It’s 10 years since the Lib Dem-Tory austerity coalition birthed Brexit and our brutal tribalism

David Cameron and Nick Clegg (CC BY 3.0)

Mike Parker

Last weekend, in a sterling attempt to keep the political nerds out from under everyone else’s feet, the BBC Parliament channel kindly laid on a repeat of their coverage of the 2010 general election.  The whole thing: from exit poll to exhausted speculation about the mathematics necessary to forge a coalition, in what transpired to be the first hung parliament since 1974.  It was only ten years ago this month, yet had the sheen of antiquity you generally associate with Boxing Day movies: It Could Have Been a Wonderful Life perhaps.

No surprise, Ifan Morgan Jones (of this parish) was watching too.  Once the bulk of the results were in, and daylight had broken over the hollow-eyed pundits in the studio, he tweeted: “they’ve begun discussing coalitions and I’m yelling ‘no, don’t do it!’ at the LibDems as if they were a teenage couple sneaking into a haunted house in a horror movie.”

Ah, the LibDems.  Remember them?  They were huge news ten years ago.  After the first-ever leaders’ debate in British election history, “I agree with Nick” Clegg’s party soared in the polls, topping a few.  On the weekend after that debate, the Sunday Times declared that according to their polling, Clegg was the most popular British political leader since Churchill (the prime minister that is, not the nodding dog; that was to come much later at Facebook).

The election night coverage was all about the LibDems.  When the exit poll was published as the clocks struck ten, the only talking point was that no-one believed its prediction of the party actually losing seats.  How the pundits, normally so right about almost nothing, scoffed at that one.  But it was true: for all the heady Cleggmania, they slipped back, even managing to lose Montgomeryshire, a seat that they’d held continuously (bar four years) since 1880.

Despite the setback, they were still the focus of discussion for days, as the Tories and Labour both wooed them furiously.  Nick Clegg fluttered like a heroine in a Victorian melodrama, before spurning Gordon ‘Heathcliff’ Brown, and caving in to the wily charms of David ‘Flashman’ Cameron.  After professing undying love in the number 10 rose garden, Flashman took Clegg home and inflicted years of psychological torture on him, and on us all.  He was always careful to leave no visible scars.

Was this when the die was cast for the horrible mess that is our politics today?  There is a case to be made, I think.  Of course, there would still be a pandemic regardless of who was in government, and ‘populism’, that slithery codeword for assorted shades of actual fascism, would still have risen all over the globe. But 2010 marked a watershed, and it’s one that’s worth unpicking.

 

Monster

Firstly, it did for the LibDems.  In some ways, they deserved it, for their utter hubris: that they could buck two hundred years of history and somehow tame the Tory party, the most ruthless political machine in western Europe; that they were fobbed off so easily with nonsense like the AV referendum; that many of them so clearly loved the baubles of power way more than its judicious application.

Trouble is though, they took down with them (at least in the short term) the flame of liberalism, one needed so much right now, but which is sputtering badly in these harsh winds.  They gave Cameron an easy run and six clear years to demonise and then decimate the public sector, the effects of which we are so painfully grappling with in the current emergency.  The coalition gave Farage and his fellow travellers all the oxygen they could handle and more; it birthed Brexit and the brutal tribalism that went with it.

In Wales, the 2010 election inadvertently acted as a catalyst for another key ingredient in the unpalatable political diet of the past decade, the endlessly circular blame game.  A new Conservative-LibDem coalition at Westminster coincided with the final year of a Labour-Plaid coalition in Cardiff Bay; suddenly, everyone – and no-one – was in power.  It was a perfect storm for scapegoating, and through the middle sailed the wreckers.  They couldn’t believe their luck.

Yet those were the nice guys, and the good old days!  Since 2016 the Tories have shape-shifted into an even freakier monster.  They’ve eaten UKIP and the Brexit party alive, their full banquet of fruitcakes and racists included, made ever more explicit their fundamental dislike of devolution, booted out anyone with experience or a bit of a conscience, sold what was left of their soul to the darkest operatives in the game, and in December, filled parliament with people so grim, any contact will have you wanting to scrub your hands for hours.  On that at least perhaps, they seemed to know what was coming.

