Nick Clegg announces 2015 negotiating team

Nick Clegg has announced the team who will handle coalition negotiations after the election in 2015 (if needed, of course).  It will consist of Danny Alexander, Steve Webb, Sal Brinton, Lynne Featherstone and David Laws.

In his book ‘22 days in May‘ David Laws revealed that Nick Clegg had appointed the 2010 negotiating team in secret during the previous year. The team was not put together in haste after the election, as many had assumed, so there were really no excuses for the absence of women. Politically David Laws and Danny Alexander were drawn from the economic liberal wing of the party while Chris Huhne was perceived as hailing from the social liberal end.

The new team addresses the gender issue to an extent, including two very effective female parliamentarians. But with a membership of five, equal representation along any axis is impossible.  So once again the right/left, economic/social split is skewed to the right, while the gender split is skewed to the male.

Danny Alexander and David Laws provide some continuity as they bring with them their experience from 2010. David’s evidence-based analytical approach could provide a useful brake on over enthusiastic colleagues.

Lynne Featherstone is a welcome inclusion. Her feisty pursuit of issues that she really cares about has drawn admiration from inside and outside the party – most recently on female genital mutilation but also on equal marriage, disability and many others. Lynne has been a councillor and a London Assembly member so has a good understanding of local government.

Steve Webb is an interesting choice. He has long been a thorn in Nick Clegg’s side, although this was partly redeemed by a warm Letter from the Leader a year ago praising his achievements. Steve is widely respected for his erudite understanding of his brief as Pensions Minister and the sound policies that he has enacted.

Sal Brinton is a backbencher in the Lords, with a good understanding of the internal workings of the party. She is seen as a safe pair of hands, although she rarely makes the headlines. As a candidate she was the victim of a lengthy campaign of criminal damage, harassment and intimidation, which has undoubtedly given her the strength to stand up to bullies – perhaps a useful skill within the team?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Bill le Breton 4th Mar '14 - 11:52am

    Why now?

    There are some very odd things going on at the moment.

    We are in the midst of an existential election campaign across the country and people who should be confining their energies to those campaigns are thinking more about their own political careers by trying to wrap themselves round people and issues that they hope will augment their positions.


  • Imagine that article starting —
    To negotiate a peace settlement with Putin,   
    Danny Alexander will lead team with David Laws, Lady Brinton, Lynne Featherstone and Steve Webb.

    But I agree with Bill, Before 23 May those at the top of the party ought to prioritise those candidates up and down the country who are doing the best for their communities.

  • Interesting. Given that a hung parliament would require the Tories to do considerably better than current polls are suggesting, the two MPs on that list whose seats would be most vulnerable in those circumstances are Steve Webb and Lynne Featherstone. If those two were lost, how would the left-right balance of the team look then?

  • There is a presumption that all these people get reelected..

  • Bill le Breton 4th Mar '14 - 1:09pm

    This is less about describing Lynne in an objective fashion as about putting a non neutral ‘label’ on a potential leadership candidate – like putting Alistair Carmichael at one time into the role as Chief Whip and briefing on him as a ‘bruiser’ – a label that has stuck.

  • Phil Rimmer 4th Mar '14 - 1:10pm

    Stephen – until recently, as someone who calls himself a Radical Liberal, I had spent most of my political life trying to ignore “binary labels”. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the constant sniping against the social liberal tradition in the party by Clegg, Alexander, Laws et. al. and their minions means that those of us who would have the social liberal tradition survive within our party must, until the impact of the 2015 election result can be seen, buy into those labels or lose what is starting to look to me like an undeclared civil war.

  • Will Featherstone & Alexander even be MPs the morning after the next election ?

    Electoral Calculus have:
    Featherstone’s chance of retaining Hornsey & Wood Green only 15.8%, with Labour at 77.2% chance.
    Alexander’s chance of retaining Inverness calculated at only 23%, with SNP at 43%

  • Tony Greaves 4th Mar '14 - 3:16pm

    Electoral Calculus is rubbish when applied to individual seats and everyone knows this. However I share the concerns of Bill and others about this move at this time.

    There does not seem to be much input here from the party (as opposed to parliamentarians). And if it is “representative of the balance of views in the party”, you could have fooled me. Looks to me more like another strike for the right-wing/centrist leadership coup that has taken place in the party since 2010.

    And how can strategies for discussing the programme for a government be set out before we have decided what is to be in the manifesto? Or is that to be a leadership set-up as well?

    And though I have much admiration forl her qualities and hard work, I wonder who decided that the Lords person on this group should be Sal Brinton? I wonder if anyone in the Lords party was even consulted?

    However, unless there are some very significant changes in the political scene during the next year, it’s statistically not likely that these things will matter next time.

