Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A real rollercoaster

The events of the last few days have been a real rollercoaster, from the highs of the election campaign and the surge in Lib Dem support during the campaign, to the lows of polling night, through several days of tense negotiations to finally agreeing to a five-year coalition deal last night. I know that to many people the place where we have ended up will seem at the very least suprising, so I thought I would put down my thoughts.

My starting point is that we have to respond to the hand that the electorate deals us. No party got a majority of MPs, and even the most successful party didn't get much more than one third of the votes cast. In that situation, one party trying to run the country on its own was unlikely to be sustainable for the long term. I suspect a Conservative minority administration would have been followed a few months later by another General Election. In that election the Conservative demand for a clear mandate and 'strong government' would almost certainly have resulted in a five year majority Conservative government.

Against that backdrop, the only alternative was some form of co-operation between two parties - something that the Lib Dems have always argued is quite normal in most democracies.

Working with Labour would have raised a number of issues. With Gordon Brown kept in post, many people would have accused us of thwarting the will of the electorate. With Gordon Brown gone we would have ended up with a second successive Prime Minister who had not been elected through a General Election. Furthermore, even Lib + Lab votes would not have been a majority in the Commons and the instability of relying on Nationalist votes would not have given us a stable government.

In the end, it was clear that Labour MPs were not ready for joint working, as many said publicly. In particular, there was no appetite for a move on reform of the electoral system which in our view is the key to unlocking more progressive politics.

This left only one option - a coalition with the Conservatives. We had always said we would negotiate with the largest party first, and the Conservatives proved willing to adopt a large number of Lib Dem policies, including putting through legislation to give a referendum on a preferential voting system, as well as fairer taxes and a greener economy.

Clearly, the jointly agreed programme does not give us everything we want as Lib Dems. But it means that a lot more Liberal Democrat policy and principles will be put into practice in government than any of us could have dreamed just a few weeks ago. Let us hope that we can now demonstrate that different political parties can work together for the good of the country.


Sir Marky said...

There are still serious concerns over the agreements between the LibDems and the Tories now yet explained. For example how will the more favourable and normal relationship with the rest of Europe compare with the more extreme right wing view of Hague and Cameron? How will the LibDems vote on the proposals they plan to put to parliament regarding the oddly named Sovereignty Bill? Their view of the EU is backward and scares many of us.

Many of us who voted LibDem did so to keep the Tories out of power, your own leaflet through my door promoted this view, and yet your party is now proping them up in Govt. Does this mean the LibDem party whip will now follow the dictat of the Tory Whip? Are you free to vote against their proposals or just approve them without independent consideration?

gail said...

Let's hope that this will be a real opportunity for change where cooperation and consideration can be observed without either party loosing it's honourable status!! I think it could be a positive move and in the circumstances a good outcome.Best of luck...I will watch this space

Andy said...

I, along with many others, voted for the Liberals in general and Steve Webb in particular to keep out the Tory candidate and keep the Tory party from power. We now have the spectacle of you steering David Cameron into Downing Street and, I think, betraying the progressive majority in the UK.
When it comes to the vote again (either after the fixed term or, more likely when the government collapses) my Anti-Tory vote, will have to go elsewhere. With a bit of luck we'll have a more representative form of election in which case I will vote Labour or Green and know it will be counted.
If, as expected, you don't get any real concession on electoral reform, I'll still vote with my conscience because, well, a LibDem vote might be wasted in a completely different way.

Rod said...

Yes, I too feel betrayed and very angry after being asked to vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out. Having to watch on TV Don Foster (of all people!) sidle up to Alan Duncan was nauseating to say the least. And, the prospect of having to watch Nick Clegg nod in sycophantic agreement when Cameron is at the dispatch box is almost unbearable. I really am sorry Steve Webb, but you will not be getting my vote at the next time of asking. Indeed, orange will not be displayed in my side of the window again.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Steve because he is a brilliant constituency MP. I see it as a bonus that Lib Dem policies will now be put in place and I am a lot more optimistic than I was before the election.

Steve S said...

I voted for Steve Webb and was more than happy to see him re-elected. Like many others I intitially did not believe the exit poll and as the night went on became more and more despondant. I was hoping for a hung parliament but one where the Labour Party and the LibDems could form an co-alition with an overal majority (350 wouuld have been nice). It was not to be. With the Conservatives now being the largest party in parliament by a considerable number of seats the final outcome was always the most likely. A coaltion with Labour would have resulted in another un-elected PM and a collection of parties that would have at best lasted a year. LibDems would have been crucified at the next GE, tories would probably get a good majority. Tory minority government, 6 to 12 months, a GE when LibDems would have been squezed out by Lab & Tory, again probable Tory majority.

