So what exactly will the Liberal Democrats do if involved in coalition negotiations?

As Nick Clegg had the good grace to say in his email to members yesterday, that the decision about whether the Liberal Democrats go into coalition or not if in a position to do so is not in his gift.

We’re a democratic party. In the end, the decision to form a coalition rests not with the leader but with the party.

That is kind of true. I thought it would be worth taking you through what will happen should Liberal Democrats be involved in coalition negotiations after the election. The process is different from last time. Then all the leader had to do was to get the approval of the parliamentary parties in the Commons and Lords and the Federal Executive. The Special Conference which took place was not actually a requirement, but it was thought to be good practice. It overwhelmingly endorsed the Coalition Agreement.

This time, things are different, due to a motion passed at Spring Conference in 2012. Now, this will deliver a clear answer on whether to go into coalition or not, so the markets need not worry themselves, but it would be wrong to overlook the potential for longer term chaos it could ignite in the party. What conference was thinking of when it passed this, I have no idea. Here’s the motion:

15.1 This Article applies where the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons (‘the Commons Party’) enters into negotiations with one or more other political parties with a view to the formation of a government supported by the party and such party or parties; and sets out the procedures to be followed for the party to give its support for such an arrangement.

15.2 For this purpose:

(a) the Leader shall, with due regard to diversity, appoint a negotiating team to conduct such negotiations; and

(b) there shall be a reference group consisting of not more than nine people (none of whom shall be members of the negotiating team) appointed equally by

(i) the Federal Policy Committee

(ii) the Federal Executive and

(iii) the Westminster Parliamentary Parties (in the last case acting jointly).

15.3 The negotiating team shall report regularly to the Leader and the reference group, and shall have regard to their respective views.

15.4 If as a result of these negotiations the Commons Party determines, after further consultation with (i) the Federal Policy Committee (ii) the Federal Executive and (iii) the Parliamentary Party in the House of Lords (together ‘the consultees’), to support a government which contains members of one or more other political parties, it shall seek the approval of conference by submitting a motion to that effect. Such a submission shall state the final views thereon of each of the consultees, and such a motion shall require for its passage a two-thirds majority of those present and voting at the conference.

15.5 Upon the submission of such a motion, the Federal Conference Committee shall convene a conference to consider the motion at the earliest practicable opportunity or shall include the motion in the agenda of a conference currently in session or imminently to start.

It all seems straightforward. You have a negotiating team, already appointed by Nick which includes Danny Alexander, David Laws, Kate Parminter (who replaces Sal Brinton), Lynne Featherstone and Steve Webb. They will conduct negotiations and then consult with the Leader and Reference Group. The job of that group is really to try to see the wood as well as the trees. That Group is comprised of FE Reps Sal Brinton, Neil Fawcett and Josh Dixon, FPC reps Duncan Brack, Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Julian Huppert and Lords Jim Wallace and Dick Newby. There’s actually a lot of wisdom in that Reference Group. I was keen that we needed to think about diversity. Two women out of nine isn’t really enough and we don’t have anyone from Wales, but we do have an actual genuine young person in Josh and we have Jim Wallace who really knows about this coalition lark having done it so successfully in Scotland.

So why did I suggest that this might have repercussions for the party? The reason Nick can lay out very clearly that he won’t countenance a government which depends on the SNP and UKIP is because the power, the decision on whether to conduct negotiations at all lies solely with the parliamentary party in the Commons and the Leader. This is a mistake, I think. Of course the counter argument is that you can’t force people to take part in a government if they don’t want to, but they should have to properly explore the possibilities.

I think our fortunes in Scotland would be in a much better place if we had at least had proper negotiations with the SNP in 2007 We had, foolishly in my opinion, made a red line over agreeing an independence referendum. With the benefit of hindsight, I reckon having it then would have avoided a lot of what has gone since. I was one of a group of office bearers who made a mad dash to the parliamentary party meeting to pretty much  beg them to enter negotiations but they didn’t listen.

With that experience in mind, when Danny Alexander came to discuss this process at the Federal Executive, I was keen to ask what would happen in the event that the party was keen to explore a particular avenue and the parliamentarians were not. That will still be a potential flashpoint for the party in the aftermath of the election. The process only gives ordinary members any power once a deal is settled and passed by the Commons party. They have to consult the FE, FPC and Lords, but it’s their decision alone. This is a motion that seems to extend power but actually confines it.

There is a second pitfall. The two thirds majority requirement at the Special Conference is actually a good idea for such an important decision but there could be tensions if a deal is passed but not by two thirds. I do expect a much more hindsight driven discussion process which looks at the consequences of the last four years.

The super important thing will be for members of these Federal Committees to get a sense of how the party is feeling and what it wants. That is best achieved by actual conversations and a proper consultation process that involves talking to people. It must then act on those feelings. This Lib Dem family is going to have to be there for each other like never before.

The most important thing will be that we all conduct ourselves with respect for our colleagues and don’t allow ourselves to become embroiled in firestorms on the internet. Our future course must be decided carefully and rationally. We can’t make a judgement on anything now because we have no idea what the numbers will be. In just two weeks’ time, we’ll be in the thick of it, though.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Will any of the MP’s on the negotiating team be replaced if they fail to keep their seats?

  • What will happen if he lib dems are in involved in the coalition talks? Surely the same as last time. They’ll sell out every promise they ever made?

  • Good article.