    Tony Greaves

  • “Christopher – Sal Brinton at least doesn’t need to be re-elected.”

    That’s just as well. It’s far from impossible that Alexander, Webb and Featherstone could all lose their seats if the Tories recover somewhat from their current position and the Lib Dems don’t …

  • God, how presumptious.
    AND what to support it, 10 MPs?

  • paul barker 4th Mar '14 - 4:10pm

    This looks a good team to me & I am enormously pleased by the (infinite) improvement in gender balance. They are presumably being chosen for their character, experience & links within the Party, I dont see how an MP losing their seat affects any of those.
    Establishing this group now is just common sense, as is making it public.
    Speculating now about the result next May seems pointless, by this June we should have more idea. I say “should” because our introduction of Fixed-Term Parliaments has greatly extended the period of “Mid-Term” already, who knows how long it will last ?

  • David Allen 4th Mar '14 - 5:21pm

    Clegg, Alexander and Laws – 3 out of 6, with leader holding casting vote of course. The others are there for decoration, for the possibility they might chuck in a few good ideas, and for fooling people that there is a semblance of balance.

    If I was Ed Miliband, I would know that there was no prospect whatsoever of being asked to deal with these guys.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Mar '14 - 8:11pm

    I’m with 100% David Allen, Theakes, Phil Rimmer, Tony Greaves etc on this.
    A couple of weeks ago I (mistakenly) wrote in support of Clegg remaining the leader but with fewer Orange Bookers surrounding him. Yes, I welcome the introduction of Lynne Featherstone and Steve Webb but I did not join the Liberal Democrats to have leaders handing down directional and policy-determining dictates such as this. It is more reflective of some self-perpetuating hierarchical religious body than a modern and allegedly democratic political party. This announcement must be challenged by the party; failure to do so will result in further losses of good Liberals and Social Democrats from the centre-left of our party. As a very minimum, the negotiating team should be elected by the Parliamentary party. And Nick, although I am just an unimportant deliverer and local worker, for what it’s worth you have just forfeited my support for you personally as leader. I for one have seen more than enough of excessively Tory-accommodating ‘economic liberalism’ of Laws et. al. Where is Tim Farron (as Party President) or experienced Parliamentarians such as Simon Hughes, Shirley Williams, Tony Greaves etc in all this. This needs a major constitutional review. A very disgruntled green, egalitarian Liberal.

  • “They are presumably being chosen for their character, experience & links within the Party, I dont see how an MP losing their seat affects any of those.”

    Surely the negotiating team won’t include people who’ve just lost their parliamentary seats?

  • David Allen 4th Mar '14 - 11:29pm

    A week ago the East Midlands Regional Conference passed overwhelmingly a motion calling for this team to be elected from the ranks of Lib Dem MPs by the Lib Dem membership. Sunk without trace, it seems. Why am I not surprised?

  • Frank Booth 5th Mar '14 - 12:56am

    I suspect Clegg is well aware that some of these may lose their seats at the election. I presume that’s why he’s naming his negotiating team now, as to do so after an election when some of those have lost their seats would be odd. Frankly it still will be odd. But Clegg has shown again that he is an elitist apathetic to democracy.

  • If Uriah Heep was a member of the Liberal Democrats today’ he could not have surpassed this comment —
    “paul barker 4th Mar ’14 – 4:10pm
    This looks a good team to me & I am enormously pleased by the (infinite) improvement in gender balance. They are presumably being chosen for their character, experience & links within the Party, I dont see how an MP losing their seat affects any of those.
    Establishing this group now is just common sense, as is making it public. ”

    For those unfamiliar with Uriah — he was according to Wiki — “a character in ‘David Copperfield’, notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own “‘humbleness”. His name has become synonymous with being a yes man.”

  • I think it is a good, balanced team and planning ahead sensible.

  • So a motion from East Midlands region, asking for more represetnation from the party outside parliament has been pre-empted. So be it.

    Steve Webb is indeed an interesting choice. I would like to know how much he has had to do with the more callous benefit cuts and sanctions. Has he been a thorn in Ian Douncan Smith’s side, as well as Nick Clegg’s? And what is the truth about Universal Credit, which he has had lot to do with?

  • peter tyzack 5th Mar '14 - 9:06am

    What a depressing read from all these negative posts.. and from people who should know better; relying on polls, paid for by people with any agenda other than ours and perpetrated by the media who just love to stir the story. Now what if we all get behind the leadership and talk UP our prospects, ignore the skewed ‘predictions’. If we set out our stall for Government, as we must if our manifesto is to sound credible, and then really go for gold (a phrase we should keep using), then what is possible is what the voter will give us. HQ strategists should be aiming for 100 seats, and why not? Our team have been doing a brilliant job, led by someone who turned out even better than we could have hoped, and whilst a few things have not gone our way we have made an impressive dent in the aspirations of the Tories whilst bringing in a good number of our own policies. Now go and talk about that, and please stop the self-fulfilling prophesy launched by our opponents.!

