After the Rose Garden: Nick Harvey’s lessons from coalition

The Institute for Government launches today former Lib Dem defence minister Nick Harvey’s report After the Rose Garden, on the workings of the coalition and lessons to draw for the future,

Some of these issues have been debated on Lib Dem Voice before. Nick observes that more “bums on seats”, even at the expense of policies in the coalition agreement may have had greater impact.

This is the summary of Nick’s recommendations.

  1. The big wins of this coalition must be consolidated – in particular the DPM’s ‘veto’
    (receiving contemporaneously and having to approve PM papers); the evenly balanced
    Quad; DPM chairing the cabinet committee on home (domestic) affairs; and a Lib
    Dem chief secretary to the Treasury.
  2. The Lib Dems must have a minister at every department bar none (22 in the current
    structure of government, though we favour merging departments), plus three
    government whips in each House. Add a couple of junior ministers to support Lib
    Dem secretaries of state, and we would still total only 30. This would comprise just a
    quarter of the government – an entirely reasonable expectation if our participation is
    what makes the whole thing viable. (Our ministers can be drawn from both Houses.)
  3. We can reasonably demand:
    • one great office of state (FCO, Treasury or Home Office)
    • one of the politically sexy ‘hot potato’ departments (Education, Health or DWP),
      and fight to the death to get it, passing up the whole coalition prospect if needs be
    • one ‘hard-edged’ department (BIS, Defence, Energy or, with its massive budget,
      DCLG)
    • one of the slightly ‘softer’ service departments (Defra, Transport, DCMS, Justice or
      DfID)
    • the final Lib Dem cabinet minister pretty much has to be the chief secretary to the
      Treasury.
  4. The coalition party not heading any department must get first choice of the next
    portfolio in it.
  5. In every department, whichever party does not have the secretary of state should
    provide the deputy secretary of state. Put simply, this is the most important single
    recommendation I make in this pamphlet – and the Liberal Democrats should make it
    clear to both other parties that this will be a fundamental deal-breaker in any future
    negotiation.
  6. Every Lib Dem minister in a Labour or Tory-led department must have a spad to
    support them.
  7. The Lib Dem minister in every department must be enabled to:
    • serve on the department’s board
    • bring in chosen outsiders to conduct reviews and studies, and fill appointments
    • commission work from officials on their own policy initiatives across the department.
  8. A completely new approach to Short/Cranborne funding is needed, perhaps backbench
    funds for all parties, and front-bench funds only for those in opposition.
    Agreement is needed pre-election.
  9. We must move beyond the nonsense of one party’s press team trying to gag the other
    party, and the solution is for Lib Dem ministers to answer to the DPM press team and
    not to Number 10’s.
  10. The Coalition Committee should actually be constituted, and should meet regularly
    to handle the routine tensions inevitable in any partnership – only referring up to the
    Quad any intractable problem it proves unable to resolve.
  11. It is not acceptable for the smaller party in a coalition to be silenced in Parliament on
    the basis that the larger partner is speaking for it. If ministers from the smaller party
    wish to make a front-bench statement separately from the larger party, it is essential
    that they must always be able to do so.
  12. The greatest lesson we Liberal Democrats should learn would be to heed the
    memorable words of Nancy Reagan and ‘just say no’. It is difficult for the smaller
    party in a coalition to make the larger party do things it doesn’t want to do. But it
    should be relatively simple to stop our political partners doing things we don’t want
    them to do.
  13. The principle of ‘no surprises’ between the partners is crucial and must be the
    foundation stone of any future coalition.
  14. A future coalition should focus on running the country well, implementing policy,
    and engaging in dialogue with Parliament and the nation, and aim from the outset to
    reduce the flow of new legislation.

The full report (pdf) is here.

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18 Comments

  • Interesting reading. Chapter five on legislation raised an interesting point about how the five year programme resulted in the coalition losing sight of the original agreement and having to make up new positions on many issues on the fly, with a resulting negotiation that ended up being far less than 50/50 and ultimately favouring Tory positions disproportionately.

    Perhaps the idea of running a full five year government on a single coalition agreement is a little optimistic? Maybe better to keep it to a short run, say a year or two, and then return to the bargaining table with delegations from each party, as in the original negotiations. Or alternatively let the larger partner continue on in minority administration if we find we get stymied on our priorities while herded through the lobbies to support theirs.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Feb '15 - 4:49pm

    All good stuff from Nick.

    99% of this is contained in and reinforced by ALDC’s ‘Life in the Balance’ which has been helping Liberal Democrats in balanced councils and national parliaments/assemblies since the mid-Eighties.