    Clegg has to remember representation this time; it’s not enough to talk solely about what ‘the people’ want, about what needs to be done – he has to remember that he is the representative of the party.

  • paul barker 26th Apr '15 - 5:15pm

    It seems to me inconcievable that a majority of the Parliamentary Party or Nick would go against the clear will of the members, presuming we had such a clear-cut view. In practise I think most of us will not be wildly enthusiastic about any of the choices available. Given how many of us opposed this Coalition (almost) from the beginning, that two-thirds is a big ask. I have been a fanatical supporter of this Coalition & even I am uncertain about another one.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Apr '15 - 5:15pm

    Mr Wallace, that is an absolute load of nonsense. Ten thousand pound tax threshold, extra money to disadvantaged kids in school, green investment bank, investment in renewables, better mental health care, better pensions, higher pensions, shared parental leave, better childcare, the list is very long indeed.

  • They should forget doing any deals with socialists, and concentrate on moderating the Tories, by ensuring we are kept in the EU, we do not come out of the European Court of Human Rights, and ensure that welfare cuts are moderated.

    In return they can support privatisation, further outsourcing of all public services and get TTIP in. Let the Tories set the economic agenda, and the Lib Dems the social one.

  • @Caron “Mr Wallace, that is an absolute load of nonsense. Ten thousand pound tax threshold, extra money to disadvantaged kids in school, green investment bank, investment in renewables, better mental health care, better pensions, higher pensions, shared parental leave, better childcare, the list is very long indeed.”. – Yeah? Well why don’t you guys tell the voters that you did that lot then? Instead of telling the voters that you’re not party x?

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Apr '15 - 6:16pm

    I have a dreadful feeling that the country will need us , sorry require us to make sense of a truly hung parliament. This is probably the last thing the party needs right now and if handled badly could split the party. Clearly it’s vitally important to save Labour from the SNP and the Conservatives from Blukip. Firstly Clegg, Laws and Alexander will favour a Coalition 2.0 with the Conservatives whist others would look to Labour. If we lack the numbers, the DUP and SNP might be involved in a sub coalition. pressure to slide an agree to differ on EU Referendum or be part if a Nat sub coalition. danger areas all around.

  • I thought there had been an 8% drop in mental health care funding under the coalition – how does this lead to better care?

  • Mr Wallace, we can’t help it if you are death or only listen to our opponents.

  • Judith Croft 26th Apr '15 - 6:45pm

    I felt that Nick should listen to the party and represent them but that is not how it has turned out. Does what party members think matter at all to Nick Clegg?

  • I should point out that Article 15 also applies to supply and confidence deals.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Apr '15 - 6:54pm

    Stimpson 26th Apr ’15 – 5:37pm

    I have just two very simple questions Stimpson 1) Where will we find these socialists and 2) are you actually a member of the Liberal Democrats?

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 6:57pm

    I think we should be prepared for there being no telephone call to us on Friday 8th, Our negotiators may be in for a very long wait.

    I have been impressed with some thinking done by Carl Gardiner here

    It would seem that whatever the result (provided no single party has an overall majority), it will be Prime Minister David Cameron who has first go at putting together a majority. If therefore the Tories and ourselves do not have 323 + seats he will need to include the DUP and if this still does not give him 323 he must include UKIP – at which point we drop out of his grouping … or so Clegg has pledged (that word again)

    So, actually if the Tories + the DUP + ourselves does not reach 323 there is no point in him starting any negotiations.

    He will have to resign as PM and the Queen will immediately appoint Miliband as Prime Minister. The country cannot we PMless.

    Now, the new Prime Minister will set about getting a Queens Speech through Parliament. One assumes that the SNP will make a deal (without asking for membership of a Coalition).

    Parliament meets and Miliband will hand the Queen the address.

    We hold the ace … or do we? Will we vote down that Queens Speech? Dare we? It would almost certainly mean there would not be a vote of confidence within 14 days and this would trigger the second election? Dare we be the cause of the immediate second election.? Could we afford it? Dare we send the Queen back to Buck House having rejected ‘her’ programme of Government? What would the City think?

    Wow – that would take some courage.

    You see everything at the moment is based on the assumption that Miliband would have to trade with us and that we could set what the Ts offered against what Lab offfered – but Wilson did no such thing in Feb 1974. He dared the Tories (and the Liberal Party) to vote against him and the Tories abstained.

    I think people have just assumed that Miliband would need a deal BEFORE becoming PM. He doesn’t. He becomes PM automatically the moment Cameron admits he can’t win the confidence of the House of Commons.

    Actually the system a) helps the Executive and b) actually plays to the advantage of the former leader of the opposition.


  • My understanding is that the Queen’s Speech vote no longer qualifies as a confidence vote.

  • And Clegg can talk about red lines and whatnot until he is blue in the face, but it’s all hot air if he’s not actually in a position to make decisions after May 7.

  • Ryan McAlister 26th Apr '15 - 7:23pm

    It assumes there is someone to negotiate with.

    If the Tories are second in seats, then we can’t prop hem up after everything Nick, Tim and others have said about the biggest party getting first dibs.

    And if Labour come out biggest I suspect they will go it alone, and dare the SNP to vote them down.