By no means do I think the current arrangement is ideal but I do think it for the best, both for the country and for the LibDems. There will have to be huge compromises and hopefully both parties wil be able to make some sacrifices. I do not expect or hope that AV is the final result of electoral reform, but it is a start and certainly better than what we have now. For myself it would have been LibDem 1, Labour 2, Tory 3.

I believe that voters left the LibDems late on in last weeks GE and voted for what they knew, the old two parties. With luck this will not happen again as LibDems will be a party that they know govern with responability. It would be fantastic to see a LibDem vote of 30% which would certainly push electoral reform on again.

I will watch what happens over the coming months, and hopefully years with great interest (and some trepidation) Good Luck

Zac said...

I will personally not miss any of our former voters who are threatening to throw their toys out the pram because of this deal. Good riddance I say.

You think the rest of us are all sitting comfortably with this deal? We had no real choice to begin with. In terms of numbers the Tories dominates the House of Commons. That is what peoples votes, this time translate too and we must respect that. It doesn't mean we have to like it.

It pains me that enough people have been duped by Mr Cameron's brand of "change" to bring us into this position. But the number of times the electorate has made mistakes can fill a book. But they still call the shots.

Democracy comes miles before progressivism. I for one will help ram that message down Labour's throat during the next election. It was their shortcomings that got us to here in the first place.

pat said...


First of all a massive congratulations on your re-election.

I read your contribution in "Just Politics" and was very impressed.

Turning to the coalition with the Conservatives. I really think this is the best of both worlds and I really hope that you two will make this work. I think it shows tremendous maturity that both parties have recognised that the country not only rejected labour but chose not to give the Tories a mandate to do as they pleased. Neither did they choose the Libdems. Despite the surge in the Liberals popularity during the polls - in the ballot box many people voted recognising that whilst they loved much of what the Libdems offered now was the time to deal with the economic crisis. The coalition reflects the will of the people and brings together the best of both manifestos. It delivers the key features of the Libdem manifesto and provides checks on some of the Tories more questionable policies. This is a new dawn for politics - where the national good is put above fears, prejudice and party interest. If this coalition is successful it will do much good to boosting the nation's confidence in venturing towards a change to the electoral system which will almost certainly deliver more coalition governments.

I am grateful that the leaders of the Libdems did not go for the politically easier option of going with Labour. That would have been very difficult for the nation to swallow. An unstable government, a rainbow coalition of the defeated and an unelected Prime Minister. Bad for the country and bad for the Libdems.

In the circumstances I believe the Libdems have chosen well.

Funnily enough the coalition mirrors the votes of my household and whilst we have our political differences and identity we know we are stronger together than apart. Even when sparks fly we know we are together for a special purpose worth fighting for.

I do hope this will be the same for the Libdems and the Tories and that both parties will make it work for the good of the nation.

Every blessing.


Andy said...

@Zac. It's not 'throwing toys out of the pram'. We voted on an assumption - and most LibDem candidates talked in their leaflets of being the best hope to stop the tories - that it was the best option of not getting a conservative government. I think it's pretty obvious that we are now feeling betrayed. Steve's majority was much reduced, so the protest vote is what got him elected.
I'm glad you'll be happy without my support. But I don't think Steve has much of a chance without the anti-tory vote.

Aslaw said...

Congratulations Steve on your re-election. Unfortunately, the coalition with the Tories "sticks in my throat". The Tories in South Gloucestershire are duplicitous and if they are typical of their national brethren, I don't want to know. I do have to balance my dismay by the fact that if we are to prove the worth of Proportional Representation we should support a government not dominated by a single party and hope it is successful. I trust those Lib Dem M.Ps. not actually in the government will continue to remind those who have posts not to turn native and to remember that they are and should think like Lib Dems.

Richard said...

Congratulations Steve and the Libdems. I am dismayed to read some of the 'tribal' comments here. I voted conservative, but you know what? I am delighted to see two parties working together for a strong government. 'Tories' are not pathalogically evil or genetically flawed as seems to be written in some of the posts - we have seen that actually, most politics is very close in this age. I was impressed with politicians of all parties in the last few days - including the elected labour MP's who bowed out honourably (not the non-elected mafia muscle). There are rogues in all parties - what better way to temper these than to work together with another party? Now all that needs to be done is to prove to the negative sceptics and media that it can work - I am sure you will play your part well.

