Mar 2015 - So, why did the Lib Dems go into coalition?

It's nearly 5 years since the Coalition was formed. I've been knocking on a lot of doors recently, and it's clear that since then many voters have forgotten the background that led to its formation.

Back in spring 2010, much of the world was just a few months out of recession from the great financial crash. There was still chaos on the global markets, and it was beginning to be clear that the next phase of trouble would be a global currency crisis caused by fears over excessive national debts in various countries (called a "sovereign debt crisis"). This next phase nearly brought down the Euro currency, and is ongoing in Greece.

The electoral situation was the no one had won the 2010 election, but the Conservatives had won most seats and polled considerably more votes than any other. The Labour Party had lost nearly 100 seats - so many that even combined with the Lib Dems they would only have about the same as the Conservatives. That meant that there were only two options for a government: a minority Conservative government, or a majority coalition government.

Many right-wing Conservatives wanted David Cameron to go for a minority government. They reasoned that, although every other party was broke from the election, they could raise money quickly and would be in a good position to fight another election in autumn 2010. In addition, the global financial chaos would demand strong government and a decisive parliament. The Tories would present hard, cutting budgets that would then be voted down, causing political chaos, which would cause panic in the British financial markets. The dominant right-wing media would then blame the 6 months of Parliamentary chaos on the Labour Party (and Lib Dems, presumably). David Cameron would then call an autumn 2010 election (as was his right, before the Fixed Terms Parliament Act) which the Tories would present as themselves vs chaos, and they would win a majority at the second attempt.

Many political analysts believe that this is not just a Conservative fantasy, but actually the most likely outcome of Cameron going for a minority government in spring 2010. The Lib Dems thought this through, during the coalition negotiations. Not only was the prospect of 6 months of chaotic minority government a frightening prospect during a global debt crisis, but the prospect of a Conservative electoral victory at the end of that 6 months was truly dire.

The Lib Dems then, decided that the better option was to bind in the Conservatives for the whole Parliament in a coalition. The Conservatives would not be able to "cut and run" to an election just because they thought they might win it, the British financial markets would be reassured, there would be no runs on the Pound, and finally, the Coalition Agreement would prevent the Conservatives from doing the worst things they wanted to do in Government.

Back to today: it's fair to say that being in coalition has not turned out how the Lib Dems hoped it would. It has become quite clear that Cameron's "reforms" of his party were only skin deep, and they have largely reverted to type, for example their hostile rhetoric on climate change and immigration. But it's also clear that they haven't been able to do most of the Thatcherite things they really wanted to do. Cameron's endless articles in the Daily Mail saying that he wanted to do this, that, and the other... but couldn't "because of those pesky Lib Dems" show that the Conservatives bitterly resent being locked down by the Lib Dems these last few years.

So if you think you don't like the Coalition or what it has done, remember that it exists because it was much better than the other alternative - which was an autumn 2010 election and a Conservative majority government instead for the last 5 years.

Dr Mark Wright