Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats betrayed their voters by going into coalition.
Let's ask a very simple question first: why do people vote for a particular political party? There can be plenty of reasons, but I would imagine that one of the main reasons for voting for a party is that you like their policies. People who voted Lib Dem in 2010, therefore, presumably wanted Nick Clegg and his party to be in government. And that is what they got.
By going into coalition, the party were not able to enact all of their manifesto pledges (more on that later), but at least some distinctive Liberal Democrat policies (a referendum on a more proportional voting system, raising the personal tax allowance threshold, equality of marriage, etc.) have become law during this parliament. If you are a supporter of the party, and believe their policies to be good for the country, even just one of their policies coming to fruition is better than none; the real 'betrayal' would've been if Clegg had had an opportunity to give his party's voters what they said (via the ballot box) they wanted, and had turned his back on it.
|Image by Mark Pack (www.markpack.org.uk).|
There is an argument that saddling Liberal Democrat voters with Tory policies which they didn't want was not worth the opportunity to deliver a few of the Liberal Democrat policies they did want, but this is based on a spurious assumption – ie. that a vote for the Lib Dems automatically counts as a vote against the Conservatives. In a two-party system, this is a more-or-less true; in the American Presidential elections, for example, where there is a straight choice between Candidate A and Candidate B it could be said that a vote for A is a vote which says 'no, I don't want B'. In the UK, where multi-party politics is on the up, this is not the case.
Our voting system only allows you to cast a vote for a candidate or party – not against a candidate or party. It is therefore disingenuous to say voting Liberal Democrat is an empirical rejection of Conservative policy. The hung parliament which was the result of the 2010 general election was a democratic result – no major party managed to convince enough of the electorate that their ideas were best for the country. The coalition government which followed was, necessarily, a compromise – but one which ensured that 59% of the electorate (36% Conservative, 23% Lib Dem) got at least some of what they had voted for.
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats broke their promise(s).
Tuition fees. The thorn in the side of the Lib Dems for the past five years. During the 2010 election campaign, Nick Clegg promised that he would not raise tuition fees for university students (which at that time were capped at £3,000 per year). In government, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition raised the maximum figure to £9,000 per year. As a result, the Liberal Democrats have suffered hugely, having been seen to break their promises on the subject. However, this is false logic.
The promise – the pledge – was null and void the moment the coalition agreement was signed. When a politician promises to do something in the run-up to an election, that promise comes with a caveat – ie. that that politician is actually elected. The small print of every manifesto pledge is '…if we win a majority'. Nick Clegg didn't promise not to raise tuition fees; he promised not to raise tuition fees if the Liberal Democrats won a majority. And they didn't win a majority.
You may as well get all stroppy with the Labour party for not introducing 'legally binding guarantees for patients including the right to cancer test results within one week of referral, and a maximum eighteen weeks' wait for treatment or the offer of going private', as promised in their 2010 manifesto, as well. But Labour didn't win the 2010 election, so how could we expect them to uphold all the promises they made before it?
So even if the tuition fees increase were a bad thing (and there is plenty of evidence to show it may not be, considering that it also entailed a significant change in the way repayments are worked out after students graduate), it simply does not follow that the Lib Dems broke their promise here. A coalition government requires compromise – that much should be fairly obvious. Raising the tuition fee limit was not Liberal Democrat policy before the 2010 election, but it was Conservative party policy; in order to enact Liberal Democrat policy in other areas, Clegg must've ceded ground to the Tories on the issue of tuition fees (possibly after being shown the arithmetic in the Blog posts I have linked to above, and realising that the rise in fees would not be so bad after all). You can't expect a junior coalition partner to have things all their own way – there were always going to be areas in which Lib Dem policy would lose out to the Conservatives.
As I've said, there are perfectly valid reasons to vote for a party other than the Liberal Democrats. And that's fine. But personally, I think a General Election is too big and too important to vote for a party – or not to vote for a party – based on spite or grudges.