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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: April 2015

18 - The coalition and the Liberal Democrats

Summary

The Liberal Democrats now face a slow and painful death at the hands of the voters.

MARK STUART, POLITICAL SCIENTIST (2011)

The one thing I'm not prepared to do is be the last leader of the Lib Dems.

NICKCLEGG MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (2012)

The ultimate failure of attempts to use the party's policy process as a way of controlling the decisions of the party within government has strongly reinforced [the] feeling of disillusion.

DAVID HOWARTH, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MP FOR CAMBRIDGE, 2005–10 (2014)

First phase: Power and (un)popularity, 2010

On 12 May 2010, Nick Clegg did what his predecessors Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy had failed to do, and led his party into power following a general election. With the title of Deputy Prime Minister and accompanied by four other Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers, Clegg might have been forgiven for feeling a measure of satisfaction at ensuring the first ministerial offices for politicians in the liberal tradition since the Second World War. The Liberal Democrats had, at last, achieved what had been much vaunted since their formation – the credibility of power. Here was their chance, finally, to ‘break the mould of British politics’.

For some scholars, such as Emma Sanderson-Nash (a former Liberal Democrat party staffer), this was the result of the ‘modernization’ of the party, the increased ‘professionalization’ of the Liberal Democrats which had been the hallmark of Clegg's tenure as party leader. The professionalization of the party meant that it had been in a position to seize the opportunity of a hung parliament to forge an effective coalition agreement and enter into government. An alternative reading might be that having emphatically lost the election, the Liberal Democrats nonetheless found themselves in a fortuitous position due to the inability of either of the two main parties to win it.

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