If Scottish Labour found the 2015 General Election a traumatic experience then they might look to result “achieved” by UK Lib Dems for some sort of solace. Scottish Labour lost 40% of its votes but the UK Lib Dems lost two thirds of its support with some 4 million voters deserting like garden leaves in a strong wind. The defeat wiped out all but 8 of its MPs unwinding a generation of political advancement, and so, pushing its support back to where the party was in 1970. Unlike Scottish Labour which can claim that it lost out to strategy of direct emulation of its polices and values there is no such consolation for the Lib Dems whose vote fled to Labour, Conservative, Green and, to their amazement UKIP.
Why did they do so well? The answer to that is that the Lib Dems have core vote, a unique reference point in political moral psychology which protected them from achieving 0% of the votes instead of 8% of the votes. More in a moment.
Why did they do so badly? The got badly lost in moral psychological space as argued here previously. In the standard model they hooked themselves up to an unpopular Tory government in a time of severely mismanaged austerity and economic recession and were tainted by association. The difficultly with this analysis is that the Tories won the election with an outright majority and became one of the first governments in a generation to increase its support election upon election.
The Tories are not screwed despite economic mismanagement of the economy because they didn’t cross the moral psychological red lines that Lib Dems crossed so spectacularly and ruinously. If you are moralised anti-authoritarian voter who voted for the heroically anti-authoritarian Nick Clegg of 2010 with his opposition to tuition fees, detention without trial, the Iraq war the anti-terrorist state (you say security state) and general New Labour authoritarianism and reform (you say privatisation) of public services then you will strategically observe that all of this continued with Nicks’s enthusiastic support post 2010. Also you will strategically reason from your moral intuitions and emotions that the Labour economic policy that he supported in 2008-2010 was abandoned in 2010 by Nick was not a good thing. You saw that and voted UKIP this time.
Conservative voters, their moral intuitions unchallenged don’t strategically reason to not vote Tory, Lib Dem voters experienced cognitive dissonance as moral intuitions were violated, against, what was an identical policy and performance set as the Conservatives. One goes up the other goes down, really really down actually.
Not everyone is running away, some 10,000 people (30% of the 2015 vote!) have decided to sign up. A phenomenon also experienced by other defeated Parties. The Lid Dems fill a distinct political psychological niche, a small one and it is that which they have fallen back to and the people who join now are the fundamentalists who share the same niche (moral psychological) space and want to sustain it. The existence of this niche is probably some lower bound for the Lib Dems from which they can built out from and recover.
What is that niche? This blog has referenced two theories of moral psychology, those of Jonathan Haidt with his moral foundations theory and those of Alan Page Fiske with his Social Relations Theory. Both are work in progress but it is Fiske who explains the Lib Dems. The Liberal Party of the 19th century stood for liberal values – democracy, legal equality, liberty, fairness as getting back what you contribute. This Fiske calls EM (Equality Matching) and it is clearly moralised as a form of virtue. In addition 19th century Liberals supported markets and free trade and property rights when that was not the consensuses. Fiske calls this MP (Market Pricing) and some think these things moral necessities. It is interesting that one of the candidates for the Lib Dem leadership wants to change the name of the party back to “Liberal Party”. There is a record in Government to remember (note the strong EM reference on rights) which needs to be offset a against the VAT rise but what might be remembered is their bull in a China shop journey across moral psychological space. Rob Labour in it Governance of millions of votes by invading their space. Join Government and then shed the anti-authoritarian left votes so gathered to the SNP in Scotland in 2011 to give us the Referendum and Nationalist ignition, shed your anti-authoritarian votes in England to UKIP. The combination plays to strengthen the Tories whose success threatens a Referendum on Europe and the SNP threaten a Referendum on the UK. Threatening everything you valued.