  • Michael Cole 5th Mar '14 - 9:30am

    Peter Tyzack is absolutely right.

  • Not quite sure why my previous post in support of Paul Barker has fallen foul of the moderator!Apologies if it was deemed OTT.
    However I would like to add my voice in support of Paul, Mark,Michael and above all Peter’s, analysis of the situation.

  • David Allen 5th Mar '14 - 12:37pm

    Paul King, who wishes to ignore a Motion passed by the East Midlands Conference, should not also misrepresent it. The Motion did not call for more representation from the party outside parliament. It called for a team of MPs to be elected by the party outside parliament.

    Now I am well aware that a Regional Conference is advisory, but, it would be nice to see some evidence that advice is at least listened to. Some of the other Motions that were passed have since appeared on the East Midlands website. This one has not appeared anywhere. It has sunk without trace. Bad show!

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Mar '14 - 4:32pm

    Very thoughtful analysis – thank you

  • I am with Peter Tyzack on this. As regards Stephen Hesketh’s suggestion that our negotiating team might include Shirley Williams (born 1930), Tony Greaves (born 1942) and Simon Hughes (born 1949), I do not like to be ageist about such things – and Shirley, Tony and Simon certainly possess a good deal of collective wisdom – but the team that Nick has selected is not short of intellect or experience, and the presence on it of Lynne Featherstone, Steve Webb and Sal Brinton should be a good enough guarantee for all of us that the negotiating team will not do anything silly.

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Mar '14 - 8:43pm

    @Hugh p … Yes, you are right about their ages but I was thinking more about their extensive but differing experiences and their independent minds! I did also mention Tim Farron and would also be perfectly happy with Lib Dem Voice’s own Caron Lindsay (free minded, female and young!).
    Another point I didn’t touch on yesterday is why should David Laws be called upon over the equally experienced and better performing Vince Cable?

    If Clegg won’t consult the party perhaps Lib Dem Voice could? Liberal Democrat-only access as per the members survey, say five nominations each. This would make a very interesting pre-spring conference question!

    I also question the principle of a leader (who may or may not be the leader following a General Election) to significantly predetermine the views and direction of the party in the event of another hung Parliament. An over representation of ‘economic liberals’ in this team might have very serious implications for our party should the electoral mathematics mean that we truly hold the balance of power and find ourselves in the position of being able to form a coalition with either Labour or Conservative parties. I can’t see that it is either liberal or democratic that such power should be within the gift of a single individual.

  • David Allen 5th Mar '14 - 11:27pm

    “I also question the principle of a leader (who may or may not be the leader following a General Election) to significantly predetermine the views and direction of the party in the event of another hung Parliament.”

    Yes – What on earth happens if / when two or three of these six fail to get re-elected, and/or the leader resigns but is still leading the negotiating team?

    The advantage of the East Midlands type of formula is that before the election, the membership would have elected a list of MPs in rank order. Then, the top six re-elected MPs would become the negotiating team.

    That works. What Clegg has decreed, doesn’t.

  • Nick Collins 6th Mar '14 - 1:03pm

    So what is Clegg’s vision now? LibDems permanently in government with minority share of the parliamentary votes and sears? That does not sound very democratic.

    I’m having to rethink my membership of the Electoral Reform Society; campaigning for “reform” of the electoral system which would make such an anti-democratic outcome more likely is, on reflection, something I no longer wish to do.

  • @Nick Collins — It’s down to you, of course, to make up your mind about what you think “sounds democratic” — but the scenario you paint is a sight more democratic than a succession of “majority” governments by parties who rarely get more than 40% of the vote.

    The problems with the present coalition are not that it’s “undemocratic” — the two parties in it do represent the largest share of votes in quite some time (59%; neither Thatcher nor Blair managed more than 44%). That makes it the most “democratic” government of modern times.

    The problems are, first, that the misallocation of seats gives the Lib Dems much less representation than they should have by proportion of vote; second, that the internal dynamics of the government appear to give the Lib Dems in it very little leverage, and make it essentially a Tory government with frills on (and, pace Mr Huntbach, this is not the same thing as the first point, nor a necessary consquence of it); third, that a great many of those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 did not get what they thought they were voting for, and do not believe that their views are well represented in the current government.