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Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

This is daft. The account given is pretty much as it was, but to claim as it does in the headline that “2010 coalition birthed Brexit and brutal tribalism” is to ignore everything that had gone before. The jingoistic narrative that has evolved into today’s nasty script has been rumbling away under the surface for the last half of the 20th century. Enoch’s rants way back in 60’s and early 70’s, Maggie’s Falklands War, Blair’s disastrous adventures into Afghanistan and Iraq, even the rebellious Tories of Major’s tenure all speak of a rumbling nastiness that surged to the surface from… Read more »

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

Well I really can’t let ‘birthed Brexit and the brutal tribalism that went with it’ pass. What’s more ‘brutally tribalist’ than the baying Remoaners of the Left? The only difference as far as I can see (though a fairly significant one) is that your lot went over to support a foreign power, while our lot gathered loyally around the flag of the United Kingdom. Equally absurd, from a lofty Martian perspective, perhaps; but not really an effective jibe from a terrestrial Marxist and political loser. You do make me laugh with your nonsense. Somebody really should have told you not… Read more »

Penderyn
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Penderyn

If you actually talked to the left wingers you read up on their ideologies….whatever you think – many were brexit supporters …. dont confuse lib dems with old school left wingers

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

‘Penderyn’ – Since Dafydd Iwan, former President of Plaid Cymru, for which Party this chap from Kidderminster left his English heritage, to stand as representative for Ceredigion in the 2015 General Election, is on record as characterising Mr Parker as holding ‘outspoken left-field radical views’ I feel no confusion whatever concerning my opinion of this gentleman’s politics, and consequently no compunction in declining to alter my view that he was a Red Marxist masquerading as ‘Y Ddraig Goch.’ The Welsh electorate soon penetrated that disguise, and declined to elect him. I will also take this opportunity to address the simple-minded… Read more »

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Philip Davies, it is you who of ‘no perceptible importance’. There are no ‘remoaners on the left’ just people who do not fear the EU (or more likely with Brexiteers- the Germans) and close cooperation with our European neighbours. People who do not believe in the warped ideology of the Brexiteers and know their sovereignty and freedom were never at risk. It is their right to do so in a democracy – and please don’t quote that near 50/50 result in 2016 as democracy, any responsible country would have had a super majority built into the referendum. There is no… Read more »

O.R
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O.R

Why gather round someone else’s flag i.e the English (union) jack? Why not rally round the Welsh dragon and show some loyalty to your country? Not some unequal union (dictatorship) of which we virtually have no say in

Jonesy
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Jonesy

I don’t think there is an United Kingdom flag

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

It’s the Union Flag, commonly known as the Union Jack, which includes Wales by dint of the fact that Wales was effectively abolished in 1536, with it being reitierated again in 1542 for good measure. Good job no-one told the Welsh, who just carried on being Welsh. People like Philip Davies may be proud of being Welsh, but that doesn’t mean that the Welsh are proud about individuals like Philip Davies being in their midst. I personally detest seeing the Union Flag flying, not because of it’s current significance but because of its representation of empire and what that empire… Read more »

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

Dafydd Iwan’s frank charactrerisation of Mr Parker’s ideological credentials wash that he had (and I’ll quote the words of a former President of Plaid Cymru again) ‘outspoken left-field radical views’ Now cappingall this is your specious ‘ – – – no more influenced by Marxism than any of the rest of us.’ And, really, to trot out the old Marxist chestnut about a British Empire of pure Nazi evil through and through. sounds like the sort of foaming obsession that might tend to unbalance a person. The Welsh were disgusting headhunters in the far mists of time – so what?… Read more »

Nigel Bull
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Nigel Bull

It may also be that many in Wales are not proud of you and your views either. The vast numbers of both the Union Jack and Welsh Dragon together with tri-colour bunting being flown together on VE75 is absolute proof of the views of the people of Wales. They are also more interested in how any semblance of our recent previous life it might be possible to return to in the foreseeable future. With that focus, it is difficult to see how much that is written on here is little more that 6th Form pretentious posturing that the electorate have… Read more »

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

And there’s me thinking we’d taken down that washed-out blue rag, and put our traditional Union Flag back up. It’s quite colourful – you can’t miss it – – – Unless you shut your eyes and pretend it isn’t there.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

In case you hadn’t noticed, England is a ‘foreign’ power from the perspective of many of us in Wales who see Wales as being traditionally far more European, nay internationalist in our outlook than our parochial neighbours to the east.

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

And there’s me thinking we’d just rescued Britain from becoming no more than an increasingly marginalised Region of the EU bloc, and put ourselves on the road to being once more an independent participant in global affairs. Its that scledrotic entity in Brussels that ‘s looking increasingly parochial and irrelevant with it’s small-minded and petty bureaucracy. No doubt you will tell me now that I can’t be Welsh unless I kow-tow to that manipulative and sinister club in Brussels? And no doubt your coup-de-grace will be to dismiss me as an anti-European deplorable – though I’ve never objected to the… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Philip Davies MP for Shipley West Yorks., from the sound of it!

