Preparing for a Partnership Parliament

We now need to prepare for what is almost certain to be a Parliament with no one-Party majority, following a General Election in the next few months. In local government we have a lot of experience in dealing with this sort of situation.

Currently in England alone we are involved in Government in more than 70 Councils. In some we have overall control and at the other extreme in others we have passively let another Party take minority control on the basis of some assurances.
There seem, however, to be five things which make arrangements work:

1. A clear manifesto from the Lib Dems. As we found in 2010 having a strong, well thought out manifesto gives you a strong base for negotiation.

2. A negotiation with another Party (Parties) based on values and principles and not on who gets what. In this situation Lib Dem negotiators must have a clear view of Lib Dem red lines and a feeling for the red lines of another Party (ies).

3. Trust. If the people you are negotiating with are not people you can go for a pint (or cup of tea) with your Partnership will not work.

4. You need to set targets and timetables so that progress can be both kept to and checked upon.

5. Help with both development and maintenance of a partnership by people from outside Parliament who can outside the swirl of passions about, ‘and what will my role be in all this’. In the case of Councils in England the LGA supply mentors to all Parties involved in partnerships for at least 4 months during the development and implementation of partnership agreements.

Usually, the agreements are between Parties. As both you and Ed made clear during the Leadership election ‘deals’ with Johnson and Corbyn would be extremely difficult as they are both militant extremists in their own way. It may well be then that a partnership would be between some Parties and individuals in other Parties who could get together behind a limited number of short-term objectives, chief of which would be the revocation of Article 50. A General Election would then be called at which a business as you’ return to normal Party politics would be made.

Clearly, we have no idea who will be in that Parliament as both Labour and Tory candidates are trying to continue their purges of the moderates and bind candidates to ludicrous pledges.
So, based on our considerable council experience:

1. Have your negotiating team ready

2. Have your 5 or 6 key priorities in mind and make sure that they are the ones that will be the key planks of your next General Election campaign.

3. Make a speedy announcement of what you think is the way forward as to the outline of the next Parliament.

4. Don’t do anything during the election which would prejudice the possibility of you doing some business with people in other Parties after it.

This the same advice local government offered Nick in 2010. The first joint meeting of the Parliamentary Parties of the Commons and Lords took place in Local Government House and we gave examples of good working practice only some of which were taken on board!

It is important that these and other ways forward are discussed within the Party very quickly. Jo Swinson and her team will have to move within hours of results being declared. She will be able to do so better if the Party knows what she is going to do and is firmly behind her.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the Leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Spot on Richard. I would add one more thing. Be prepared to take time to negotiate. The press will be clamouring for an instant decision. I am almost certain that rushing it, as we did in 2010, meant we didn’t nail down commitments to – for example House of Lords reform – and we accepted some things that we shouldn’t have in the mistaken belief that we had to do the deal by the end of the weekend.
    In other countries deals may take weeks to do. Getting it right, both for the party and the UK is vitally important.
    By the way, any deal we make with anyone that does not include STV for all elections is a non starter, because however well we do at the next election, we do not wish to be clobbered by FPTP at the subsequent one as happened in 2015. We must ignore the siren voices who will tell us that it’s just selfishness. We know STV is the best election system and the only one that gives individual voters choice.

  • Happy to agree with Richard and Mick. It helps if core radical Liberal values tackling inequality and poverty were at the heart of the negotiating stance.

    Talking of which, still no contact from you know who, Mick. Not a peep as the Alston Report gathers dust.

    Meanwhile, the Guardian reports today, “More than 4 million people in the UK are trapped in deep poverty, meaning their income is at least 50% below the official breadline, locking them into a weekly struggle to afford the most basic living essentials, an independent study has shown.

    The Social Metrics Commission also said 7 million people, including 2.3 million children, were affected by what it termed persistent poverty, meaning that they were not only in poverty but had been for at least two of the previous three years.”

  • Any negotiation needs to have two strands at the heart of it:

    – Brexit
    – The economy

    The two are, of course, intertwined, but we need to work with liberal, international, pro-business and pro-innovation MPs from all parties and none. It is only by enabling business to grow that we provide the tax revenues to fund the things we want to achieve for society.

