How likely is a General Election in 2012?

by Ray_North on December 14, 2011

Last night the Lib-Dems abstained on the vote to pat David Cameron on the back for shrinking Britain’s role in World Politics. Ok, it was an abstention rather than a vote against the motion, but, it was the first coordinated sign of discontent from within the party and shows that the level of animosity amongst the Lib-Dems is growing.

I wrongly predicted Lib-Dem revolt months ago, and having been naive about the party’s position then, I’m not going to make any rash predictions now, particularly in the absence of anyone who is able to provide a challenge to the leadership of Clegg. But, it must be right that the coalition is less stable now than it was a week ago – the Lib-Dems are currently feeling foolish and thoroughly disheartened by their whole experience in government.

So what could they do?

Well, it appears to me that they have four options – first, do nothing and continue along their steady decline towards oblivion in 2015; second, the could attempt to re-draw the terms of the coalition in an attempt to make themselves look better. This is Clegg’s favoured plan, it’s a poor one, the best he will get is a few mealy-mouthed words from Cameron about still being in Europe and a lukewarm promise to set up schemes to help unemployment, it won’t save them; option three, is a formal withdrawal from the coalition and a new agreement to support the Tories piecemeal – this, actually, will be the most effective way in which the Lib-Dems could counter the rightward thrust of the Cameron government, but such a strategy would scare the party and Clegg has proved that he is not a strong enough leader to lead his party in such an arrangement; option four then, is full withdrawal and a vote to bring about an election.

So what do the Parties think about a general election in 2012? And how likely is it to happen?

Well, perversely an election next year would probably suit the Tories best – support for Labour and Ed Milliband is sluggish and the electorate still appear to blame the last Labour government for our economic travails; whilst, a disintegration of the Lib-Dem vote would assist the Conservative party more than Labour. David Cameron has a recklessly arrogant streak in him, and I could see him eventually reaching a point where he says to the Lib-Dems, it’s over, lets see what the electorate think.

Labour, don’t want a general election. They anticipate a worsening of the economic position and they hope that the electorate will grow to love Ed Milliband and forgive and forget Labour for the last days of Gordon Brown and the perceived failings of economic policy. They may be right about the former, but I wouldn’t bet on the latter.

If the Lib-Dems tried to bring down the government, then Labour would be presented with a massive dilemma as to whether they supported such a move or not. I suspect that at the end of the day, if they were going to appear credible, they would have to support the moves to bring the current Parliament to an end – anything else would be a tacit endorsement for the policies of the coalition.

My hunch is that none of the main parties have the stomach for a general election at the moment and that only a wholescale parliamentary revolt by the Lib-Dems will force the coalition to an end – but as that seems unlikely, the sad reality is that we’re probably set for at least another year of the Coalition.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East December 14, 2011 at 11:10 am

It will run through to 2015, unless Cameron decides to cut and run. Clegg’s only possible strategy is to hope that something turns up. It won’t, of course, but another 3 years on death row is better than 6 months.


George W. Potter December 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I’ve thought it before and now I’ll say it – you really don’t understand the Lib Dems do you?


Ray_North December 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hi George,
I think you need to expand on that mate!


George W. Potter December 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Okay, I’ll expand. The coalition is just as stable as it was a week ago – if anything I’d say it’s more stable as now you don’t have the right wing tory backbenchers agitating so much over Europe and because the Lib Dems now know that they have free reign to voice their opinions about the EU summit without it threatening to bring down the coalition.

The fact is that both parties in the coalition have clearly agreed to disagree about this issue. The Lib Dem line is obviously that, since they can’t undo what Cameron has done, they’ll criticize the outcome of the summit publicly, thereby asserting their independent voice, while Clegg and other key figures hurry around Europe trying to patch up the damage.

As a Lib Dem who’s also a member of a facebook group which contains around 600+ other Lib Dems) I can tell you that I have yet to see anyone advocating leaving the coalition over Europe. What this blog doesn’t seem to grasp is that we can passionately disagree with something without wanting to leave the coalition. It’s called compromise.

For example, we think the police commissioner elections are an idiotic idea but we grit our teeth and go along with it. Exactly in the same way that tories have been forced to grit their teeth and go along with Huhne’s eco-friendly policies.

I don’t think I have yet met a single party member who thinks we should leave the coalition. There’s a lot of people, myself included, who think we should alter the way we handle coalition, but to think the coalition is destabilised because of this is just as ignorant as those who think that we’re divided into two armed camps constantly at each other’s throats. In fairness, this is a problem that most non Lib Dem political creatures have – mainly because you assume that the Lib Dems are the same as other parties with the same kind of internal splits and struggles.

