Tony Greaves writes: What happens if …?

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/There’s growing talk in Conservative and Labour circles about a minority government. Let’s make an assumption about numbers – not a prediction, just approximate numbers based on current polls: Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1).

Take out the Speaker and assume that Sinn Fein get five again, and the target for an overall majority is 323. On these numbers a majority Coalition looks hard to achieve – though don’t underestimate the ability of politicians to moderate or even overturn pre-election statements when it comes to getting into government. But add the heightened level of distaste in both Conservatives and Labour for both the concept of coalition and recent practice (at least in Westminster) and the idea of a minority government is not a fantasy.

Of course, a Labour or Conservative minority administration will still need to find a majority in the Commons, whether by positive votes or abstentions, but that’s a different issue. And the PM in a minority government does not need to be leader of the largest party, as indeed the Labour leader Ramsay Macdonald was not in 1924. We should also note – something else that the British media has so far not noticed – that a minority government may itself be a coalition of two or even more parties. On the figures above a Lab-SNP government would still be 18 votes short of a majority, and either a Con-LD or Lab-LD government 23 votes short.

But let’s assume that we get numbers something like these and that the two largest parties both prefer a minority government to a cobbled up three or four party coalition. And that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act remains in place. Three questions arise (actually a lot more but I want to raise three here!)

(1) Are Westminster politicians, cloistered in their notorious Bubble with the lobby-based media and a winner-takes-all view of life, ready for the considerable culture change that a “permanent” minority government would require?

Of course we’ve had minority governments before, with the Ramsay Macdonald governments in 1924 and 1929, and the last two years of the Labour government in the late 1970s, the time of the Lib-Lab pact. But James Callaghan’s Labour government then was only just in a minority and indeed managed to stagger on for another six months after the Liberals pulled out of the pact.

A “permanent” minority government, scheduled to last five years, will require some big changes in the way Westminster politicians and civil servants do things. The system won’t be majoritarian any more. Governments will propose, Parliament will dispose. Are we ready for that? Can we cope with that? It will need the skills of negotiation, conciliation, toleration of dissent, acceptance of compromise and trade-offs, rather than just efficient and sometimes brutal whipping of the government party. Most of all, the acceptance of the will of Parliament on big issues and little ones. And PM Questions in its present form will have to go the way of the dinosaurs, where it belongs.

(2) The House of Lords will have to be taken very seriously indeed. Its own role will have to be thought through. At present it does much of the detailed scrutiny of legislation which the Commons, focused on the high-level and controversial issues, doesn’t do. Under a non-majoritarian system, perhaps the Commons can reform itself to do more of this job (but don’t bet on it). Or perhaps the role of the Lords will be even more important, in which case it will need to be resourced rather better than now.

It might even be a chance to introduce a better and more mature way of reconciling differences between the two Houses. Instead of the slightly ridiculous ping-pong when clerks in pantomime gear parade up and down between the two chambers delivering “messages”, we could see something like the Conciliation Committee negotiations that take place between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

(3) It would be a wonderful chance for Parliament – in both Houses – to become more powerful as against the executive. Select committees in both Houses (and joint ones) could really come into their own. The whole process of legislation could be opened up to a much greater public gaze – and involvement. It seems that we are all going to have to  move out of the Palace of Westminster for very major repairs, possibly in 2020. Perhaps we could do that earlier than planned and sit in circular chambers in a way that might change our restrictive two-sided confrontational culture for ever!

The big question is of course – can a minority government really last five years? But we might also ask – can anyone prevent it lasting five years, given the existence of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act? This is a fascinating question and one I hope to look at in my next piece.

* Lord Tony Greaves is the Liberal Democrats Lords Spokesperson for the North of England.

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95 Comments

  • A very interesting read, Tony. The scenario you lay out is probable and the outcomes you suggets in 2) and 3) could be welcome.

    I have two concerns:

    1) a minority govt will still try to act like a majority one.
    2) the public will expect a decisive govt and not, what they may think, as endless talking.

    I’m not saying those two concerns are legitimate, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t reflective of how the party in power tries top act (can we imagine Lab or the Cons ever not being tribal and in love with authority?) eventual public reaction a couple of years into parliament.

    Could be an opportunity for both politics and the public to, for a lack of a better word, mature.

  • Simon Oliver 9th Mar '15 - 12:12pm

    I thought the fixed term parliament act only prevented the incumbent from calling an early election – a vote of no confidence would still trigger an election

  • jason hoffman 9th Mar '15 - 12:33pm

    The first SNP administration in holyrood was a minority government, and it ruled for a full-term. Perhaps Cameron and milliband should have a chat with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond about how minority govt works?

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Mar '15 - 12:42pm

    This is abosolutely fascinating … I was drafting the following the other day in an email to a friend, which is pertninent to the above, as it relates to what a ‘minority coalition’ might look like or do. What I think Lord Greaves shows above, and what inspired me to do this thinking, is just how complex the details of getting anything done could become.

    ——
    There’s been a lot of ‘don’t let the SNP in’ bluster from the Tories — but what alternatives are there? If we try a hypothetical approach, let’s assume the Tories edge Labour, LibDems implode, and a 3-party Tory-DUP, UKIP coalition agreement is hammered out. It’s a delicate balancing act – how much does David Cameron appease the different factions, not least within his own party (as he would probably be overseeing the dying end of his leadership of the Tories – so if it all goes to pot, who does he want to be able to pick up the pieces)?

    Just how soon would this govt. implode? – it would probably still be technically a minority administration, so detailed haggling with the other parties could be mandatory for each vote. Playing up the internal Labour splits on Europe and immigration would be essential for survival. Actual legislation on most other controversial issues would therefore probably be fairly limited, or deliberately couched in a consultative, ‘cross-party’ veneer. Most of the rhetoric would focus on foreign/defence affairs and tackling IS, Russia etc to distract from the govt’s domestic disagreements.

    CABINET
    PM – David Cameron (Con)
    Chancellor – George Osborne (Con)
    Home Secretary – Teresa May (Con)
    Foreign Secretary – Lord Trimble (Con)
    Foreign office minister and Trimble’s representative in the HoC – Boris Johnson (Con)
    Europe Minister – Eleanor Laing (Con)
    Education – Nigel Evans (Con)
    Business – Nigel Farage (UKIP)
    Chief Secretary to Treasury – Sammy Wilson (DUP)
    Energy and Climate Change –David Willetts (Con)
    Local Government and Constitutional Reform – Douglas Carswell (UKIP)
    Health – Liam Fox (Con)
    Evironment – Liz Truss (Con)
    Defence – Nigel Dodds (DUP)
    Leader of the HoC – Owen Patterson (Con)
    Scottish Secretary and a junior defence minister – Rory Stewart (Con)
    Northern Ireland Secretary – Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP)
    Welsh Secretary – Nigel Evans (joint with his other post)

  • Nick Collins 9th Mar '15 - 12:44pm

    @ Tony Greaves. Very interesting. I look forward to your next piece.

