Simon Hughes’ 10 proposals for Lib Dem MPs under Coalition

From Simon Hughes’ website:

In a letter to Lorely Burt MP, Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons, Simon Hughes has set out his proposals on how Liberal Democrats should organise themselves in this parliament in order to provide the best supportive but independent voice in a parliament of coalition government:

Dear Lorely,

As you know, I warmly welcome the review which you proposed and which the parliamentary party agreed on 26th May.

Thank you also for meeting me to discuss the progress of the review. I write this in the hope that it may be helpful ahead of the review group meeting on 7th June.

For me, and as soon as the deputy leadership election is concluded – whatever the outcome – the priority must be for the leader to appoint a team of spokespeople in the Commons, in addition to those already announced and serving in government.

I will set out now what I believe to be the best structure, but obviously wish also to listen to the views and voices of colleagues so the structure eventually agreed on commands the maximum support and participation.

  1. For those departments where there is no Liberal Democrat minister, we should have a shadow secretary of state in the Commons. By my reckoning these are: Environment Food and Rural Affairs; Culture, Media and Sport; International Development; Wales; Northern Ireland, and the Law Officers.

  3. For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat minister and a Conservative Secretary of State, then there should be a Liberal Democrat lead spokesperson in the Commons.

  5. For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, there should be a Liberal Democrat MP outside of government with particular responsibility for that department’s business.

  7. Immediately after the announcement of the parliamentary team in the Commons, the leader, deputy leader and chief whip should enter into discussions with the Speaker and the other major parties to agree how our spokespeople will be treated in the Commons – at question time, statements, urgent questions and debates. We should seek an arrangement that where a Conservative minister makes a statement, answers an urgent question or opens the debate the Liberal Democrat spokesperson should be the second speaker from the government benches, and where a Liberal Democrat minister makes the statement, answers the question or opens the debate, then a Conservative should be the second speaker from the government benches. We will need to negotiate how and when a Liberal Democrat leads in Prime Ministers questions – obviously without unreasonably fettering the Speaker’s rights or the rights of all colleagues outside government to ask questions when they wish to do so.

  9. To avoid duplication of responsibility and to maximise the profile of the party and the individuals involved, the lead spokesperson from outside government should also be the Liberal Democrat nominee to the relevant Select Committee. If colleagues are responsible for one subject in the Commons but a different area in a Select Committee, it is highly unlikely that we will avoid clashes of timetable unless we do this – which could mean frequent absences of the relevant individual either from the chamber or the select committee.

  11. The parliamentary party should ask the leader, in his appointment of spokespeople from outside the ministerial team, to maximise the opportunity for best gender and other balance. The logic of this is that consideration should be given to other colleagues from the Lords being included in the Liberal Democrat team.

  13. It seems fundamentally important that we should have a team in place as soon as possible after the Queen’s speech debate. Obviously the arrangements – and even if necessary the individuals – can be changed during the summer holiday so that final arrangements can be put in place in time for parliament’s return and the party conference. We should remember that the official opposition finalise their team and shadow cabinet only after the results of the Labour leadership election, due to be announced at their conference in the autumn.

  15. In relation to all departments, but in particular those departments where there is no Liberal Democrat Secretary of State or minister at all, and learning from the experience in Scotland and Wales, there should be regular meetings between the Secretary of State and spokespeople in both houses.

  17. To maximise coordination between ministers and other spokespeople in the Commons, Lords, and elsewhere across the party, the party should immediately constitute standing policy groups to mirror government departments. Each policy group should include: the minister (where there is a Liberal Democrat minister in the Commons or Lords), the Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State or spokesperson; the relevant spokesperson from our group in the European Parliament, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly; the lead Liberal Democrat person on this subject area from local government, and a party policy advisor with special responsibility for this area. The press officer with special responsibility for that subject area should also attend these policy meetings.

  19. It is a priority that the party confirm in post, reappoint or appoint urgently lead policy advisors for each government department.
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  • well this will make Nick and the tories happy…

  • No chance in hell.

  • Douglas McLellan 7th Jun '10 - 12:44pm

    Good God – I am a Lib Dem memeber and I hope all Lib Dem members can see this list for the tripe it is. We are in government people – apart from a few lines of basic internal organisation this list is seeking to set up an opposition with government itself. Where does Simon Hughes think he is coming from? Who does he think he is?

    In coalition in Scotland there was separate Lib Dem spokespeople without a formal role in the Scottish Parliament, like Shadow Secretaries (er, Shadows are the opposition – we are not in opposition).

    Instead of standing for Deputy Leader he should just walk across the floor to where he clearly wants to be.

  • Paul McKeown 7th Jun '10 - 12:55pm

    @Douglas McLellan

    It is a fine balancing act: that is the point. The Liberal Democrats need to support the government, but they need to propagate their separate unique message. Inevitably we will get the balance wrong at some time.

  • Douglas McLellan 7th Jun '10 - 1:29pm

    @Paul McKeown.

    Not to wish to put to fine a point on it but you said

    ‘The Liberal Democrats need to support the government’ –

    We are *in* the government! I really cant see how some people don’t get this. Its like asking to keep short money – the money used for opposition parties. Our MPs have got used to the ‘perks’ of opposition (like the delusions of grandeur titles Shadow Secretary for x) so much that they cant make the transition to government.

