Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition 190

I argue urgently that we Lib Dems should not enter into any formal pact with anyone, but should remain in opposition to a minority Conservative and Unionist government.

I won’t pretend that last night was not horribly disappointing, as First Past The Post radically distorted our representation as usual. I went through this disappointment before, in February 1974 , in the election that first brought me in to political activity. Then, there was an even greater buzz about Jeremy Thorpe than there has been about Nick Clegg – and Thorpe was a spectacularly charismatic figure.

Third party politics really had seemed utterly dead in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Thorpe had inherited a parliamentary party that really could squeeze into a taxi, and Thorpe’s style, underpinned by Jo Grimond’s genuine radicalism, was an achievement more stunning than anything the Liberals or Lib Dems have managed since. It seemed to represent a re-ordering of the political system to accommodate the radical social changes of the 1960’s (and remember it was Liberal MP David Steel’s private member’s bill which liberalised abortion).

When Thorpe’s Liberal Party’s opinion polls rating during the first 1974 campaign hit the 23% level the Lib Dems gained yesterday, that was a quadrupling of support. When the actual percentage share at the ballot was 19.3% it was a huge letdown – and incredibly, 19.3% gave the Liberals just 14 seats – probably the most infamous result FTPT has ever delivered. 19.3% of the vote for 2.3% of the seats!!

That election morning was worse than this one. I had, age 15, worked almost every single non-school hour for 4 months leading up to the election, and had not slept for 96 hours, being out delivering leaflets. I shall never forget the burning sense of injustice.

The second election in October 1974 led to the Lib-Lab pact, which actually was highly succesful for three years in rescuing a near Greek economic situation. But the Liberals got no credit for it. The “Winter of Discontent” actually occurred after the Liberals withdrew from the Lib-Lab pact, but nonetheless the Liberals were swept backwards by Thatcherism in 1979.

That could easily repeat now. A Lib-Lab pact to claw back the dire economic situation would almost certainly be followed in time by a massive Tory backlash for keeping New Lab in power and losses of Lib Dems seats.

On the other hand, we have the scenario I blogged as tempting before yesterday’s vote:

a Cameron administration, with a tiny majority, propped up by some Northern Irish bigots, would inflict such pain on the majority of our society that, before falling after a few years, they would put the Tories out for a generation at least.

In so doing, they would greatly enhance the cause of Scottish and Welsh independence, and with the Lib Dems the second most popular party and the challenger in the large majority of Tory seats, the Tory demise would sweep in a radical change in more promising circumstances.

I rejected this scenario in favour of a good Lib Dem performance yesterday – but given the actual result, I believe the above is the best scenario we have. Let the Tories run a minority administration with unpleasant allies, restraining their excesses. In the next general election the Lib Dems will poised nationally to pick up a huge bonanza of Tory seats. Cameron will meantime be in the minority government position that killed Callaghan and Major electorally. But he will also face the problem that the electorate always punish anyone who inflicts an unnecessary election on them.

So play it long and cool. Resist the tempations of instant power and ministerial limousines, and especially resist blandishments of referenda on electoral reform in which the entire Murdoch and Tory media empires will again be deployed against us to devastating effect.

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190 thoughts on “Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition

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  • brian

    Come off it, Nick will keep those oiks out of Downing Street by fagging for Dave, it’s in his (blue) blood.

  • Frazer

    Cheer the last one you polled more votes than Esther Rantzen did this time..

  • Abe Rene

    Without the Lib Dems, assuming that a large Blairite faction does not join them, the Tories will probably not be able to form a government. Then we will likely soon have a second general election.

  • Sam

    Agreed – I think in many ways this is the best outcome. The Lib Dems have brought the issue of electoral reform to the forefront of politics. Now lets let the Tories try and get on with slashing public spending while protecting financial interests of Wall Street and the City – it won’t take people long to see their true colours. By the time of the next election people will be ready for more radical change.

    In the meantime, I think an important focus should be on the control of the media – more people are waking up to the power that people like Rupert Murdoch has over British politics, and we should do everything we can to try and combat this. Starting with trying to get Murdoch to pay taxes.

  • chundernuts

    if the lib dems side with the tories they can be sure I will never vote for them again.