    @ Simon Oliver. Maybe so. But with the numbers TG postulates, it might be as difficult to find an issue on which, and a time when, it suited sufficient of the non-government parties to combine to win a vote of no confidence as it had to form a government with a working majority.

  • There are many precedents under Westminster systems for minority governments that last (or are even the norm) under confidence and supply arrangements.

    > The system won’t be majoritarian any more. Governments will propose, Parliament will dispose. Are we ready for that?

    This mode of operation may well eventuate, but it is not compulsory.

    One of the tactics employed by the Gillard minority government in Australia was to try to negotiate policy packages behind closed doors before presenting legislation to parliament as a fait accompli. Although the power-sharing parliament at that time was more independently minded, there was hardly a blossoming of open policy formulation.

    One advantage that Gillard had was that the Greens and the independents had every interest in seeing the parliament run full term, since they would be unlikely to enjoy the balance of power after a subsequent election. This assumption would not be safe in the context of Labour-SNP negotiations.

    Simon Oliver writes:

    > I thought the fixed term parliament act only prevented the incumbent from calling
    > an early election – a vote of no confidence would still trigger an election

    That is more or less how I read it too, that a majority bloc in parliament can precipitate an election by withholding confidence for a fortnight.

  • Shaun Young 9th Mar '15 - 1:14pm

    @Simon Oliver, a vote of ‘No Confidence’ would NOT necessarily trigger another GE, as there is a 14 day period following a ‘No confidence’ vote, where if possible a vote of ‘Confidence’ can then be called, according to this information:

    Now, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act limits the ability of a Prime Minister to call an early general election. It sets the date of the next and subsequent general elections at five yearly intervals but it allows early general elections in two circumstances:

    • if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House (including vacant seats) or without division or;

    • if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days by means of a confidence motion.

    The Fixed-term Parliaments Act sets out the wording of the motion of no confidence:

    “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.

    If this motion is carried, there is a 14 calendar day period in which to form a new Government, confirmed in office by a resolution as follows:

    “That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”

    If a new Government cannot be formed within this time period, then dissolution is triggered. There is no provision for an extension of the 14 day period. Dissolution need not follow immediately on a triggering event, as section 2(7) allows for the Prime Minister to recommend a suitable polling day to the Crown. A proclamation for a new Parliament can then be issued.

    The Prime Minister’s ability to call an early general following a defeat in the House of Commons is curtailed. There is now a statutory procedure for triggering an early general election.

    The consequences of a government losing what would have been considered a question of confidence before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act have not been tested since the act was passed.

  • Simon Oliver 9th Mar '15 - 2:07pm

    thanks all – a no confidence route is less likely as parties can’t afford frequent elections and the public would not stand for them, but it seems a minority govt could be swapped for another via a no confidence vote, and if that happens enough then one or other of the main parties will buckle under and form a coalition, or supply and confidence agreement, with two or more small parties.

  • Tony, you really should write in LDV more often. Like others have commented – I look forward to your next piece.

    Many good points and ideas in this piece, especially —
    “…..It might even be a chance to introduce a better and more mature way of reconciling differences between the two Houses. Instead of the slightly ridiculous ping-pong when clerks in pantomime gear parade up and down between the two chambers delivering “messages”…”

  • Tony: You have so very craftily chosen your numbers, that such an outcome is very unlikely. It is more likely that either Conservatives or Labour plus one other party will be sufficient. As I understand it, come what may Cameron gets first go at forming a government. In your circumstances I would imagine that the parties would jockey for position in a follow up election that would take place after a vote of no confidence and an inability to form a new government.

    I doubt that we would see a birth of adult politics and a generation of politicians skilled in the art of politics. Some of your questions would, I think, be pertinent in the more likely outcome where a minority government attempted to operate with an informal (e.g. Lib/Lab pact II) arrangement with another party.

    My own view (aside from the one that there will be an overall majority one way or the other) is that Lib Dems need to be establishing channels of communication and discussion with SNP to establish some sort of coordinated response to an outcome of No Overall Control. In anything like the outcome Tony suggests, Labour and Conservatives will work hard to play Lib Dems off against the SNP.

  • “The House of Lords will have to be taken very seriously indeed. Its own role will have to be thought through.”

    Since I’ve been politically aware, I’ve always wanted to see the establishment of an elected HoL. That said, in this Parliament I’ve felt the quality (and dare I say the mostly grown up nature) of debate in the current HoL’s has far exceeded the Commons. My own view on this is the number of professional politicians who are selected for their respective front benches. Hopefully any future elected HoL will avoid this although sadly I doubt it.

    I think fixed parliaments may well lead to 5 years of uncertainty with potentially alternating minority Governments….

  • Tony – at last someone is talking seriously about the next government in the context of the new 5 year fixed term arrangement.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Mar '15 - 3:33pm

    Thanks for the article. Unfortunately I feel genuine revulsion at the House of Lords and struggle to engage in a discussion that talks up the role of the Lords in any way.

    Yeah, we might get a minority government, but the House of Lords disgusts me and I struggle to move beyond that point in an article that doesn’t seem to share a level of urgency in effectively abolishing it.

    Regards

  • paul barker 9th Mar '15 - 3:33pm

    One effect of the new “majoritarian” politics is that splits & defections become more likely, all those negotiations mean more frustration for extreme factions & more MPs talking seriously to those from other parties.

  • Eddie – do you not see the value in an upper chamber at all? I think many Lib Dems would be happy with one, provided it was 100% elected, though I don’t think anyone has given much thought to what it might be called. Even at present it does have a very important role in scrutinising legislation and the Lib Dem peers have done some really useful work.

  • David Allen 9th Mar '15 - 4:38pm

    “Governments will propose, Parliament will dispose. Are we ready for that? Can we cope with that? It will need … acceptance of compromise and trade-offs, … the acceptance of the will of Parliament on big issues and little ones.”

    I would suggest that we are not in the least ready for any of that. Government, Whitehall, and above all the lobbying industry have grown used to an orderly system of centralised planning. Deals are struck with lobbyists behind the scenes, and Government then implements them, without significant resistance from Parliament. What are the poor old lobbyists to do, when Government tells them it cannot guarantee to honour the deals it has just made, because Parliament might say no?

    I think that what the poor old lobbyists will do is demand a Tory-Labour coalition, which is strong enough to honour the deals it makes with big business. Then, business will be able to retain its stranglehold control over the nation’s affairs. If Parliament tries to reassert its freedom, Parliament will have to be stopped.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Mar '15 - 4:39pm

    Hi Mary, sorry I should have made clear that I totally understand why Lib Dems would join the Lords whilst it still has power, I just felt talk about increasing the power of “both houses” was not right whilst the Lords is in its current form.