The fact is that, as a party, we democratically reached the decision to go into, and commit to, coalition. I have yet to see any signs of us changing our minds about this before 2015.


George_East December 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

“Non-Lib Dem political creatures”?
I think to be fair to Ray, his Lib Dem credentials are pretty impressive.


Ray_North December 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Hi George Potter,
Thank you for your more substantive reply. Indeed as I read it I realise that your original comment was totally correct – I don’t understand Liberal Democrats, I understand them less and less, and, as time goes on, I’m starting to think that perhaps I have never understood them.
I would however, like to challenge a couple of things you say – first, you suggest that the Tory back-benchers will no longer agitate over Europe – do you really think that’s true? My hunch is that when the Bail Out Fund is debated by the House Commons in the coming months, the Tory right, will start to agitate in a big way.
As for the issue of compromise – this blog (I speak personally here), is actually quite keen on political compromise – and a proper coalition agreement should be based upon compromise – what we have always felt however, is that the Coalition, is not based upon political compromise or political pragmatism, but is actually a relationship between one party that is hell-bent on moving forward with what is a philosophically based political agenda, and another party, that has been unable or unwilling to curb that – as such on all the big issues, the economy, the NHS, Europe etc, the Lib-Dems have not compromised they’ve rolled over. (and your example of Chris Huhne’s eco-friendly policies isn’t a good one, given Osborne’s budget is it)
You suggest that no Lib-Dem member thinks that the party should leave the coalition. Well, I’m not too sure about that either – you will have noted the letters in the Guardian today from some very senior (albeit non-Parliamentary) Lib-Dems, I also happen to know that there are moves afoot to evoke Clause 6.6 of the Lib-Dem constitution which would, as I’m sure you know, force a Special Conference of the Party with a challenge to the leadership. It will take the signatories of 100 constituencies, which is a lot, but if it doesn’t happen soon, it may happen if the Local Elections next Spring are as catastrophic as the polls are predicting.
You are right, however, that the Lib-Dems are not a tribal party and there is an absence of the overt internecine warfare that you might get in other parties – and that is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean that the party hierarchy will act and act ruthlessly if it feels it is necessary – you ask Menzies Campbell or Charles Kennedy about that!
On the whole though, you are probably right, the Lib-Dems will almost certainly stay in the coalition until 2015, but, I fear that by then the Lib-Dems and the country will be irretrievably stuffed!
Finally, you seem to think that I am in some way ill-disposed towards the Lib-Dems or that I have only a limited association with the party – well, you couldn’t be more wrong on both counts.
I wish you and the party well and hope that you continue to engage with this blog and encourage others to do so as well, because we want to hear from as many people as possible.


George W. Potter December 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Of course they’ll agitate – but the summit outcome has effectively split the more moderate eurosceptic tory backbenchers away from the complete nutters (such as Nadine Dorries). This in fact makes the coalition more stable in that regard as most tories will feel they’ve won something over Europe and be less likely to agitate.

On the issue of compromise, I think there’s a certain amount of selective vision here. The fact is that the Lib Dems have got 75% of their policies, including their four key manifesto pledges, implemented. Now, there’s definitely debate to be had over how much or how little they’ve really gotten and whether it was worthwhile – but saying that there is no compromise at all, or so little as to be meangingless, really doesn’t bear any relation to the reality of the situation.

I don’t think that no Lib Dem members want to leave the coalition. What I do know is that I haven’t encountered any – and I encounter a fair bit of Lib Dem discussion. What I’m absolutely certain of is that they are in a minority. As such, any move to envoke Clause 6.6 (which, unless I’m mistaken, requires a number of local parties which is somewhat different from 100) would be unlikely to succeed.

After all, I know plenty of Lib Dems who think we made a mistake going into coaliton but who wouldn’t advocate leaving simply because they think it would be more damaging than staying in. Which, incidentally is something I agree with. One thing that I think can be certain is that bottling it half way through and losing our nerve would fail to regain the support we’ve lost and would also alienate any new support we might have picked up – as such, it’s effectively suicide unless done on an issue where we can genuinely claim the moral high ground (such as if Cameron decided to nuke France).

The party hierarchy can and will act ruthlessly – but they have much less power to do so than they do in other parties. I’d also imagine that the “hierarchy” you’re thinking of is different to the one which actually exists.

I view as a litmus test, what Tim Farron is saying. A large chunk of the membership agree with him and he’s certainly the only plausible potential challenger to Clegg at this stage. And he is certainly committed to coalition at the moment – albeit as a critical friend – something which many other Lib Dems also are. After all, not even Liberator are calling for leaving the coalition.