  • Tony

    If the Libs Dems step aside and allow a minority Tory government through, then that government will fall within the year. In the following election people will only vote one of two ways – Tory or Labour – in order to avoid another hung parliament.

    The Lib Dem vote will collapse (they also have no money left) and voting reform will be kicked back into the long grass.

  • kathz

    Agreed. David Cameron may have the right to try to govern but that’s no reason to prop him up. 64% of the electorate voted against the tories – their policies do not have a mandate.

    In the meantime, something needs to be done urgently about the way elections are run. The list of abuses and incompetence – people queuing for 3 hours and not allowed to vote, polling stations turning people away because they’ve run out of ballot papers, polling stations turning registered voters away because they’re using an old register, postal votes lost in bulk – undermines democracy.

    A Kenyan election observer was treated with amused condescension when he was interviewed on Radio 4, as though he’d come here to learn how to run an election. I want to hear the conclusions he and other observers reached.

  • Craig

    Abe –

    remember Sinn Fein don’t turn up. The Tories plus DUP have plenty for a minority govt – plenty of precedents for that.

  • Craig


    but why is it morally better to prop up a bunch of war criminals who hould be in jail in The Hague?

  • George Dutton

    Had to come back on…My last post here.

    Back in the late 1990s/2000 while watching the Conservative party conference at Blackpool on television… I can only tell it as it happened…

    Outside the conference hall two members of the Conservative party stood waiting to be interviewed (they were not MP’s but were high up’s in the party) they were asked… “What is the big talking point on the floor of this years conference”… the reply floored me this is what they said…

    “It is clear that people don’t know how to use their vote.We left this country in the best economical state it has ever been in and now Labour will ruin it all.The big talking point on the floor is who should be allowed to vote should it be done on academic achievement or given to those who create the wealth or a combination of the two.” The other one concurred.

    Please note it seems the decision to take the vote away from us had already been decided.

    Given that nothing happens on the floor of Conservative party conference without being instgated from above should frighten anyone that cares about democracy.The video of this must still be available in the archives of the BBC/Sky.Why I wonder are the Conservative party getting their members ready for a fascist state.After watching the documentary of what nearly happened to Harold Wilson’s government it becomes even more frightening…

    As this Accelerating World Financial Crisis / Collapse happens and will be VERY VERY bad I now think that when the Tories do get back into power we will NEVER have another free election here in the UK. The excuse the Tories will give is in the above… they will say it’s for the best as they are the only ones that can run the economy and point to and blame Labour for the mess and say it must never happen again. It looks to me now that it was all planned out sometime ago and that those who now run/hijacked Labour (New Labour) are hand in hand with the Tories to bring this about. After all remember … “What is the big talking point on the floor off this years conference”… strange that that was the reply they gave above… not what you would have thought they would say… Time will tell but I have a terrible feeling about all this.

    Note:I wrote the above on a blog sometime ago.


    “it must never happen again”

    If you listen to David Cameron speak from the election platform, after being elected last night, he said… “it must never happen again”

    “I have a terrible feeling about all this.”

    Another election soon? (A last one,for us?). The tories will need a large majority to get the above through parliament…I think they will get it…Time will tell.

  • mary

    George – what do you mean?… My last post here…

    I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it does. You will be missed very much.

  • mary

    Me again. Norwich North result just in. Chloe Smith wins and increases her share of the vote by 10%. My depression increases.

  • Ed

    If Cameron is ready to offer electoral reform, Clegg would be doing the Lib Dems a disservice by rejecting the offer.

    If Cameron is offering a restoration of subverted civil liberties, then Clegg would be doing the country a disservice by rejecting the offer.

    I don’t believe Cameron is very willing to offer either… but if he does, Clegg should consider the offer seriously.

    This has obviously been a lousy night for Lib Dems, but there is a potential silver lining. And hopefully Clegg and his people will not let their present disappointment cloud their judgement if they are presented with an opportunity to carry out an agenda which embraces some core liberal principles.

    It’s far from ideal, but at some point, it may become an opportunity too good to pass up.

  • Craig


    You overhear lots of silly talk in the margins of Tory Party conferences. To extrapolate from that to a real threat to our (imperfect) democracy is daft.