Mark said...

To Andy and others who complain... Voting for Steve kept the Tories out of Thornbury & Yate and then helped stop them forming a majority right wing government in two stages. It works! Well done Steve and the team.

Bobzimmerman said...

Congratulations to Steve, who is a top-rate constituency MP. A thoroughly deserved win. Labour clearly gave up on this seat (as much as I would congratulate the very young candidate for her bravery in standing). I don't see it as a case of voting for Steve purely to keep the Tories out. In any case, we don't have a Tory government now - we have a coalition and the LibDem negotiators seem to me to have done a pretty amazing job in getting so much of their manifesto adopted. I would suggest that getting a real prospect of AV is on its own achievement enough. When you add in the HoL reform, the raised tax allowance, commitment to fixed term parliaments and a few other bits and pieces it looks a good package. Remember what Ken Clarke says 'all parties are coalitions'. Clegg and Cameron are very similar in so many respects and it is so good to see people co-operating and not attacking each other all the time. I hope it lasts.

Sam Mason said...

Hello Steve! I've been meaning for years to drop you a line and these last few days give the perfect opportunity. You might not have noticed that I'm a Lib Dem party member but here I am and I'm so happy about what's happened. Tonight I've heard on the News that you're now Minister Webb. How fantastic! I hope you'll enjoy the job and I know that you'll be very very good at it, working on my behalf as a party member and also as an old friend.

By now you'll be wondering who I am! You probably remember my old name, Stephanie, but I've been Sam Mason for a while.


Anonymous said...

As a non-constituent of Steve Webb and someone who has never voted Lib Dem in my life, I would like to express my delight that Steve has been given the opportunity to add his abilities to government. Over the last couple of years, directly due to advice and encouragement from Steve, my wife has had her meagre pension doubled and 1,000`s of £££`s paid to her in pension rights. Steve`s attitude to service in public life is an example to all those other MPs who have brought shame on their office.

Anonymous said...

I would congratulate you on your campaign victory Steve if it did not feel like you had immediately walked out and handed my vote over to the Conservatives. I find it funny that the party that campaigned for electoral reform has been so quick to disenfranchise so much of its voter base by jumping into bed with Cameron et al.

Whilst some will say that they have secured a guarantee on electoral reform please remember that the Conservatives not only have the right to oppose it, but as the majority partner in the coalition could easily sabotage it before it even gets off the ground.

I also do not believe as the press is currently trying to spin that the Lib Dems got an amazing deal. Other than a vote on electoral reform many of their key policies have gone by the wayside. Scrapping Trident is out the door, massive and immediate public sector cuts are on the way and the first sensible approach to immigration from any political party in years has been replaced by the policy equivalent of a Daily Mail column. I voted on a full range of policies, not just electoral reform and a couple of nods in direction of other policies such as the token change in income tax threshold so I do think my vote has been sold short.

As for Steve’s comments about not wanting to be criticised for going into agreement with any other parties, if the Lib Dems haven’t got the backbone to stand up to the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press, who let’s face it weren’t exactly on our side to begin with then they aren’t deserving of people’s votes. Other than the personal dimension, as we are told that one of the stumbling blocks to a Lib/Lab agreement was that many Liberal Democrat MPs don’t like Gordon Brown personally - would some form of agreement with Labour not have been more natural than what we currently have, and would probably be more likely to be accepted by the majority of voters of each party.

As to those who have commented that voting against the Conservatives is somehow negative – of course there is an element of this in an election and rightly so. Part of deciding who to vote for is tactical, and whilst the Lib Dems had the biggest number of policies I agreed with (and of course some I didn’t) part of it also has to be I voted to ensure that the party who has the majority of policies I disagreed with did not win. Steve knew this as his leaflets demonstrated, asking us to keep the Conservative party out.

Sadly Steve, until the Liberal Democrats show that they can be trusted with my vote I cannot in all good conscious vote for you or your party again.

Bobzimmerman said...

A few points in response to the latest anonyomus post :-

It's not a Tory government it's a coalition - we need to look at the 2 manifestos and the agreed programme. It's clear to me that both sides have compromised and it's understranduible given the maths that the Tories have the bigger mandate

AV - yes - many Tories will campaign against it - and maybe a lot of Labour supporters. But is we can't win the argument in a referendum then should it be imposed anyway? A referendum is democratic isn't it?