John Ellis
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John Ellis

From a purely personal perspective I feel that I should be rather grateful to Philip Davies for his bout of efflorescences on this thread. I’ve been arguing for the past four years or so that the Conservative party these days has degenerated into a coterie of ghouls and fools and here he is, generously giving substance to my point!

Ceri
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Ceri

What an odd series of comments from Mr Davies. It amounts to the mid 80s head patting ‘I know it hurts but when you grow up you will understand’ patronising with ever so slightly more ground given to our cause (glyndwrs noble aims etc). Good to see the usual divide and conquer tactic of politicising support for independence though (leftism, plaid, nazis, plaid), but nothing new or very interesting here. No sense of introspection at being a brexit supporter who does not support further separation for Wales DESPITE admitting several times that we have a distinct identity. Time for us… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Just so! 😉

Penderyn
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Penderyn

Mike Parker – a surprisingly nice supporting piece for the Lib Dems considering that you seem to forget that the Lib Dems in Ceredigion smeared you as a ‘nazi’ in the local press through their questionable links with the Cambrian news (when you stood as a candidate for Plaid Cymru) ” the flame of liberalism, one needed so much right now” – I am shocked that you have become such a big supporter of economic liberalism/neo-liberalism considering your life history…….. I have a lot of new things to learn about you. I thought you economically leaned to the left? So… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

I hope Welsh supporters of Brexit are now quietly moving away from the populists,

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

Plaid Cymru would be jubilant if they could whip up the populist following they had during the Welsh Language and Meibion Glyndwr era. But today’s Plaid would be deeply offended if anyone ever came to see them as ‘populists.’ And yet the definition of a populist is ‘a person who advocates democratic principles’! But in sophisticated political coteries it has become a dirty word used only when you don’t like the politics of a more successful democratic opponent, and so the word has degenerated to become part of that debased modern political lexicon of cheap name-calling. Today you can also… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Centre-right myself, I dislike the far left just as I dislike the populists as they have come to be known, whatever
it says in your dictionary.

Paul
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Paul

Should the author declare an interest being one of the few parliamentary candidates who couldn’t beat a Lib Dem?

No matter what your politics this article is petty.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

The coalition flushed out the fact that there aren’t many ‘liberals’ among the electorate when it comes to behaviour in the polling booths. For years the Liberals and then the Lib Dems had been acting as the ‘none of the above’ and ‘all things to all people’ party, the repository of votes for people who cannot decide what they are ‘for’ but do know what they are ‘against’. Once the Lib Dems were in power they lost their vital USP and have sadly struggled ever since. Let’s hope ‘liberals’ dont become extinct as we need more wishy washy types to… Read more »

James
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James

How did this rubbish get published? The Lib Dems went into coalition with the Conservatives because it was the only parliamentary arithmetic that worked and put country before party. Also – yes – Welsh Labour feel like they do not have to take responsibility for Wales anymore but only they were absolving themselves (Plaid a bit) but UK Govt doesn’t I feel. Also to say the Cons since 2010 have no liberal voices is nonsense, they did kick out some people (but they had their chance), and the coalition was not responsible for today’s tribalism – that came of age… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I don’t greatly dissent from the general thrust of Mr Parker’s vigorous and very readable opinion piece; but in his assertion that ‘Nick Clegg fluttered like a heroine in a Victorian melodrama, before spurning Gordon ‘Heathcliff’ Brown, and caving in to the wily charms of David ‘Flashman’ Cameron’ he succumbs to the temptation of prioritizing the flowery phrase over sober reality. The hard and inescapable fact back in 2010 was that in the aftermath of that year’s general election a coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour was a practical non-starter, because the numbers of MPs of both parties added… Read more »

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Excellent! One thing, it also sent a huge swathe of students hurtling to the left?

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Indeed. But that was just one instance of a whole sequence of serial ineptitudes.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

We can not blame the LibDems for Brexit – if it wasn’t for them we would have had Brexit well before 2016. The Coalition was not perfect – far from it – but what were the LibDems to do? Choose Labour and be accused of aiding the smaller party at the GE, not do anything at all – in which case why bother being in politics, or join the corrupted Tories? All bad moves, it is the curse of the smaller party. Just ask other small parties around Europe, within Coalitions they’ll get the blame and kicking at the next… Read more »