  • It is good to see the procedure comprehensively set out and it reinforces my belief that there will not be a new coalition after the election. It seems to me that Nick Clegg is closing down options, knowing that there are too many difficulties for another coalition. In particular it will be important to stand clear of a minority coalition. I think he fears this could be on offer with Labour. A coalition with Labour which had fewer than 323 seats would be hugely damaging for the Party. The other side is with Conservatives again: reference to UKIP are a red herring as they will be lucky to have two seats, however I do not believe an agreement would be possible. I do not even think it would get as far as a Special Conference Nonetheless, we have to maintain the possibility of a coalition for electoral reasons, after all if we were to retain all our seats we would certainly be pressing for a coalition and would be considering how we might weigh up options.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 7:37pm

    David 1 – the distinction between a Queens Speech and the precise motion set down by the FTPA is not material.

    The PM would press ahead with the QS. As PM he has a right to test support for his programme/QS and the rules allow him to. Because the QS is the most emotive and a defeat would be sensational. If the QS was voted down the FTPA compliant motion of confidence would be immediately tabled. Can you see a situation in which the House voted against the QS and then for the vote of confidence?

  • Bill: Actually I think Cameron could try to carry on and also dare other parties to vote him down (which Lab + SNP probably would). I expect that we would abstain, as indeed we would if Labour subsequently tried to form a government, in fact there would b some relief that any government had formed.

    It is what would happen afterwards that would be interesting: it would be very rough for Labour, worse than 1974 and I do not think that Miliband stands comparison with Wilson, besides the vultures of the age are more avaricious.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 8:35pm

    Colin I am not talking about a future budget or QS, but the first one.

    If you read the Opinion, Martin, you will see that he can’t. He can hang on if he is in negotiations. a la Brown 2010 But he can’t dare people to vote down a Queens speech. The moment he knows he hasn’t got the ability to win the confidence of the House he has to resign or risk a major constitutional quarrel. The Cab Sec will be saying can you be sure you can win that vote. If not you must see the Queen.

    Paradoxically the second PM is not under such pressure because he has just been appointed. The second bite of the apple is slightly easier than the sitting PM’s.

  • Bill: I am not 100% convinced: “the government must have the confidence of a majority in the Commons. Therefore, when it is clear from election results that the Prime Minister … has lost the election and another party has been successful, he or she must resign immediately without waiting for the new Parliament to meet”

    How does it become “clear”? In some cases, it could require a vote to establish this.

    However if the opinion is right, it really does threaten to put Miliband in number 10 without him having put in enough spade work, making a Miliband administration even more messy.

  • Miliband’s first QS will likely contain devolving more powers to Holyrood, abolishing the bedroom tax, repealing the Health and Social Care Act, a housebuilding programme, devolving power to cities and regions, the energy price freeze, expanding the number of apprenticeships, reforms to the private rental sector and a ban on zero-hours contracts. The first budget will re-introduce the 50p tax rate and abolish non-dom status.

    Which bit of that can the SNP credibly vote against?

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '15 - 9:13pm

    Thanks for posting the rules, Caron.

    And thanks for these insights, Bill. But I am not sure the Queen will invite anyone to see her until she is advised that they are likely to command a majority in the House. Cameron can indeed say he is resigning but he can’t actually resign until there is a successor. If he walked off in a huff, the DPM would take over until such time as…and I don’t think anyone will want that to happen.

    But all these things depend on the numbers, and exactly what can happen may depend on quite small differences in possible numbers. The truth, I suspect, is that everyone will be talking to everyone very quickly, by all manner of means and channels, despite what apparently “formal” talks may be taking place.


  • @Martin 26th Apr ’15 – 8:10pm
    “it would be very rough for Labour, worse than 1974 and I do not think that Miliband stands comparison with Wilson”

    You’re right in the sense that Milliband towers over the Wilson of ’74 – the Wilson of ’64 would be an entirely different matter.

  • @Stephen Hesketh 26th Apr ’15 – 6:54pm

    “I have just two very simple questions Stimpson 1) Where will we find these socialists…?”

    Surely, under the beds.

  • The Noble Lord Greaves *speaks a great deal of sense. No one will be appointed PM till it is clear they can pass Queen’s Speech and, more than likely, a budget.

    As it stands, I can only see that happening with a LibLab pact or coalitionwith a non-formal arrangement with the SNP. I don’t see our membership supporting another deal with the Cons, I for one won’t .

    *Sorry Tony!

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 10:19pm

    ATF what you write is not the opinion of Carl Gardiner and his piece refers to both the Cabinet Manual and text books. Have you read his blog before coming to your conclusion?

    He asks “Is the PM entitled to carry on, even if it’s clear he himself will have no majority, until someone else succeeds in achieving one? Many have I think been misled by the events of 2010 into thinking so. But actually it’s the existing Prime Minister’s loss of a majority that is decisive. It remains the case that by convention he must resign once it’s clear he no longer has one: whether anyone else does is irrelevant.”

    If Ts + DUP + LDs do not make 323 it is self evident that he has lost his majority. Neither Labour nor the SNP will provide a majority for him. If the SNP did so, even by suggesting they would abstain, their political position (with 2016 elections hard on their heels) is suicidal and improbable, but if they were to suggest such an abstention then Clegg has said he would not support such an ‘arrangement’. He must resign immediately. The Queen cannot ask the Deputy to take his place or indeed wait. She must make a new appointment. She must in effect ask Miliband to be PM.