    I believe in an upper house. My stomach was just almost churning at the thought of the existing form and I felt like I needed to get that across a bit.

  • “I think many Lib Dems would be happy with [a second chamber of Parliament], provided it was 100% elected, though I don’t think anyone has given much thought to what it might be called.”

    Er, Senate? As in all the other Commonwealth countries that have one.

    Though there’s always the Cromwellian alternative of “The Other House.”

  • sinn fein will not get 5 again. they will get 4

  • Philip Thomas 9th Mar '15 - 6:23pm

    and UKIP will get 1 or at most 2 not 5. But that doesn’t really materially alter the analysis. No Overall Control for any 2-party group is a very real possibility.
    On the other hand, a minority government is a minority government- I don’t see why Cameron (who goes first of course) would invite the Lib Dems to join him in Cabinet if they don’t give him a majority: he could just as well declare minority government on his own.

  • It does show how getting changes to the processes of Parliament will be more important than agreement on policies. That was ALDC advice for dealing with hung council situations but sadly seemed to be ignored by the negotiating team. Next time the negotiators brief needs to have “your here to change the system, not inheirit it” written in large letters on the front page.

  • Philip Thomas 9th Mar '15 - 6:53pm

    Another point is EVEL. Exclude the Scottish MPs from Tony’s numbers and what is left? I think a clear Lib Dem+Tory majority (even clearer if we exclude Northern Ireland). EVEL hasn’t been agreed yet though, has it?

  • As with any fantasy football team, I guess Tony’s team is as good a guess as any.? But more interestingly, LibDems never dare ask the fundamental and crucial question, as to why politics got to this chaotic point? If the present political system that you LibDems dearly love, was so sound, valid, useful and universally respected for governance,.. why did it get to this [soon to be a constitutional crisis?], point?
    I accept that Liberal Democrats are,.. if nothing else, an intelligent bunch. But whilst you are trying to work out the ‘fantasy football’ seating arrangements post May elections,.. is it truly beyond your comprehension or capability, to grasp why the ‘binary politics’ of the last 40 years are well and truly over?
    If you simply look across both the UK and the EU for evidence,… you see a clear pattern emerging. A voter rise against the *establishment machine*.
    Syriza
    Podemos
    Le Penn
    Ukip
    SNP
    Seriously folks,.. does it matter if your particular pitchfork is *right*, or *left*, when you are a disgruntled, and dare I say p*s*ed off voter.? If you want *real change*, and for that you need a pitchfork,.. against the corrupt, self serving political establishment both here in the UK, and right across the EU,.. then surely,.. *ANY*… pitchfork will do?
    I’m sorry boys and girls,…fantasise about your Westminster seating arrangements all you like, but be under no illusions,..but the angry pitchforks are coming, and for what it’s worth,.. 2020, not 2015 will be the real year of change.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Mar '15 - 7:52pm

    John Dunn

    If the present political system that you LibDems dearly love, was so sound, valid, useful and universally respected for governance,..

    Er, I’ve spent all my adult life trying to build up Britain’s third party in order to end the two-party duopoly, and all my life arguing for fundamental constitutional changes in Britain, and now you say that I “dearly love” the very system I have spent my life trying to change?

    If you want *real change*, and for that you need a pitchfork,.. against the corrupt, self serving political establishment both here in the UK, and right across the EU,.. then surely,.. *ANY*… pitchfork will do?

    Yes, and then what? Syriza are finding this out right now – oh, you can wave the angry pitchforks about, but what about when it comes and you ARE in charge and actually waving angry pitchforks about isn’t enough, you have to have a coherent and workable alternative. Since Syriza had nothing much in the way of coherent policies, they’re now finding that actually they’re in the same position as previous Greek government, there’s no magic solution.

    UKIP gives the impression it wants to turn the clock back to some golden age, sort of 1950s, but actually it has no policies that would do that. If you REALLY wanted to turn the clock back, you’d have to reverse Thatcherism, a bit awkward for a party which worships Margaret Thatcher and regards itself as her true heirs. Their answer to any question about paying for things is that it can be done from all the money not paid in EU membership costs – er, actually it’s not that large an amount, so UKIP has already planned to spend it several times over, and that’s assuming it won;t be at least balanced by economic losses caused by withdrawal from the EU.

    The SNP thinks everything can be paid for by refusing to share the revenue from North Sea Oil with the rest of the UK, and by playing the kowtow to global business game of reducing corporation tax and so setting up a brass plate industry which steals the money made by hard work in other countries. And then these people with these selfish policies claim to be of the left?

    Of course, to see where angry pitchforks can really get you, we can take a look at Syria right now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Mar '15 - 7:57pm

    John Dunn

    when you are a disgruntled, and dare I say p*s*ed off voter.?

    you’re easy prey for political con-artists, easy prey for anti-democratic types, easy prey for those who want to distract you from the REAL problems by selling you political snake oil.

    The REAL problem is the growing domination of the world economy by the global super-wealthy elite.

    What do YOU propose to do about that, John Dunn?

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Mar '15 - 8:13pm

    A Tory-SNP agreement seems to me to be the most workable. The Tories agree to generous funding for Scotland, in return to the SNP allowing them to make savage cuts to services in England. The SNP could adopt a “nothing to do with us” attitude, and justify letting the Tories make the cuts on the basis that it’s not a Scottish thing therefore they should abstain.

    Labour couldn’t do this because they couldn’t play the game of paying off the SNP by making big cuts in England.

  • Matthew writes :
    “Yes, and then what? Syriza are finding this out right now – oh, you can wave the angry pitchforks about, but what about when it comes and you ARE in charge and actually waving angry pitchforks about isn’t enough, you have to have a coherent and workable alternative”
    And does this not show categorically that Ukip is spot on, when they say that sovereignty is *dead* for EU ~ Euro committed participants? Greeks have found out to their deep sorrow, that they can vote for whoever they like, but,…it is the Berlin~Brussels axis says what is or is not acceptable after they vote? So much for democracy and sovereignty, in the EU?
    Quiz : Which *non elected*, EU official said ” Elections make no difference “?
    Answers on a postcard to.. Alexi Tsipras
    ———————
    And…..
    “……..you’re [John Dunn], easy prey for political con-artists, easy prey for anti-democratic types, easy prey for those who want to distract you from the REAL problems by selling you political snake oil. What do YOU propose to do about that, John Dunn?
    This…
    http://www.ukip.org/policies_for_people

  • Philip Thomas 9th Mar '15 - 8:36pm

    The SNP have vowed not to do a deal with the Tories and the Tories would be pilloried for selling out to the SNP. Given that the SNP probably wouldn’t allow the Tories to repeal the Human Rights Act, there are distinct advantages to this scenario, especially if it breaks down relatively quickly: Labour would probably sweep to power on a wave of anti-coalition disgust but there would be Lib Dem gains as well.

