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Time for the party to grow up…

August 1st, 2010 Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats by

Back in May, all Lib Dem MP’s (bar one abstention) voted in favour of a coalition with the Conservatives.  The Conservatives gave away a lot to the Lib Dem’s to secure the deal (Simon Hughes was quoted just this week saying that he and others could not believe just how much was being offered).

Part of the “quid pro quo” however was that the Lib Dems would accept Michael Gove’s plans for “free schools” – essentially allowing schools more independence from local councils and enabling parents to set up their own free schools. Something that a number of Tory councillors were none too happy with it should be said. 

At conference activists will however challenge the MP’s decision. A motion has been put forward that states (according to Newsnight as I have not seen conference papers as yet) “Local Authorities should retain strategic oversight of the provision of school places” and “continue to exercise their arms length support of state schools“. On free schools the motion calls on “all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option“.

Well we would have been living in la la land had we not expected some form of left wing gnashing of teeth at conference – and even more foolish to imagine that the Federal Conference Committee would not find a way to allow at least one motion to find its way onto the agenda.

Will there be a media scrum around it ? You betcha. Newsnight have already started – you can see it below – and it wont stop there. Will Liberal Vision find itself (again!) on the side of the leadership? (looks likely….. darn it!). Will the activists win? (Possibly). Will it make any difference to the short term? Unlikely. Even if the motion passes, frankly the Coalition deal out ranks a motion at conference – so it’s a gesture at best. Though one the Coalition can ill afford at such a tricky time in its life.

And how very Lib Dem to have a motion that calls on its members to “urge” others to do, or not do, something. Why we need to pass a motion in order to “urge” is a little beyond me. 

Does it highlight that it is time that the Lib Dems grew up? Definitely. The truth is that the media will portray us as a bunch of loons who prefer permanent opposition to power. And they might be right. About part of the party at least.

But surely it’s about time policies and motions are voted on by the WHOLE party (as I have argued before)…not just a tiny minority of members, with a score to settle, willing and able to make the journey to Beetle land. Come on Nick, Simon or whoever is in charge of the party right now – time bring the Lib Dems kicking and screaming into the 21st century – and get some real democracy (we are so keen to bang on about to others) into this party. Let people have their debate at conference by all means – then put it to the vote of all members. That way we can be sure our policies reflect those of the 60,000 not just the disgruntled few hundred.

In the mean time be prepared for a rocky ride and a media frenzy in Liverpool.

Oh…well said Julian Harris on Newsnight.

17 Responses to “Time for the party to grow up…”

  1. S McG Says:

    Well said. Particularly unwise to have such a debate in an area where we have a Minister. If Sarah Teather opposes the motion and it is passed the press have a field day. If she doesn’t she is accused of cowardice.

  2. Tristan Says:

    Trying to remember my history, but wasn’t there a massive outcry when the Tory government abolished the community run education boards and replaced them with local government.

    Wasn’t that one of issues in which led to the 1906 Liberal Landslide?

    How things have changed…

  3. Andrew Dakers Says:

    Can you explain how these “free” schools will be paid for? Will the net impact not be to reduce and slow much needed investment into the schools we already have? Or am I missing something?

    I am also at a loss as to why parents need complete control over the governing body, rather what is currently a more multi-stakeholder approach. The reality is that most schools struggle for an active PTA and equally struggle to find teacher governors with the time/ energy needed for the role.


  4. Nick Sutton Says:

    An intersting argument put forward here, but I think we need to bear in mind that we can’t support everything the Coalition puts forward. Many Lib Dem voters, not party activists or members, voters, voted for us on the basis that they wouldn’t then be seeing us supporting the Academies Bill getting through the Commons, a flagship Tory policy. I believe it is wonderful for the schools that can get it, but what about the schools that can’t? Their intake would surely drop, many parents choosing a better funded Acadmey to send their children ;Isn’t that opposed to our Liberal values of fairness within education?

  5. Dave Atherton Says:

    I think Gove’s policy – and my comment is instinct rather than knowledge – is grammar schools by the back door. As an 11+ failure and secondary modern educated pupil, I think it is a good idea.

    Well done Julian on your interview, I hope the Lib left buck their ideas up.

  6. Hywel Says:

    What the party agreed to in the coalition agreement was:

    “We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to
    parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.”

    That doesn’t mean the whole of the academies bill – and there was certainly nothing about it being the first bill to be passed on a rapid timetable with limited scrutiny.

    Following your argument it was wrong for the party in the Lords to be proposing and passing amendments.

  7. Angela Says:


    I agree that we do not need to agree with every Conservative policy – we dont.