    Yes we need a distinctive voice in the country but that does not mean that our MPs started behaving like this in Parliament. We are not in opposition, we dont need opposition spokespeople and we dont need Lib Dem MPs standing up at question time thinking that they are, in any respect, a seperate grouping with the House of Commons from the Lib Dem/Tory coalition – which is what Simon Hughs is proposing.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Jun '10 - 1:43pm

    It sounds as though the Lib Dems need a shadow prime minister. Simon Hughes seems to be the obvious candidate …

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jun '10 - 4:41pm

    Douglas McLellan, your argument seems to be that once we are part of a coalition government, we can no longer exist as a party in its own right. I disagree – as a party in its own right we must be able to develop our identity and say what our position is on all the issues of the day. How are we supposed to fight the next general election if we have banned ourselves from saying what we purely as Liberal Democrats think about things? How would anyone be able to choose between voting Conservative and voting Liberal Democrat if the identity of the two parties has been totally merged for five years?

    Many of us in the party have had to swallow very hard to accept this coalition. It’s certainly not our preferred outcome, but we could see the reason that given the arithmetic of Parliament after the election it was the best realistic option. The sensible nature of the “left” in the Liberal Democrats is shown by the fact that there was not mass uproar and defections when this happened, we knuckled down to being co-operative and making it work. In return I think we should at least be allowed our desire to do what can be done to ensure our party does retain its distinct identity.

    It may well be that there are some who deliberately want to engineer a split in order to further “re-alignment of the right”. The idea would be to have Clegg and a few like-minded Liberal Democrats given no Tory opponents at the next election, in return for everyone else supposed to give the Tories a free ride. Given that this is what happened to the Liberal Party in the 20th century, it’s hardly outlandish to fear it could happen again. The great problem is that this option is obviously very much more to be favoured by those already in Parliament as Liberal Democrat MPs than it is for anyone else in the party. They keep their jobs in return for everyone else in the party losing what they’ve maybe spent a lifetime working for. I hope our MPs are decent enough people that few would be tempted if this sort of offer were made. But we might have to poke them from time to time to make sure.

  • David Allworthy 7th Jun '10 - 9:27pm

    Points 9 and 10 seem to completely miss the point that we might lose Short Money which funds the policy and press officers referred to. Would have expected a Parliamentarian to do better than that.

  • Jonathan Davies 7th Jun '10 - 9:46pm

    I agree there should be a Lib Dem spokesperson for those departments where there is no Lib Dem minister – but surely in those departments wher there is a Lib Dem minister he or she should be the Party’s principal spokeperson on that policy area. Otherwise we are creating not just a division between Party and Government but a division within the Party, and making it even more confusing to answer Dave Page’s question who is the best Parliamentarian to contact on any topic.

  • Patrick Smith 8th Jun '10 - 7:11am

    I entirely agree with the astute remarks made by David Allworthy and Jonathan Davies.Both make absolute sense!

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jun '10 - 9:20am

    Jonathan Davies

    Otherwise we are creating not just a division between Party and Government

    which is a thoroughly good idea. The lack of a clear division between Party and Government is almost always damaging to both – see the communist one party states, or local government here in those places where there’s a permanent Labour majority.

  • Douglas McLellan 9th Jun '10 - 11:50am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    you missed out the second part of the comment which was about the division within the party. It is clear that these proposals are about creating a division in our party between those who dont want to be in the coaltion and those who do.

    Who would go on Question Time to talk about the governments agenda? A lib dem spokesman who is positioned against a certain department due to it have no lib dem minister or Nick Clegg? These proposals are an attempt to develop a structure that allows for the undermining of the leadership of our party.

    And they can easily be cirumvented – the government could easily have a mini-resuffle every so often and move the most junior of junior ministers around meaning that every Shadow Shadow spokesman (yes two Shadows, the HMO are Labour and despite the delusions of granduer that some Lib Dems have, we never had any Shadows but I will go with it – so the proposed Lib Dem Shadow comes after HMO Shadow) would never be in place long enough to enter public consciousness.

    And should the Tories also do something similar – perhaps a Shadow Shadow Business Sec or Shadow Shadow DPM. Since we are promoting non-Goverment spokespeople to contradict the Government of which we are a part perhaps the Tories should put in place thier own spokespeople to contradict us? Perhaps Shadow Shadow Shadow Secretaries?

  • David Allen 9th Jun '10 - 12:49pm

    “I agree there should be a Lib Dem spokesperson for those departments where there is no Lib Dem minister – but surely in those departments wher there is a Lib Dem minister he or she should be the Party’s principal spokeperson on that policy area.”

    If the coalition had been formed on the basis that all ministers would simply be free to implement their own party’s policies, this would make sense. But it hasn’t.

    For example, Chris Huhne is not free to abandon nuclear energy. To insist that he should speak for the party on that issue, as well as for the government, would just place him in an impossible position. It is essential for Huhne to be authoritative about what the government will actually do, especially since the caveat that there should not be a nuclear subsidy does provide some margin for negotiation. It is equally essential that if the party decides to maintain an anti-nuclear view, it should have a strong independent spokesperson who can freely argue that case.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jun '10 - 11:44pm

    Douglas McLellan

    Who would go on Question Time to talk about the governments agenda? A lib dem spokesman who is positioned against a certain department due to it have no lib dem minister or Nick Clegg? These proposals are an attempt to develop a structure that allows for the undermining of the leadership of our party.

    We are not a Leninist party or a fascist party. It is not the position of our party that our leader is beyond criticism or that all members of the party should always obey him/her or agree with everything s/he says.

    The position of the coalition does mean some assumptions about how parties work in this country change. I think these changes are to the good.

    For heaven’s sake, comments which may express a slightly differing viewpoint are not “undermining”, they are what democracy is about.

    I heard Simon Hughes speak only recently in very positive terms about the coalition and the opportunities it brings us. So if anyone is dividing the party it is YOU with your unfounded claims, and others who adopt this sort of position that anyone who is not in 100% with agreement with Nick Clegg is some sort of damgerous rebel.

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