  • Tony Greaves 9th Mar '15 - 11:45pm

    Inevitably this thread has started to debate likely deals. But I am not asking people to debate that here (it will be debated everywhere else anyway) – but to think about how a minority government might work, and how parliament should work. The questions need to be asked regardless of which party/ies form that minority government.

    As for the numbers, of course they might be different from my supposition – of course they will be, to a greater or lesser degree. But as I said I am not making a forecast, just setting out the kind of numbers that the opinion polls continue to say COULD happen. If they do, we should be prepared. As Hywel says, constitutionally new situations are a good chance to change things in the ways we would like to see. I worry that we have not done any serious thinking about the way that we want to change and improve the way that government and Parliament work, so we will just join everyone else in trying to fit square (or hexagonal) election result into a traditional round system. Which won’t work.

    Tony

  • If there is a minority government, then the Prime Minister would just have to meet with whatever party leaders were amenable to a compromise and make bargains in order to get any legislation he wanted to get through, possibly creating a different coalition and making different promises for each piece of legislation.

    That is an entirely workable system of government. It’s not what we’re used to, but that doesn’t make it bad. It might be better than the current coalition, where Cameron made one set of promises to the Liberal Democrats, failed to deliver on them, and yet gets automatic Lib Dem support for legislation anyway.

  • Tony,
    You say — “… I worry that we have not done any serious thinking about the way that we want to change and improve the way that government and Parliament work…”

    This is a fascinating reflection on the last 5 years.
    We have had the leader of our party as DPM with personal responsibility for Constitutional Reform and dozens of SpAds working for him in The Cabinet Office and nobody has done any serious thinking on the subject!

    Historians when writing about what happened in The Cabinet Office between 2010 and 2015 might end up scratching their heads and wondering what all that public money spent on SpAd salaries was actually for.

  • @jason hoffman

    Well, seeing as they ruled thanks to Tory votes I suppose the lesson is to allow yourself to be propped up and then pretend that you never relied on them.

  • John Probert 10th Mar '15 - 10:32am

    Martin says “My own view (aside from the one that there will be an overall majority one way or the other) is that Lib Dems need to be establishing channels of communication and discussion with SNP to establish some sort of coordinated response to an outcome of No Overall Control.”
    However, surely the tactical aim of the SNP would be to show that the UK in its present form is ungovernable and for Scotland to leave the Union sooner rather than later? And indeed, losing Scotland would immediately solve the problem.

  • Two months before the 2010 election, as a lifelong Liberal resident in Australia since 1995 (my late father became a Liberal in Jo Grimond early days as leader), I thought most LDs were being too pessimistic back then. I thought we’d get 21% of the vote (in the event we got 23%) and elect 64 LD MPs (we found ourselves winning a respectable 57).

    Unfortunately, surely TG is being too optimistic now. 35 seats? I’ll jump for joy if we secure that number. From far away, I’m predicting 21 MPs and 13% of the vote.

  • Its important to remember that the picture is still changing with the Tories pulling ahead of Labour & the fall in Labours vote accelerating. Our polling hasnt shifted yet but it will once the Campaign takes off. For most voters the Elction campaign hasnt begun yet.

  • paul barker 10th Mar ’15 – 11:01am
    “……Our polling hasnt shifted yet but it will once the Campaign takes off. ”

    Paul Barker, can you give me the date for when “the Campaign takes off” ? I will put it in my diary and check the opinion polls a couple of days later.

    Any chance of this happening before June?

  • Tony Greaves 10th Mar '15 - 11:12am

    Jonathan M – I am not being optimistic or otherwise – I am not discussing the LD performance per se, just setting out a set of numbers that could arise from the current polls. Take ten off the LD number and scatter them around other parties, and my argument remains the same. It’s about minority government and how it could work.

    Tony

  • Fair point, Tony. I have been a long-time admirer of yours since I first campaigned for the Party @ 1980.

  • matt (Bristol) 10th Mar '15 - 11:37am

    I think, for me, the irony of the situation that Tony Greaves explores is that the Fixed Term Parliament Act in tandem with successive hung parliaments is:
    1) very likely to increasingly point up the faults in our current system (the faultlines between nations and regions; the lack of proportionality in the voting system(s); the overbearing behaviour of the whips; the patronage of the PM; the oddfities of the relationship between Lords and Commons; the um, monetarily negotiable nature of several parliamentarians’ allegiances and votes; I could go on…)
    2) very unlike to produce genuine solutions, due to the fractured nature of such a parliament making cross-party compromise agreements more fraught and difficult.

    If all this does, as he seems to hope, produce in parliamentarians a reaction on the lines of ‘it’s broke, we don’t know how to fix it so we might as well work together with patience and respect and drop the aggro’, that’d be almost acceptable, but will it???

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '15 - 12:25pm

    John Dunn

    And does this not show categorically that Ukip is spot on, when they say that sovereignty is *dead* for EU ~ Euro committed participants?

    No. The Greeks have borrowed money and now can’t pay it back. To be sure, being in the Euro means the old way of dealing with that, devaluing your currency, can’t be used. So is that what UKIP is about, devaluing the pound?

    What do YOU propose to do about that, John Dunn?
    This…
    http://www.ukip.org/policies_for_people

    Which is laughable. Thank you John Dunn for so proving my point by giving this excellent example of “those who want to distract you from the REAL problems by selling you political snake oil”. Well done, first class, this is JUST the sort of thing I meant.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '15 - 12:37pm

    Ian Sanderson (RM3)

    There is a very simple way to secure a firm two-party coalition in the event of a hung parliament. It doesn’t involve the co-operation of non-England parties like the DUP or the SNP. It is a grand coalition of Conservative and Labour.

    Yes, and in the event of the balance of seats being something like Tony Greaves’ figures, I think that is what we should be calling for. Far from giving the impression of being eager to carry on as a junior partner in a coalition, we should be saying “No, we did that last time, and we have borne the brunt of electoral punishment for doing what we thought was right: giving support to the only stable government that could have been formed from that Parliament, despite our hands being tied due to the distortion of the electoral system. Actually there was one other stable government that could have been formed, so now we call on those who could form it to do so”.

  • Gordon Willey 10th Mar '15 - 12:39pm

    My personal wish list, for a good outcome from a coalition, has always been local income tax and single transferable vote in local elections. To which one could add devolution of transport, health and a lot else.
    All of which require legislation. But the reaction of minority government ministers is to do as much as possible by administrative changes and changing budgets, with as little put through parliament as possible. That happened in education with Gove, and the important changes in the NHS are about finance, not the reorganisation.
    So my wish list now is for greater control of taxation and spending by government. Unfortunately “Confidence and Supply” reinforces ministers powers.
    The budget votes are the point of pressure. Is any parliamentary party willing to vote down a budget to get greater budget powers for Parliament?