  • Anonymous

    ‘margins of Tory Party conferences’

    “What is the big talking point on the floor of this years conference”


  • David

    I think its getting a bit far feached to say that if the tories get power they will end the rights of people to vote. I suspect that most of the senior members of all the big partys would secretly love to do that… on their own terms of course.

    Lib-Dems to support the Cons, not such a bad idea when you think about it, get past the idealistic party politics and scaremongering, the economy is in a total mess, like it or not the Conservatives do have a history of fixing broken economies, they also tend to slash public services, but at the moment part of the problem is the massive increase in public employees and its hurting us, so no great loss if they go. Time they went. The choice is simple cut or tax. I pay enough tax for the rubbish services I get and dont want to pay more just to fund government inefficiency.

    Personally I would welcome a Con / Lib-dem alliance, I think it will only bring good to this country, Conservative economic management with a liberal tilt. Sounds interesting to me.

    I dont care who runs the country, I just care that they do it properly, and labour has destroyed our economy, destroyed our libertys, lied, cheated and stolen its way through the last decade. If they dont go now then god help us all, frankly just about anything is better than another 5 years of the Brown / Medlesome combination.

    Although to be totally frank… hung parliament ? I’ll gladly supply the rope !

  • Anonymous


    “64% of the electorate voted against the tories – their policies do not have a mandate.”

    The Tories have the same percentage of the votes cast as the last New Labour government. In the modern world no-one ever has a “mandate” in the sense of the active support of half the electorate.

    Personally, I have wanted an anti-Blair/Brown coalition government ever since they took over the Labour Party. The last 13 years have seemed like a SF movie – the aliens have replaced the Labour Party with a bunch of doppelgangers.

    If the Lib Dems can find any way to work with the Tories I’d be prepared to put on one of Polly Toynbee’s clothes pegs and go along with that, in the hope that the aliens would f*** off and let the Labour Party rebuild itself as a genuine left-of-centre party.

    But I’m not holding my breath. Another election in October seems the likeliest outcome at present…

  • steve

    What the hell are you talking about 67% decided that they dont want the tories? You are speaking shit, Labour has been acting like tinpot dictators with a lot less of a mandate than the tories have just got. For god sake admit it the bloody labour lot have lost so get over it. I am no tory but stop wriggling the system sucks when you can get 2 million more votes than labour. Lets stop squabling and get on with ruling the country and reforming this corrupt system.

  • Clark


    your dismissal of George Dutton’s fears is too strong – remember the Poll Tax? Thatcher actually tried to do just this.

    On the other hand, they didn’t manage such a thing with a large majority. On the current figures, they don’t stand a chance.

  • MJ

    Given there’s little of substance to distinguish between the parties, arriving at some kind of coalition agreement shouldn’t be too difficult. The one alliance that isn’t being discussed is a Lab/Con coalition, yet they have ample common ground to make it work. The dreaded GNU, just as Ruth has been predicting here for several weeks.

  • Craig

    Yes, if Cameron has any sense he is making back door approaches to right wing Nulab figures offering them Cabinet seats to cross the floor – Hazell Blears for example.

  • Clark


    remember that it was Thatcher (with Reagan) that originally removed the credit controls. Yes, Labour failed to restore them. But the Conservatives knackered the economy last time, trashed manufacturing, instigated the house price problem…

    “We only have one party and it has two right wings” or something. Is it any wonder that we fly in circles?

  • Craig

    Clark – not you too. I am as anti-Tory as anyone, but the idea that any significant proportion of Conservatives want to abolish democracy is looney tunes stuff. Sort of on a par with believing Dick Cheney did 9/11.

  • Clark


    not abolish, merely curtail. Was the Poll Tax not just that? But they won’t get away with it just now, there aren’t enough of them, I glad to say.

  • Craign


    The Poll Tax was simply the Tory ideal of regressive tazation – make the commoners pay instead of scrounging, reduce the burden on the deserving stinking rich. Crass and unpleasant, but it was not a secret agenda to drive the proles off the electoral register.

  • Clark


    that is your speculation about the motives of some 300 MPs. It had the effect of reducing voter registration, and led to riots.

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