Politician apologizes, is autotuned, creates beauty
September 21, 2012 4:01 AM   Subscribe

Nick Clegg is so, so sorry. (YT) During the last British general election, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was riding high on a wave of popularity (previously).

Young, dashing and charismatic (for the values of all three allowed by British politics), Clegg promised an alternative to the tired two-party politics of the Labour and Conservative parties. After a televised debate between the party leaders in the run-up to the 2010 election, "I agree with Nick" became a catchphrase (knowyourmeme link), so often did the other two party leaders say it. It seemed increasingly possible that an alliance with the Liberal Democrats would be required to form a majority in Parliament, and that Clegg would be the kingmaker.

Key to Clegg's appeal to the two major Westminster parties was his pull with student voters, and key to that pull was the Liberal Democrats' manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees for university students.

(Until the relatively recent past, most British student were able to take undergraduate degrees with their tuition free at the point of delivery, paid for by general taxation.)

This commitment led to expressions of support from students like this flash mob (YT).

As Deputy Prime Minister in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which not only retained tuition fees but raised the cap on the fee level an institution could charge, the Liberal Democrats have seen their support drop precipitously, and Nick Clegg's personal popularity drop into negative figures even among those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010.

All of which set the scene for Nick Clegg's unexpected and dramatic apology (YT) for making a manifesto pledge his party had been unable to keep. Which was almost immediately seized upon by the British humor site The Poke and autotuned to create the remix linked in the FPP, which quickly gave the Liberal Democrat leader a level of virality unseen since the halcyon days of 2010.

Opinion is divided on whether this Clintonian (YT) (or Woodsian - also YT) video apology will be enough to salvage the Liberal Democrats' electoral future. But, wags observe, Clegg at least now has the chance for a fresh start as a Bieberesque teen idol.
posted by running order squabble fest (111 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Typo!

(Until the relatively recent past, most British students were able to take undergraduate degrees with their tuition free at the point of delivery, paid for by general taxation.)

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best thing Nick Clegg could do if he was in any way invested in Liberal Democrat leadership of this country is step down. Clearly, between his not doing so and his eagerness to get in bed and on board with the Tories, that's not what this is about.
posted by Dysk at 4:17 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


How sorry is he on the David Tennant Tenth Doctor Sorry Scale?

(I remember when we all liked Nick Clegg, but then he became the Meg Lees of UK politics).
posted by Mezentian at 4:22 AM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


We're living in the interesting period shortly before the complete electoral destruction of the Liberal Democrats. It's quite fun to see them running around, attempting to make some sort of difference in public opinion, but the general consensus is that they're screwed.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:24 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


he became the Meg Lees of UK politics

Precisely.
posted by dumbland at 4:25 AM on September 21, 2012


Someone needs to do this to that Mitt Romney video.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:25 AM on September 21, 2012


Is the guy from The Shamen still alive?
(No, the Ebeneezer Goode one).
This needs a bangin' techno remix, '90s style.
posted by Mezentian at 4:27 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nick Clegg, I loved him in Paul and Spaced! I forget, is he the fat slow one or the short blonde one?
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:27 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now, now. No one liked Paul. But he was great as Scotty in that plastic, forgettable remake of Star Trek The Major Government.
posted by Mezentian at 4:33 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


A Thousand Baited Hooks: There is the mighty Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up? (YT)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:34 AM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


The way Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems went about setting up a coalition in 2010 was a shambles, no matter what your political point of view is. Here they were, needed by both Labour and the Tories to form a majority government and instead of exploiting their superior position, they let themselves be rushed into a coalition where they held none of the really powerful posts, with none of their key policies being mandated in the coalition agreement. All they really got was a promise to hold a referendum on a particularly crap form of direct election, which of course they lost heavily as everybody who would normally be more favourable to such proposals voted to punish them.

They were just completely unprepared to take government, didn't have a clue of what it would mean for them as a party to get in bed with the Tories when for the past ten-fifteen years they had been the centrist left party for those fed up with Labour but not willing to go Tory. Granted, the rightwing orange book tendency within the party was in the ascendency, but even those should've realised that going into government would lose them seats in the next elections, no matter which party they allied with and that therefore it needed to be worth doing for them. Yet apart from a few minor issues they've been content to let the Tories implement their policies.

Nick Clegg in particular should've known better, being part Dutch and therefore he should've been aware of what happens everytime the Dutch centre-liberals, D66, get into government: they always do well in opposition as the natural party for "reasonable" people fed up by the big right or left wing parties, only to hemorrage seats once in government. He should've known that in the British context, this may be the only chance for the Lib Dems to actually be in government for a generation if not longer, that therefore whatever party they'd be in government with needed to pay the price for their support.

But they didn't, which makes them either incompetent or a fifth column in support of the Tory agenda of dismantling of what remains of the welfare state.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:38 AM on September 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


Newsnight put this one out last night - Jeremy Paxman vs. Vince Cable autotuned
posted by DanCall at 4:40 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a shame really. The Liberal Democrats used to have some quite appealing ideas. The typical LibDem politician of twenty years ago tended to be a level-headed pragmatist - you'd see them on Question Time making well-reasoned and compassionate arguments - and at times they seemed like genuine alternative for people tired of Labour's peculiar mix of impractical idealism and cliquishness. I never had much faith in Clegg though - he's too much of a modern politician - all gloss. I get the impression though that he's deeply unhappy about how his party has been bent and broken by the tories.
posted by pipeski at 4:40 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As one of the students who voted for him, and who now feels very disillusioned with the whole thing, I could watch him sing 'sorry sorry sorry' all day every day for the rest of my life.
posted by ElliotH at 4:45 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I believe our former PM, the great orator, Paul Keating would have said:
Nick Clegg is all tip, no iceberg.
posted by Mezentian at 4:56 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


For people outside the UK, could somebody explain the reasoning behind the Conservative/Lib-Dem alliance, and what the reaction to it was like among voters? I took it to be a bit like a charismatically-lead Green Party winning a few pivotal US Senate seats, then choosing to caucus with the GOP instead of the Democrats and proceeding to acquiesce to them dismantling Social Security. It doesn't make any sense at all.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:56 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I voted Lib Dem in 2010 (not that it did me much good, anyway, living in a staunch Labour constituency), and definitely won't be in the next election. The tuition fees pledge is the main reason for this, and it comes down to this:

- The Lib Dems were never going to get enough seats to form a government by themselves, or even as the major partner in a coalition.
- Therefore, they knew that any pledge they made had to be one that they could keep as the minor partner.
- Even given that, I'd have understood if they said they couldn't actively support the Conservatives' tuition fees rise but couldn't vote against it either, and abstained. The coalition agreement explicitly allowed for that to happen. I wouldn't have been hugely happy, but probably not angry either.
- Instead, they actively supported, campaigned for and voted for the fees rise. It was a complete breach of trust.
- So now I can't believe a single thing they say, no matter how many times Nick says he's sorry.

I'm pretty gloomy about the next election, whenever that turns out to be, because I'm rapidly running out of parties I feel I can vote for.

(That said, this remix is amazing. Thanks for posting it!)
posted by ZsigE at 5:01 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Liberal Democrats used to have some quite appealing ideas. The typical LibDem politician of twenty years ago tended to be a level-headed pragmatist - you'd see them on Question Time making well-reasoned and compassionate arguments - and at times they seemed like genuine alternative for people tired of Labour's peculiar mix of impractical idealism and cliquishness.

This is only true if you have no experience of their antics at a local level -- where they'd happily say all the right things in order to appeal to as big a segment of the electorate as possible, and then once elected, turn into something indistinguishable from the local Conservative Party.

Why anyone would be surprised that this would also happen at a national level is a complete mystery to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:01 AM on September 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, as the leader of a small party in coalition with a much larger party, it was inevitable that Nick Clegg would have to end up backing some policies that were abhorrent to his own party. That's the nature of coalitions.

But even so, it's interesting to compare what the coalition has actually done, compared with what was in the coalition agreement.

There's been a huge free-market reorganisation of the NHS, that was nowhere in the Coalition Agreement. That's something that presumably the Conservatives wanted and the Lib Dems didn't.