Re the press - the 'spin' is mostly hostile but the election has proved - hurrah!- that a right wing press cannot now deliver election results on a plate. The Mail's 'Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain' was a classic - as I understand it Clegg was responding - years and years ago - to an awful case where some Germans were hounded out of a workplace (Swindon?)by a bunch of Little Englanders. He made the reasonable point that some people in Britain have not reconciled themsleves to Germany's post war economic recovery.

The like for like replacement of Trident is not a foregone conclusion. Plenty of generals resent the colossal diversion of funds into something which will never ever be used.

Large scale public service cuts are totally inevitable under whatever party is in power. Labour's approach has been totally craven. Gordon Brown stuck his head in the sand and it's a credit to the coalition that they are facing up to our problems immediately.

I completely disagagree about cuddling up to Labour. I have seen the way they operate - close up - in local government and it is not pretty. If Gordon Brown (+Balls) was capable of backing the war in Iraq so unrepentantly; and also of undermining Tony Blair so baldly whilst behaving so sanctimoniously, just think what he'd have done to Clegg!

In any case - the numbers did not add up in support of a Lib/Lab coalition.

DELVIN said...

Good luck with the coalition.
I hope you are able to continue with your sterling support for the 500.000 British OAPs living abroad with frozen pensions. Thank you for your understanding. Some pensioners have had their pensions frozen for no good reason for decades, just because they live in a motley bunch of countries. It is a totally UNFAIR rule which makes sure that 500,000 pensioners can have their state pension indexed in one collection of countries but the other 500,000 living abroad have their pensions frozen, even if they paid the same amount into the National Insurance Fund. Not much of an insurance!

Noetic said...

You got the Tories to drop their inheritance tax cuts, adopt our £10K tax threshold and rise in capital gains tax. That alone has got to be worth it, well done! :)

Anonymous said...

First and foremost, congratulations to Steve. I vote for him as I believe he best represents my views in parliament, not because of the party he belongs to. This is a judgement I form at each election after attending hustings.

For those who decry the formation of a coalition with the Conservatives, they should recognise that collaboration across a political divide would always be needed should electoral reform be achieved in this country. I, for one, would be strongly against reforming the electoral system should it always give us a Lib/Lab pact by default. The fact that the LibDems and Conservatives have demonstrated that they can form a coalition goes a log way to convince me that voting reform would not lead to an eternally enduring Labour government propped up by the LibDems! Yes, there are some of us who are as upset by the thought of a Labour government as those who express the same thoughts about a Conservative one!

Finally, this is not a Conservative government, it is a mixed Conservative and Liberal Democrat one. To claim that the LibDems are simply propping up a Conservative government seems to ignore the extent of the compromise that has been made on both sides. Do we really think that the likes of Chris Huhne, Vince Cable, Nick Clegg and Steve Webb are going to simply do the bidding of a Conservative Prime Minister. I give them more credit that that!

Noetic said...

@Andy: We did stop the Tories. We'd likely have a Tory majority government otherwise. This way works better for both sides in the long run, but especially for the least well off in society.

Anonymous said...

As a supporter of electoral reform I have been hugely encouraged in these first few weeks of the coalition that this perhaps is the reform we so badly need. This is the reality of 'progressive' government; Labour hijacking of the word is just a smokescreen for their oudated and destructive politics of envy.
I sincerely believe the maturity of Libdem contribution will be rewarded as time will reveal the necessity of the difficult cuts brought about by the appalling financial mismanagement by the Labour government.
Those who threaten to withdraw their Libdem vote should direct their anger at the tax & spend socialist policies that created this mess, which started long before the banking crisis.
You can be assured of my vote if this coalition fulfils its early promise.
Your job now is to grasp the nettle of unsustainable public sector pensions, that those of us in the private sector had to accept some time ago. I'm confident you have the support of the silent majority in the country.

Anonymous said...

Radio4 6am
Laurie Penny is a 23 year-old recent graduate who writes for free on her blog Penny Red, and until recently was living in a house she described as a scene from 'Withnail She upholds the charge that it was the baby boomer generation that has spent all the money and messed up the economy for everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Can I just regiseter my disappointment that Steve Webb has not seen fit to set out his intentions on voting in the forthcoming vote on Tuition fees on his webiste or blog. This is a key issue which I think we deserve to clearly understand his postion. Whichever way he intends to vote he needs to stand up and be counted

Anonymous said...