  • matt (Bristol) 10th Mar '15 - 12:53pm

    Ian Sanderson – I cannot see a ‘grand coalition’ administration being anything other than a caretaker administration (and probably an unpicking of the fixed-term parliament act itself) preparatory to another election – unless there was another genuine crisis beyong the electoral one. If it was a caretaker administration, look to see it packed with ‘elder statesman’ type figures, whilst the more active younger MPs scurried about trying to save their seat and jockey for position in a coming leadership battle in both parties. It would be high-stakes stuff. Ed M would know he would be probably throwing away his last chance to retain Scotalnd as a Labour-voting heartland, David C would know he was giving Farage an enormous free-hit as he would probably have to kiss his conmpromise referendum bye-bye. Will they really both simulataneously sacrifice party advantage for the good of the nation, and get all their MPs along for the ride? Only with Mr Putin’s help, I surmise…

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '15 - 1:17pm

    paul barker

    Our polling hasnt shifted yet but it will once the Campaign takes off.

    Maybe. I think there could be big shifts during the official campaign time. On the whole, people now are not strongly committed to particular political parties, which means they are open to persuasion if someone can find a good way of persuading them. That is why I think the possibility of a big upwards shift in the Liberal Democrat share of the vote from where we are in the polls should not be written off. In some ways, because we have been so written off and dismissed, people have hardly even looked at what we are actually saying, so that could give us a big novelty factor if something draws their attention to us during the campaign and they think “Well, actually I hadn’t considered that option, but now I’ve seen it and it doesn’t look too bad, maybe …”. It would be Cleggmania all over again. Except …

    Well, let’s consider what happened to Cleggmania. In the end it didn’t work, and we ended up no better in the actual vote than we were in the polls at the start. That is, the usual rule of practice that the Liberal Democrats pick up support as the campaign progresses as people who weren’t thinking of that option become aware of it didn’t work. Why? I think the answer is Clegg. People looked at him again in the second and third debate, and the novelty factor had worn off, and actually he gave a plodding performance which damaged us because people had been led to expect something amazing after the way the first one had been written up. Of course, the upward shift at around the time of the first debate was due in a large part to LibDem activists getting out and delivering their pre-election material in the week before the campaign officially started, as we all did. The novelty factor of Clegg coming from the fact that up till then he had made so little impact that hardly anyone knew who he was helped, but after that it distracted from our local campaigning.

    So, although the possibility is there, I just can’t see Clegg and the PR people surrounding him coming up with the key line that will cause people to say “Hey, maybe that IS an option I could consider”. After all, they’ve completely failed to do so in the past five years, and indeed have shown a remarkable ability to look at why it is that people are turning away from us, and do and say all that is needed to confirm those people’s prejudices.

    I remember during the last election campaign, after the first leaders’ debate, thinking that Clegg would be coming out with the big fiery speech that would be needed to build on the positive reaction to the first debate. Every time it didn’t happen, I kept thinking “Ah well, he’s saving it up till later, that’s probably the best way to do it”. Well, eve-of-poll came and it still didn’t happen, and I remember thinking “Oh, was that it?”. And I am sure there were many others, so many of those who had for a while during the campaign thought of going our way, who thought the same.

    I’ve tried since then, thank you Liberal Democrat Voice for giving me the opportunity, to point out all the ways I think those at the top are getting it wrong in how they are presenting our party, and what they could be doing to get it right, at least as my own instincts and what I hear from people around me suggest would get it right. At every step on the way, those at the top have done almost the exact opposite of what I felt would be the right thing to do in order to retain our support and win new support. Well, it’s all only my own view, and who am I to think I know better than the experts? However, that’s why though I think the possibility of us doing much better in the election than predicted is there, I don’t hold out much hope of it happening.

  • paul barker 10th Mar ’15 – 11:01am …..Its important to remember that the picture is still changing with the Tories pulling ahead of Labour & the fall in Labours vote accelerating. Our polling hasnt shifted yet but it will once the Campaign takes off. For most voters the Elction campaign hasnt begun yet…….

    You have, if memory serves, been preaching a LibDem revival/Labour fall for the last few years…..Labour and Conservatives neck and neck in latest Observer poll with both parties on 34%, while Ukip holds steady on 14%, Lib Dems on 8% and Greens on 7%…..
    I can only put any idea that we will suddenly, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes down to wishful thinking. William Hill (follow the money) has odds on for between 11 and 30 seats… If Labour and Tories are neck and neck then my money would be on a Labour/SNP alliance….Tories will probably need the LibDems so I hope, in any such new alliance, our leadership take more heed of members in selling support…

  • Thanks, Tony. I thought that you would be the one who would start thinking about non majority parliaments. I have aid that it is important that we do have a clear idea of how it could be made to work after all if we were to achieve PR there would be no chance for majority governments.
    The one idea I have is that there should be steering debates and votes in parliament ahead of government policy/legislation being developed.

  • John Probert: re surely the tactical aim of the SNP would be to show that the UK in its present form is ungovernable

    I think that is an aggressively partisan view of how SNP behave. Although their prime interests will be for Scotland, the SNP also need to show responsibility and have gained credence in Holyrood; this is not something they would want to squander. The point is that politically we have much in common and if we have a similar position in Westminster we will have alot more in common as to how we operate. There will be an obvious interest in Labour and Tories to play off Lib Dems against the SNP, if we allowed this to happen it would be to our mutual disadvantage.

    We need to explore the issues that we have in common in order to promote the change that both parties want. In concert this can be achieved but not if we are pitted against each other.

  • Matthew: Whilst I cannot say that Clegg is that bad a speaker and interlocuter, I agree that he is far from brilliant. Paddy Ashdown and Vince Cable appear effortlessly to put him in the shade. I certainly would not guarantee that there will be anything like a moment of lift off. Moreover a lack of distinctively Liberal and radical ideas make it look as though the aim is to stem the tide and to win back tactical rather than Liberal voters.

    The consolation is that Lib Dems have shown that coalition government can operate for a full term in the UK and that this should be a starting point for renewal. The tricky task after the next election, assuming we are not too side tracked by further coalition, will be to reestablish a radically Liberal and democratic agenda that does not make Labour’s mistake of disavowing the experience of government.

    To respond more specifically to Tony Greaves though a government with No Overall Control, may be an opportunity to establish better, more politically adroit (less yah boo nahnahnah) practice in Westminster, but this would be unlikely to be able to be enshrined in legislation. Such an outcome would, for Lib Dems, be complicated by the need to renew a distinct (hopefully distinctly Liberal) identity.

  • Steve Comer 10th Mar '15 - 3:53pm

    Interestring piece Tony.

    I think too many people confuse the need to govern with the need to legislate. It is possible for Parliament to adapt to No Overall Contro, whether with or wiothout a coalitionl. All that will be needed is for a national version of the ‘Cheshire protocols’ that so many in Local Government used in the decades after Andrew Stunnell and others dfrew them up! As others have said the SNP ran a minoroty administration successfully for a whole term.