There's a similarly large reorganization of GCSE education to E-Bacc, moving back to a much more traditional model of education (no coursework, no options). Again, something presumably the Conservatives wanted and the Lib Dems didn't.

The change from First Past the Post to Alternative Vote never happened: something that the Lib Dems wanted and the Conservatives didn't.

The change to an elected House of Lords never happened: something that the Lib Dems wanted and the Conservatives didn't.

Overall, it really looks like the Lib Dems haven't really succeeded very well at coalition government. The Conservatives have got a lot more than was agreed in the deal, the Lib Dems a lot less.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


They screwed the NHS and the universities. I don't think anyone's really in the mood to let them near anything else.
posted by jaduncan at 5:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, as the leader of a small party in coalition with a much larger party, it was inevitable that Nick Clegg would have to end up backing some policies that were abhorrent to his own party. That's the nature of coalitions.

Or he could have said no. Sure, it would have triggered a new poll (I assume, even with fixed terms). But he'd be taking a stand.
Minor parties who backflip get hammered into irrelevancy.
Just ask the Australian Democrats.
posted by Mezentian at 5:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is only true if you have no experience of their antics at a local level

I think it depends on where you're from - local politics being much less homogeneous than its national equivalent. I'm from the far South-West of England, which was (until Clegg) quite a strong LibDem area. They didn't do a bad job there in the 80s and 90s - certainly their pro-European stance didn't hurt all the Euro-funded infrastructure projects in the region. Their behaviour in other parts of the country might well have been very different, though.
posted by pipeski at 5:13 AM on September 21, 2012


Rhaomi: My inexpert understanding is that the Liberal Democrats have always been a politically diverse party - they are the historical product of an alliance between the increasingly electorally irrelevant Liberal party, once the dominant party of British politics, and the Social Democratic Party, very roughly a splinter of the Labor party which formed in response to a perception that the Labor party at the time were unelectably left-wing, and also committed to withdrawing from the European Economic Community (as it then was).

Probably the one thing the right and the left of the party agree on is Europe - when the Conservative party gets too anti-European (as under William Haig), their Eurocentric voters mover to the Lib Dems. So, the Liberal Democrat party membership - and its MPs, as a result, are a mix of European-style Christian Democrats/Social Democrats, right-wing Labor voters who switched allegiance when the party moved to the left and did not return when it moved to the right, "wet" (eurocentric) former Conservatives, protest voters, Britain's relatively few pure Libertarians (who often find the Conservatives insupportably authoritarian)...

On a realpolitik level, the Conservatives were the largest party in Parliament after the election, and even Labor + the Liberal Democrats would have needed support from yet smaller parties to gain a majority. It's not entirely clear how that would have worked, or if. Most likely, it would have led rapidly to political stasis, and to another election, where the Liberal Democrats, having demonstrated that a vote for them led not to a new politics but to yet more Westminster horse-trading, would have lost a number of their seats, and thus their influence, as people went back to their traditional "hold your nose and vote" approach.

As I understand it, then, the actual result - a hung parliament where only one party could gain an overall majority by forming a straight coalition with the Liberal Democrats - was the worst result possible for the Liberal Democrats.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:18 AM on September 21, 2012




The weird thing about the Lib Dem entry into coalition is that they get hammered for being self-interested, when in actual fact they were far far too nice, and far far too cowardly. The Tories knew that the Lib Dems were more afraid of the damage (to the country and to them) that another round of elections would cause than they were worried about weakness in coalition. There was never any ruthlessness to them, no preparedness to allow it all go to hell if they didn't get their own way. When your own way is preventing the madness of the evil or incompetent aspects of this Tory party (that is to say the majority of it), you have a moral duty not to buckle too easily.
posted by howfar at 5:28 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


As I understand it, then, the actual result - a hung parliament where only one party could gain an overall majority by forming a straight coalition with the Liberal Democrats - was the worst result possible for the Liberal Democrats.

That's one way of looking at it. I personally thought it was exactly what they wanted. Under FPP, most minor parties suffer from the wasted vote fear and can't reach a critical mass of support. The lib dems had finally broken through that ceiling and were destined to weild real political influence. Had they got it right this term, they may have gone into the next election with a fighting chance to replace labour as the second party. The fact that they have screwed themselves into obscurity for a century instead is simply the tragedy of mismanagement to my mind.
posted by londonmark at 5:41 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


All they really got was a promise to hold a referendum on a particularly crap form of direct election, which of course they lost heavily as everybody who would normally be more favourable to such proposals voted to punish them.

I suspect they also lost because they didn't advance any explanation of why AV was preferable to any of the other non-FPTP systems, aside from the fact it appeared to benefit the Lib Dems. (Granted, they would benefit from a change to any system that is more proportional than FPTP, but it seemed like a particularly cynical move to make it AV or nothing.)
posted by hoyland at 5:41 AM on September 21, 2012


It's also worth noting that Nick Clegg himself is quite an oddity for the LibDems: he worked in the staff of a Conservative EU commissioner, and his wife is the scion of a very conservative family from the most conservative region of Spain, active in the Spanish conservative party. Basically, the only reason why Clegg is a LibDem rather than a card-carrying Tory is that, as a half-Dutchman married to a Spaniard and a graduate of the College of Europe, he's a convinced European, and he has witnessed first-hand the public humiliations that the Tories have inflicted upon their most EU-friendly politicians, like Heath, Clarke, Heseltine or Brittan himself.
However, if he intended to avoid being similarly humiliated by the Tory right, then the Coalition wasn't his best idea...
posted by Skeptic at 5:42 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a student back in 2000-03 (one of the first intakes to have to pay fees and take out loans - my then-boyfriend, who graduated in 2000, got a grant to cover the cost of living and left with no debt at all, compared with the £12k that I'm paying off very slowly from my wages) the Lib Dem big draw for students was pledging to legalise cannabis. I've not kept up with drug policy under the coalition save the banning of the newer drugs that have appeared in the past few years - has this quietly gone away?

Reading The Last Party made me wonder a lot about how different a Labour government would have been had John Smith not died and Tony Blair became leader (if, indeed, they'd have had one - Tony Blair's talent was making Labour electable to the great undecided). I sometimes wonder the same if they'd kept Charles Kennedy.
posted by mippy at 5:53 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fingers firmly in ears Nick - and I've voted Lib Dem my entire life. You're screwed and you've screwed your party. In the end, it's all about personal glory and you've had your moment in the sun. The Tories have run rings around you. Be interesting to see where you end up. But so sad that I don't have a balanced, fair party to vote for.
posted by mandarin fish at 6:01 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My memory may be failing me, but I recall that a coalition of simply Labour + Lib Dems would not have been enough for a majority; essentially all the other minor parties would have also had to join in and even then it would have been less stable than the current ConDem coalition.

In retrospect Clegg was in a no-win situation really. A partnership with Labour was unlikely to have the numbers to form a government, and another quick election would likely have worked against them as many of their voters would have abandoned them in favour of one of the two larger parties.

None of that excuses the broken promises though and Clegg has undoubtedly handled things badly: The impression is definitely that Cameron says "jump" and Clegg says "how high?".

Having said all that, I think that sounding the death knell of the party as a whole is premature. Whilst Clegg has irreparably damaged his own political future, I still feel that the other Lib Dem coalition members have escaped relatively unscathed so far. A future reinvention based on distancing the party from Clegg and a return to its core values would be quite possible in my opinion.
posted by jonnyploy at 6:09 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am very disturbed by the narrative that the national party Lib Dems were incompetent, unprepared and abused by the Tories. They were not. They are at heart right wing libertarians. That they allowed the electorate to believe they were left wing speaks more to their dishonesty and the gullibility of soft left voters. What they have done is entirely predictable from who they are and were.

