Hung Parliament talks: what will be proposed to Monday’s meetings?

The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party and the Federal Executive are scheduled to meet again on Monday. If a firm proposal is coming out from the talks today, expect it to be put to them both tomorrow. The big question is what might be proposed…?

Right across the party, both from senior to grassroots levels and from social through to economic liberals, there is very strong feeling that significant movements on electoral reform are a must for any arrangement. Given the country’s current economic woes, there is widespread agreement that PR isn’t the only issue at stake, but – for example – I’ve not spoken to anyone in the party who thinks the budget deficit is such a dominating issue that PR can be put on the back-burner for a few years.

Despite the understandable disappointment at how the general election results panned out in the end, there is considerable goodwill in the party towards Nick Clegg and the negotiating team – willing to trust them to do their best and in the right cause in the necessarily private meetings and discussions.

Doubt over the Conservative Party’s willingness to make meaningful concessions on electoral systems is tempered by distrust of Labour’s record at making and breaking promises over changing the electoral system for the Commons. Certainly many of the Labour figures speaking out in the media do not seem to have grasped the fact that if they want to persuade Liberal Democrats they are sincere a little more humility about their previous broken promises and a little less of the “if you’re not really a Tory in disguise you MUST agree with us” would be wise. And as for why Gordon Brown thought it sensible to repeatedly get the party’s name wrong in his public comments…

Jonathan Calder has also picked up on another of these baffling attitudes from Labour:

An arrangement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have to be expanded to command a majority.

So how does Labour treat the smaller parties?

Earlier today Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, called on the Lib Dems to join a “progressive alliance” involving Labour, his party and Plaid Cymru as an alternative to a deal with the Tories.

In reply, Labour issued a statement saying they were not in discussion with the SNP and describing the initiative as “a desperate attempt by Alex Salmond to make himself look relevant”.

As Peter Hoskin says: “Well, that may or may not be true. But given how the Labour leadership has all the cards stacked against it, it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little more circumspect over the next few days.”

I know it can be hard from people from one party to understand the nuances of the internal politics of another party (don’t ask me for an expert insight into what Liam Fox thought he was doing going on TV trashing the idea that electoral reform matters and then subsequently back-tracking), but it is all rather baffling.

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38 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 9th May '10 - 4:08pm

    Despite the understandable disappointment at how the general election results panned out in the end, there is considerable goodwill in the party towards Nick Clegg and the negotiating team – willing to trust them to do their best and in the right cause in the necessarily private meetings and discussions.

    Or if not exactly universal goodwill, at least a general acceptance of a “wait and see” position, rather than screaming and running around in little circles at every rumour in the tabloids.

  • Saoirse Kavan 9th May '10 - 4:16pm

    Proportional Representation, for me at least, is the single most important issue at stake here.

    Putting it on the back-burner for the sake of creating a strong government would be a disastrous move. A strong government can’t solve the deficit (after all, it was a strong government that created it!), but a strong country can. How much stronger can a country get than that which is based on the true representation of its population?

    The Tories now that their party would be destroyed under PR. They represent nobody but the richest, and their success is always down to them not being Labour when Labour is weak. If we bow to their demands now, do you really think they’d just hand over PR when the deficit is sorted? I don’t, and therefore I would not support any attempt at forming government, or even tackling the deficit, until a PR system is in place.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th May '10 - 4:18pm

    Andrew

    I think that’s because most of us have enough maturity to reach a balanced judgment about what the press is saying – rather than being so insecure that we go into hysterics if somebody quotes a story that we don’t like the sound of …

  • Doubt over the Conservative Party’s willingness to make meaningful concessions on electoral systems is tempered by distrust of Labour’s record at making and breaking promises over changing the electoral system for the Commons.

    Don’t forget that there is a big difference this time: we can hold a gun to the head of Labour. The second it looks like they’re backtracking on electoral reform, we withdraw our support and bring down their government. This triggers a general election, the Tories will win resoundingly, and Labour will probably rip itself apart. Tht should force them to be serious about carrying this through.

  • Silent Hunter 9th May '10 - 4:23pm

    Jez,

    One simple fact is that . . . you can’t ‘trust’ Labour. They will just treat the Lib Dems with contempt as they have always done.

