I have long been something of a fan of the Liberal Democrats (and their immediate predecessors in the Alliance). So the result of the election saddens me to an extent. While (ex-)party leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg held his seat, several of their best MPs, like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, were dumped. This is a loss for British politics.
It is obvious that the party was punished by many of its previous voters for choosing to go into coalition with the Tories when many of their supporters would have expected them to partner with Labour if the opportunity ever came up. However, let’s put the strategic choice in context and ponder the alternatives the party’s leaders faced.
I suspect they would have fared worse from a coalition with Labour given that (1) Labour had clearly lost the 2010 election going from a majority to second place, and (2) It would have been a minority coalition dependent for survival on the SNP (and others).
The more interesting question is what would have happened if they had just agreed to back a minority Tory government, which was what I expected at the time.
The reason for not doing that was probably the fear that the Tories would call an early election and win a majority. The coalition, and the passage of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, prevented that. However, the political situation, as it turned out over the five-year term, meant that an early election was never in the Tories’ interests anyway, and in the end the Tories still won a majority. Would the LibDems have benefitted in this election from not being in power, and making the case that only liberalism could save the union? Yes, I think they would have. Maybe we’d be looking today at a real chance of a Lab-Lib coalition, which would have 4-5 seats in Scotland and an ambitious program of political reform.
On the (minimally) bright side: The LibDems retain seats in England, Scotland, and Wales. Liberal ideas, still bridging divides. I hope the party will recover from this setback. It is too long and significant a fixture of the UK scene to whither away.
And I still agree with Nick.