Those who voted for them are engaging in a massive dissonance reduction PR campaign.
posted by srboisvert at 6:12 AM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Fuck him, and them, forever. They should just give up and become proper Tories.
posted by Artw at 6:14 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would like to thank Nick Clegg. Here and there, including the 2010 general election, I had voted Liberal Democrat in the vague hope that they might get elected and do some good. But now, at last, I have realized that I'm a Labour supporter. For all their flaws, there is no other major party in England which can be trusted with a lick of power.
posted by Jehan at 6:19 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


jonnyploy: A future reinvention based on distancing the party from Clegg and a return to its core values would be quite possible in my opinion.
The problem with that is the last two and a half years have completely obscured what those "core values" might mean. Not doing anything to resist: (1) the destabilization of the university system, which is now hemorrhaging students; (2) the honest-to-God privatization of the NHS; and (3) the gutting of the public sector while taxes for the rich are slashed even though none of those things were in the coalition agreement means the Lib Dems look as though they have no problem with any of those plans. That they're simply—and have always really been—crypto-Tories, which has long been the suspicion of many on the Left.

Really, what this has shown us that the Lib Dems are actually a party of the libertarian right, and their commitment to "liberal" values really means an odd, obsessive interest in abstract policy issues (Lords reform, e.g.) that no-one else could care less about.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:21 AM on September 21, 2012


They are at heart right wing libertarians.

This is utter nonsense, as any understanding of the history of the party will show. The problem with the Lib-Dems is that, being forged from two historically and ideologically different parties and traditions, they have never managed to truly reconcile the trends within the party. The notion of an internally democratic party was made to work only under the rule of a very charismatic, determined and personally well-liked leader. When Ashdown went, the party slowly started to succumb to its natural internal divisions. These exist on all levels, from the parliamentary party, through the organisers and rank and file and even into the bizarrely diverse voters. The Lib Dems have at least two hearts, but that hasn't worked out quite as well for them as a Doctor Who fan might've expected.
posted by howfar at 6:23 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


They should just give up and become proper Tories.

Hi! I'm a Lib-Dem. No, thank-you, the Tories are not feminist enough for me, and their basic model - it is better to punish the feckless and reward the diligent at the cost of some suffering, than to tax the deserving rich to give to the undeserving poor - is wrong.

I voted Labour until 2005 - even when they introduced student fees and invaded Iraq illegally. I voted Lib-Dem in 2010 because of the financial disaster under Labour's watch and their authoritarian tendencies.

I've been weighing up whom to support in the next election: I'm probably going to go with the Lib-Dems again.
  • The new fee system is really a graduate tax and is more progressive than the Labour system.
  • The reduction in taxes for the lower-paid is good.
  • I like the Pupil Premium: extra money for educating poor kids.
  • Healthcare and education spending have been preserved.
  • The education reforms look like Sweden, which is a good sign.
  • I don't understand the NHS reforms, but I believe the Labour government tried the same kind of market-based thing in 2006, so there is presumably a need for reform, and the budget is still going up in real terms so that looks good.

    I didn't care about the constitutional reforms, just as well, since they've all failed. None of the parties is committed to decriminalising drugs, which would be an issue big enough to make me change allegiance, so that can't influence me.

    So, given I vote on policy, not tribal feeling: any better suggestions?

  • posted by alasdair at 6:31 AM on September 21, 2012


    The new fee system is really a graduate tax

    It's not a graduate tax. I'm a graduate and I won't be paying it. Neither will millions of other graduates.
    posted by howfar at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    This new trend for politicians to pretend to laugh at themselves (see Boris johnson) and all will be forgotten and forgive is just another ploy. You're sorry then resign you twunt.
    posted by dprs75 at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    howfar - There was never any ruthlessness to them, no preparedness to allow it all go to hell if they didn't get their own way.

    If you believe Private Eye,* in both the initial coalition negotiation and in subsequent re-negotiations (e.g. after the result of the AV referendum), the Tories were quietly surprised by how few concessions they had to make to the Lib Dems. One example given was that the Tories were expecting to have to make concessions on the NHS reform, but actually got away with just dangling the prospect of Lords reform.

    Whether this reflects an imbalance in negotiating skills or the Tories misunderstanding Clegg's actual priorities, isn't entirely clear. Or it could just be rubbish scribbled by some bored journalist, of course.


    hoyland - I suspect they also lost because they didn't advance any explanation of why AV was preferable to any of the other non-FPTP systems

    Clegg had said before the election that AV is "a miserable little compromise", and was very visibly associated with the campaign. If he'd ever stepped up to explain why AV in particular is so great, he'd have done more harm than good, I'm sure.

    To my mind, this was the first and biggest mistake for the Lib Dems, from which everything else has followed. Clegg made a deal with the devil for a chance at his beloved voting reform, which could have been worthwhile: a move to a more proportional system has been a central pillar for the Dems for many years, so a victory would have been a show of strength as well as a structural change that would benefit their party in elections for decades to come. The requisite betrayals of their core voters would sting in the short term, but over the longer term it would put them into a strong position to make good on their remaining promises.

    But, inexplicably, he agreed to trash his party's principles in exchange for a vote on a version of reform that even he thought was crap. I know several people who were strongly pro-reform but either voted against or abstained because they were holding out for STV or similar. Thanks to that compromise, he didn't just have the "No" lobby against him, he had half of the natural "yes" lobby against him as well, never mind the people who simply wanted to punish the Dems for the betrayals they'd committed to just get to the point of referendum.

    The voting reform referendum was always going to be a gamble, but Clegg allowed it to be stacked against him and then, knowing this, still chose to bet his house on it. Between that very public loss and the voters he upset getting there, he has even less power to fight the Tories, leading to concession after concession in the hope of being granted a few crumbs of power. Both voting reform and the Dems are dead for another generation or two, and I'll have a very hard time forgiving him for that.

    ZsigW - I'm pretty gloomy about the next election, whenever that turns out to be, because I'm rapidly running out of parties I feel I can vote for.

    Yeah. I'm too left-wing for the Tories, and too sickened by Labour's lies and contempt for civil liberites to vote for them without feeling dirty. The Dems presented a platform of lefty pragmatism, with a focus on evidence-led policy, and on both providing information when they had it and admitting what they didn't know. You know, acting like grown-ups are supposed to.

    So I honestly have no clue how I'll vote next time around. It'll probably be whichever of the parties on the Left brings me the most impressive head on a platter.


    *British political gossip/satire magazine; has good investigative journalism and baseless rumours in roughly equal measure, and it's not always easy to tell which is which.
    posted by metaBugs at 6:41 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Um... not to harp on the comparisons, but isn't "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" what the Doctor usually says right before he goes genocidal on some aliens' asses? Could Clegg be telegraphing something here?
    posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:41 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    On a realpolitik level, the Conservatives were the largest party in Parliament after the election, and even Labor + the Liberal Democrats would have needed support from yet smaller parties to gain a majority

    Exactly. 650 seats, so 326 seats needed for a majority. Labour, with 258, and LD, with 57, had 315 - 11 short. The largest other party was the DUP (Northern Ireland) with 8 seats, then the SNP with 5 and Sinn Fein and the SDLP with three.

    For a Labour led coalition, you needed at least four, and really needed five parties -- and that would have the new coaliation at 326-328 seats. Basically, a *huge* amount of power would have gone to the third/fourth/fifth party members of the coaliation. It would have been unworkable.

    You can argue that Clegg had to go with the Tories. You can argue that he should have not and forced a new poll. But arguments that he could have worked with Labour are nonsense. They simply didn't have the votes, and that government would have collapsed rapidly.

    Of course, Clegg and the LibDems were *badly* played by the Tories, and it's going to destroy them. The Tories managed to fuck over all three of their core positions -- University fees, they just overran them. AV, they put up the worst plan they possibly could in a referendum, which lost. And finally, the backbenchers outright revolted and stuff Lord's reform right into the crapper -- leading to Clegg's great fail moment, when he blamed Labour for it.

    So, yeah, done.
    posted by eriko at 6:45 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Parties like the Lib dems and the Democrats (were) here is Australia are just designed to disappoint then die. They briefly carry hopes that they will improve the way we are led, or act as a foil to the fuckwittidy of the major parties, but no, they just end up disappointing. Unlike the majors which always disappoint, they don't recover.
    posted by mattoxic at 6:49 AM on September 21, 2012


    Healthcare and education spending have been preserved.