    You may not think so Tony, but it is not safe to proceed on the assumption that you are right. There is a strong possibility at the very least that Gardiners advice will be echoed by the Cabinet Secretary. It would be prudent for Clegg to ask the Cabinet Secretary whether this is the case. In the meantime we should ensure that there is a contingency based on the belief that, when it is evident that Cameron has LOST his majority, Miliband will be PM within the hour – in daylight or nightime!!!!

    To erect a strategy that does not contain a contingency for this is foolhardy. To say that we WILL not support a Government which includes an arrangement with the SNP puts us in the position of either going back on our word and appearing hopeless weak and losing any bargaining power or voting against Miliband’s Queens Speech and (via a vote against a consequential confidence vote) initiating, 14 days later, a second election.

    This is a matter that needs consideration now and not after the election because we are already taking positions and making statements that may come back to haunt us. If Clegg read this, he could pick up the telephone to the Cabinet Secretary and ask his advice.

    If any of you have come into this conversation late, then I recommend you read the Gardiner blog in full. It is hugely significant.

  • One hopes that the Liberal Democrats are not put in a position, by mathematical accident, to be kingmakers. For the choice of government to be left to a party that has just taken a horrendous drubbing at the polls would stick in everyone’s gullet. At all events the Lib Dems should not put themselves forward as potential coalition partners, nor join a coalition unless they are (a) asked and (b) there is no other choice.

    On the whole, the Lib Dems will want to distance themselves from any incoming government, but also not stand in their way, nor be the occasion for forcing new elections (which would likely be even more disastrous). The negotiations to form a new government should be left to other parties, and the surviving Lib Dem MPs should endeavour to be invisible, and avoid having the onus for another government, which may well be extremely unpopular, thrown on their shoulders. That would not be political bravery but political suicide.

  • Hi Bill,

    Yes, I have read both and, as with all your posts, I respect your thinking.

    My concern comes with the section you cite convention. We are likely heading to a very unconventional result so part of me is unsure what largely untested convention would play. Would Miliband really be called for if he has, potentially, less MPs than Cameron and no deal in place for securing a majority?

    Was speaking to a mandarin who was in the Cab. Office in 2010 the other day about this, fair to say they were very glad not to have to directly involved with it all this year!

    Also, re the SNP – do you think an agreement could not be reached with them which is neither C+S or coalition?

    PS Bill – whilst we have engaged in, shall we say, robust debate the last couple of days and often find ourselves on different sides of issues relating to the party, your contributions are essential reading and always thought provoking in the best possible way. My very best to you!

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '15 - 11:02pm

    Bill – the powers that be are working on the assumption that negotiations will take longer than last time. They are not assuming that Cameron will throw in the towel or that Miliband will be installed overnight.

    Who is Carl Gardiner anyway to lay down the law? At times like this the UK system works on the basis of what is practical as much as anything else. Of course it does depend on the numbers.

    The danger of bouncing Miliband in is indeed that he cannot get his Q’s Speech passed. But even if he does not, there then has to be a vote of no confidence passed which might not happen. The political realities will be that no-one except perhaps the Tories will want an early election.

    On the other hand the Queen’s Speech motion can be amended. What happens then?

    If a vote of no confidence is passed, there is a 14 day period. It does not mean that the same PM cannot try to put together a new arrangement. The possibilities are endless!

    But my basic proposition is that the Queen will not be bounced. Even if Lab+SNP adds up to 323+, or does with a little help from their friends, Cameron will wait to see if Labour and the SNP can indeed come to some agreement. If they (Labour) refuse to talk – extremely unlikely – he will sit it out and see what happens.


  • Malcolm Todd 26th Apr '15 - 11:17pm

    Bill le Breton (quoting Carl Gardiner)

    “But actually it’s the existing Prime Minister’s loss of a majority that is decisive. It remains the case that by convention he must resign once it’s clear he no longer has one: whether anyone else does is irrelevant.”
    — Says who? It’s not what happened in 2010, when Brown didn’t resign until it was clear that Cameron could construct a majority in his place. It’s not what happened in 1923, either. Indeed, it’s not what happened in 1974 (even if Heath had done a deal with the Liberals, he wouldn’t have had a majority — just more seats than Labour). The book that Gardiner quotes in his support only makes sense if it’s talking about a situation where someone else has clearly won. Precedent seems to suggest that when there is no clear victor, the PM remains in office until a viable alternative government has available (or until the existing government is actually defeated in the House).

  • @Malcolm Todd
    “Says who? It’s not what happened in 2010, when Brown didn’t resign until it was clear that Cameron could construct a majority in his place”

    I am not sure that is how it happened.
    My understanding was that after the election results, No Party had a majority.
    Liberal Democrats were in talks with both Labour and the conservatives about coalition deals.
    So whilst at that point it was unclear that Browne could form a majority , he remained in place,

    A few days in to the talks. It was Gordon Browne who decided to pull the plug on the coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats, as he felt that the Liberal Democrats were stalling for time, in order to talk more to conservatives,

    In the end Gordon Brown resigned as prime Minister BEFORE a deal had been finalized with The Libdems .
    Due to his resignation, Cameron was automatically called to the palace and made prime minister,

    It was after Cameron was installed as prime minister that the coalition agreement was finalized between them and the Libdems .

    Or that’s at least I think how events went.

    So on that basis what Bill is saying is surely right

  • Bill le Breton 27th Apr '15 - 6:49am

    Malcolm, I hope you read the piece by Gardiner and all the challenges that commentors made, with his replies.

    He addresses your point.

