative vote is not PR we should not have had a vote on the alternative vote. It would have been simple people whom wanted PR were asking themselves did Cameron have files on the LD. There was no need to accept that.

    Then the HSC bill where our lawmakers the LD claiming to hold the Torys to account voted the bill in the first stage and then decided to read it. It seems that the LD were not ready for government. In the end the the Orange Bookers loved what was going on it was not seen as doing your duty but administering policies that the party liked. If the policy was good for the coalition and there wasn’t a fight about values then basically there was no distinction as you said. Once in power you can only point to what you’ve done in power. Lets be clear. The triple lock of pensions helps tory voters
    the effects of tax and spend hurt only the poor by 3.5% (bottom 2 deciles of earners ) and the richest 10th 3.5% the remaining income earners where largely unaffected there was no squeezed middle. They are looking for tax cuts. There was no we’re all in this together and the LD largely agreed. In many ways they threw away any philosophy that made them liberals and they were well away from their manifesto which was to the left of Labour in 2010.

    The LD also perpetuated the narrative it was all labours fault. I remember the scene in the commons where LD seemed to morph into Torys with the standard baying. I think it was such a cause of consternation in Labour That the term ‘ginger rodent’ came out. In essence for me it wasn’t that they were bland they bolstered a narrative and played the best hand they were ever going to get. However the reason they lost was more to do with the rise of the SNP than their failures most of the LD losses came at the hands of the Torys. Not Labour. They pretty much wiped the LD out in the South West and it was the sucess of the LD that drove it. Don’t forget the narrative was that Milliband was weak and and Clegg was ineffectual and only they could stop the SNP. it played very well across all political persuasions. it paradoxially hit Labour in actual votes but it also meant that LD had a real battle since they would not be able to save England.

    I feel that the LD actually had power and influence and just blew it. People didn’t see the advantage.

  19. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, David. I also think that every time a less strong party goes into a coalition with a stronger one, it gets punished for it by voters at the next election, even if it does everything right.

    But none of that changes the fact that they also completely failed to tell anything resembling a compelling story in the 2015 election.

  20. Pingback: Understanding Tony Blair, as explained by Tony Blair | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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