The pasting of Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats back in the May general election, reducing the party from 56 seats to eight in the Commons, was both widely predicted and widely underestimated.
Since the vote many put down the destruction of the party to contamination from their Conservative coalition partners, with the party themselves complaining that they were often blamed for the bad decisions in government and snubbed for the good ones.
But digging through research by the pollster Michael Ashcroft – he of piggate fame – one finds more fundamental reasons for the collapse, namely the composition of the Liberal vote even before they entered coalition:
“Like a brand-new car that loses a chunk of its value the moment it is driven off the forecourt, the hitherto untarnished Lib Dems were bound to lose sections of their varied followers as soon as they entered government. This was not simply because which ever of the two main parties they chose to support in coalition, they would automatically upset a swathe of voters who preferred the other one. It was also because so many voted Lib Dem precisely because they did not expect the party to sully itself with office.”
As Ashcroft goes on to say, the Liberal vote included a “none of the above” contingent, who simply opposed the dominant Labour and Tory parties, as well as those who voted to block Labour or, more likely, the Tories from getting in.
This added up to some 23 percent of the vote on election day in 2010, which quickly crumbled to 10 percent for much of the parliament, or 8 percent on election day in 2015.
Ashcroft’s research does confirm that people appreciated the Liberals took the edge off the Tories nastiness, but “few could remember specific achievements.”
As such only 25 percent of those who picked the Liberal Democrats in 2010 chose them in 2015, with 33 percent switching to Labour, 20 percent to the Tories and 10 percent to Ukip, roughly speaking.
In the final analysis the Tory peer had this to say:
“Ultimately, however, the party’s problems did not stem from its decision to join the coalition, or from what it did in office, but from what it did to get there. In opposition, it had been all things to all voters: an impossible trick to sustain in government. The story of party’s fate is a parable that shows political opportunism will catch up with you in the end.”