    Veterans of the Feb-Oct 1974 Parliament have often said it was the only time that votes in the Chamber really mattered, and the quality of deabte reflected that.

    It could be that the move out of the gothic palace by the Thames could also have a more long term impact than we might expect. I would favour a medium term move of the legislature to the NEC Birmingham where proper circular chambers on Council Chamber/European pattern could be installed. And who knows the experience of being based in the UK’s second city could also have a positive impact on policy making? (In fact why not keep our legislature there and use the old Imperial Parliament as a tourist attraction and ‘event’ venue?).

  • David Allen 10th Mar '15 - 4:11pm

    I don’t often agree with John Dunn of UKIP, but he is surely right to poke fun at the Lib Dems, who have campaigned for so long to achieve a “balanced” parliament and coalition government, and now find that everybody else believes that it is a nightmare!

    In fairness, the Lib Dems didn’t envisage this form of balanced parliament, which arises mainly from an inherently unstable political situation – the expectation of 40-50 SNP MPs in a Westminster parliament. This is not likely to persist in the long term. Either the SNP win their battle for independence, and the 50 MPs depart, or they lose popularity, and again most of the 50 MPs depart.

    Under STV, we could expect a permanently balanced parliament irrespective of the SNP, as is common in Europe. In that situation, you don’t see the sort of jockeying that we are seeing now, with all the potential alliances up for grabs. Instead, the parties generally form up into two reasonably consistent teams, creating a lesser level of instabilty and in general, less business risk.

    Our situation is a bigger mess, and is widely becoming recognised as such. Perhaps the Lib Dems will get the blame. A factor which I would blame is the five-year fixed-term Parliament. When the result is on a knife-edge, one natural way to resolve the stand-off is for one side to establish a winning position by its reaction to events. Sometimes governments naturally fail to survive their term – think of Heath brought down by the miners’ strike, or the economic collapse which brought Syriza to power. In our fixed term parliament, a failed government will be able to cling on to power unless its members defect. That will not endear our democracy to our disillusioned young voters.

    I don’t share the optimism in this thread that we will get beautiful parlimentary sovereignty, that a thousand flowers will bloom if we give them a chance, and that our politicians and business will happily learn to live with instability. Instead they will act to prevent it, by enforcing a grand coalition if that is necessary.

  • Nick Collins 10th Mar '15 - 4:11pm

    The “Observer” two days ago published an analysis of recent polling data which suggests that UKIP could be on course for second place in a large number of constituencies.

    I wonder how that might affect the likely outcomes of by-elections in the next parliament and the likely result in the general election:after this and to what extent that perceived threat may affect the strategies and behaviour of the various parliamentary parties in the scenario which Tony Greaves has invited us to consider?

  • Nick Collins: I would think that predictions of second places are even more erratic than first places, nonetheless, you certainly have an interesting point. There is some possibility that the UKIP threat could be a factor that helps keep the parliament together despite No Overall Control.

  • Jim Forrest 10th Mar '15 - 6:14pm

    Tony Greaves: A fascinating and thought-provoking analysis. A pity so many haven’t read beyond the first two paragraphs, and use them as a hook for yet more angels-on-a-pinhead wrangling over poll projections.What we need to focus on for Friday May 8 is not who gets into bed with whom, but how we ensure that the ensuing five years takes us a little further down the slow, difficult road to a liberal society and a genuine democracy.
    Tony has it spot-on: “It will need the skills of negotiation, conciliation, toleration of dissent, acceptance of compromise and trade-offs, rather than just efficient and sometimes brutal whipping of the government party.” Exactly the sort of skills Lib Dems determined to serve their communities rather than an ideology brought to so many council chambers; that devolved assemblies have had to develop to ensure coherent government without a majority. (And that Willie Rennie demonstrated this week against the Scottish snoopers’ charter, even now that Holyrood has an intransigent SNP majority we thought had been designed out of its structure.)
    Like others in this thread I hope to see the end to an unelected second chamber. But while it exists, there’s some merit in it if it gives practical and thoughtful politicians like Tony a forum to help put back together our fractured lbody politic.

  • David Allen 10th Mar '15 - 6:21pm

    John Dunn said,

    “I’m sorry boys and girls,…fantasise about your Westminster seating arrangements all you like, but be under no illusions,.. the angry pitchforks are coming…”

    That does sound rather plausible. However, there is also a bewildering variation of style amongst the pitchforks – the metrosexual Varoufakis, the frightening Le Pen, the urbane Sturgeon, the faux Pickwickian Farage… So what unites them?

    Well, disgust with the rich business lobbyists’ “Prostitute State”, together with fear, anger, resentment, and racial scapegoating. But also, in an uneasy combination, hope and optimism, the belief that there is a better way, if only we could find it. Allied with that, the understanding that if we can’t find a better way, climate change will probably bring our civilisation to an end.

    So should we cheer the pitchforks, or fear them?

    As I have implied above, I don’t think the pitchforks are as close to power as they think they are. I think that “The Prostitute State” will come together to preserve their privileges. The important thing about Osborne and Mandelson is not the different parties they belong to, or the different policies they espouse. It is that they both took up the invitation to join Oleg Deripaska on his yacht, and they both know which side their bread is buttered.

    If we fear fascism, terror and war – which is where the pitchforks very often lead us -, then perhaps we should applaud. Arguably, there are worse perils than Russian oligarchs on yachts. That, at any rate, is what the members of “The Prostitute State”, including of course the Liberal Democrat leadership, would like us to think.

    However, that would be to appease the kleptocrats who have caused all the fear, anger and resentment in the first place. If Murdoch’s men continue to run Britain, if a pre-eminent tax cheat continues to run the EU, if billionaires continue to run the US, then the fear, anger and resentment will only continue to build, until eventually there is an explosion. Probably nothing as well-directed as the French Revolution, when the crazy mobs did at least vent their fury on some of the people who did merit blame. Probably a slaughter of the scapegoats. That’s what more commonly happens.

    So I think we have to give a cautious cheer for the pitchforks, and then hope that all that mixed-up anger and hopefulness can be chanelled into something positive. Syriza and Podemos are showing glimpses of a better way. So (and I say this despite being a unionist) are the SNP. For those of us who can see that the Lib Dems are now a busted flush – We need a new party in Britain which can grow from the wreckage, and take that agenda forward.

  • “For those of us who can see that the Lib Dems are now a busted flush – We need a new party in Britain which can grow from the wreckage, and take that agenda forward.”
    I totally respect this sincerely held view of yours, David. But are you still a member of the Liberal Democrats? I only asked because the statement above would appear to bear some comparison to the party constitutions, particularly article 3.7a of the federal constitution, which says:
    “3.7 Membership may be revoked by a Local Party (or, where appropriate, a Specified Associated
    Organisation which acted as the enrolling body) or a State Party on one or more of the
    following grounds:
    (a) material disagreement, evidenced by conduct, with the fundamental values and
    objectives of the Party;…”
    Surely the basic objective of the party is to continue as a party, is it not?

