Can the Lib Dems survive?

Both main parties, as has variously been noted, are broad coalitions.  That is especially true of the Labour Party, which has a history of factionalism.  If either party enters into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, it may cause tensions within the party.  There is a section of the Labour Party that would be opposed on ideological grounds.  There are some in the Labour Party who would find it objectionable for local tribal reasons.  In some areas, the rivalry between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is intense.  There are parallels on the Conservative side.

However, the Liberal Democrat party is also a broad coalition.  It was formed from a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.  Some former Labour MPs who joined the SDP now sit on the Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords.  The Liberal Party itself was a broad church, prone to splits and indeed having prominent leaders who notably split the party on the basis of policy or personality.  The party never recovered fully from the split between Lloyd George and Asquith.  The Liberal Democrats have some who are ideologically inclined to the Labour Party but others who lean towards a more market philosophy.  The party has carved out different messages in different parts of the country depending on the nature of its opponents.  How would Liberal Democrats holding seats in the West Country by virtue of winning votes from potential Conservative voters justify an alliance with the Labour Party? 

A coalition with either main party carries enormous risks for the party.  It will be interesting to see if the Liberal Democrats emulate their Liberal forebears.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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9 Responses to Can the Lib Dems survive?

  1. Dave H says:

    This is why I think their best bet is a confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives. If they support Labour then they have to actively do it, whereas with the Conservatives they can sit and do nothing.

    That way they can argue next time around that if anything bad happens, it’s not their fault because they weren’t in government, if anything good happens, they can claim that their (in)action assisted the process.

    It would be ironic indeed if they finally got their referendum on PR only to fragment into tiny pieces and be unable to take advantage of any positive result.

  2. Croft says:

    ‘It will be interesting to see if the Liberal Democrats emulate their Liberal forebears.’

    Ouch! That’s a bit cutting 🙂

  3. FinnishCowl says:

    I apologise if this is a bit off topic, but I was reading in the Times today that Lords reform was part of the deal the Conservatives were offering the Lib-Dems (specifically, the promise to use “PR” in choosing the members of the House). The article only briefly mentioned it, but I did not know if this is to mean the Tories were offering immediate legislation to make the HoL a fully elected body.

    I would certainly understand, Lord Norton, if you cannot comment on this at the present moment.

    (I should note that the article makes this seem like this was part of the offer before all the news from yesterday. So, I do not know if a potential deal was reworked when a referendum on AV was added).

    • Jonathan says:

      The Times article says, “proportional representation to select new members of the Lords”. To me, that doesn’t imply an elected Lords at all, but rather that the number of peers each party is allowed to nominate reflect the percentage of votes they receive, which is just a more formalised version of what we already have.

  4. Dave H says:

    As an aside (which probably belongs elsewhere), imagine if we’d had constitutional reform and were stuck with this lot for five years even if they couldn’t agree on anything. That’s a big downside of fixed terms when there’s no guarantee of a working majority.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    In the spirit of an earlier comment, perhaps the electorate should be asked to vote on which PM they would most like to see hosting a No 10 cream tea for the winning cricket/rugby/soccer team.

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