    What's all this about the £20bn to be made in efficiency savings in the NHS, then, the 4% year-on-year budget cuts? It's not like they aren't real-term cuts.
    posted by Dysk at 6:56 AM on September 21, 2012


    They should have formed a coalition with Labour. Their only metric for this decision was election reform; the Tories were never going to go through with this; Labour would have played ball.

    It might have been unpopular to side with Labour at first but any goverment in a recession was doomed to be unpopular. They should have though more long term. (And should have realized, like everyone else, that austerity was just going to lead to a second recession.)

    and even Labor + the Liberal Democrats would have needed support from yet smaller parties to gain a majority... But arguments that he could have worked with Labour are nonsense. They simply didn't have the votes, and that government would have collapsed rapidly.

    Who also would have been gung-ho on election reform. They could have put the squeeze on Labour far more than the Tories. Once you get that done, from the Liberal perspective, cares if the coalition falls apart?
    posted by spaltavian at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    ... not to mention the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance.
    posted by Sonny Jim at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    What's all this about the £20bn to be made in efficiency savings in the NHS, then, the 4% year-on-year budget cuts? It's not like they aren't real-term cuts.

    To be completely honest, I have no idea. Spending is stationary or rising over this Parliament. In 2008 it was £102 billion, in 2014 it's projected to be £130 billion.

    I think it's something to do with the idea that the NHS has a special inflation rate that is higher than normal inflation. Which I think is why Major, then Blair/Brown, and now Cameron are trying to reform it. Because unless you can increase the % of GDP going to the NHS every year - which you can do, for example, during a huge financial boom - then it's in complete crisis.

    Hence the "cuts": we can't afford the rate of increase in spending that we managed during the 2000s, so immediately everything falls apart.

    I think that's the argument. But the NHS is hugely complex and I don't pretend to really understand it and the reforms.

    All I see is that in the middle of a flat-lining economy we're increasing NHS spending. So for me that looks like "healthcare spending has been preserved."
    posted by alasdair at 7:14 AM on September 21, 2012


    I took it to be a bit like a charismatically-lead Green Party winning a few pivotal US Senate seats

    I don't think they map very well to a European Green template, let alone what it means in the US. Think more of what the official Libertarian Party might be if they teamed up with a bunch of disaffected DLC (i.e. Clinton/triangulation) Democrats to counter a moribund union-dominated Democratic Party. Except that most US small-l libertarians are currently Republicans, and the DLC has taken over the Democratic Party.

    My general impression is that their electoral appeal is strongest for non-labor-affiliated upwardly-mobile college-educated professionals who can't vote Labour, and upper-class voters who don't want to vote Tory. (Objections to this thesis from British subjects appreciated.) I'm sure a few progressives turn to them as an alternative as well. But their success as a party is largely due to the fact that they represent an alternative to the two major parties, not because they represent a broad coalition of voters directly. As such you are going to get random people across the political spectrum both running and voting LibDem. That's not a prescription for a strongly effective party and it's a structural weakness of the parliamentary system itself, if you ask me; the feature-not-a-bug aspect of the US winner-take-all system is that we utterly marginalize third parties. In theory [for reals!] a parliamentary system ought to allow a centrist party like the LibDems to have outsized power versus their electoral weight, because they could walk away from the coalition, but apparently this time at least that wasn't appealing because of the numbers and the need for other tiny parties in a Labour-led coalition. So the LibDems were stuck, and that's probably why they got screwed.
    posted by dhartung at 7:19 AM on September 21, 2012


    Wow. Quite the essay for what is, basically, "here's another autotune video."
    posted by clvrmnky at 7:19 AM on September 21, 2012


    Healthcare and education spending have been preserved.

    Yeah, as Dysk says above, talk to pretty much any NHS worker at the moment (I'm married to one) and they'll tell you that the exact opposite is true.

    The NHS Reforms have been almost universally unpopular within the NHS itself. I tend to work on the basis that not every doctor, nurse, scientist and healthcare worker can be sitting there thinking solely about themselves - after all, money tends to be one of the lower priorities on the personal importance scale for healthcare workers. So if a majority of them reckon its going to make the public healthcare situation worse not better, then I'm inclined to agree.
    posted by garius at 7:20 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If Vince Cable was in charge of Labour they would win.
    posted by Damienmce at 7:30 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, as Dysk says above, talk to pretty much any NHS worker at the moment (I'm married to one) and they'll tell you that the exact opposite is true. The NHS Reforms have been almost universally unpopular within the NHS itself.

    Yes, I've noticed that too. But they are, at least, interested parties. And the cash is going somewhere.

    (The NHS, of course, was terribly unpopular with doctors when it was set up by the Labour party. They threatened legal action, strikes, boycotting it. How things change!)

    Look, I'm not trying to make out that the reforms are GREAT! I don't understand them enough. All I know is that (1) I'll still get medical care free at the point of delivery (2) the volume of cold hard cash going into the system is still going up, not down (3) every government in the last 20 years has tried to reform the NHS to great cries of "privatisation!". I'm therefore not able to form a strong enough opinion on the reforms to influence my vote.
    posted by alasdair at 7:33 AM on September 21, 2012


    No you won't continue to get medical care free at the point of delivery, that's the whole bloody point of the reforms to make it possible to abolish that, and to do it in a piecemeal enough way that the ill-informed who didn't pay attention won't catch on until it's too late. I suggest you do something about your lack of understanding before you or a family member find out the hard way.
    posted by Flitcraft at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


    the feature-not-a-bug aspect of the US winner-take-all system is that we utterly marginalize third parties.

    You have this the wrong way round; the British parliamentary system (unlike those in much of continental Europe) is actually -more- winner-takes-all than the US; Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system which is not counterbalanced by separate elections for the executive and legislative branches (as in the US).

    The existence of a third party is because of particular historical conditions in Britain, not because of the electoral system.
    posted by plep at 7:42 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If you think the NHS (and the rest of social care) is fine / will continue to be fine... you just have no idea.
    posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:44 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I think it's something to do with the idea that the NHS has a special inflation rate that is higher than normal inflation. Which I think is why Major, then Blair/Brown, and now Cameron are trying to reform it. Because unless you can increase the % of GDP going to the NHS every year - which you can do, for example, during a huge financial boom - then it's in complete crisis.
    The population has been getting older for a long time. That naturally increase the cost of healthcare, regardless of the system we have.
    (2) the volume of cold hard cash going into the system is still going up, not down
    The volume of cold hard cash going into US healthcare is ever-growing too (and far more than goes into the NHS, comparatively). But you know, in the US, they're paying obscene amounts to the middlemen of insurance companies.
    posted by Jehan at 7:46 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Think more of what the official Libertarian Party might be if they teamed up with a bunch of disaffected DLC (i.e. Clinton/triangulation) Democrats

    Not really. No party as passionately pro-European as the Lib Dems can be closely compared,to Libertarians. About the one truly stable thing in the Lib Dem identity is affinity to the European project, a project that is based upon regulation, standardisation and provision of legislative protection to citizens. Nothing like a libertarian could stomach the Working Time Directive, the CAP or the CFP.

    non-labor-affiliated upwardly-mobile college-educated professionals who can't vote Labour

    I think you're making an assumption about the class and labour affiliations of the Labour party that don't really reflect reality. Part of Tony Blair's electoral triumph was removing the association between voting Labour and being working class or affiliating with the labour movement.

    and upper-class voters who don't want to vote Tory

    "Upper class" is very problematic in a British context. Being "upper class" is a largely social, rather than economic identity.

    But their success as a party is largely due to the fact that they represent an alternative to the two major parties, not because they represent a broad coalition of voters directly.

    I think it's much more involved and complex than this. For example, Lib Dem electoral success in Cornwall has largely been based on ancestral notions of loyalty to the Liberal Party. Many people in Cornwall rarely talk about "Liberal Democrats", they talk about "Liberals", and they mean something quite different in doing so. Lib Dems campaigning in Cornwall do so on local issues, and mention national policy at their peril.