  • Simon Banks 6th Mar '14 - 2:18pm

    Caractacus: there are various ways of interpreting opinion polls. Simply extrapolating from global figures is not very useful, especially with Liberal Democrat seats. Otherwise, we’d have lost seats in 1997 and gained them in 2010. Look a bit more closely, at local election results, and you see evidence that our support has collapsed where we’re relatively weak but held up well (after the hammering of 2011) where we’re strong, especially where we hold the parliamentary seat, especially where the Tories are our main opponents (which is most of our seats). Local elections also show that we can still benefit from tactical voting by Labour-leaning voters, but not many Tory-leaning tactical voters can be garnered. Add to that the well-known tendency of people to answer pollsters outside elections with an eye to the national situation, but to remember how they like the MP (or the MP’s main opponent) once the election is called, and there is every reason to expect a better result than 20 seats.

    As for the argument that no overall control would require the Tories to outperform their current polls – yes, but not by that much, and most people do not expect them to outperform their 2010 showing, especially with the UKIP effect. So seats like Steve Webb’s ought to be possible to hold.

    To turn back to the choice Nick Clegg has reportedly made – with Danny Alexander a Clegg, Clegg, Clegg, Clegg, Clegg representative and David Laws well on the right of the party, I’m not convinced the team is really balanced. How much does that matter? I’m not sure. It might be more important to have a cool-headed, incisive, tough negotiator like Laws in there, than to have precise balance.

    Another question is whether an MP losing his or her seat would take them off the team. I don’t see that it necessarily should provided members of the House of Commons as a whole were reasonably represented.

  • Nick Collins 6th Mar '14 - 2:25pm

    @ Joe Otten: I’ve absolutely no idea where this mythical “centre ground” might be; is it somewhere near Middle Earth?

    @ David 1:I agree with you that that the current government is “essentially a Tory government” (personally,I would not bother with the word “essentially”). I also agree that “a great many of those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 did not get what they thought they were voting for”. I was one of them; I will not make the same mistake again.

    What I would find depressing, if I were still a member of your Party, is that Clegg’s choice of the team to lead negotiations for a coalition in 2015, should the LibDems be in a position to negotiate any such thing, indicates that he has learnt absolutely nothing since 2010.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Mar '14 - 8:29pm

    @Nick Collins – but sounds as though you are still a Lib Dem in your heart!

    Ah yes, the ‘centre ground’, equi-distant between two equally aliberal (is that a word?) parties – and about as reflective of the majority of our collective values as the totally uninspiring and only vaguely liberal ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’. Yuck!

    Whilst economic liberalism clearly has its place in our party traditions it will never bring about the root and branch change our society requires. Our party is itself a coalition. We ignore that fact at our peril – and the negotiating team must reflect the same reality. Some version of the East Midlands formula would indeed be a vast improvement on where we are right now – although I personally would prefer candidates having the potential to drawn from a wider base than just the MPs.

    @Joe Otten “And there is no promise of permanency for any party under any system. It all depends on winning votes”. Yes indeed but political parties can clearly sustain themselves for decades if their cause is just (as our own history demonstrates!). Even electorally successful parties would not exist for long if they were to continuously drive away certain sections of membership as happened with us during the early stages of this Parliament. If we follow the same centre-right path again (internally and externally), we are likely to see a much greater level of internal strife, heavier membership losses or a combination of both. A leader (and presumably his inner circle) selecting the future negotiating team in their own image makes future division all the more likely. At least we would all be able to stand behind a democratically elected team if we had to compromise certain of our treasured policies. I feel that far too many of the green and redistributive policies of the party were cast aside by more ‘economically’-driven members of the last negotiating team. The number of able and experienced members lost following the last election suggests I may not be too far from the truth with this thought.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Mar '14 - 9:12pm

    @myself! “Some version of the East Midlands formula would indeed be a vast improvement on where we are right now ” … Sorry ANY version …!

  • Nick Collins 7th Mar '14 - 10:59am

    @ Stephen Hesketh. I am still a liberal and my heart is where it always was: on the libertarian left. So I am no longer a Liberal Democrat.

    I’m sorry, I do not know what the East Midlands Formula is. That aside, there is not much within your comment with which I would disagree.

  • David Allen 7th Mar '14 - 1:04pm

    Hi Nick, I’m the person who brought the East Midlands into all this, you need to read back to:

    A week ago the East Midlands Regional Conference passed overwhelmingly a motion calling for this team to be elected from the ranks of Lib Dem MPs by the Lib Dem membership.

    Hope that helps. I should just add that it wasn’t my Motion, and it wasn’t just dissidents like me who voted for it. It was supported by the great majority of a large region’s campaigners on the ground – who surely won’t keep up their enthusiasm for ever, if they don’t ever get a voice!

  • Nick Collins 7th Mar '14 - 2:06pm

    Thank you, David.
    So some members are attempting to inject an element of democracy into Liberal Democrat decision-making processes. Good luck with that!

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