    The last thing we must do is as both Johnson and Corbyn have done, promise a massive spending splurge.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Jul '19 - 1:38pm

    I agree with almost everything you’ve said Richard and recognise that you have an amazing amount of experience, whereas I only have experience of trying to get things done in a Council with no overall control and the Tories as the largest single party, and that many years ago.
    The issue I am concerned about is trust. IMHO one of the main problems with the Coalition was that we trusted too much, we looked and behaved too much like the Tories and we didn’t think critically about how our actions would be perceived by voters. Meanwhile the Tories were plotting our destruction and they nearly succeeded. We let our guard down and people thought we were just like the Tories so we became irrelevant. In addition we failed to hear the message voters were giving us through the ballot box each year we were in Coalition. So I would say keep hold of your political ‘nouse’ and don’t trust any other political party.

  • Paul Barker 29th Jul '19 - 1:43pm

    This piece is full of good sense but it is jumping the gun; we have to go through The Election 1st.
    Right now we need to be working on getting the best result we can in that Election & that means building an Alliance with other Pro-Remain Parties.
    To give an example of the potential, just look at todays Welsh Poll : we are on 16%, in 4th place, just behind The Brexit Party & ahead of Plaid.
    An Alliance of Libdems, Plaid & Greens would be on 34%, in 1st place & 10% ahead of The Tories. That is the prize.

  • Paul Barker “An Alliance of Libdems, Plaid & Greens would be on 34%, in 1st place & 10% ahead of The Tories. That is the prize.”

    This assumes that the people who vote for each of these very different parties are interchangeable; they aren’t.

    We have clear evidence from Lord Ashcroft’s polling, for example, that the increase in the Green vote at the European Elections came from Corbynite/Left-Wing Labourites who happened to be pro-Remain, and thought the Lib Dems were yellow tories keen to murder the first-born in every household.

    The ONLY way we can make progress is to make sure we win as many votes and seats as possible.

  • John Marriott 29th Jul '19 - 2:13pm

    Sounds a bit like David Steel in 1981 (“Go back to your constituencies and prepare.. for government?”. I am not yet convinced that a General Election is on the cards at least before 31 October. I would not rule out a realignment when Parliament returns after the recess. Starmer and Hammond are already talking and, even if there is eventually a GE I’m not convinced that Corbyn will to leading Labour into it.

    If Labour does table a motion of no confidence when Parliament returns, that still gives us fourteen days for someone to come up with an alternative government. Is that really a non starter? Never say never, especially in the current febrile atmosphere in the House of Commons.

  • I was about to add my comments and then opened the first ones up to find that Mick had already made them. However just two supplementaries.
    1. Paul Barker. As a member of a Council Group that is constantly campaigning I would say time put in (by some people) is a sound investment by people who are used to campaign even if it takes a certain amount of time out of campaigning to win – it is something that can always be done after dark! Thinking about coalition possible options – NOT TALKING ABOUT IT IN PUBLIC – before an election is vital.
    2. Thinking about coalition strategy during a coalition is also vital. I was saying this to our leaders from 2011 onwards but I don’t think I got proper answers to my questions – just as a lot of the local government expertise was disregarded in 2010.
    2a. The value of being well prepared was demonstrated when my group went into coalition with Conservatives on the Council. They asked what we wanted and we told them. We asked what they wanted and they scratched their heads. We got most of what we wanted.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Jul '19 - 3:02pm

    Hm. I think we have to go back to basics (or 2010) and consider that (1) for us as a party the coalition was a disaster. (2) for the country the Coalition was in too many ways a disaster (though things have got a lot worse since). (3) how do we avoid this happening again?

    We ought to have thought through some of these things before now but after the 2015 election everything was too traumatic. We were in a survival situation and we found it too hard to face up to the evident fact that we had, taking everything into consideration, made a balls up of the previous five years. That made it hard to work out what could have been done differently. We are now in a bind because this Parliament is unlikely to last much longer and we need to look forward and not back.

    This discussion is useful but it does not begin to get down to basics.

  • William Fowler 29th Jul '19 - 3:17pm

    If we are still in the EU prior to a GE then going for Revoke, along with the Greens and perhaps Plaid/SNP, might actually make the LibDems the biggest party. As to the coalition, voters may now have worked out that it was a better govn than the ones that preceded and followed it.

