Best blog headline of the day / week / year / decade / century / millennium

Delete words in headline to suit your own preference for hyperbole and then savour Nick Thornsby’s pithy summary of the Liberal Democrat strategic choice:

The Lib Dem strategy must be public negotiation, not internal opposition

And then go read his post which explains his point in detail with a neat take on the issue.

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This entry was posted in Best of the blogs.


  • Tony Dawson 6th Sep '11 - 9:28am

    The key element in Nick’s excellent entry is this:

    “What we must be aiming for instead is a method by which the two governing parties negotiate over their differences in a way that is transparent and public.”

    There are two forms of negotiation: ‘compromise’ (median-seeking) and horse-trading. The Lib Dems’ problem (and possibly the Tories’ too) has been that the Coalition public presentation was initially one as if the entirety of the Coalition programme was based upon compromise whereas it is quite clear that significant elements of it were a set of trade-offs between the two parties, each allowing through things which they think are actually quite dreadful but not too harmful, in order to be able to have other elements of their own ideas accepted likewise.

    It would take a minister of some serious calibre (Lib Dem or otherwise) to come out in public and tell the truth:

    “Policy A in the Coalition programme (or government programme subsequently) is costly and stupid, though will probably not do too much damage. I and many of my colleagues are voting for it only so that the other party will vote for more important things (named) which will be good for the country. It’s what our current constitutional set-up makes us do. Deal with it. I have.”

    Funnily enough, I doubt whether occasional such statements (from both sides) would really threaten the Coalition government. They might stop most of the horse trading (which is cynical and corrosive to democracy: people have a right to know where the parties really stand if they have to vote for them later) and cause parliament to perhaps have less legislation for legislation’s sake (such as the NHS Bill). There might also be some clue emerging from such a process as to how the two parties might eventually disengage and start campaigning hard against each other (as needs to happen in 200 seats in England at least). If more policies had to be properly negotiated (towards some close-to-median position) – or jointly worked-up – they might be better policies and MPs of both sides might spend less time as disgruntled lobby-fodder and more time holding the Executive to account and having a good belly laugh at the Labour Party.

  • Ed Maxfield 6th Sep '11 - 9:33am

    I have posted this on Nick’s blog:

    We need to be careful to draw the right lessons here. Government is a tough, long term business and our strategy should not be driven by short term opinion polls, the need to feel warm and fuzzy about ourselves or the hope of making Guardian journalists hate us less.

    We lost support because of politically disastrous decisions not because of the way we took them; the Tories were always going to actively oppose AV and it would be naive to think otherwise; and we would be rightly pilloried if we scuppered the reduction in the number of MPs purely out of self interest when we had a manifesto commitment to do the same thing.

    My basic position remains as it always has been – that you cant be in opposition and in government at the same time. We cant expect to benefit from the good things that the government will achieve by 2015 if we spend 5 years slagging it off.

    That said, the Lib Dem team in government did not secure enough wins in the first year. They appear to have got too cozy with the Tories and have clearly benefitted from getting a severe kicking from the electorate and from party activists. More public negotiation in the future is probably the best way to strengthen the ministerial team’s negotiating hand (and coincidentally the best way for the party to hold them to account.)

    BUT they must get the process right. Four years of divisions over legislation would be a disaster. They must start the public negotiation before the policy and the legislation is announced and find a mechanism for doing that negotiation. It almost certainly means a slower pace for reforms.

    Stephen Williams’ initiative on bank privatisation illustrates how you can stake out a position before the government is committed to a particular course.

  • This applies at all levels of the party,not just to our MPs.

  • Tony Dawson 6th Sep '11 - 2:34pm

    “you cant be in opposition and in government at the same time.”

    ALL MPs in parties participating in government are ALWAYS: “opposition and in government at the same time”

    It’s the way the individuals concerned play it which matters. I would repeat that if anyone has anything serious to add to this debate as to how the Lib Dems should progress from where they are, this is not the place to discuss it.

  • Ed Maxfield 7th Sep '11 - 9:07am

    Trouble is, Tony, when they refuse to listen all you can do is tell it like you see it in a public forum and hope someone joins the dots for next time round. Apart from anything else, if advocates of one particuar course are given the field without any alternative view being presented, pretty quickly the impression is created that only one view exists within the party.

    (And of course what you say about how MPs play it is exactly what I meant also – you dont get anything by rolling over all the time but a deliberate strategy of public oppositionism from within is not the way to gain credibility.)

  • Paul Griffiths 7th Sep '11 - 8:03pm

    I agreed completely with Nick’s OP, including his contention that in the early months of the coalition it was inevitable (i.e. not a mistake) that the emphasis would be on showing that the new government was stable and effective.

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