Where didn't the 2010 coalition have consensus?
In May 2010, neither the Conservatives nor Labour won a majority in Parliament and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats decided to form the first peacetime Coalition Government in Britain since 1931. The Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister and the party received five Cabinet posts. The two parties negotiated a Coalition Agreement, different from both their manifestos, which set out the policies that they would carry out.
There were a number of areas where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were in reasonably close agreement in 2010 but other areas where they were in disagreement. The Conservatives gave some concessions to the Liberal Democrats in order to keep them in the Coalition, such as allowing a referendum on a new voting system, even though they disagreed. There were some areas, such as the EU and environmental policy, where the two parties moved further apart during the Coalition as the Conservatives drifted to the right.
The Liberal Democrats were able to carry out two of their policies which the Conservatives would probably not have pursued on their own. The Personal Allowance, the amount that people can earn before paying income tax, was raised so that people on very low incomes were taken out of tax entirely. A Pupil Premium was introduced by the Coalition so that schools received extra funding according to the proportion of pupils from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds. On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats had to abandon their election pledge to remove university tuition fees, with the leadership agreeing with the Conservatives that it was unaffordable. A number of Liberal Democrat MPs voted against their Government in Parliament when the Coalition raised tuition fees instead.
- The Conservatives had little interest in the constitutional reforms that the Liberal Democrats supported. They had accepted, in the Coalition Agreement, that there should be a referendum on replacing First Past the Post with the Alternative Vote system, though even this was a compromise for the Lib Dems who wanted a clearly proportionate system , which AV was not. The Conservatives campaigned against the change and it was defeated in the referendum. A major revolt by Conservative MPs in Parliament against Nick Clegg’s proposals to change to a largely elected House of Lords led to the abandonment of Lords reform and, in retaliation, the Lib Dems refused to support the change to constituency boundaries that the Conservative wanted.
- The Liberal Democrats have been concerned at the cost and effectiveness of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, which was due to be renewed, and their party conference has voted to reduce the number of nuclear submarines in the system. The Conservatives wanted full replacement and so no decision was taken during the Coalition Government.
- Once the Liberal Democrat leadership had accepted the Conservative’s plans for deficit reduction they would have to accept the Conservatives’ welfare reforms. Lib Dem ministers had to vote for Conservative welfare policy reforms such as the Bedroom Tax and other social policy changes such as the reform of the NHS and the increase in Academy and Free Schools, or break Cabinet Collective Responsibility but there was considerable opposition to all these from the Lib Dem membership. Social policy was the area that led to the most Parliamentary revolts by backbench Lib Dem MPs.
- Cameron increasingly came under pressure from Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, some of whom wanted Britain to leave the EU. The rise of UKIP and the perception that the party was taking more votes from the Conservatives than Labour also led Cameron to move to a tougher stance in dealing with other EU countries. He then committed the Conservatives to renegotiate the terms of EU membership followed by a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU. Lib Dem opposition prevented the Coalition from passing any legislation on a referendum.
- Cameron also began to water down Conservative environmental policies under pressure from Conservative MPs and this led to increasingly conflict with the Liberal Democrats. The Government sought to make it more difficult for wind farms to get planning permission and sort to remove the charge that energy companies made on consumer for green initiatives.
- As Theresa May as Home Secretary introduced further anti-terrorism measures, some Liberal Democrat backbenchers began to vote against them because of the effect on civil liberties. More fundamental was the disagreement over the Human Rights Act, which the Conservatives wanted to replace with a British Bill of Rights, and the role of the European Court of Human Rights. The Liberal Democrats blocked any changes in this area.