Developing Liberal Democrat policy is none of the Tories’ business, Cheryl Gillan

According to the BBC, former Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan, not known for being a government conformist herself, has been complaining about Nick Clegg to a panel of members of the House of Lords about the realities of coalition government. The report said:

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been accused of springing policy announcements on cabinet colleagues without warning.

Conservative former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said such tactics were “difficult to deal with” and threatened the smooth running of government.

She said any future coalition agreement should include a “no surprises” clause.

She didn’t give any specific examples, though but added:

Because you are sat there as a secretary of state and then suddenly the deputy prime minister says something which is completely outwith anything that has ever been discussed, is not a policy area, but he makes that pronouncement in public. That is pretty difficult to deal with. It’s pretty difficult to deal with if you are in a one-party government, quite frankly.

Isn’t it surely much easier to anticipate that two parties in coalition are going to disagree? If Nick has made speeches on policy areas and suggested new ideas, he’s been doing so as Liberal Democrat leader with a view to developing our policy. If any Conservative expects him to run that past the Quad for approval, they will just have to live with the disappointment.

It’s not like David Cameron never announces things off the cuff that Liberal Democrats don’t like, of course. Remember when he said he was going to take Housing Benefit from the Under 25s, or Iain Duncan Smith wanted to cap Child Benefit after two children?

The last three single party governments have been hotbeds of strife, bitching, plotting and toxic undercurrents. Their public faces pretended  that all was well and their parties were shining examples of unity while behind the scenes, ministers were briefing against each other and carrying on feuds and vendettas that would make the Borgias look like a basket of day old kittens.

Ironically, the Coalition is probably the most functional government of the last 30 years. Compared to the visceral feud between Blair and Brown, Major’s illegitimi or the plotting against Thatcher, It has its moments, of course. Nick needs eyes in the back of his head to make sure the Tories aren’t trying to pull a fast one like they did over these awful Go Home poster vans. That’s presumably why Paul Burstow, who was also involved in the session, agreed that a “no surprises” rule would be a good idea.

The report goes on to give the Liberal Democrat reaction to her claim:

But Lib Dem sources said they could not think of a single example of a policy Mr Clegg had announced “without cabinet agreement”.

Some Conservatives were upset about Mr Clegg’s recent criticism of free schools, the source added, but that had been an announcement of future Lib Dem policy, not a coalition announcement.

But there’s probably a good reason the Tories have such an interest in Liberal Democrat policy. Have a look at David Cameron’s answer at Prime Minister’s Questions to a Labour MP who’d asked about what the Government was doing to help poorer people:

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that we have taken 2.4 million of the poorest people in our country out of income tax altogether. The figures simply do not fit with the story he is trying to tell. Inequality is at its lowest level since 1986—fact. The pupil premium is directing more money to the poorest children in our schools—fact. Applications from disadvantaged children to universities have gone up, not down—fact. There are fewer workless households—[Interruption.] I am keen to answer the question, and it is a very direct answer. Workless households down by 425,000, payday lending regulated properly for the first time and, yes, a proper consultation on zero-hours contracts—those are the actions that we are taking to build a fairer country and instead of complaining about them, the hon. Gentleman should be backing them.

You wouldn’t have found much of that in the Conservative manifesto. The first two policies he mentioned came straight off the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Controls on payday lending are being introduced by Liberal Democrat minister Jo Swinson. The consultation on zero hours contracts is down to Vince Cable. So every specific policy mentioned in that list had nothing to do with his party.

Back to Cheryl Gillan, whose second complaint was that Nick didn’t progress her idea for a forum to monitor policy in the devolved governments. I suspect that was because it all sounded a bit top down. Nick’s more bothered about giving power away – the Scotland Act which gives serious tax raising powers to Scotland, and last week’s announcement to Wales. Let’s just say I’m more comfortable with Nick’s record on these issues than I am with the Conservatives’.

Gillan’s comments are the latest in a long line of Conservatives expressing dissatisfaction with the Coalition and Liberal Democrat influence within it. While we are often far from comfortable with the Government’s actions, there is no doubt that we achieve far more than anyone would expect when we only have a fifth of the ministers.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Melanie Harvey 6th Nov '13 - 10:08pm

    “If any Conservative expects him to run that past the Quad for approval, they will just have to live with the disappointment.”

    Hear hear…

  • “You wouldn’t have found much of that in the Conservative manifesto. The first two policies he mentioned came straight off the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.”

    That’s a very strange way of putting it, considering that the second of those policies was also in the Conservative manifesto!

  • Wow look at the spin on that!

    Severe housing benefit cuts mean that if you lose you job, you are also likely to lose your home.


    “There are fewer workless households—[Interruption.] I am keen to answer the question, and it is a very direct answer. Workless households down by 425,000,”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Nov '13 - 11:19am

    Actually, Chris, Nick owns this policy. He has been writing on it since 2003. There was no prior commitment from the Tories other than a non-specific line in their manifesto. We had all the details worked out and it is one of our best achievements in government.

  • Tory pot calls Lib Dem kettle black…

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