    The Coalition agreement was devised as a two year programme. Somewhere in 2011 the Leadership decided not to seek CA.2. This was because it feared trying to get what they wanted through Conference.

    Instead of seeing Conference and grassroot Liberal Democrat campaigners as an asset, in devising policy, consulting with their communities and as a lever for subsequent negotiations with the Tories, they saw them as a liability to be circumvented.

    The leadership got the policies they wanted in the ad hoc approach.

    Nick, we didn’t ‘say no’ because the Quad never wanted to ‘say no’.

  • Mark Smulian 3rd Feb '15 - 5:09pm

    I can’t recall if I’ve seen who has replaced Sal Brinton on the coalition negotiating team, given that in her responses to Liberator’s questions at the time of the presidential election she said she would resign this post were she to become president.
    Whoever it is, there still appears to be a bias among the negotiators in favour of entering a coalition as an end in itself.
    As someone noted at today’s launch of the booklet, the Lib Dems would surely get a better deal in any such negotiations if led by those who are neutral-to-sceptical about being in a coalition, and who would therefore be more willing to threaten to walk away if they found the party’s objectives being obstructed.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Feb '15 - 5:32pm

    @Bill le Breton

    “Nick, we didn’t ‘say no’ because the Quad never wanted to ‘say no’.”

    And who agreed with ‘the Quad’ and its role in the first place?

  • paul barker 3rd Feb '15 - 5:42pm

    The wholr flavour of any new negotiations should be very different because The Country is no longer facing a crisis, we dont actually have to get a stable Government. That means our attitude should be much tougher. Most of these reccomendations seem sensible to me, this time we can walk away without risking The Economy.

  • Will a coalition involve us? Perhaps we should be preparing for opposition. Might have a better perspective tomorrow at 11.00 when Lord Ashcroft distributes the results of his Scottish constituency polling. It should include some of the current Lib Dem held seats. Current thinking seems to expect a Labour/SNP government. Tomorrow should through a lot of light on that. .

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Feb '15 - 6:51pm

    I heard Nick on the news at lunchtime. I have now had a chance to read a few pages of his report.

    On page 8 – *Junior Ministers Protecting LD Equities* he reports that “Paul Burstow … approached the department’s permanent secretary on day one and demanded ‘contemporary access to all papers going to the secretary of state’” intimating that this was not universal practice across coalition working.

    Of course Paul worked for ASDC and the ALDC from 1985 to 1997 and had huge experience of advising council groups in balance of power situations and the standard practice in local government to require contemporary papers and // briefings .

    It is also standard practice that, however small the group, a LD is positioned in each portfolio and has full access to info and a veto/right to refer up to the leadership of any issues that the parties to the coalition cannot resolve. Which of course was not followed and which Nick rightly calls for in any future coalition.

    It seems beyond belief that the Parliamentary leadership did not make use of the experience and knowledge of those in the party who had lived and prospered in ‘joint administrations’.

    There was of course a ‘committee’ formed to deal with any areas where ministerial teams did not agree. I wonder whether the Institute for Government has ever asked how often this committee met – and how many issues had to be resolved using this process.

    It seems amazing that

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Feb '15 - 6:57pm

    paul barker 3rd Feb ’15 – 5:42pm

    I strongly welcome your firmer stance Paul but re “this time we can walk away without risking the economy.”, I must seriously wonder if we simply blinked too early and too often.

    Anyone with half a political brain knows that the Tories, in spite of their rhetoric, care far more about exercising power and maintaining privilege than they do about the British people.

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Feb '15 - 7:03pm

    @Tony Dawson 3rd Feb ’15 – 5:32pm
    [[Bill le Breton: “Nick, we didn’t ‘say no’ because the Quad never wanted to ‘say no’.”

    And who agreed with ‘the Quad’ and its role in the first place?

    Hmmm … would that have been our negotiating team? At least they’re not looking to have a free run this time are they? … Oh Bloll..ks!

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Feb '15 - 7:03pm

    Some very good sense here (having just read the conclusions/summary). One of the mysteries of the Coalition is that the Coalition Committee never met (or perhaps once?) and was usurped by the Quad. Tony is right – a major problem with the Quad has been who was on it. Cut off from the mainstream of both parties.

    Nick does not seem to cover the party’s own structures which have included some major successes (some – not all – of the parliamentary committees) and a huge failure – relationship with the party in the country. The FPC has proved not fit for this purpose.

