From coalition to catastrophe: the electoral meltdown of the Liberal Democrats

David Cutts, Andrew Russell

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30 Citations (SciVal)


On the coalition negotiations in May 2010, William Hague is reported to have told his wife, Ffion: ‘I think I've just killed the Liberal Democrats.’1 The final agreement was signed off on 20 May 2010. It seems the fate of the Liberal Democrats might have been sealed. After barely one month in coalition, the party's poll rating had fallen by 8%. Three months on and three weeks before Lord Browne's report on Higher Education and Student Finance, it had more than halved to 11%.

By the seven month anniversary of the coalition agreement, a YouGov poll in the Sun2 had the Liberal Democrats languishing at 8%. It was never to recover. The party's collapse was complete. Four and half years later it polled 8%, its worst UK- wide share of the vote for 45 years. Even on election night party grandees were in denial. In reaction to the BBC/ITN/SKY exit poll suggesting that the number of Liberal Democrat MPs will be reduced from 57 to 10, Lord Ashdown retorted: ‘I can tell you—that is wrong. If these exit polls are right, I'll publicly eat my hat’. The exit poll was wrong, but actually understated the Conservative march into Liberal Democrat territory. Only eight Liberal Democrats survived; the party's MPs, once described as the ‘cockroaches of UK politics’ by former Party President Tim Farron, proved to be far from resilient in face of a Labour onslaught and a brutal Conservative micro-targeting blitz. The morning after the night before, Nick Clegg resigned as leader having taken the party's representation in Westminster backwards at two successive General Elections. The fall from the heights of Cleggmania to meltdown is the focus of this analysis, which examines whether the Liberal Democrats' position was ever salvageable? Did the Liberal Democrats compound mistakes which made …
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-87
Number of pages18
JournalParliamentary Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


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