    By contrast, there is a geographically spread bloc of younger student voters and older people working in education who saw Lib Dems as being their allies on tuition fees (hence the apology), many of whom were also pro-European and concerned about voting reform. These people were voting largely on policy, rather than through loyalty or protest, and those, it seems, are the people that have dropped away from the Lib Dems as voters. Many Lib Dem members and activists also fit this model, which is why the apology has appeared just before conference.

    One could go on for hours, but suffice it to say that the Lib Dems are in trouble for all kinds of reasons that go deeper than their apparent position in the political structure would suggest.
    posted by howfar at 7:48 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    It was my understanding, howfar, that the Lib Dems galvanized the support of many of those students and soft progressives after Iraq. They were, after all, the one major party not advocating mass murder.

    Surely Labour's about-face has neutralized that now, though?
    posted by dontjumplarry at 8:07 AM on September 21, 2012


    It was my understanding, howfar, that the Lib Dems galvanized the support of many of those students and soft progressives after Iraq. They were, after all, the one major party not advocating mass murder.

    I think that's a good point, but that soft progressive support also goes back further than that I think, really to the founding of the SDP. One of the odd things about the Lib Dems is that their electoral support nationally hasn't really changed that much for about as long as the party has existed. Campaigning locally, finessing the message and fighting winnable seats hard and frequently dirty has had a lot more to do with the growth of the Lib Dems in Parliament than any other factor.

    Surely Labour's about-face has neutralized that now, though?

    I'm not sure that the Labour party can neutralise anything much until they get some actual policies. Those people who did abandon them for the Lib Dems or just not voting need more than some nice words about the wars the Labour party helped start in order to lure them back. I say this as someone who would happily vote Labour if they presented some sort of meaningful platform to actually vote for.
    posted by howfar at 8:27 AM on September 21, 2012


    I'm so sorry.
    posted by Wolfdog at 8:48 AM on September 21, 2012


    I'm also so sorry.
    posted by Talez at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2012


    There is one thing Cleggy has done for the Lib Dems. The Tories laugh at them and Labour actively hates them, so at least they're not ignored any more.
    posted by fullerine at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    You have this the wrong way round; the British parliamentary system (unlike those in much of continental Europe) is actually -more- winner-takes-all than the US; Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system which is not counterbalanced by separate elections for the executive and legislative branches (as in the US).

    The existence of a third party is because of particular historical conditions in Britain, not because of the electoral system.


    Not true. The existance of a third party is, in American terms, because Texas Democrats and Massachusetts Republicans realise they have more in common with each other than they do with Massacheusetts Democrats and Texas Republicans respectively. And the British system actually isn't quite as winner takes all because there's no Presidential race (and barely a slate), so there's not the big push to centralise.

    And very few seats are genuine three way marginals.
    posted by Francis at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2012


    I think it's much more involved and complex than this.

    Amen.

    A lot of people seem to be imagining that there was an ideal possible solution for the Lib Dems when forming a Coalition. There wasn't. There were two options : Labour or the Tories. Labour would have been a difficult sell considering everyone knew what to think of them since we'd just had ten years of them. Maybe the new tories really were new ? You couldn't say for sure they weren't.

    My own reading of it is that the Lib Dems should have rejected both Lab and Tory offers of a coalition and said there has to be a re-run of the election "because we can't betray our voters". No-one would want a new election so then both parties would improve their offers, either one of which the LDs vould then have accepted (porbably the tories).

    But its easy to be wise after the event. The way the press were talking, if they'd tried that the Pound would have collapsed, there'd have been anarchy in the streets, etc

    As it is, the LibDems coalition have probably acted as a brake against the Tories madder policies. I cant believe it would have been better if the tories had got in without needing a coalition.

    The thing with democracy is that no-one ever gets what they want. There has to be compromise. That's what Churchill meant when he called democracy "the worst possible system of government, apart from all the other ones".
    posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 9:29 AM on September 21, 2012


    Maybe the new tories really were new ? You couldn't say for sure they weren't.

    Oh really?
    posted by yoink at 9:35 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    not vould but could
    posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012


    And the British system actually isn't quite as winner takes all because there's no Presidential race (and barely a slate), so there's not the big push to centralise.

    That makes the British system more "winner takes all" and not less. Whoever wins control of Parliament also wins control of the Executive.
    posted by yoink at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yoink, I was trying to put myself in the mind of the majority of voters, a lot of whom have barely heard of Margaret Thatcher
    posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2012


    My own reading of it is that the Lib Dems should have rejected both Lab and Tory offers of a coalition and said there has to be a re-run of the election "because we can't betray our voters". No-one would want a new election so then both parties would improve their offers, either one of which the LDs vould then have accepted (porbably the tories).

    Or enter into a loose coalition with the tories where they'd provide enough votes to survive confidence (PM David Cameron) but everything else is off the table.

    Just because the executive is in the legislature doesn't mean people have to automatically listen to it. Drive policy by consensus rather than an agenda.
    posted by Talez at 9:41 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The problem for all small third-parties in basically two-party systems is that they always will feel that their best chance to show that they are "making a difference" is if they go into alliance with the party they are less naturally allied with. That is, for the Lib Dems to make an Alliance with Labour is to guarantee virtual anonymity: they simply become the means whereby Labour hold onto office, and anything good Labour does during its term is credited to Labour, not the Lib Dems. By throwing in with the Tories, the reasoning goes, you get to draw some distinct lines between what the governing party is doing and what your plucky little band of adventurers is forcing them to do.

    Of course, it's one of those pieces of political calculation that always makes sense to the politicians because they are political insiders and they actually bother to keep track of which party is behind which policy and so forth. To the general public it just looks like betrayal. Of course, the Lib Dems compounded this inevitable problem by getting utterly screwed over in the actual negotiations, so that they not only looked like they were betraying their principles, they actually did betray their principles and had to smile and say "thank you very much" while they did it.
    posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Talez, I love that, but I think the argument at the time was that anything that didn't provide certainty was going to make the Stock Market shit the bed.

    I don't believe politicians want the public to have any real say over policy - the opposite, if anything.
    posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 9:47 AM on September 21, 2012


    By throwing in with the Tories, the reasoning goes, you get to draw some distinct lines between what the governing party is doing and what your plucky little band of adventurers is forcing them to do.

    Heh. The one time the LibDems made more than a muffled squeak at an awful Tory policy is when the Tories announced one without telling them, thus wounding their sense of importance. Other than that they've rubberstamped everything.
    posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yoink, I agree it worked out about as badly as possible for the LibDems as a party. They bet big and lost any shred of legitimacy they ever had in most people's minds, I'll bet. But I think the country could have been much worse off.

    The one person who might not do so bad is Clegg himself. He is a political insider -PPE at Cambridge, or wherever - he hasn't had a normal life. Now he'll come out of this as one of those people who's one of the boys in the club. David Owen didn't do so bad for himself, and Paddy Pantsdown still turns up on tv shows, as if his opinion is of interest to anyone at all. Clegg will end up with a list of sinecures, probably a nice position in Europe in about ten years time.
    posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 9:54 AM on September 21, 2012


    In a way, maybe we should thank the Liberal Democrats. We've had a luke Conservative government, and that alone has swung the numbers enough to make it unlikely they will get a full win next time.
    posted by Jehan at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Oh wait, I already made that point! Sorry about that, but it does bear repeating: the Conservatives are so indescribably disgusting, and the Liberal Democrats so utterly worthless, that they should be driven from power for another 13 years (well, 15 now, but you get the point).
    posted by Jehan at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Can anyone explain why the Lib Dems got pressured into a coalition in the first place? Why not stay independent, allow the Conservatives to form a minority government and then use their no-confidence power to keep the Tories in check?

    I mean, minority governments suck, but surely it would be better than this?
    posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I voted straight Lib Dem for years. Pretty much since I was able to. Never again. Bunch of spineless tossers.
    posted by Happy Dave at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


    You would think Scotland where we happily had a very stable and competent minority government for an entire parliamentary term (2007-2011) never existed. The Lib Dems forced a centre-left party which wasn't attacking the poor or disabled to govern on their own because they wouldn't go into coalition with them, and then their Westminster branch happily jumped into bed with the Tories. Clegg was recorded in an interview years ago with The Independent saying that the NHS should be broken up, but shut up about it at the general election and his views were forgotten about until it was too late. Orange book Lib Dems are basically Tories and behave like them in power.

