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Coalition: Chris Huhne confirms – the Cyberlock applies

March 13th, 2010 Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics by

cybermanLast night’s Newsnight (see below) led on the LibDem protocols in the event of a hung Parliament. Chris Huhne stood up to the plate to answer Gavin Esler’s questions off the back of a pretty jaw dropping package by Michael Crick.

 Chris said that he understood a conference resolution passed in Southport in 1998 applies to the party post-May 6th if there’s no overall majority in the House of Commons.

 This would mean that Nick would require a 75% majority of BOTH LibDem MPs and 75% of the Federal Executive before (according to Crick) Nick could “do a deal”. And “not just coalition”. Nick would need this support before signing up to “any substantial proposal which could affect the party’s independence of political action”.

 Brian Orrell – who seems an all round nice bloke, and used to play a Cyberman in the old Dr Who TV series – may play a decisive role in virtue of his role as Federal Exec Vice President.

If Nick Clegg fell short of these hurdles, I gather that he could choose to convene a conference by the seaside or conduct a members’ ballot or something equally insane.

(Bear in mind that the total membership of the party is now measurably less than the number of registered voters in ONE parliamentary constituency and the number of LibDem federal conference reps would be less than the electorate in a standard Parish council ward…how democratic is that?).

If we want to claim that a hung Parliament is not necessarily a bad thing and that the markets needn’t panic, we at least need to have our own rules sorted out. And these rules need to be both sane and practical.

If these really are our rules, it’s hard to argue that the financial markets should show any confidence at all in the likely LibDem response to a no-majority situation at Westminster.

Let’s hope Nick makes it very plain in his leader’s speech that he will totally disregard the Southport rules, made quite clearly for a different age.

Watch the full Newsnight programme here.

23 Responses to “Coalition: Chris Huhne confirms – the Cyberlock applies”

  1. Jock Says:

    I think they may well be right. Although it’s no guide to say that Scotland did such and such, as that could have been Scottish Party rules but I seem to remember they called a special conference to ratify the Lib Dem-Labour governing pact after the first set of Holyrood elections.

    Difficult to see how he could just ignore them if they are applicable, though.

  2. Andy Mayer Says:

    In practice the rules could be ignored as there is no sanction the Federal Party can impose on the Parliamentary party that is either meaningful or would not be politically less palatable than whatever coalition deal caused concern.

    I suspect Clegg’s preference would be to let the rules play out though, and use the subsequent farce to get them changed a the autumn conference. He comes across to me as pragmatic and selectively brave rather than willing to pick fights before he needs to.

    On that note though his previous track record on changing the party is to do nothing, then say something very bold, then do a u-turn within a week following various suicide notes to the Guardian by leading activists.

    Until he’s actually got the courage to say what makes the Liberal Democrats special and worth voting for is that they are a movement for a liberal government, not because of their internal structure, he’s not going to win this argument.

    Blair reformed Labour’s self-destructive structures by leading the debate, and doing it early. Clegg has not done that… yet…

  3. Paul Evans Says:

    I started to comment on this, but it got a bit long, so I’ve posted it elsewhere instead:

  4. Sam Says:

    What I think is far more concerning about this Newsnight piece is the refusal of any senior Liberal Democrat figure to explain the Party’s policy on the question of whether the Cybermen came from Mondas or Telos. What exactly was Chris Huhne (a known Mondasian!) trying to hide? When will Nick Clegg explain how exactly he will reconcile both Mondasian and Telosian factions within a coalition (or supply and confidence agreement) with one of the main parties?

  5. ‘Taking it to the beardies’ « Freethinking Economist Says:

    […] agree with Liberal Vision that the triple lock needs to be neutralised for Parliamentary negotiations about taxing, spending, […]

  6. Paul Pettinger Says:

    The cyberlock was created in a time when the party leadership wanted to sell out to the Labour Party. Liberal Vision might do well to remember that.

