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Calamity or canny politics?

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Comments Off on Calamity or canny politics? | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats

What a game the Lib Dems appear to be playing.

My first thought was – its chaos and calamity. The decidedly “odd” David Laws press call, inside parliament rather than walking a few yards to address the hoards of cameras outside (and  reported bizarrely on the BBC over a mobile phone), where, for all the world it looked like Lib/Con talks were progressing nicely with, what seemed to be, a few tweaks to sort. The anouncement that the meeting with the MPs went well – with “clarification” needed on just a few issues….. Ok we may read that as Liberals want more than the Tories feel able to get past their own backbenchers….. but it all seemed …well, as though they were getting there (if slowly).

….Then the biggest car smash you can imagine — Nick Clegg is reported as saying that formal talks are now being opened with the the Labour party (though ongoing with the Tories)…. Gordon Brown confirming that Clegg had spoken to him… Brown resigning (though not just yet! – very Gordon Brown) to facilitate the option of a LibLab pact …markets crashing (OK I exagerate to make a point – I have not looked at the markets).  

WTF is going on.. How does David Laws lunchtime statement that the parliamentary party agrees that the over riding priority is to create a “strong and stable government”.. square with the notion of the Liberals going into a  hotch potch agreement of Lib/Labs/SNP/DUP/Plaid/greens etc ?

I admit it was a joy to watch this unfold on the news channels – quick quick get the fractious whinging Tory backbenchers off the screens (who cares what they think) and get some Labour big wigs in here now…

Now I have had my cup of tea and had a chance to ponder, I wonder if this is not calamity – but rather canny politics. Knowing that Cameron faces a difficult meeting with his MPs very shortly this evening- and knowing that many are gruntling on about “rather be in minority party than work with those damn yellow bellies thank you very much” …how brilliantly Clegg has strengthened Cameron’s hand in that meeting.  

Cameron can legitimately stand up and say “look guys we have waited in the wings for our chance to govern. It is within our grasp BUT you have to be willing to play nicely with the Liberals – if you wont then it’s very possible that you will miss your chance again”. Minority Tory government is not the only game in town any more. So the Liberals want a bit more give on political reform – is that such a hard price to pay? – as you watch a smug Alistair Campbell already rehearsing Nick’s justification for a Lib Lab pact…. That may make the Conservatives think twice on their discussion with Cameron tonight.

And its just possible I suppose that Cameron knew of this turn of events – maybe even condoned it..Hell maybe even thought it up? Anything is possible on this odd day…

And IF this is not a clever ruse….Are they serious that whilst we struggle to get out of this recession and sort out public spending etc – the senior coalition partner in this “progressive” Lib/Lab government will have the top five or six of its portfolio-handling ministers all scrapping over a leadership battle? Come on guys…

I am left wondering what all of those voters out there think of all of this. It looks for all the world like the politicians are still putting their small petty interests ahead of the public’s – whatever they say – and goodness knows what the markets will make of  this turn of events. I want to go and lie down in a dark room til this is over.

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I didn’t vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government…

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2010 at 2:00 pm | 20 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Ha. That’ll have the tweeters wondering what on earth is going on over in LV land!

No I have not gone mad. I am quoting what I have heard on phone-ins/read on various blogs over last 24 hours or so. IF I am to believe some posts, thousands, indeed “hundreds of thousands” are about to walk away from the Lib Dems because “they didn’t vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government”.

I found it a bit annoying when I first heard it – but as this sentiment seems to be spreading – I am getting increasingly irritated by it. In part it’s because I hate that sort of post-event whinging ( “I didn’t get what I wanted so I will throw my toys out of the pram”) but there are more specific reasons why it’s getting under my skin…..

1.     No one voted to get a Tory government. People voted to elect their constituency  MP (or indeed to stop a constituency MP) and hoped that others across the country would vote similarly (the only way to “stop” a Tory (or indeed Labour) government). That worked in some area’s – which is why there are fewer Tory MP’s than anyone expected. Even if “voting Lib Dem” in one area did stop a Tory, clearly not enough people in enough areas did the same – hence the situation we are in. The idea that one vote for one local MP would somehow stop a whole government is laughable.


2.    This seems to throw the blame onto the Lib Dems when the blame (if that is the right word – which it probably isn’t) sits with the voters. If this nation really cared about stopping the Tories (or indeed Labour) more people would have voted Lib Dem. That would have given Nick a much stronger negotiating position to choose who to talk to and on what terms. Just because Mrs Miggins voted Lib Dem to stop the local Tory, does not mean that Mrs Miggins view out trumps the nations view. And whilst she and those like her might whinge now, they have to look at themselves frankly and ask whether, if they cared that much, they could have done more. Goodness knows I think Nick did his bit.