    By the way I was a Lib Dem for years, one of the poor saps who originally helped Ming Campbell get elected back when I was as student. I now hope he gets kicked out on his arse with all the rest of them.
    posted by Flitcraft at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Can anyone explain why the Lib Dems got pressured into a coalition in the first place? Why not stay independent, allow the Conservatives to form a minority government and then use their no-confidence power to keep the Tories in check?

    The boys at the top wanted the ministerial limos and the lucrative post-government directorships/board memberships/Euro posts and other employment opportunities.
    posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Can anyone explain why the Lib Dems got pressured into a coalition in the first place? Why not stay independent, allow the Conservatives to form a minority government and then use their no-confidence power to keep the Tories in check?

    If they didn't enter a coalition, they would have inherently destroyed their argument for electoral reform. It would have accepted that parliaments without overall majorities are unable to form stable government, which has always been a key argument advanced for first past the post elections. Electoral reform has always been the biggest prize in the eyes of many Lib Dems, because it would have the potential to make them permanent kingmakers, choosing between Conservative and Labour at each election, deciding who entered 10 Downing St. That's why they were prepared to give up so much to get the referendum on AV.

    The boys at the top wanted the ministerial limos and the lucrative post-government directorships/board memberships/Euro posts and other employment opportunities.

    Bear in mind that the coalition was approved by the Lib Dem rank and file specifically approved the coalition, holding a special party conference to do so.
    posted by prentiz at 10:50 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I suggest you do something about your lack of understanding before you or a family member find out the hard way.

    Oh, don't be silly. The Tories are not going to introduce charging for NHS services this Parliament, any more than charging exists now - IVF and private medical coverage, for example. Might they do it in the next Parliament? They say they won't. And Thatcher didn't. Neither did Churchill, Major, Heath...

    I can see Labour doing it, like they introduced tuition fees. Means-tested, of course. From each according to their means, as they say. That seems as reasonable as hand-wringing over some non-existent Tory plan. I mean, sure, some of the Tories want to privatise the NHS. Some Labour politicians want to seize control of the means of production and leave NATO. That doesn't mean it'll happen.
    posted by alasdair at 10:57 AM on September 21, 2012


    I apologize for "don't be silly". I reacted badly to your tone.

    Let me put it another way: ever since I was a child, I've heard that the Tories will abolish the NHS as soon as they have a chance. Every single election. But it turns out that they never, ever do. So you'll understand if I'm a little skeptical that this time, really, they will.

    Sorry, I mean, of course, NEXT time. Because, you know, in this here reality-based universe, with a Tory government - they haven't. Again.

    Unless you think that's because of the Lib-Dems, grin!
    posted by alasdair at 11:10 AM on September 21, 2012


    I always seek to liken the new kind of NHS to current dentistry. "Of course" there will be an NHS provider locally, who will give you NHS "services". They "might" also provide "some" private services, but there will still be "spaces" for NHS patients. I mean, you can still get NHS dentistry, but fuck me if it isn't a national joke.

    (I haven't seen a dentist in eight years. I laugh at how folks from the US think that NHS dentistry is bad. They don't realize that it's the one part of the NHS which is actually nearest to their healthcare model. Dentists are mostly private practitioners, you have to look around for in-service providers either for NHS or whatever insurance you've bought, make co-payments on any work, and they're happy to overdo work on your teeth to swell their profits. If there's anything in the world to learn about healthcare, it's run as fast as you can from the US. Who wants to wake up with that nightmare?)
    posted by Jehan at 11:19 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    While absolute spending might have increased, that doesn't mean much if the amount of treatment needed and administered increases by a greater amount. Which would explain all this talk of 'cuts' we keep hearing, why people are having trouble getting access to pain medication (with cost cited as the issue), why waiting lists for non-emergency services have gotten so much longer...
    posted by Dysk at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2012


    The bill creates a situation where the new commissioning groups can deny free services and impose charges - that's the great attraction of it for the private health companies, as a friend who worked for BUPA for many years as a researcher kindly pointed out, and it takes away the duty of the secretary of state to provide a national health service. This is what the private health companies, including ones which donated heavily to the Lib dems are really looking forward to. And no, people haven't always been saying the Tories would do this, we're not talking about PFI but a change in the fundamental underpinnings of the system, most people naively imagined they would never dare.
    posted by Flitcraft at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Jehan- as an aside - def. worth looking again for NHS dentistry, if my experience is anything to go by. Used to be impossible to join NHS dentists round here for years, now several new one have opened up and I get cheap tooth-care once again. Anecdotally, have heard similar from elsewher in the country, but YMMV.
    posted by prentiz at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2012


    How strange that all those 'I don't understands!' have suddenly evaporated and the previously uncertain can now, not only talk with such certainty, but also slip in key spin phrases about 'not charging for NHS services this parliament! It's a miracle of healing!

    Here's Clegg on the NHS for anyone wondering why the Lib Dems might want to 'play the daft laddie' on this point.

    One very, very important point - I think breaking up the NHS is exactly what you do need to do to make it a more responsive service." Then he goes further, even refusing to rule out the insurance-based models used in mainland Europe and Canada.

    "I don't think anything should be ruled out. I think it would be really, really daft to rule out any other model from Europe or elsewhere. I do think they deserve to be looked out because frankly the faults of the British health service compared to others still leave much to be desired."

    posted by Flitcraft at 11:58 AM on September 21, 2012


    But of course, if the issue is money, then they need to explain why the solution is an expensive transition to a more costly way of providing healthcare.
    posted by Grangousier at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    This is utter nonsense, as any understanding of the history of the party will show. The problem with the Lib-Dems is that, being forged from two historically and ideologically different parties and traditions, they have never managed to truly reconcile the trends within the party. The notion of an internally democratic party was made to work only under the rule of a very charismatic, determined and personally well-liked leader. When Ashdown went, the party slowly started to succumb to its natural internal divisions. These exist on all levels, from the parliamentary party, through the organisers and rank and file and even into the bizarrely diverse voters. The Lib Dems have at least two hearts, but that hasn't worked out quite as well for them as a Doctor Who fan might've expected.

    Living in Brum under a lib-dem & conservative coalition for 6 years taught me everything I ever needed to know about the value of distant party history and vague promises. They didn't have two hearts. They didn't even have one.

    It was awful watching England sleep walking into the National Coalition and its inevitable betrayals of everything they let people think they stood for.

    Labour was a tough pill for me to swallow being anti-war and anti big-brother but what do you know...the other parties were all no different in practice except they have now opened the door to all kinds of awful domestic evil while still warring and watching: NHS privatization and American style tuition escalation (don't kid yourself about the loan programs - those exist now as a sugar coating on a bitter pill. They will gradually erode away - I know because it is exactly what happened in Canada over the past few decades as each wave of graduates pulls the ladder up just a little higher) .

    The lib-dems have functioned so effectively as the disposable tip of the drill bit that it would be nice if people could pretend he was a Manchurian candidate or a Tory sleeper but that's an unnecessarily complex theory. Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems completely and voluntarily supported the actions of the current government. It is who he is and it is who they are.
    posted by srboisvert at 12:31 PM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Of course, the other thing that came out about their student fees pledge was that they'd looked at abandoning it long before the general election and any coalition horse-trading anyway:
    A month before Clegg pledged in April to scrap the "dead weight of debt", a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years. In a document marked "confidential" and dated 16 March, the head of the secret pre-election coalition negotiating team, Danny Alexander, wrote: "On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches."
    posted by Abiezer at 12:59 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Living in Brum under a lib-dem & conservative coalition for 6 years taught me everything I ever needed to know about the value of distant party history and vague promises. They didn't have two hearts. They didn't even have one

    Pretending that people do bad things because they're malevolent villains chuckling at their own evil can be comforting, but it's not terribly interesting or useful. There are real reasons why the Lib Dems have failed to deliver in coalition, and some knowledge about the structure of the party and its internal divisions would give you more insight than having lived in Birmingham for six years. A million people live in Birmingham.

    It is who he is and it is who they are.