    Brown actually resigned when he realised a deal with us was not possible (that Clegg was just stringing him along to press for a better deal with Cameron) The moment he realised he was not able to get agreement from Clegg and had therefore LOST his majority he had no choice but to admit he had lost his majority and resign.

    The Queen summoned Cameron regardless as to whether he had a deal with the LDs. At the time he probably didn’t.

    In this, Matt is absolutely right.

    In 1974 Heath was trying to assemble a majority and therefore had every right to remain in Downing Street. If you see the BBC film of Wilson leaving Transport house you will see that Wilson was absolutely confident that Heath would eventually have to admit had lost his majority that is why Wilson refused to talk to anyone else. He just said it will be my turn to be PM and I shall take my programme to the House (as PM).

    He also addresses both Baldwin decisions on resignation, which also fit.

    My major point is that Clegg’s present tactics are based on your reading and it is very possible that Miliband will be taking Gardiner type advice. (as per Wilson) Others above underrate Miliband and Labour (and SNP ability to ask the Cab the right questions) at their peril.

    Clegg should at the very least ask the Cab Sec before he places himself in this very exposed position.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Apr '15 - 6:57am

    Tony – it is not a question of the Queen being bounced. It is the question of when Cameron must resign. He must resign when he has lost his majority.

    If Ts + LDs + DUP do not get 323 and SNP repeat ‘no deal’ the moment has arrived. That may mean he can wait quite late for the reslut from X constiuency which finally makes 323 impossible, but then he has to resign. (Unless you are arguing that he can credibly persuade the SNP to abstain or vote with him – which is difficult to believe given 2016 is just 12 months off.

    It is the resignation that triggers the need to appoint another PM. There is no choice but to call for Miliband as the next person most likely to be able to assemble a majority, whether he has a deal at that moment or not.

    Find another constitutional lawyer to argue the point. If we have previously been making the wrong assumptions we will be a bride all dressed up to talk to two suiters and find ourselves at the wrong church.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Apr '15 - 7:16am

    ATF – you are kind and I have never taken any of your remarks in any toher spirit than the one you mention. The Party needs the ODD contrarian, especially at this moment, so I am pleased you appreciate that. A certain gallant gentleman may be a little irritated by my views on Blukip as a campaign at the moment!!!

    Thank you for reading that blog given the demands on your time.

    You write: Would Miliband really be called for if he has, potentially, fewer MPs than Cameron and no deal in place for securing a majority?

    The answer appears to be Yes.

    It is Cameron (if in the end he does) losing his majority that triggers his resignation – immediate resignation. Immediate that is after it is apparent he has lost his majority. I imagine the Cab Sec will keep asking him that very question. Not have you a majority but have you lost your majority PM?

    The country cannot be PM-less. Therefore someone has to be appointed PM. That person has to be the person (other than the outgoing PM) best placed to try to assemble enough people to pass a vote of confidence.

    What is interesting is that this means that Miliband is inside No10, doing this second phase and has a great amount of patronage because of that. [Gardiner is apparently working on his consideration of the 2nd phase, which will be interesting.]

    It also means that a new factor appears: the question of a) kicking out a second PM in x hours and also this new PM appears to have the right to seek a majority for the Address.

    We have enough top lawyers in the Party to advise the Leader – I hope they are or have.

    On the SNP. I reckon the SNP learnt a lot from us in the first Scottish Parliament and are actually continuing to be exploring what we explored around balanced institutions in the 80s 90s and 00s and which form the basis of the publication Life in the Balance. The tragedy is that we didn’t use that knowledge in May 2010.

    Also the SNP have access to minds within the Scottish civil service.

    Can there be agreement without c and s -? yes, but Miliband would have to accept wouldn’t he? I think the real meat will be in what is the definition of confidence ie what will be the conditions. They will not be open ended surely?

    But the new system does seem to favour the sitting PM. Who would try to bring him down or allow him to be brought down if they were not confident of winning the following election. And vice versa, who would allow him to call a fresh/early election if they were behind in the polls.

    Must dash – please forgive errors in this.

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr ’15 – 9:13pm
    “…,,,I am not sure the Queen will invite anyone to see her until she is advised that they are likely to command a majority in the House…,,”


    None of us can be sure of that, or indeed anything else when it comes to what the Queen might or might not be “advised”, or even for that matter who the “advisors” might be.

    Examples from history are not encouraging.   Gough Whitlam in  Australia in 1975 won two elections in a row and was clearly the democratic choice of the voters.  However, his government was blocked by a conservative dominated upper house.

    The Queen’s man decided to dismiss the PM elected by the voters and the conservatives took  charge.  Lynon Crosby could no doubt fill in the details for all concerned for those not too aware of this disgraceful episode in Australian politics.

    We are brought up in the UK to believe in the myths and fantasies of a neutral monarch.   

    The 89 year old woman whose son just happened to be at prep school with David Cameron also happens to be the monarch.  You may recall that a few months ago in September 2014 he reported that she purred like a cat with satisfaction when he “won” the referendum for her in Scotland.

    I have no clue what the royal role might be in the UK in 2015 but the lessons from history are not encouraging for anyone who believes in democracy and the will of the people.

    I wrote this last night at around sometime around 10pm and hesitated about posting it. Further comments from Bill Le Breton are Inthink coser to the point than some seem to be either aware or perhaps prepared to come to terms with.