  7. Andy Mayer Says:

    Indicative I think of the case for not making policy on the back of unusual situations.

    But… had Blair been able to deliver the Labour party, had 1997 not been a landslide, I doubt there would have been many objections in this quarter for working with New Labour. A Lib-Lab coalition in 1997 could have delivered on civil liberties, the euro, electoral reform and might even have been more bold on public service reform…

    If there were a split or defections they would have been more likely to come from the left of both parties. Particularly if Menzies Campbell as Foreign Secretary had backed the case for Iraq in 2001, or Kennedy had ditched the tuition fees policy as the price of further coalition.

    Over time a Social or Socialist Liberal faction may well have split away from the Labour and Liberal benches. There would have been much pressure for a realignment around Democrats in the centre and some kind of real left party. In such circumstances who knows Nick Clegg may even have succeed Blair as leader, after defeating Gordon Brown in a proper contest, whilst David Davis’s real Conservative alternative platform saw off a spirited but naive challenge from David Cameron whose platform was so indistinct from Clegg’s that many in his own party dismissed him as Clegg-lite.

    Libertarian liberals within Clegg’s Democrat party were often frustrated by the authoritarian tendencies of some of their ex-Labour fellow travellers, however after securing a free vote on fox-hunting the smoking ban and killing any discussion of detention without trial there was no reason to consider the grass being greener elsewhere…

    And in the 2010 election when strange electoral circumstances left all 3 parties with broadly similar shares, the grand coalition of Democrats and Conservatives to keep the extremists of the Harman/Dromey-led Socialist Alliance out of power saw many libertarians in both parties working together to keep the government broadly liberal…

    Lord Ashdown, commenting on the fortunes of the new government, and Britain’s narrow escape from a collapse of the pound and IMF bail-out, expressed his relief by harking back to a difficult conference in 1998 in Southport where a revisionist faction, led by Lord Greaves had attempted to undermine the new government by insisting that a small cabal of activist representatives must be consulted on every major decision of the combined cabinet, followed by a special conference, if they dissented, that could then end the coalition agreement. Echoing Atlee’s dismissal of Harold Laski in 1946, Ashdown won the day with the remark “I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome.”

    With coalitions it’s only a question of one of the other if you’re an ardent tribalist with fixed prejudices, or single issue monomaniac. For most of the rest of us it’s a spectrum that depends on who in the leadership team, what’s the agreement, and where would there be freedom to dissent.

  8. Paul Pettinger Says:

    ‘With coalitions it’s only a question of one of the other if you’re an ardent tribalist with fixed prejudices, or single issue monomaniac.’

    It isn’t Andy. My apprehension of coalitions is party based on the knowledge of what happened to the Liberal Party in the 1920 and 30’s when it repeatedly tore itself apart and almost destroyed itself over the question of which of the big two parties it should work with. I do not think the interests of the UK are best served if the Lib Dems implode just so that some of our MPs can be ministers for four/ five years. Conference and the membership have a pretty good record on big decisions, so I am happy to let them have the final say, rather than political leaders who may be distracted by their career progression.

    For the record I support entering into a confidence and supply agreement with which ever party is able to provide the most liberal governemnt. This would leave the party free to critise and oppose many of the things we don’t like.

  9. Andy Mayer Says:

    It would be quite a stretch to suggest the Southport triple lock would have prevented the decline of the Liberal Party. The schisms ran somewhat deeper than coalition agreements.

    That aside this issue broadly boils down to whether you think the vote of the British people should decide the government or the vote of a small group of Liberal Democrat activists.

  10. Paul Pettinger Says:

    I am perfectly happy with my recount of history thanks.

    I will also quote to you what you have said when we go into coalition with Labour.

  11. Paul Evans Says:

    We’re a representative democracy. Pick the people, let them negotiate and make the decision and agree to stand by them from the start.

    “….this issue broadly boils down to whether you think the vote of the British people should decide the government or the vote of a small group of Liberal Democrat activists.”