    It is, to a significant extent, who the Orange Bookers are, but associating them with the Lib Dems as a whole is a gross oversimplification. I say this not to defend the Lib Dems, but because the historically accurate story is actually something we can learn from. Saying "they was all mean and wicked" is a cop out.
    posted by howfar at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2012


    How strange that all those 'I don't understands!' have suddenly evaporated and the previously uncertain can now, not only talk with such certainty, but also slip in key spin phrases about 'not charging for NHS services this parliament! It's a miracle of healing!

    Do you really not see the difference between "I don't understand the complexities in reforms to an organisation employing 1.4 million people" and "at this stage in the Parliament the Tories are not going to introduce charging"?

    OK: the first is about the internal NHS system, about which I know little, so don't have a strong opinion. The second is about UK politics and how it works, about which I'm an educated layman, so have a stronger opinion.


    While absolute spending might have increased, that doesn't mean much if the amount of treatment needed and administered increases by a greater amount.

    Thank-you, that's what I understood too: that's the "higher rate of inflation" I referred to above. But that's about the limit of my understanding.


    And no, people haven't always been saying the Tories would do this, we're not talking about PFI but a change in the fundamental underpinnings of the system, most people naively imagined they would never dare.

    The Labour Party has said that the Conservative Party will privatise the NHS for as long as I can remember.

    From the 1992 Labour manifesto:
    "This election will decide the future of the NHS. Indeed, it will decide whether or not we continue to have a NHS of the kind that the British people want. The Conservatives would continue to commercialise and privatise the NHS until it is run as just another business."

    1997:
    "Labour created the NHS 50 years ago. It is under threat from the Conservatives. We want to save and modernise the NHS."

    1987:
    "Privatisation means a Health Service run for profit rather than in the patients' interests. Labour will end privatisation in the NHS,"

    1983:
    "The creation of the National Health Service is one of the greatest achievements of the Labour Party. It now faces a double threat from the Tories: a lack of resources for decent health care; and the active encouragement of private practice."

    (Interestingly, I couldn't find similar language in 2010 under Brown, probably because it's talking the same kind of reform language as the current Government does now, which is why I can't understand the healthcare reforms: "We will support an active role for the independent sector working alongside the NHS in the provision of care, particularly where they bring innovation – such as in end-of- life care and cancer services, and increase capacity.")


    I'm completely with you on dentistry, though: as far as I can tell, it's pretty much all been privatised. Why on earth did that happen? Since Labour did the privatising, I assume there where what I would regard as reasonably moral arguments (that is, it wasn't just out of Thatcherite free market enthusiasm). Was it just "poor people still get it free, rich people can pay?" Means-testing? It makes me uncomfortable: you could apply the same logic to, um, healthcare that ISN'T in your mouth. Ah, well: as I keep pointing out, it's a complex subject.
    posted by alasdair at 3:33 PM on September 21, 2012


    the British parliamentary system (unlike those in much of continental Europe) is actually -more- winner-takes-all than the US

    plep, I was using winner-take-all in the political science sense, in which it describes voting mechanics. The WTA approach is a key reason why the US is 99% a two-party system. In particular, the electoral college helps enforce a two-party regime at the presidential level. Some state governments have more flexible legislative rules than Congress and more third-party activity, but all that disappears at the national political level.

    The existence of a third party is because of particular historical conditions in Britain, not because of the electoral system.

    I don't disagree that the LibDems have their own particular history, but the experience of parliamentary systems worldwide is that there are many more active political parties. The electoral system is the obvious culprit.

    No party as passionately pro-European as the Lib Dems can be closely compared,to Libertarians.

    That's a good point, howfar, but I was speaking more in tribal than ideological terms. There is really no constituency in the US that directly compares to the pro-Europeans.

    "Upper class" is very problematic in a British context. Being "upper class" is a largely social, rather than economic identity.

    True enough -- I meant it that way, though I didn't really make it clear.

    Part of Tony Blair's electoral triumph was removing the association between voting Labour and being working class or affiliating with the labour movement.

    Very true, but then a lot of those New Labour voters went back to the Tories in 2010, while the LibDem constituencies stayed pretty much unchanged. I think my point that they appeal to a somewhat different demographic stands, even if I'm a bit in the dark on specifics. Thanks for your response.
    posted by dhartung at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2012


    Except nobody mentioned 'this parliament' to start with except you, and it's the common way the Lib Dems wash their hands of having helped the Tories remove the fundamental duty of the secretary of state to provide a National Health Service. It's important for this reason

    The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that the newly created commissioners of NHS services (the so-called clinical commissioning groups, CCGs) do not have responsibility for comprehensive care for all residents in one geographical area.

    Instead the commissioning groups will able to recruit patients from GP lists across the country. This is not patient choice. It is commissioning groups choosing patients and purchasing what the commissioning groups deem to be the appropriate NHS cover. Selection will be the name of the game.

    David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, made this absolutely clear when he advised patients to shop around across the country for their GPs based on the range of services offered. (See briefing number 4: clauses 3, 4, 6 & 7).

    Clever informed middle class patients may be able to shop around for the best choice of health plans and services, just as some now do for utilities. But there is no guarantee of success, as anyone who tries to navigate electricity, gas, telecom and rail providers know.


    There is a lot more room for CCGs to impose charges and to 'deem' things to be unnecessary and hence chargeable.

    Meanwhile 'free at the point of delivery' is already up for trial balloons by Lib Dem spokespersons.

    Now you may be crediting the Labour party policy wonks with having forseen all that, but I don't know anyone who actually expected something this radical. The goal posts, and what people have understood by privatisation in this context, have moved. When people talked about privatisation until recently most of us thought of things like increased PFI and the annoyances and inefficiencies it causes - not about basic duties to provide free healthcare being undermined.

    Sure it won't happen straight away, but the Lib Dems increasingly sound like people who've helped take an axe to the tree and who are then going to pretend to look surprised when the finishing wedges are knocked away and it topples over.
    posted by Flitcraft at 5:08 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I think my point that they appeal to a somewhat different demographic stands, even if I'm a bit in the dark on specifics.

    I think you're broadly correct, but that the regional politics issue is particularly confounding to understanding in the case of the Lib Dems. There really is an "all things to all men" aspect to Lib Dem politics, which makes pinning down the party identity very difficult. I differ from srboisvert insofar as I think that shifting identity has as much to do with the oddities of the party history and identity as with any wicked electoral masterplan. Of course all parties have different wings, but I think that the Lib Dems are odd in being composed of groups of members whose view of the party does not allow them to fully understand the fact that others groups have a radically different view.
    posted by howfar at 5:17 PM on September 21, 2012


    Regional party of the southwest without the integrity of Mebyon Kernow.
    posted by Abiezer at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2012


    More here on how the CCGs pave the way for charging

    - based on a recent BMJ article by Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research policy at Queen Mary, University of London and others 'building on an earlier article in the Lancet'
    ...
    She concludes: "Legal analysis shows that the bill would allow reductions in government funded health services as a consequence of decisions made independently of the secretary of state by a range of bodies.

    "It signals the basis for a shift from a mainly tax financed health service to one in which patients may have to pay for services currently free at point of delivery."

    posted by Flitcraft at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2012


    I think my fellow countryman Mezentian's comparison to the AU democrats is a good one. In that, from over here at least, it seems like the Lib Dems - like our Dems - were always dependent on a political base made of more of differences than commonalities.

    The AU Dems relied on a) protest votes, b) "soft" liberals/libertarian ish types c) People to the left of Labor. Crucially for our Democrats - like the Lib Dems - there was actually a sizeable gulf between their constituency (predominantly type c), i.e. left wingers), and the actual party membership and especially the actual senators (very definitely more weighted towards the b), "soft liberals",).

    When faced with a decision that went right to the core of this division, where liberals would say "yes", and left-wingers would say "no" (rightly or wrongly) they blithely ignored the facts of their constituency (and the rules of the party, I might add) and voted yes. Their vote collapsed overnight essentially, and they were destroyed at the next election. The vast majority of their voters immediately went over to the Greens (who, whatever demographic differences are extant have no ideological fault line waiting to turn into a party-destroying earthquake), and the party is now completely dead.