    LibDems do need to come up with some other policies that grab the voter’s attention in a positive manner (voting reform does not do that) and avoid any extra taxes on individual wealth or income, companies being fair game, though.

  • Andrew McCaig 29th Jul '19 - 4:00pm

    “almost certain to be a Parliament with no one-Party majority”

    That is dangerously complacent. The weekend polls would put Johnson within spitting distance of an overall majority and another 2% transfer from BXP would deliver that and a hard Brexit. Today’s Welsh poll would give the Tories around 10 gains from Labour in Wales and one loss to us

    As Paul Barker says, if the Brexit vote consolidates behind the Tories, what are we going to do? The problem is that Corbyn would much rather get rid of us than stop Brexit, so I see very little hope of compromise with the Labour Party

  • Joseph Bourke writes: “Labour leader Harold Wilson then formed a minority government. His administration survived through to a second general election in October 1974 which resulted in a single-figure majority for Wilson.
    He was replaced as Labour leader and Prime Minister by James Callaghan but Labour, their majority whittled away in by-election losses, were ousted by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party in 1979.”

    You forgot the important bit from a Liberal perspective. Callaghan was propped up by the Liberal Party in 1977, and their withdrawal of support in 1978 paved the way for the election in 1979.

  • I fear you are all putting the cart before the horse. If we get into a position to exert power there are two and only two red lines we should have.
    1. Revoke article 50
    2. Introduce PR and have an election as soon as possible to let everyones voice have representation in parliament.

    Anything else is a frippery and will be judged as such. The last lot of fripperies might have made people in the party feel good but it didn’t make the electorate feel good about the Lib Dems.

  • Paul Barker 29th Jul '19 - 6:09pm

    There are 2 questions really : how do we “Win” an Election & what do we do after. I think forming an Alliance of Pro-Remain, Pro-Reform Parties answers both questions.
    There is already a swathe of Attitudes, Values & Policies held in common across The Libdems, The Tigs, The Greens (outwith Scotland) & possibly Plaid Cymru, we could put together a minimal Program for Government.
    Adding our several Votes together would already get us into the mid 20s & level with Labour, a lot better than being 5% behind them as we are now.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Jul '19 - 7:14pm

    We must be as canny about how we negotiate as we are about what we negotiate .We must change the system of elections once and for all with PR . Build future colaboration between parties as the norm and not as a minority administration . Reform of the Lords into a reviewing chamber but with the same number of members as the commons and no more than 7 years of tenure per member regionally based.
    We offer the largest party support supply and confidence only and like the DUP reserve the right to withhold that support where government business would fail to gain the confidence of the house .returning power back to parliament not the executive.

  • > Richard Kemp:
    > I assume that our choice of PR would
    > be STV in multi-member constituencies.

    1) Bearing in mind that other attempts at voting reform have floundered because (ostensibly) supportive parties have failed to agree among themselves, is this choice compatible with survivability and coexistence among your potential allies?

    2) Given that in several countries (NZ, Canada, UK) the temptation has been for an incoming government to delay voting reform and then drop it once momentum has dissipated, what contingency options do the Lib Dems have? Has the wider party had a conversation about which 2nd, 3rd or 4th alternatives could be secured quickly if full and immediate PR is simply not on the table?

  • Excellent piece Richard. Thank you very much for posting. Tom.

  • Good article, however one key piece missing – which Joseph Bourke alluded to: “Coalition government is the norm throughout much of the European continent and not something we can easily back away from in a constitutional crisis.”

    A big part of what the LibDems need to do, is to communicate to the electorate and make “minority” government normal. Nick Clegg (and David Cameron) did some of this in 2010, but probably not enough, nor did they continue with this message after the coalition agreement had been agreed and the work started.

    So I suggest the LibDems need to up the profile of coalitions/minority governments as this serves to erode the “voting for the Libdems is a wasted vote” and thus reduce the threshold necessary for LibDems to have an impact in Westminster. Remember in 2010 LibDems had 57 seats, I suggest at the time Clegg played his hand well in using this to sit down and discuss a meaningful coalition; subsequent events were subsequent events…

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