The coalition was the best option in May 2010, and it's the best option now

Why Lib Dem members should support their leadership.

Liberal Left's opposition to the Liberal Democrats' involvement in the coalition, as set out by here Linda Jack, is based on a number of questionable premises and an unwillingness to consider the realistic alternatives.

The group's vice-chair, Richard Grayson, criticises what he sees as the party's change of view on the deficit. He is wrong. Pre-election, Vince Cable's key message on the deficit was that a judgement on the timing of austerity had to be based on economics rather than politics or ideology. On that basis, in the run up to the election, the party adopted the working assumption that cuts would start in earnest in 2011-12, with some savings made immediately as a "down payment".

Yet by the time of the coalition negotiations the economic situation had changed. Alistair Darling was attending emergency meetings in Brussels as the threat of contagion loomed large over Europe. With one of Europe's biggest budget deficits, Britain was in a perilous position. And it's for this reason that the party's judgement changed. And in my view we've been proved right - yes, the economy might be growing more slowly than we would like, but the deficit is coming down and we avoided being caught in the centre of the fiscal crisis that spread through Europe.

And there is a more compelling reason why Liberal Left are wrong to oppose our involvement in the coalition: the alternatives would have been much, much worse.

A coalition with Labour and a number of the smaller parties in Parliament was never a serious proposition, both because of the numerical difficulties and because of Labour's intransigence. In hindsight it's clear that most in the Labour party weren't interested in joining a coalition. They'd rather be in opposition.

A confidence and supply arrangement was another option, but in my view those who think this would have been better for either the country or the Lib Dems are mistaken; it would have all the downsides of coalition with few of the benefits.

That left only a coalition or a minority Tory administration. Within weeks of forming a minority government, George Osborne would have produced the most populist, tax-cutting budget imaginable and, when it failed to get through the Commons, David Cameron would have visited Her Majesty, Parliament would have been dissolved and a new general election - probably in autumn 2010 - would have ensued. And at this point, both Labour and the Tories would have had one message: "it's time for you to vote for one of us - the Lib Dems have rejected the option of power". The Lib Dems would have been squeezed like never before; every marginal - virtually every Lib Dem seat - would be vulnerable. We'd have been reduced to a miniscule Parliamentary Party.

And the Tories would have got their majority. Even the most anti-coalition of Lib Dems can't seriously say that that would have been a preferable option.

The combination of being in government and being members of a truly democratic party leaves Lib Dem members with an immense amount of influence. We should use it as best we can to make this government is fair and as liberal as possible - not blindly supporting but constructively engaging, working with Lib Dem ministers, who we know to be honest, caring liberals, to achieve as much as possible.

We won't always get our own way, as we shouldn't as a party that received 22 per cent of the vote and fewer than one in ten seats in the Commons at the last election. But we are punching above our weight to implement hundreds of long-standing party policies.

Going into coalition was the best option for the Liberal Democrats and for the country, and the arguments why remain just as compelling today as they did on 11 May 2010. Party members must concentrate on making it work, for the country and for the party. Opposing from the sidelines is no solution at all.

Nick Thornsby is a Liberal Democrat member and activist. His own blog can be found here

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.