    The same thing will happen to the Lib Dems (can't speak for the UK Greens), and anyone thinking otherwise is deluded. They grossly misjudged their voters and vice versa. Will be interesting to see where all those voters end up going...
    posted by smoke at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2012


    Will be interesting to see where all those voters end up going...

    This Yougov article has a bit on that - the voters they won from Labour mostly going back there, 2010 Lib Dem voters who had no prior party loyalty heading in various new directions.
    posted by Abiezer at 8:35 PM on September 21, 2012


    The Lancet warns of privatisation, you say?

    Oh, look! Five seconds of Googling gives me this: Mismanagement as a prelude to privatisation of the UK NHS, from the Lancet in 2006, under a Labour government, warning of... privatisation in the NHS!

    "On June 30 The Guardian newspaper reported that the Commercial Directorate of the UK Department of Health had placed an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Union inviting expressions of interest in managing the purchase of clinical services from health-care providers in the UK. The intentions of the UK Government have now been made abundantly clear. The advertisement was subsequently withdrawn to correct 'a drafting error', but this apparent gaffe should make it blindingly obvious ..."

    That's right, the doctors in 2006 warned that the Labour Government reforms would mean PRIVATISING THE NHS! So now the doctors in 2010 are warning that Coalition reforms would mean PRIVATISING THE NHS! Just like every reform I can remember for twenty years. So now when I read PRIVATISING THE NHS! I tend to be a bit skeptical.
    posted by alasdair at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2012


    dhartung -

    plep, I was using winner-take-all in the political science sense, in which it describes voting mechanics. The WTA approach is a key reason why the US is 99% a two-party system.

    I'm not sure I understand this so please explain a bit more as I may be missing the point you're making as I understand the US Electoral College and British general elections to work in very similar ways. :)

    Elections to the British House of Commons use FPTP; there are about 600 seats and the candidate with the most votes gets the seat. This is one of the main reasons why the Tories were so successful for much of the late 20th century - they took all of the conservative vote, and the left of centre vote was split between Labour and the Liberals/Alliance/Lib Dems (so in a situation where one candidate gets the 40% of votes which are conservative, and the other two split the 60% which are progressive, the conservative wins).

    My understanding of the US Electoral College is that it's a similar, FPTP system. Except instead of 600 'constituencies' there are 51 (including DC) but these constituencies have several members each (weighted by population). But it's still FPTP.

    The three party system in the UK is because of the way the different parties have evolved historically, not because of electoral mechanics. In fact, FPTP works strongly against (though not to completely annihilate) the third party because of the way it works, which is why the Lib Dems had electoral reform as a key part of their platform. The fact that the Liberals were still winning a few seats in the 1950s and 1960s, when they were polling only 3% or so of the national vote, is because of strong local loyalties in areas such as Cornwall, as has been pointed out by another poster.

    The American system as a whole is actually less WTA than the House of Commons because, to translate it into British terms, there are separate elections for the Prime Minister, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, so that you commonly have 'cohabitation' between different parties.

    disagree that the LibDems have their own particular history, but the experience of parliamentary systems worldwide is that there are many more active political parties. The electoral system is the obvious culprit.

    Not really, because parliamentary systems worldwide work in very different ways. The UK uses first-past-the-post but it's common in continental Europe to use proportional representation systems where deputies win their seats in proportion to the votes cast (either nationally - as in Israel, or by region). The proportional representation systems common on the continent lead to totally different results - and the UK system and US system have much more in common with each other than they do with this way of assigning results. Furthermore of course each country has its own political parties and traditions which have evolved over time. It's not really correct to compare the UK political system with any other country in western Europe in this way, in fact.

    Japan is an example of a country with a parliamentary system which for most of the post-war period, in fact had effectively not a two-party system but a one-party (or one-and-a-half party) system. This was because of the success of the LDP in appealing to a large coalition of different groups in Japanese society to give it a decades-long majority, not because of the electoral system. You could make a similar argument for the decades-long success of the Social Democrats in Sweden.
    posted by plep at 12:46 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    (... or the ANC in South Africa at present).
    posted by plep at 1:06 AM on September 22, 2012


    A lot of people seem to be imagining that there was an ideal possible solution for the Lib Dems when forming a Coalition. There wasn't. There were two options : Labour or the Tories. Labour would have been a difficult sell considering everyone knew what to think of them since we'd just had ten years of them. Maybe the new tories really were new ? You couldn't say for sure they weren't.

    No, what people are saying is that the Lib Dems could've done a lot better out of getting into bed with the Tories, as they neither gotten any significant policies enacted (voting reform) nor any position of real power in the government. If you're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, this was because they were steamrolled into this particular coalition and/or were too incompetent to bargain properly; if you're more cynical it was because the people at the top actually supported the Tory agenda from the outset and saw this as their chance at getting a cushy ministerial job and from there a shot at the real big money to be made as ex-servants of capital, seeing how well Blair had been rewarded for his services...
    posted by MartinWisse at 5:26 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If you're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt...if you're more cynical

    I think the truth is somewhere between the two. The Oranger Bookers in ascendency at the time of the coalition agreement certainly had considerable sympathy to much of the economic liberalism plus social liberalism that was being wafted about as "the Big Society". However, I also think that they failed to understand that the Tories aren't, at least in very significant parts, simple economic liberals, they are still Thatcherite capitalist ideologues. The Tory opposition to Europe is not just Little Englander xenophobia, it is also a hatred of the fetters that the EU places on the untrammelled exercise of power by the rich over the poor.

    The Lib Dems, whose right wing absolutely have Tory wet tendencies, but cannot, IMO, credibly be cast as natural supporters of the terrifying Thatcher+ policies being pushed through now, for example with regard to schools and the NHS, should have understood the true nature of the Tory party more clearly, and insisted upon cast-iron protections built into the Coalition agreement, or, in my preference, gone for a confidence and supply agreement. Siding with Labour wasn't a possibility, but the Lib Dems imagined the Tories to be much more closely aligned with them than they actually were, and were terrified of getting the blame for the economic impact of another election. Hence they never capitalised on their bargaining power.

    The notion of a full cynicism, in which the Lib Dem leadership is pleased with the way things are going, and just surprised that they haven't carried their voters with them, is, to my mind, an underestimate too far. The Lib Dems are good election fighters, and largely know why people vote for them. To imagine that they expected these policies but not their polling effect seems to imagine the Lib Dems are very weak in about the only area where they've truly shown themselves to be adept.
    posted by howfar at 6:29 AM on September 22, 2012


    It has begun.
    posted by Dysk at 11:44 PM on September 22, 2012


    Regional party of the southwest without the integrity of Mebyon Kernow.

    Let's hope the ointment for that sick burn will be free at the point of need on the NHS!
    posted by running order squabble fest at 9:22 AM on September 23, 2012


    Perhaps sad Nick Clegg can chip in for the extra physio when his loyal keyboard warriors can't afford to get their RSI treated by Virgin.
    posted by Flitcraft at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2012


    Yes, people who disagree with you should shut up.
    posted by howfar at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2012


    Yes I'm angry.Yes, I snarked, mea culpa. No, I don't want the people who back this to shut up, I just want their party to be out of power for a very very long time.
    posted by Flitcraft at 7:51 PM on September 24, 2012


    Liberal Democrats at the Liberal Democrat conference vote against Coalition plans for "secret courts".

    British politics watchers, is this at all surprising? It feels like one thing every wing of the Liberal Democrat membership would agree on is no secret courts...
    posted by running order squabble fest at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2012


    Yes I'm angry.Yes, I snarked, mea culpa. No, I don't want the people who back this to shut up, I just want their party to be out of power for a very very long time.

    Which is fair enough. I don't want the Tories or the Lib Dems in power either. The problem is that I can't muster any enthusiasm for a Labour party without any policies. I tend to vote Green these days, when I get the chance, although I've never yet been able to do it with any hope that it'll make a difference. My rage is dulled by the slow grinding awfulness of the last 30-odd years of government in this country. God I hope they all die.
    posted by howfar at 10:56 AM on September 26, 2012


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