    Activists can’t make trade-offs or negotiate deals. Representatives can.

  12. Jock Coats Says:

    Indeed, the main (maybe only?) problem with “representative democracy’ is precisely that “representatives can” – and by extension, everybody else may not!

  13. Paul Evans Says:

    The other alternatives have many more ‘main’ problems.

  14. Jock Coats Says:

    But not insurmountable monopoly problems!

  15. Paul Evans Says:

    You solve that by not re-electing people.

    The problems with any kind of mandate are complex, often hidden, but – IMHO – huge.

    I think I’m monopolising this thread with a hobby horse of mine – I blog about this a lot – over here:

  16. Jock Coats Says:

    *I* would solve it by not *electing* people :)

    Interesting blog by the way. But rather than hijack this I’ll probably contact you through there about something rather different.

  17. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Paul Jock Andy – I am more than happy for you to debate this as long as you want….. as far as I am concerned there comes a time when you have to say Southport was 1998 and NOW is NOW. We are facing the biggest economic crisis in generations…massive debt…losing our triple A rating… the market is more than a little skittish about a hung parliament. We would be laughing our socks off if the Tories could not take up power without a meeting of activists by the seaside .. I think the country will rightly despair if the Lib Dems can’t empower their leader to take a decision in a time of national crisis….We either back Nick and team and his judgement during this period of economic calamity (and deselect him as leader if he screws it up) OR we go back to our constituencies and prepare for ….. hibernation???

  18. Jock Says:

    Hmmm – personally if the party leader and negotiating team (which probably ought to be carefully assembled to include representatives of any “factions” amongst the MPs) could not persuade three-quarters of his MPs and the party top executive body then I would have thought that any “deal” he was proposing would be doomed in any case. These are, after all, the people whose votes he would be “pledging” to a deal. And I would not have thought that any other political party’s rules would be terribly much different if we knew them.

    Or are you saying that, as leader, he should be able to count on group loyalty of the MPs regardless maybe?

    I would imagine a sensible process would be to get the whole parliamentary group together *before* starting negotiating, to endorse the strategy and empower the negotiating team on the proviso that the final deal would come back to them for a final vote.

    Also, I reckon that if he could not carry 75% of the MPs and FE then he is extremely unlikely to carry the party at a conference. Unless the former are being tribal and silly they will be in a far better position to know whether what is proposed is the “best they will get” than any conference delegate.

  19. Mark Littlewood Says:

    Amongst the truly weird and bizarre elements of LibDem rules (and there are many), the one that still truly, utterly foxes me is that the Parliamentary Party elect the Chief Whip.

    It’s worth remembering that the Chief Whip’s basic job is to make himself pretty unpopular amongst his colleagues by attempting to enforce the leader’s will.

    This is no reflection on Paul Burstow or Andrew Stunell – both of whom have applied themselves to the task with aplomb.

    But it is still utterly, crushingly mad.

    For good measure, the LibDem MPs also elect the deputy leader and the chair of the Parliamentary party. Partly to keep a close eye on making sure the chief whip doesn’t go native.

    It’s all very genial. But it’s also clinically insane.

  20. Jock Says:

    Yeah, but Mark, it is at least consistent with the whole ethos of our democratic system. *We* are expected to vote for the person or party we would least dislike (or most like in far too many cases) having our colons pummelled by, after all!

    (and fair play – at least having AS as chief whip kept his attentions away from local government and housing) :)

  21. Paul Pettinger Says:

    Wow. These democratic structures are quintessentially Lib Dem. I am amazed that several of you take issue with them. They may be bureaucratic, but they serve to challenge a gross centralisation of power, which strikes me as wholly welcome.

  22. Proportionality and voting reform | Local Democracy Says:

    […] that the Lib-Dems will do a deal with the Tories. They are obliged to run this by their membership (remember the ‘Cyberlock‘?) and I’m not sure that they will stomach a deal with the Tories that readily. Also, the […]

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