Personally, I doubt that both the country will be irretrievably damaged by the next election. There’s no doubt that the Lib Dems will lose votes in 2015 but, as always, reports of Lib Dem demise have been greatly overexagerated.

In fairness, I didn’t realise until after I’d made my initial comment that this blog was a collective of different authors. In general, I have found posts on this blog to fail to understand the Lib Dems and to make statements about them based more on wishful thinking rather than reality.

Eddie Kaye December 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

OK, so they have 4 choices…let’s narrow them down.

1) Do nothing – it has been their buffer between power and electoral humiliation for the past 18 months. They can do this and ride the Tory ticket to 2015. I don;t feel the electroate is buying their ‘plausable deniability’ excuse of being the junior partner, and having to tow the line. Personally, I think they will hang onto this and pray for a miracle.

2) Re-draw the agreement – correct, they will get some half arsed promises in return, but they have been there already. If anything they are weakened in this negotation compared to when the coalition was formed, especially as Labour pose no realistic threat under Milliband. It is counter-productive to Clegg, and Cameron has the upper hand. They might try this as you say, but it is a backward step they can only come out of worse.

3) Withdraw and leave the Tories as a minority government. This would be the best way, even with concessions to back them on some issues…it might see a watering down of the Conservatives basically Thatcherite rhetoric. However, they won’t do this as they would lose their seats in the cabinet, and will feel it is better to be in the tent pissing out. Turkeys voting fro Christmas option 1 in other words.

4) The Turkeys voting for Christmas mark 2. They would be annihalted at the ballot box, their own support will defect to the Tories in droves leaving the Lib Dems back 30 years+, and the Tories with a 5 year blank chequebook. Labour would not win, not that that would make much difference. If by some miracle Labour were the largest party in a hung Parliament, would they look to the Lib Dems to form a coalition (something definitely not acceptable to Milliband while Clegg remains in charge).

I think unless something drastic happens (ie defections en masse to Labour from the left of the Parliamentary Party, a massive run of by-election losses), then ‘death by a thousand cuts will be their preffered method of disposal.


Mike Killingworth December 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Option 3 is technically known as “confidence and supply”. As you say, it’s probably their least bad tactic.

Whether they pursue it will depend on two factors: first, how addicted to the red boxes and other trappings of office their ministers are, and secondly on what Paddy Ashdown thinks. He is surely the Keeper of his Party’s conscience – I can’t see Clegg, Huhne or even Cable taking him on in a fair fight, can you?


George_East December 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm

‘Confidence and supply’ was always what they should have done – from the very beginning. They would have had WAY more leverage. What they did instead was give a Thatcherite Conservative Party which had failed to win an election against a tired government led by the least popular Prime Minister since records began in a time of economic crisis, a majority of 80 to do pretty much whatever the hell it likes. As for compromise? A compromise does not consist of agreeing to sell your most fundamental principles down the river in return for the other guy agreeing to something he was perfectly content to do anyway. That is called capitulation.


Ray_North December 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

George – absolutely – that’s what it has been a lesson in political capitulation.


George_East December 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I think George W Potter, it may be you who has swallowed the wishful thinking pills if you think that the Tories are going to be satisfied with the Cameron veto. What you are forgetting is the Tory nutters are now the mainstream on this issue – this is a party that is far more Eurosceptic than the John Major Tory party (and that was mad enough) – 81 of them defied a three line whip to vote for an In/Out referendum, remember. The centre of gravity in the Conservative Party may not actually be far from ‘withdrawal’ now. As a result of the veto, their tails are up and they hold Nick Clegg in way more contempt than we do. These are the people you are in bed with.
We on this site have on the whole been pretty realistic about the possibility of the Coalition coming unstuck before it runs its course. Indeed the the most likely way in which it happens, is the Tories decide to cut and run as they think they can get an overall majority – the agitation for this has already started within sections of the party. If they build up a sufficient lead in the polls, it is a real possibility. But as you say there is no realistic chance the Lib Dems will walk out. I suspect that even if Cameron did nuke France, the party would convince itself that it was a price worth paying for the pupil premium.


George W. Potter December 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm

“I suspect that even if Cameron did nuke France, the party would convince itself that it was a price worth paying for the pupil premium.”

And it’s comments like that why I think this blog is seriously out of touch with reality.


Ray_North December 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm

George, George – come on mate – I think, and I may be wrong here, it’s a wild stab in the dark, but I think that George East was being ironic – you must have irony in Hogwarts!

Saracasticus Ironicus!


David Blythin December 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm

“I suspect that even if Cameron did nuke France, the party would convince itself that it was a price worth paying for the pupil premium.”…….a near hyperbole that made me laugh out loud and which is obviously too close to the bone.


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