    Not only did the Tories accept some of our “lines in the sand”…they agreed that on some issues the Lib Dems do not HAVE to follow the Conservative line.

    As it happens education was just not one of them. Our deal with the Conservatives included support on their education plans. That was one of their lines in the sand.

    We do however HAVE to honour the Coalition deal. They gave on ground – we have to – that’s how compromise works. Largely it has worked out well.

    Causing trouble at Conference – for effect rather than for any meaningful result – is just plain dumb.

  8. Nick Sutton Says:


    I am firstly amazed at how on earth you managed to understand my comment seeming as I entirely forgot to proof read it. I do apologise!

    I completely agree with you that the Conservatives have moved quite an amazing amount with their policy, particularly on allowing a referendum on voting reform and Ken Clarke’s extremely Liberal Justice policy.

    I know that, according to the Coalition deal, we have to back the Academies Bill but as a party member, I cannot. For the reasons given above I feel it is wrong not to give schools time to decide on whether they should take the Academy status or not and also that it may end up teirng the education system. I feel, as a Liberal, that the principle behind Acadmies ie, moving a school away from Local Authority control and allowing them to decide their own curriculum, is a good one, but only if it is applied across the board so the quality of someones education is not dictated by their postcode.

    Finally, I agree that causing trouble at a party conference is not the way to actually get a meaningful result. The only thing it achieves is to heap pressure on Sarah Teather and excite the media, who sense supposed ‘cracks’ in the Coalition.

  9. Andrew Dakers Says:

    It is a crude argument to typify local authorities as “controlling” local schools. Although of course some may harbour this attitude it should be tackled in other ways to the current reforms. In LB Hounslow my view is that the local authority generally (although not always) facilitates collaboration and an efficient use of resources by schools. It also enables democratically elected councillors to bring some insight and influence to bear as borough-wide education strategies/plans are developed. What is illiberal about that? Andrew

  10. Dave Atherton Says:

    As your resident Tory, I should of pointed that out earlier, but as a libertarian, free marketeer, there is one aspect which we have severely compromised on. Europe.

    I really have to grit my teeth and smile sweetly at the passive Europhile stance the coalition has taken. Quite frankly the way I see it if we had a working majority, a referendum on our relationship with Europe is something I would of supported. To many Tories like myself the question or not that we are a soveriegn nation is our country’s entire raison d’etre.

    Instead I have to admire the single market, the 50 years of peace and how rude Nigel Farage is. No chance to comment on the democratic deficit of the Commission, 1% annualised growth in the last decade, external protectionist instincts, the CAP, et al.

    To the majority of Tories who are Eurosceptic like myself you cannot get more accomodating than that.

  11. Julian H Says:

    Dave, you don’t have to sit back and admire the EU – its policies are up for criticism (and reform) just like those made in Westminster. The Coalition should be pushing for a more liberal (and, as you rightly say, more democratic) EU.

  12. Mark Littlewood Says:


    Have you read the coalition agreement on Europe? It’s hardly Europhile – it rules out any further encroachements on sovereignty for the duration of the Parliament!

    That makes the UK government one of the most Eurosceptic in the whole of the EU. Not saying that’s a bad thing. Just pointing it out.

  13. Andrew Dakers Says:

    I have long been of the view that the Lib Dems needed to be much clearer about the need for EU reform. If we upped the volume (from zero?!) this is clearly an area we might be able to make some strides through the coalition relationship. Andrew

  14. Dave Atherton Says:


    You are quite correct and it even goes as far as saying that the 1972 Communities Act is to be amended to allow a referendum on future transfers of power.

    “We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament. We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences and will, in particular, work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom.

    We agree that we will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty – a ‘referendum lock’…”

  15. Jack Hughes Says:

    Oh yeah?

    “July 27 2010


    The Government announced today that it will opt into a new EU legislative proposal, the European Investigation Order (EIO), which would give new evidence-gathering powers to EU member states, significantly changing the way evidence is obtained and shared in cross-border criminal cases. There are important implications for the fundamental rights of British citizens…”

  16. ed Says:

    I did not know that the coalition deal outranks what is voted at conference ? Im not in the Lib Dems just voted for them so I am not that clued in to the internal debates [another ‘think tank’ ? oh no] I do think that the academies idea is a real mess and the The Budget shocked a lorra lorra LibDem rank and file. lower taxes smaller state well usuaul panaceas. As someone who is Liberterian or whateve I do expect that you will support any organised a worker action against the cuts – after all going on strike is not yet against the law- what about banning public sector workers from striking – now that sounds cool

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