  • from talking to labour friends it is clear they view this as the best possible outcome in the election – they desperately don’t want to be in government, but know a LD/Con agreement will see us tarnished by association and big cuts, and they won’t have to give us PR. They want time to regroup and come back quickly. They are just trying to ‘offer’ something so they can say it was our choice to go in with the Tories – hence the reaction to the SNP as in reality they don’t want to try a rainbow deal.

  • Niklas: can you think of a better strategy, given that letting Cameron be PM would likely result in a general election soon where the Tories argue that people need to vote for a clear Tory majority this time (‘look what happened last time! All that political wrangling is smoke-filled back-door rooms… etc etc.), and former Lib Dem supporters give up on us because we ‘let the Tories in’?

    If Labour forced us to precipitate a general election, we may well get hammered, so we’d be relying on them not to do it because they too would get hammered. Yes, it’s a mess. Mainly because the old parties are chock full of utter scumbags.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th May '10 - 4:56pm

    “Lady Shirley Williams has become the first senior Liberal Democrat to break ranks and come out against the idea of her party striking a formal coalition deal with David Cameron, warning that it is not in the “Conservatives’ DNA” to move properly in key areas.
    Speaking to the Guardian, she said she would prefer the Lib Dems to agree to vote through key Tory bills rather than become coalition partners.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/09/shirley-williams-warns-clegg-conservatives

  • I suspect that what might happen is the following:

    – The Tories can convincingly say that the general public has signalled an interest in change, but have not unequivocally said “we want PR” or even “we want electoral reform”. Otherwise the LD vote share would have jumped significantly, as it’s one of the headline ideals. The argument that you can simply add in Labour votes to the “electoral reform” clamour is pretty shaky, as I doubt many Labour supporters viewed it as a headline, and many others would agree that it was a tactical decision to include it in the manifesto, as they haven’t exactly been enthusiasts about binning FPTP for the past 13 years.

    – Given that, I could see the Tories offering certain moves towards electoral reform now, such as maybe fixed terms, rebalanced boundaries, perhaps something with the Lords

    – What Cameron could say is that *next time*, if the population continues to ask for a coalition at the next election, then OK, maybe PR is what they are after. If the population really has an appetite for PR and continued coalitions, it should be able to demonstrate it better at the next General Election than it has done at this one.

    So… how about a committment to PR in the *second* term of a Con/Lib government, if that’s what the people want?

  • So… how about a committment to PR in the *second* term of a Con/Lib government, if that’s what the people want?

    You know as well as everyone else that although many want PR, enough are so easily swayed by stupid Tory/Murdoch scaremongering that there won’t be a second term of Con/Lib government under this system, even if at heart many of those Tory voters support PR.

  • Jon Bellingam 9th May '10 - 6:17pm

    Of course PR matters and fair votes matter, but so do other policy issues we should have on the table – not least fair taxation and a moderate approach to public service reform. There are more routes offered towards electoral reform that a definite agreement from the Tories – who are never going to understand the concepts of fairness and democracy however long people try and explain it to them.

    More than anything I just pray that our leadership are not dazzled by the siren offers of Cabinet glory. We might, just, be able to sell and stomach a mature constructive and conditional support for a minority government for the good of the national economy. I fear a formal coalition would be the quickest route back to electoral irrelevance we could take.

  • paul barker 9th May '10 - 7:25pm

    Can I plead with the ” GIVE ME PR OR GIVE ME DEATH ” brigade to just chillax, take some tranx or have a glass of red. Some points.
    WTF is this thing about a Referendum ? If theres one thing we want to avoid its a referendum which would just give power to the MSM who, if you remember hate our guts.
    We need some self-confidence, based on our shared values & historical trends. The two old parties have been in decline for 60 years, their combined vote just fell by 2.5%, it will go on falling & ours will rise. Even without PR it will become harder & harder to form one-party governments, time is on our side.

  • This is very emotional; for me the basic tenets of our principles are electoral reform (PR) and diverse economy, education, Europe and our stance on civil liberties.