  • Philip Thomas 10th Mar '15 - 7:39pm

    I think there are already too many political parties contesting in the Westminster Arena- as Tony’s scenario rather illustrates. Radical change is more likely to be effected by capturing an existing party than by founding a new one- Blairism not the SDP, if you will.

  • Nick Collins 10th Mar '15 - 8:04pm

    @ Paul Walter. I struggle, now, to discern what, exactly, are the “values” of the Liberal Democrats. But thank you for defining the party’s basic objective, which is ,,, er,,, “to continue as a party”. Inspiring.

  • Philip Thomas 10th Mar '15 - 8:08pm

    I would have thought the basic objective of the party was the maintenance of Liberal Democratic values (Freedom, Equality, Fairness, etc etc)- and that continuation of the party was but a means to that end: if necessary the party could be sacrificed to achieve the end (as the Liberals and SDP sacrificed themselves to form the Liberal Democrats).

  • I thought that the fundamental objective of the Party, in its capacity as a political engine, was to stand for and win as many seats as possible in local and national elections.

    Now one might well say that, evidenced by his conduct, Nick Clegg has shown “material disagreement” with that fundamental objective!

  • David-1
    Yes – but I guess they do things differently in The Western Cape.

    Clegg is an oddity as the leader of a political party. He seems to have not the least understanding of why it is important to do well in elections. He seems to think that such grubby activism is nothing to do with him. Throughout his leadership (not just in the last year or so) he has failed to turn up atcall to some Parliamentary By-elections.

    David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy knew the importance of not just winning elections but putting in an appearance or twelve to encourage and thank the troops.
    Clegg seems to think that being a party leader boils down to ‘Call Clegg’ on the radio and weekends at Chevening sipping wine with the gliterati.

  • SIMON BANKS 10th Mar '15 - 9:41pm

    Very interesting. I’m sure Tony had in mind how many local authorities have handled situations like this. The US system, when the President’s party is often in a minority in one of the two houses and in any case, whipping of parties is much less effective, also provides a useful comparison.

    Of course there would be issues which could not wait for broad discussion in Parliament, but they could be settled by the party leaders meeting and a majority emerging from that discussion. That happened in Waltham Forest when I was our group leader in a similar situation. But that worked because there was a strong neutral figure (the Chief Executive) who could bring us together and facilitate the discussion. In countries with an elected if fairly weak President, the President can fulfill that role. Nowadays a monarch can’t. So who would do it – the Speaker?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '15 - 10:22pm

    Martin

    The consolation is that Lib Dems have shown that coalition government can operate for a full term in the UK and that this should be a starting point for renewal.

    Well, no they haven’t shown that coalition government can work if all it does is lead to the junior partner forced into permanent merger with the senior partner and losing most of its support because of that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '15 - 10:50pm

    David Allen

    However, there is also a bewildering variation of style amongst the pitchforks – the metrosexual Varoufakis, the frightening Le Pen, the urbane Sturgeon, the faux Pickwickian Farage… So what unites them?

    Well, disgust with the rich business lobbyists’

    Nonsense.

    What were the SNP proposing as how to pay their way? Crawling to rich business lobbyists by reducing corporation tax. What REALLY motivates the big funders of UKIP in their opposition to the EU? The prospect of the EU getting countries together to imposing taxes on and controls on international big business. Try reading the anti-EU stuff in the Spectator to get it raw. Oh yes, UKIP can do some vague populist hand-waving to attract the gullible, but the whole POINT of UKIP is to distract people from the power of rich business lobbyists by setting up an alternative target for them to get all angry about.

  • Paul Walter,

    Get me thrown out, if you think it will help the Liberal Democrats to expel a member since 1981 who wholeheartedly supports the principles of the Preamble to the Liberal Democrats Constitution. I’m rather tempted to say “go on, make my day!”

    I have campaigned through LDV for some six or seven years now against the Clegg coupists. Change has always seemed to be just around the corner. Before 2008, the Lib Dems had a clearly established centre-left philosophy, and whilst a minority of members adopted a more right-of-centre economic liberalism, those views did not gain much traction. Many people therefore thought of Cleggism as a temporary aberration which would soon be corrected.

    It was not to be. The money men, who had bankrolled the Orange Book and the key think tanks, had bought permanent change. This was further cemented into place by the Coalition and by Clegg’s unceremonious demand that those he contemptuously calumnised as “refugees from Labour” should leave the Party. Time and again, centre-left optimists believed that Clegg’s gaffes were about to lead to his dismissal. Time and again, the optimists were proved wrong, as the forces of inertia and careerism (“don’t rock the boat!”) combined with the forces of the Right to keep Clegg in position.

    The latest great hope amongst the left-of-centre optimists is that in the aftermath of our forthcoming defeat, Tim Farron will win the leadership and bring the party back to its old principles. Well, I don’t rule that out, and I shall be delighted if it happens. But I have seen too many false dawns. The money men are already lining up Norman Lamb to take over where Clegg leaves off, if Clegg loses his seat. I fear that the coalitionists, careerists and money men are in the ascendant – and that even if Farron does win a leadership election, he will also be forced into many painful compromises.

    Those are my reasons for favouring a new party, arising from the ashes of the Liberal Democrats, but freeing itself from the clutches of the money men, and also opening its doors to a wider spectrum of potential supporters who now listen to the Occupy movement, the Greens, and Syriza. Alternatively, we can stick with the Clegg Coupists and go down with the ship. That, I think, is the choice we all have to make.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Mar '15 - 11:32pm

    Paul Walter “Surely the basic objective of the party is to continue as a party, is it not?”

    Paul, perhaps you might consider mentioning that to Nick Clegg. From where I sit, he appears to have done far more to harm the party than Mr David Allen!

  • David, I’m afraid Paul Walter’s comment shows what a busted flush those who still cling to Nick have as their hand. Asking questions about the constitution is a sad end for them, especially when the quote they choose is “(a) material disagreement, evidenced by conduct, with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party;” I would point out the important word ‘and’. Not ‘or’ but ‘and’. I know you have no problem with the fundamental values of the party. Now you may have a problem with the Cleggites’ objectives for the party, so do many of us. We simply have to make sure they are changed sooner rather than later. That is step one to recovery.

  • Matthew: I understand that you are very anti Clegg and that your antipathy originates in a history, of which I am insufficiently aware, but it is obvious to me that this government has behaved very differently from previous government, accepting a separation between the two parties without which many more ministers would have been dismissed. In a permanent merger Vince Cable, for example would have been moved out long ago. Moreover, had a Labour administration been permitted to continue, given the same events, there would have been little substantive difference to the present coalition: the constraints would have been the same. Overall I cannot see that this government has been that much different to those of the previous thirteen years. There have been some Liberal tinges and some Tory splashes and the lack of difference has been frustrating, when areas such as education, international engagement and criminal justice policy have been crying out for a genuinely Liberal approach.

