Lessons of Coalition (7): what do the Lib Dems need to learn from the first 3 years?

ldv coalition lessonsLibDemVoice is running a daily feature, ‘Lessons of Coalition’, to assess the major do’s and don’ts learned from our experience of the first 3 years in government. Reader contributions are welcome, either as comments or posts. The word limit is no more than 450 words, and please focus on just one lesson you think the party needs to learn. Simply email your submission to [email protected] Today Mark Pack  shares his thoughts.

The invisible ministers should up their game, or be sacked

For the start of both 2011 and 2012, I wrote about the challenges the party faced in government. I didn’t do a 2013 sequel because I couldn’t think of much to say other than “see 2011 and 2012”.

However, in one respect my view has got tougher another year and a half on. The party can’t afford the luxury of the invisible junior ministers – those who do a perfectly nice, decent job somewhere in the bowels of government but are almost never heard of and do almost nothing to win the party votes or attract new members.

Yes, it’s tough being a minister and an MP, taking up for the conscientious the amount of time that in any other profession would have people demanding huge cuts in the hours worked.

But the good ones know that communicating and winning support isn’t an optional extra to be postponed until that mythical free day finally arrives. The good ones know that it is an inherent part of the job – because without coverage, members and votes there ends up being no ministers either.

As for the bad ones, despite being a minister they email fewer party members, secure less press coverage and do less to build up the party than I do, despite me having a full time non-political job.  (The same applies too of course to others in the party too. I just happen to notice my own activities more closely and so know the benchmark against which I’m judging others.)

There’s really no excuse for doing so badly as a minster.

Three years in, if a minister hasn’t worked out how to do better than that, should they still be a minister? I think not.

And if Nick Clegg is as serious about repeatedly winning power as he tells the rest of us to be, then he should be giving them all the simple choice: play your part in the party’s political success, or say goodbye to being a minister.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

Previously Published:

Stephen Tall: Stronger policy development and campaigning on issues that matter to the public (AKA where’s our liberal equivalent of the benefits cap?)

Mark Valladares: Better party communications responding to the realities of governing

Gareth Epps: Government: What’s Occurrin?

Nick Thornsby: Making a success of coalition government as a concept

Caron Lindsay: That old “walk a mile in each others’ shoes” thing works

Louise Shaw: One member, one vote for all party elections

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • But surely, Mark, Ministers who make a reasonable amount of publicity have often “lost more votes” in this Government than others who have remained, mercifully, silent. That doesn’t apply to all more vocal ministers and I don’t intend to go around naming names, as you clearly haven’t either. Sometimes it’s better to keep shtum.

  • I usually agree with Mark Pack, but I am not sure that in this instance he is being fair to the ministers concerned. All our ministers seem to do an excellent job in promoting our party within their own constituencies, and in assessing the contribution that they make to the party’s work nationally, it is (a) necessary to remember that those who are government whips have by convention to be silent in the House of Commons, and do not get the opportunity to become involved in the launching of policy initiatives of an electorate-pleasing nature ; and (b), to take up Tim13’s point, but apply it a little differently, one or two of our ministers probably have a harder task than we imagine in fire-fighting from a Lib Dem point of view within their own departments, and part of their achievement may well be that they have kept their Conservative colleagues more mercifully silent than would otherwise have been the case.

  • Peter Hayes 5th Aug '13 - 12:54pm

    I must admit that, when invited to respond to a survey, the answer to ‘how do you think xyz is doing’ is often I do not know. Some because I an not interested in what they are doing, eg leaders of Welsh or Scottish parties, but some are just so low profile the name rings a very muffled bell.

  • Peter: My simple rule is that if I (as someone who pays far more attention that the average person!) doesn’t know, then I put them down as doing badly – as they should be doing better than leaving people in ignorance.

  • Sean O'Curneen 5th Aug '13 - 7:30pm

    Caracatus may have a point. In many coalitions in other countries, the junior partner is responsible for a certain number of ministries and no more, and is therefore clearly distinguishable from the senior partner.

  • Of course the wider issue is whether we need so many junior ministers – having recently read Chris Mullins’ diaries I can there is a clear case to be made for fewer junior ministers overall – if say we removed one minister from each department we would I suggest not see a less effective government.

    On a more specific point I think it was a big mistake not to have a Lib Dem Minister in the Ministry of Defence

  • Simon Banks 22nd Aug '13 - 4:57pm

    Clearly a minister’s duty is not just to promote the party, though it’s reasonable to ask ourselves how junior ministers to Tory senior ministers can thereby help our prospects without being unreasonably disloyal to their ministers. A junior minister, especially one without a meaty area of personal responsibility, may do a good job without making a lot of news and may even gain us some support among particular groups with roles that bring them into close contact with particular ministers (hopefully without becoming their puppet, but by listening,understanding the issues, being as good as his/her word and so on).

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