    I completely agree, and if we were in government I’m sure that’s exactly what we’d do. But we’re not, so we can’t expect to be able to hold out for everything we want. If we’d won 80-90 seats and a 2nd place in vote share then we’d have a much stronger bargaining hand, but we didn’t so we have to do the best with what we have.

    It looks like we can get some kind of movement towards a referendum on electoral reform, moderate the Tories’ spending cuts and get concessions on cutting tax for the lowest paid, as well as a version of our excellent pupil premium to help disadvantaged children. On Europe – yes, we’re miles apart from even Cameron never mind the hard right of his party, but there’s unlikely to be any big decision on Europe in this parliament anyway so we can just agree to disagree. And on civil liberites we’re actually closer to the Tories than to Labour on most issues, especially ID cards.

    If we walk away, the most likely outcome is that Cameron goes it alone. We’d be turning our backs on a real chance to make the coming years a bit better for some of the most vulnerable in our society, which I would say is also a basic tenet of our principles.

    What would the alternative be? We go into a hopelessly unstable and hideously unpopular coalition with Labour and the nationalists. We make painful spending cuts, the Conservatives stay disciplined knowing we won’t last long and make sure the press call us a “coalition of losers” in every headline, and after a year or two either the nats or Labour malcontents bring the coalition down, both us and Labour get massacred in the ensuing election and the Tories sweep into power and do as they please. Sounds great.

    The Tories claim to be more liberal these days, yet there is a dark horrible underbelly to them. There is a disturbing number of Tories who are anti-abortionists, blood-sport supporters, homophobes and xenophobes and climate-change deniers.

    It’s not even an underbelly – it’s a hefty chunk of the Tory party, and they showed flashes of their true colours during the campaign (Phillipa Stroud and Chris Grayling spring to mind). Believe me, I’m 100% with you in that the idea of getting into bed with them makes my stomach churn. But the alternative is even worse.

    We have a chance to protect the country from the nastiest parts of their agenda. We have a chance to strengthen the moderate wing of the Tory party and hold back the hard right. We have a chance to steer parts of the next government’s programme towards helping those who need it rather than abandoning them. If we throw away this chance in order to keep our hands clean we’ll be partly responsible for the worst excesses of a minority Tory government. Or worse, a majority Tory government following a disastrous and unelectable Lib-Lab-nat pact. That would be a true betrayal of our principles.

  • @ paul barker – exactly right

    I’m genuinely baffled that so many people think we can secure PR by running into Labour’s arms. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Brown can deliver the support of all his MPs on a PR referendum, and both he and Nick know it. Even with SNP/Plaid support a rainbow coalition would have a miniscule majority and just a handful of Labour backbench rebels would scupper a PR referendum before it even got off the ground. Anybody really think Labour backbenchers are keen to give up their safe seats under FPTP just in order to keep GB in office?

    But even if by some miracle a referendum bill was passed, what then? We’ll be in coaltion with a horrendously unpopular Labour party with an even less popular Prime Minister, making spending cuts all over the place – except probably Scotland and Wales since that’ll be the nationalists’ 30 pieces of silver for backing our coalition. And the Tories scenting blood, jeering from the sidelines and mobilising the right wing press to turn out Sun readers in droves to vote “NO”.

    This is the political climate in which people think a referendum on voting reform can be won? To borrow a line from Gordon Brown “get real”.

    If we go with Labour – with or without Brown – it’ll be the death blow for any chance of PR for a generation.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th May '10 - 8:53pm

    “Clegg doing the opposite of what he said in the election, when he said the party with the largest number of votes/MPs will be judged to be the moral winners”

    But of course that’s not what he said. He said that party would have the right to seek to govern.

    If the Tories seek to reach an agreement with the Lib Dems and fail, it’s perfectly consistent with that for the Lib Dems to investigate other options.

  • It’s utterly pathetic to see so many people at the first whiff of grapeshot, the first sound of gunfire, start contemplating ripping up their membership/threatening to never vote LibDem again if we don’t get immediately get PR for the first time of asking.

    I don’t recall the same being said when the Scottish LibDems kicked PR for local government into the long-grass for their first term in office with Labour, or the comission that change the tutition-fees system, PFI or the inaction on a local income tax.