    Tony

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Feb '15 - 7:11pm

    I like Nick’s point about a “deputy sec of state” in each department. It has been clear that some LD ministers, even junior ones, have had a genuine role of scrutinising (and where necessary influencing) all work and policies of their department (it is said that David Laws has this role at education – Andrew Stunell did this well at CLG, albeit well hidden in the undergrowth). Others have put their head down and got on with the particular responsibilities they have been given without intervening too much or at all in anything else – perhaps Steve Webb is a good example. There are arguments both ways (Steve has been able to get on and do his thing with pensions, possibly as a quid pro quo for not intervening much in the shambles of the rest of the IDS shambles).

    Tony
    (PS I’ve not read Life in the Balance for very many years. As leader of a balance of power LD council group, and deputy leader of the Council, perhaps I should check our position!)

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Feb '15 - 7:26pm

    Well Tony, your group’s original contribution was seminal. 100 Points for Pendle or some such as I remember.

    By publishing your negotiating list in advance you were able to report on progress, link issues on which you had succeeded with those that you had had to give on … and of course you had a list of issues to continue to campaign on.

    I take it you were able to consult your local party on the list; report back on progress and involve then in communicating this in their neighbourhoods, shops, clubs etc.

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Feb '15 - 8:47pm

    Fco and defence is too ambitious by far. The lib dems are simply deemed too wet for the Tory electorate to tolerate their party giving up those posts. Its akin to Cameron saying; we aren’t serious any more.

  • Chris Rennard 3rd Feb '15 - 9:37pm

    One of the problems with coalition is that our parliamentary procedures are still designed for two parties – one in Government and one to be “her majesty’s loyal opposition”. In most parliamentary systems (and in the House of Lords until we went into coalition) all major parties are recognised. In the Lords until 2010, the Lib Dems (and the crossbench group) were always recognised for our own speaking rights at the opening of a debate as well as in the ‘wind ups’. At major occasions, Leaders of the four groups always spoke – for their party group. But now we have Ministers, it is either a Lib Dem Minister or a Tory Minister who speaks for the coalition government, so that areas of agreement are explained to the House, but not areas of difference which should also be made known. There should be nothing wrong with explaining in the Queens Speech debate, for example, what is an agreed programme in the speech but how each party on its own would have had some different measures. The House of Commons has only ever really recognised a two party system. Nick Clegg has rarely been able to state a Lib Dem position in the House as opposed to a coalition one. When he did so over the Leveson inquiry, the sky did not fall in and the difference between our approach to newspaper abuses was successfully contrasted with the Tories’ supine relationship with powerful media interests. Nick Harvey quotes me in his excellent pamphlet explaining how I once saw all major six party leaders in the New Zealand Parliament (3 in Government and 3 in opposition) making statements in response to the Christchurch earthquake. All six party leaders were entitled to make their party statements. Whether we are in coalition or not, we need to reform Westminster’s parliamentary procedures to reflect the processes now recognised in the devolved assemblies. At some point in the present system there will also be major controversy over who become PM. Buckingham Palace will not want to decide, but who decides who is invited to form a Government. I believe that elected MPs should vote for the Prime-Minister in a democracy, as reflected also in the procedures of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and NI Assembly where they vote for the First Minister. Such a change would make any future coalition process more democratic.

  • stuart moran 3rd Feb '15 - 9:48pm

    Chris Rennard

    I think too this is a nettle that must be grasped and we really need to start thinking of how to tackle this and the many other issues with out constitution.

    We are going to have to see a solution to devolution and bring the English voice out – but not in the way proposed by Hague. This should include a review of the HoL, the voting system and also the conventions governing the points you raised

    This will be difficult and complex but the only other option is the very unsatisfactory status quo and we can try to phase the changes – a cross-party convention needs to be set up made up of mature and sensible politicians supported by others who can make some serious proposals

  • Nick and Tony Greaves points re: Dep Sec of States make a great deal of sense.

    Would add in lock over policy and make it a true coalition. If both have to agree, then they can have real debate and the junior partner would have greater power. It would also spread power around the party as it wouldn’t just be the Quad who could nix matters.

  • SIMON BANKS 4th Feb '15 - 9:07am

    There is some good sense here , but as the smaller party in a coalition I can’t see us getting the Treasury unless our Treasury nominee was in almost complete agreement with the larger party, and would we really have more impact at the FCO than at Education or local government?

    Nick H’s recommendations also assume we’ll have enough MPs to have 30 in government. If we had say 36 we’d struggle because some MPs for one reason or another would refuse or be unsuitable. If we had 50, we’d have enough talent to fill 30 spots, but it would mean that 60% of the MPs (minus whatever the House of Lords filled) would be in government and that for me is an unhealthy position.

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