3.    Actually the Lib Dems HAVE STOPPED a Tory government – or at least stopped such a strong Tory government that they can ride rough-shod over everyone. Had the Tories taken the Lib Dem seats they targeted we would already have Mr Cameron at No 10. As we stand here now, it is likely/possible that the Lib Dems have the ability to be a balancing item on Tory legislation. And even if a coalition doesn’t happen the Tory party will have to listen to its own backbenchers much more than the previous regime – and indeed listen to the Lib Dems- that’s in part a result of people voting Lib Dem.


4.    Perhaps most importantly it’s annoying because Nick Clegg could not have been clearer, throughout the general election, that the Lib Dems would not decide who to talk to in the event of a hung parliament – he would NOT be kingmaker. It would be the people who would dictate it by virtue of which party  had the largest mandate. It is demonstrably clear that the Tories have the most seats and the largest vote share. In these circumstances, had Nick decided to ignore the Tories, I think the country would have rightly been outraged that Nick had gone back on his word. Where were these people-  who are now complaining that they did not vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government – during the last 4 weeks? Integrity matters – and like the outcome we find ourselves in or not (mainly “not”)- Nick has shown to be a man of integrity – and that counts for a lot these days.


Now of course the proof is in the pudding. Can the Lib Dem negotiators extract enough ground across its 4 key manifesto pledges to feel that their position is honourable (and right for the country let’s not forget!) – accepting of course it’s relative position in the situation (more people voted for Tory policies than Lib Dem policies).


If the Tories are not willing to concede sufficient ground to allow the Lib Dem’s to feel their position with their voters is honourable, then I suspect that they won’t go into full coalition – but sit back and allow a minority Tory party to govern as best it can.   (I remain convinced that the idea of a Lib/Lab/nationalist/green uncle tom cobbley and all coalition is for the fairies).


But to read/listen to people moaning at this stage because Nick is attempting to find a workable solution with the Tories is nothing short of ridiculous.

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Bit of a wobble ?

By Angela Harbutt
April 27th, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Comments Off on Bit of a wobble ? | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

It was to be expected that at some point the Liberals would wobble a little. That moment seems to be now.

I am not referring to the polls – though a couple of the most immediate ones do open up more of a lead for the Tories. I am referring to the immensely confusing mixed-message that we are hearing about who the Liberals will and won’t do business with in a hung parliament.

Watching Nick on Sunday –  Nick seemed very clear, very bold, very statesman-like in his position that, in the event that Labour polled the fewest votes of the three main parties, the idea of the Liberals propping up Gordon Brown in the position as PM would be preposterous. Here here. Simple, straightforward – how can any one disagree? And it took the sting out of the “Vote Clegg Get Brown” line.

Yes yes I know…what gives Nick the right to dictate to Labour who their leader is etc etc. But he was not saying that he would not seek to interfere in other parties business. (And as I heard it a good number of senior Labour figures agree with Nick).

As I saw it, Nick was EITHER

(A) in the event of coalition with Labour : angling for the position as PM (and why not – he takes on the roll – giving Labour time to have an election get a new leader in etc?) or he was

(B) edging slowly but surely toward a coalition with the Tories.

(C) Dismissing the vote Clegg get Brown line (or a combination of the above)

Why ever he said it,  he said it – outloud.

Then came the  briefing from one of Nick’s “advisors” attempting to “clarify” the situation.

Er oh…. as these things always do, the “clarification” just muddied the waters, sending  journalists into mini-hysteria on the possibility of a disagreement within the Liberal High Command. 

Has there been a falling out? Did one of the lefties in Liberal Shadow Cabinet throw a wobbly? Did Mandy throw a wobbly? Did Nick not mean to say that? Is Clegg deliberately taking the agenda in his own party up a notch? Come on someone must now why an advisor was told to go forth and clarify !!!  

Sometimes you just can’t UNSAY what’s been said

And like your handy SATNAV  you have to plot a new route from where you are – not try to retrace your steps to where you were on Saturday, and start over.  Those advising Nick would do well to take that on board the next time they feel the need to “clarify” what he says.

So the last 24 hours has seen journalists hungry to find the split, prise it apart, get at what the problem is. Nick managed the questions well today – but this was damage limitation at best.

Nick needs to get a grip – take charge – let his words stand – and please oh please – don’t let advisors explain to journos “What Nick was actually saying was this…”. 

Nick was perfectly clear on Sunday. The confusion is of the Liberals own making.  Here’s hoping this is a little wobble and no more.