    People fall into habits (or ruts) when it comes to the unwritten constitution. The establishment gets away with it because they can always pull some rabbit out of the magician’s hat. The establishment is by its very nature conservative with either a large or small “c”. We should not assume that the Queen or her advisors or all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men will not attempt to put some sort of Cameron-faced Humpty Dumpty back together again.

    Bill is correct that Cameron should resign when he has lost. It has to be remembered that Cameron did not win the election 2010. He has been allowed to behave as if he was an elected PM for five years because he won the negotiations in May 2010 after the election was over.
    All the accounts of those negotiations which have been published indicate that the role of the head of the civil service and her majesty’s private secretary (tapping their watches and giving “helpful advice” about the Greek economy) eased those negotiations in one direction to a certain timetable.

  • Sarah Noble writes:

    > I should point out that Article 15 also applies to supply and confidence deals.

    So it seems, but I wonder where the boundaries are intended to be, under what circumstances the parliamentary party could freely support, oppose or abstain on confidence without the approval of a conference.

    Would the following interpretations apply? (An open question, not about a definitive answer.)

    1) The parliamentary party can vote freely on confidence for an established government, including as part of a new deal with that government.

    2) The parliamentary party can vote freely to facilitate the formation of a new government, as long as there is no agreement with that putative government.

    3) Even if the party tries to reach an agreement, if no agreement eventuates, 2) still applies.

    These interpretations would hinge on the words “formation” and “arrangement” in 15.1.

  • This Lib Dem approach to conducting coalition negotiations sets a new standard in Byzantine bureaucracy, reminiscent of Labour’s Longest Suicide Note in history. Just let the negotiating team and the leader do their job.

  • matt (Bristol) 27th Apr '15 - 9:10am

    Hmm. What odds are the bookies offering on a Lab-LibDem-DUP confidence and supply deal?

    Do the procedures Caron sets out relate to confidence and supply as well as formal coalition? (I think they do?)

  • ” And we must not forget, while we don’t agree with the SNP on much, voting reform is a common goal shared by Nicola Sturgeon – and Ed Miliband. Ponder that while considering who to hand the keys of No 10 to.”

    RICHARD MORRIS over at Ham Common and in the New Statesman –

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Apr '15 - 10:00am

    I think they do apply to confidence and supply, Matt. If it was just coalition, I think that would have been stipulated.

  • matt (Bristol) 27th Apr '15 - 10:30am

    Thanks, Caron. That’s helpful.

    As you say, a possible deficiency is if the party’s MPs (or their leader) agree to sit things out and not initiate talks with any side, the wider party has no redress or ability to critique this (except in hindsight) or to formally request that talks be opened with a wider range of parties than those considered by the leadership/parliamentary group.

    Another hypothetical question arises – in a ‘super-hung’ parliament situation, it the party’s rules apply to an agreement to vote for another party in a vote of confidence situation and thus secure a stable government, would they apply EVERY time the parliamentary party considers changing its official ‘whipped’ position in a vote of confidence tabled under the FTPA, for the rest of the parliament? Or are the rules only post-GE-specific?

    Are the implications of this (albeit reasonable) internal constraint and scrutiny on the actions of the LibDem parliamentary party, with no active incentive or encouragment for taking the initiative in a risky situation with less MPs – plus the UKIP ‘surge’ being a likely no-show, Labour-SNP rivalry and Labour chippiness about who’s writing ‘their’ budget kyboshing serious alternatives – that we’re almost certainly going to be looking at a ‘confidence only’ minority government — ie the most we can hope for is agreement from one or other of the minor parties (probably SNP) to not vote out a government, but no formal agreement on financial matters?

    Choppy waters ahead if so.

  • For those hoping for a deal with Labour can I suggest a quick look at Labour List, their equivalent of LDV. Once again the lead article is an attack on us.

  • @Paul Barker
    I would expect nothing less from them, and they can look at this site and see the same. Surely though that is not the point, I don’t want or expect politicians to agree on everything or even to stop wanting to put each other out of a job at th next election. I want them to attempt to work together on shared policies and to openly agree to compromise on others.

    I haven’t minded seeing Lib Dems go through the lobby with Tories on Tory policies. I have minded where they defend such policies as if they are the best thing since sliced bread and shout and cheer them in the House. We need open coalitions in the future where politicians are free to state they disagree with a policy but are voting for it as the price for X. Clearly there must be red lines, with the SNP it would be independence, with Labour I would suggest civil liberties and with the Tories their ideological attacks on the poorest and most needy.

    In short the first Red Line should be a change to the collective responsibility doctrine…

  • Tony Greaves 27th Apr '15 - 11:51am

    Who cares what appears on Labour List? The Labour Party is an unpleasant party in all kinds of ways, certainly not a Liberal party. It contains some nasty people. It also contains some nice people. The art of political co-operation is to be able to co-operate successfully with people you don’t basically agree with and don’t much like. Sometimes co-operating with people you think you agree with and people you like is more treacherous!

    On the post-election stuff, the fact is that “they” are all expecting and planning for a significantly longer period of negotiation before a government is formed, than last time. This is (a) because the numbers look like being less decisive than last time (when there was only one 2-party majority coalition on offer on the numbers)m, (b) because both the larger parties will have to spend more time consulting within their parties than last time, and (c) because it is far from clear that either the Tories or Labour will prefer coalition to minority government – in fact the reverse is true, it only seems to be the LD leadership that is contemplating a new coalition.

