In the run-up to the 2010 general election, the Lib Dem leadership needed to identify a policy with a clear message that might increase their appeal with younger and centrist voters. In the wake of the financial crisis there was a danger that the party would look irrelevant and be squeezed between Labour and the Tories. The canny campaigner, Gordon Brown, was Prime Minister and he was supported (astonishingly it seemed at the time) by his former adversary, the Prince of Darkness Peter Mandelson. The Tories had an energetic young leader aiming to present the coming election as a binary choice between a tired Labour government that had made a mess of things, leaving the country badly prepared for a global crisis, and a moderate, revived Tory force under David Cameron.

The advantage the Lib Dems had enjoyed in the 2005 general election thanks to being the anti-Iraq War party was fading as memories dimmed and voters moved on to other concerns.