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Coalition: Chris Huhne confirms – the Cyberlock applies

By Angela Harbutt
March 13th, 2010 at 1:43 am | 23 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

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.

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Nick closes one can of worms. But has another one just opened up?

By Angela Harbutt
March 11th, 2010 at 6:19 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

nick_clegg_large1Nick Clegg is the media darling today. Following his interview with the Independent , everyone is speculating that the possibility of a Liberal coalition (with the party “with the  strongest mandate”) is back on….

Well, perhaps not quite… What he appears to say is that all options are open  including a formal coalition with Liberal Democrats sitting in the Cabinet..”. That did not seem to be feeling coming from Lib Dem high command previously. So a subtle shift towards the possibility of coalition (taking into account the 4 steps to fairness)? Certainly looks like it.

Another interesting twist offered today – picked up on by many media commentators – is the possibility of a deal with either Tories or Labour. There was a time when a “deal” with this morally bankrupt disgraceful government looked impossible. But the polls suggest that Labour are not so down and out as they once were.  And several commentators see Nick’s statement today as win for Labour.

But what does Nick’s Interview really tell us?

Not that much in my view.

1. We still have not addressed the issue of whether Nick CAN go into formal coalition with either Labour or the Tories. Last weeks Newsnight (March 3rd) stated that for Lib Dems to go into formal coalition with any party, it required 75% of MPs and “top party brass” to agree to it. If correct, it’s  not his call to make. More on that later….

2. In his interview today, Nick launched an all out attack on the Tories. He described warnings by David Cameron, George Osborne and Kenneth Clarke about market instability in a hung parliament as an act of economic vandalism and a political protection racket“. As I stated, some pundits have suggested that this is a hint that the Liberals are more inclined to do a deal with Labour. But this can just as easily be interpreted as Nick firing a warning shot across the bows of the Tories. Play dirty with me sunshine and you will know about it. It must surely strengthen his negotiating hand if he shows now that he wont be bullied by the Tories. Or indeed perhaps a way of keeping activists within the party at bay. Ruling out a deal with the Labour party a couple of days before Lib Dem Party conference would be interesting to say the least..

 3. Protocol. In the event of no outright majority being secured by any party, it is the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who gets first dibs on convincing HRH that he can “command the majority of the House of Commons”  i.e. he gets to talk to the Liberals first. Brown’s move toward a new electoral system, and his obvious determination to remain PM what ever the cost, suggests that he WILL try to do a deal with the Liberals. BUT… Nick has committed that Liberals actions “will be shaped by the mandate given by the voters”. As it seems most likely that the Conservatives will overtake Labour at the election, it is hard to see how Liberals can justify a deal with Labour to the public (as tempting as the promise of electoral reform might be).

So if Nick has to politely decline, and Gordon Brown cannot command the House, the Queen will send for someone else to form a government. In theory, that could be any politician, but in reality that will be David Cameron.

Cameron looks extremely unlikely to bow to the fourth of Nick Cleggs demands (a change the voting system). So the most likely outcome is that a deal, falling short of full coalition, will emerge. One that gives Nick enough such that the Liberals allow the Queens speech and the budget to pass but keeps the Liberals firmly on the opposition benches. Then Cameron will run to the country as soon as the polls look like he will secure an outright victory – 6 months/12 months in?

So it looks like Nick WONT BE ABLE to do a deal with Labour and the Tories WONT WANT TO do a deal with Nick (or indeed not actually need to if they election strategy returns disproportionate votes in the key seats).

What has come out of todays interview with the Independent is that Nick has shown himself to be a man not to be messed with and has set out the terms of a deal. He has subtley shifted the onus onto the other two party leaders to say what THEY will do in the event of a Hung Parliament. Or has he ?

The questions for Nick wont go away. With the tanatalising prospect that the Liberals might do the coalition thing, the media, Labour and Tory strategists and uncle Tom Cobley will now all be clamouring to find out in what circumstances Nick CAN do the coalition thing. Hacks up and down the country will discover a new found appetite for crusty old Lib Dem resolutions about who’s, the hows and the when’s the Liberals can go into formal coalition. The next bout of questions will be about “What are the internal protocols and rules concerning coalition?”, ” How long will it take to get 75% of MPs to support it – an hour, a day, a week?”, “Who exactly are the “top party brass”. And so it will go on…. cans of worms will just keep opening up.

Nevertheless this is a good day for Nick. Some in the party will roll their eyes and say he should not talk about it…. ever…keep talking policy and refuse to countenance any conversation on the “C” word. Those that work in the media know that is simply not an option. He has shown great leadership and subtlety in how he has managed the debate thus far. He now needs to hold his nerve and be ready for the next barrage of questions.

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