    On the BleB stuff about Cameron “having to resign” when he has “lost”, the whole point is that while everyone may have “lost” in a majoritarian sense, the point at which Cameron has “lost” or “won” compared with Miliband may take some time to become clear. All the pressure on Cameron from the civil service and all their lawyers will be to stay put until it’s sorted. Whatever the Cabinet Manual may say.


  • Tony Greaves 27th Apr '15 - 11:53am

    As for Simon Boyd’s view that the leadership should just be allowed to get on with it unhindered, even if we trust the present leadership to get it right on their own (which I do not) it is not a democratic, Liberal or sensible way to go about things, not least if we want an agreement to stick.


  • Stephen Hesketh 27th Apr '15 - 12:26pm

    Seth27th Apr ’15 – 10:17am
    ”This was a common fallacy throughout the coalition negotiations, which still gets trotted out after the fact – that the markets would have been destabilised when they opened on Monday if there hadn’t been a majority government in place, and that Britain would have seen a crippling crash.

    In fact, the markets were fine on Monday 10th May, and a coalition deal wasn’t sealed until Tuesday 11th May.”

    The poor nervous little dears who control ‘the markets’ should consider stocking up on Imodium this time round 🙂

  • New Flash — Stocks of Imodium rise !!!
    …after tip off from insider dealer Stephen Hesketh

  • @Seth “This was a common fallacy throughout the coalition negotiations, which still gets trotted out after the fact – that the markets would have been destabilised when they opened on Monday if there hadn’t been a majority government in place, and that Britain would have seen a crippling crash.

    In fact, the markets were fine on Monday 10th May, and a coalition deal wasn’t sealed until Tuesday 11th May.”

    As indeed they would be, given in all likelihood they were pricing a Con/LD coalition with suitable fiscal responsibility into their pricing. By that stage it was pretty obvious that Labour were a busted flush and the maths favoured the eventual outcome.

  • Tony Greaves
    “…On the BleB stuff about Cameron “having to resign” when he has “lost”, the whole point is that while everyone may have “lost” in a majoritarian sense…”

    On paper this is correct. In reality, I think that Bill Le Breton’s suggestion is nearer the mark ie that it will be clear very quickly that Cameron has lost.

    Cameron has been leader of his party for almost ten years; he failed to get a majority in 2010, he will fail to get a majority in 2015. He will be the loser.

    I do not think it is correct to say – “All the pressure on Cameron from the civil service and all their lawyers will be to stay put……”
    In the same way that all the pressure on Brown in 2010 (or Heath in Feb 1974) was not to go.

    I am not so sure that the British belief in the mythology of the unwritten constitution really stands up to close study.
    All this kissing of the Queen’s hands and limousines cruising up and down to Buckingham Palace should be abolished forthwith. It should be Pariament that decides, not the Queen, not the head of the Civil Service, not even a Golf Club full of Rear-Admirals or a gin palace full of Telegraph-reading small business-men.

  • Nick Collins 27th Apr '15 - 1:55pm

    Over the past five years a lot of my comments on LDV have been hostile and /or flippant. May I, nevertheless, ask two serious questions and request that some of the contributors to what has been an interesting discussion thus far give them serious answers?

    1. How much credibility/ legitimacy do you think the LibDem Parliamentary Party would have as partner in a coalition having lost, perhaps, over half their popular support and, maybe approximately half their MPs?

    2. How much credibility/legitimacy do you think a coalition would have if it included the party which had come fourth in terms of both seats and votes while excluding the party which had come third in terms of seats and the party which had come third in terms of votes?

  • @ Nick Collins – As much legitimacy as a majority government which has a minority of votes! Those who come fifth in terms of votes or fifth in terms of seats will have to suck it up, I’m afraid. That’s FPTP for you.

    Or give us a fair voting system… (Note that even with our present poll ratings, we might well have more seats under PR than currently .)

  • I do not think there is sufficient precedent for some possible outcomes. Can the Queen refuse a resignation? I am sure any advice will be led more by pragmatism than anything else. Whatever happens it is very unlikely that there will be a period in which there is no government.

    This discussion presumes that Miliband will refuse to negotiate with SNP. This is even more unlikely. I am sure that SNP if it has a high number of MPs would readily agree to passing the Queen’s speech an any confidence vote without negotiation. I expect in such circumstances Lib Dems would abstain. Labour’s problems would only just be beginning.

  • @John Tilley anyone waiting for Labour to deliver meaningful voting reform will be waiting a long time.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Apr '15 - 3:56pm

    Tony if leaders speaking for 323 MPs say they will not support Cameron. He has lost his majority. There is no precedent for a pm who has lost his majority not resigning immediately. If less than 323 say this because others are still making up their minds he has not yet lost his majority. This is why Heath in the 74 and Brown did not have to resign.

    If HMQ refused the resignation it would break precedent and initiate a constitutional crisis. She won’t. She will call for Miliband. From inside No 10 he will be given a draft QS by the cab sec and no doubt listen to any suggestions fromleaders whose support he thinks he will need to carry a vote on the QS. Only if that is voted down will the FTPA provisions kick in.

    To assume otherwise, ie to assume that refusing to talk to Militant if he has also included provisions to win SNP support or abstention will not prevent miliband being appointed PM and proceeding to present a QS.

    We shall then be dared to vote down that QS … which wd be very unwise. Thus we wd end up letting a QS go through without gaining any content.

