Nearly a decade after the formation of the coalition it remains controversial. I’ve heard Labour supporters angry that Liberal Democrats didn’t form a coalition with Labour, and Conservatives angry about the things being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats stopped them doing.
In the mean time key Liberal Democrat achievements like pushing up the point where people start to pay income tax to £10,000, equal marriage and helping disadvantaged children with the Pupil Premium tend to get overlooked because they clearly work and have come to be seen as mainstream (even though it was an uphill battle to get them accepted). Forming the Green Investment Bank was a Liberal Democrat achievement, which has dipped below since it was sold by the Tories. This is one of a number of things where the harshness of the Conservative regime since the coalition gives an insight into the moderating influence of Liberal Democrats.
When it came to forming a coalition, Liberal Democrats had to recognise that the party with the largest number of MPs has the strongest claim to government. Labour and Liberal Democrats together would have been eight MPs short of a majority. Involving others in an “anyone but the Tories” government would have been a snub to the voters who had elected more people from the Conservative party than any other.
Coalitions are about compromise. The compromise over tuition fees was a particularly painful one. But the fallout of the economic crash of 2008 meant that things were still very fragile. The message from the markets was that stable government was essential. We could have put our beliefs ahead of the national interest and walked out of government, but keeping our consciences clear would have done significant damage to the economy.
It was obvious that Liberal Democrats would pay a high price at the ballot box for entering a coalition. I am proud that we were willing to put country ahead of party and accept this.
No coalition in 2019
In 2010 a coalition with the Conservatives happened, and would have been possible with Labour if they had more MPs. Both parties have now lurched to the extremes. In 2019 Liberal Democrats are clear that a coalition would not be possible either with the Conservatives under Boris Johnson or Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.
Liberal Democrats would work co-operatively with others to enable a democratic route out of Brexit and both to address the things that led people to vote for it and the division the referendum has sown.