    So what do these ideological purists do next I wonder? Join the Greens, or the continuing Liberal Party – wow that’d really secure the change we want to see in this country – NOT!

  • Horrendously unpopular Labour? they did very well considering the Iraq war, expenses scandal, recession, huge unemployment, Conservatives should have won this election comfortably, not too mention Labour doing extremely well in the local elections, they’re far from dead.

  • DeanB, even if you were right, and the majority of all the voters wouldn’t have signaled that they want PR, the majority of the Lib Dem voters have, and the Lib Dems don’t have a mandate to participate into a government which isn’t commited to PR or at least to arrange a referendum about it.

  • David Walker 9th May '10 - 11:40pm

    Clegg is right to give the Conservatives the first opportunity to try and form a Government. That is, the opportunity to show the country that they are completely incapable of working with other parties in the national interest. Cameron may be willing to compromise and reform, but he can’t deliver his party. They’re already baying for his blood.

    This will only give the “rainbow” coalition more legitimacy when it comes.

  • Catherine, thank you for summing up my sentiments far better than I ever could! #IagreewithCatherine

  • Malcolm Todd 10th May '10 - 9:47am

    Don’t forget that in the 1970s, the instinctively unionist/centralist Labour Party promised devolution to Scotland and Wales to secure Liberal and nationalist backing. However, they could only get this through their own MPs by including referendums as a prerequisite and, crucially, the “40% rule” introduced by one of their own backbenchers. The referendums, when eventually held as the Labour government staggered to the end of its days, were lost, the government fell, and the cause of devolution was set back for 20 years. The Labour government couldn’t deliver even when they were the largest party in parliament and Labour and Liberals together formed a majority.

    A deal with Labour now is a guarantee of nothing, because their own backbenchers, in cahoots with a Tory opposition, can fatally undermine any proposal on electoral reform. We have to deal with the parliament we’ve got, not the one we’d have liked to have had.

  • I voted for Nick and the LDs because of PR and I really do not want a Tory government of any kind, it was said a change to our electoral system had to be on any agenda to LD support…

    Now I see Nick has changed the way he speaks, a change to our electoral system to political changes…

    I am very sorry to say if this happens I have wasted my vote and should have stuck with Labour, I think many voters will feel the same way… electoral reform should be a deal breaker, I am sorry to say, it is for me.

    Should the party leader and those advising him not get a referendum this year, then they will have failed the trust of those who voted for Liberal Democrats party.

    What Nick and his advisers are failing to understand is, if they do a deal with the Tory party to form or allow them to form a government; the consequences for the Liberal Democrats are dire, this is the one chance they have to secure a deal.

    Labour in opposition means a new party leader, who will be very popular to voters who have turned away from labour because of Mr Brown; I feel that the right Labour leader will regain the support from the populace and if that should happen the next election will see the Labour party back with a vengeance.

    Labour did far better than anyone expected, as the Liberal Democrats failed to progress, even in these times of woe and worry, this should send a loud warning to both the Liberal Democrats and the Tory parties, and if the Liberal Democrats don’t think Mr Cameron understands this then Nick and his advisors are beyond help…

  • I sincerely hope that Lib Dems don’t hop on a rainbow coalition if Brown resigns. We’d never be taken seriously again for acting so fickle.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th May '10 - 12:20pm

    The BBC is reporting that Clegg needs a “majority” of MPs and the Federal Executive to agree to the proposals.

    Is that the result of ignorance, or has somebody briefed them to that effect, I wonder.

  • Sorry guys, if a Lib Dem/Con deal emerges, it will seen as Vote Lib Dem, get Dave Cameron and the voters will abandon you, no matter what system it’s under. (Especially in Scotland and Wales, where any Tory govt will inevitably be seen as illegitimate anyway).

  • Peter Laubach 10th May '10 - 2:05pm

    Catherine – like Andrea, I think you have expressed my thoughts perfectly. Thanks!

  • If it is a Lib labour pack then we will be back to a 2 tier system.?

  • Will expand on that vote for libs and yo get labour

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