    Once in post, the FTPA will work for the new executive, as it has over the last 4 and a bit years.

    Written on a phone. Apologies for mistakes.

  • Peter Watson 27th Apr '15 - 5:01pm

    @paul barker “For those hoping for a deal with Labour can I suggest a quick look at Labour List, their equivalent of LDV. Once again the lead article is an attack on us.”
    Based on the time you posted, presumably you mean this article, “Well done Nick Clegg. Thank you very much. And goodbye” ( which includes such vicious barbs as,
    “we should feel confident that, no matter what public line parties are taking now, and no matter what the result is, our system will prove flexible and robust enough for a government to be formed. Nick Clegg and his party deserve some credit for the part they have played in all this”
    “Still, it has all held together, and that is a significant achievement.”
    The comments below the article generally don’t seem much worse than any here, particularly one of LDV’s recent tuition fees threads, though one guy seemed to get a bit heated in response to a Lib Dem troll called “paul barker”!

  • David Allen 27th Apr '15 - 5:13pm

    Bill le Breton, this is unfair since you’ve already blamed your phone but: Miliband = Militant. Nice one!

  • Nick Collins 27th Apr '15 - 5:39pm

    @ David Allen

    I would suggest that your comment is equivalent to this, from Michael Murray,on the Labour List thread cited by Peter Watson above:
    “ah yes, the Liberal Democrat stooges. What’s their slogan again? The Tories’ heart; Labour’s head; and principle’s arse!”
    but less witty

  • Peter Watson 27th Apr ’15 – 5:01pm
    ” ……one guy seemed to get a bit heated in response to a Lib Dem troll called “paul barker”!

    Good to learn that paul barker gets the same reaction on Laour List as he does here. 🙂

    Maybe the conclusion is that there is a lot of fellow feeling between Labour supporters and Liberal Democrats.
    The overlap of policy between the two parties seems to become greater as each day passes. There are few Liberal Democrat policies that have not been included in Ed Miiband’s speeches.
    The opposite is true of Cameron’s speeches which do not have much of a Liberal Democrat element at all.
    But then any speech from Cameron is only as genuine and as lasting as his support for West Ham FC.

  • David Allen 27th Apr '15 - 6:52pm

    Nick, maybe it wasn’t as witty as I’d hoped, but I assure you it wasn’t barbed. I know perfectly well that from Bill le Breton,it will only have been an innocent slip. I just, well, thought it was mildly funny. That’s all.

  • Alex Sabine 27th Apr '15 - 7:06pm

    @ David
    A pity Bill’s typo didn’t come in his 2nd para. I like the idea that Her Majesty would “call for Militant” to avert a constitutional crisis 😉
    I’ll get my coat…

  • David Allen, ‘Militant’ made me laugh out loud for real 🙂

    And I am a bit of a #Milifan !

  • David Allen 27th Apr '15 - 7:42pm

    To be serious now – As I have ranted many times, I think the key question is how to stop Cameron stealing an election with all these frighteners about the SNP clinging like a limpet (or was it monkey?) to Miliband’s back. It is nauseating to see the Bullingdon bullies doing what they know best, scaring people into voting for their kleptocracy. The fact that Miliband is not countering the attack very well is beside the point. The guy is halfway honest, i.e. streets ahead of the alternative.

    Now it seems to me that a key factor in the Tory scam is confusion. If we knew precisely how our unwritten constitution would operate, it would be easy for Miliband to show that the SNP “monkey” could not possibly force the organ grinder to do anything “dreadful”, such as scrapping Trident (shock horror!) and thereby gifting the Tories the election.

    If all Miliband has to do is to win a first vote of confidence in order to become PM – Then his tactics are easy. He simply tells the SNP to choose between Labour and the Tories, without negotiation. They have to pick Labour (or cause chaos through indecision, which would rebound on them), and hence, panic over for Ed.

    If on the other hand we think of a minority Labour government which has to assemble a winning majority in order to pass any legislation on a one-bill-at-a-time basis – Well, again Miliband’s tactics ought in principle to be easy. If it’s about winding down austerity, expect SNP to come aboard. If it’s about a defence budget which maintains Trident, expect the Tories to let that through, rather than see the SNP block Trident.

    Except that the Tories, astoundingly, are happy to play politics with nuclear defence. See:

    “The final straw, which persuaded the DUP to speak out, came when the Tories suggested they would be prepared to vote against the defence estimates as a way of highlighting how the SNP could pose a threat to Trident under a Labour government. Ben Wallace, a Tory whip, hinted recently that a future Labour government might not be able to rely on the Tories to prevent the SNP from blocking the renewal of Trident. Wallace tweeted that the Tories might not support Labour defence estimates – the vote to guarantee defence spending – after the SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie said his party would vote against them if they supported Trident.”

    So – In order to make the SNP scare real, the Tories are prepared to help the SNP make it real. They are – as Miliband has alleged – working hand in glove with their ostensible opponents in order to scam the Labour Party.

    As the DUP point out, this plumbs the depths. The DUP, who are of course unionists, see that the Tories are threatening the union, under the guise of defending it. The Zinoviev letter was Queensberry rules compared to the Bullingdon bullies.

    How anyone in the Lib Dems can have any truck with these fellows, I totally fail to comprehend.

    To all of you (Bill le Breton, Tony Greaves and others) who have a better technical understanding of our unwritten constitution – can you put your knowledge to practical use in clarifying and denouncing this scam?

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