    You also make pertinent remarks about how the Party might have presented itself, though I can see that your approach might have had the effect of further reducing such impact as we have had. Your stance can slip dangerously into the idea that coalitions have no place in the UK. Prior to 2010 Labour and Conservatives confidently asserted that coalition is necessarily a defective government. They would gladly revert to this received opinion given half a chance.

  • Martin 10th Mar ’15 – 11:59pm

    Martin, I think you are over-egging this “proved Coalition works” pudding.

    Proved to whom? Certainly not the electorate. I have yet to see a Vox Pop on the Daily Politics where a joyous stream of voters repeat how impressed they all are with Cameron-Clegg and that they look forward to future Governments. What voters say that in future they would much prefer a deal hatched by David Laws and Oliver Letwin in a dark corner of The Cabinet Office than anything they as voters might have voted for?

    I can honestly say that not one single person from any party, or no party, has said to me in the last five years at they think the experience of this Coaition has made them think that coalition is a desirable form of government or even that it works.

    Views are on a spectrum with outraged contempt at one end to amused indifference or utter cynicism at the other.

    Enthusiasm for Coalitions seldom figures in the conversations of real people outside our party. It tends to be an idea reserved for the timid and the less able Liberals who do not have the stamina for the heavy-lifting required for political power and influence.

    I know some Liberals as far back as the summer of 1974 used to bleat on about how “nice” it would be if all politicians could just sit down and smile at each other and be “nice”; in those days they called in GNU, Government of National Unity. It was a daft idea then and it is a daft idea now.

    To think seriously about practical working arrangements in a Parliament without an overall majority as Tony Greaves’ article does requires everyone to drop this idea that being “nice” makes Parliament work.

    Being “nice” might get you into the tennis club at public school but it is a dangerous diversion when it comes to the workings of a government. We probably have Secret Courts in the UK because Clegg felt obliged to be nice to the Tories one day in The Quad because they had given him what he wanted on Paternity Leave for middle class blokes in their forties with small children (you know the sort – nice blokes like Clegg ).

    As Matthew said —
    Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar ’15 – 10:22pm
    “..,,they haven’t shown that coalition government can work if all it does is lead to the junior partner forced into permanent merger with the senior partner and losing most of its support because of that.”

  • Coalition with the Tories has led us ordinary voters to become very confused with what the Liberal Democrat position is and why we should vote for them. Before the Election we were told that the Lib Dems had a clear set of policies and ‘ a fully costed plan’ for delivering them but in Coalition the Lib did the exact opposite, saying that this is what happens in Coalitions. So, given that the Lib Dems will never achieve a majority and are always going to be the junior partner in any coalition, we have no idea which policies they will actually deliver and which they will claim have to be sacrificed for ‘good Coalition’. I’m not sure the Party itself knows what its own policies are any more.

  • Paul In Wokingham 11th Mar '15 - 9:55am

    @Phyllis – Coalition with the Tories has led us ordinary voters to become very confused with what the Liberal Democrat position is and why we should vote for them.

    Ashcroft’s focus group summated the Lib Dem position as “We’ll balance the extremes”. So it sounds as though the Clegg rebrand has worked ; the public are aware of the message that the leadership wish to sell.

    The problem is not brand awareness, the problem is that nobody wants the product.

  • Phyllis 11th Mar ’15 – 9:25am
    “….I’m not sure the Party itself knows what its own policies are any more.”

    You could not be more correct, Phyllis.

    Every time Danny Alexander tells the voters what a fantastic impact has been made on the economy by the Conservative /Treasury policies of George Osbourne I wonder if I have slipped into a parallel universe where
    Liberal Democrats have no knowledge of or interest in economic policy, let alone any policies of their own.

    Clegg and Alexander have been locked in The Quad for five years so they are probably in need of counselling to help them recover from Stockholm Syndrome.

  • David and all
    I was simply asking a pretty obvious question. There is no need to dramaticise it. I have not threatened to do anything and I would not do anything. I simply asked an obvious question. If someone is a member of a party most people would expect that they would want that party to continue to exist. It is not a revolutionary thought.

  • Matthew,

    You have a point about business lobbyists and parties such as the SNP. What I should have said is that SNP voters are motivated by disgust with the rich business lobbyists who dominate the Westminster parliament. As you point out, while the SNP appeal to Scottish social-democrat sentiment, populist policies such as lower corporation tax suggest that in an independent Scotland, business would in fact have no difficulty in buying up the SNP, thereby wrecking the dream.

    There is a lesson here. The Lib Dems always used to declare proudly that they were the party which “belongs to its members”, not to business or the unions. Well, Donnachadh McCrathy has shown us that this is no longer true:

    http://www.theprostitutestate.co.uk/page9.html

    Currently, the Greens are attractive because (leader gaffes notwithstanding) they do at least demonstrate that they “belong to their members” and are not run by commercial interests. But why is that? Largely, I suspect, because they are not “worth” buying. All the while the Lib Dems were a weak small party, they weren’t bought up either. But once Rennardism had won us a healthy number of seats, the Lib Dems became a player worth buying, and the money men moved in.

    It follows that the new party which I hope will arise shouldn’t just assume automatically that it will “belong to its members”. It will have to take precautions – a ban on large private donors – to make sure it stays that way.

    As things stand, I suspect that if the Greens finish ahead of the Lib Dems, some nice business type who says he wants to move beyond his background in oil will come along and offer to fund a Green think tank…

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '15 - 2:33pm

    Martin

    You also make pertinent remarks about how the Party might have presented itself, though I can see that your approach might have had the effect of further reducing such impact as we have had. Your stance can slip dangerously into the idea that coalitions have no place in the UK.

    Far from it. I actually spend a LOT of time in Liberal Democrat Voice defending our party and the principle of forming coalitions against the “nah nah nah nah nah”s as I call them – people who seem to come to this site with the sole intention of saying “nah nah nah nah nah , dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, you betrayed your principles and gave up all you used to believe in, propping up the Tories just to have ‘power'”. I have defended the student tuition fees compromise, the one which the “nah nah nah nah nah”s attack us over more than anything else, very strongly, not as my personal ideal, but as probably the best compromise that could have been obtained under the circumstances. The only issue where I have attacked our party leadership for going too right-wing is on the NHS reforms – I think there we should have said “No” and threatened to break the coalition if the Tories insisted on going ahead with them, because they were in clear breach of the Coalition Agreement. Apart from that, while my politics is to the left on economic issues, so I am very unhappy with the right-wing economic policies coming from this government, I have always accepted that what comes out from it is about what could be expected from a coalition government with the balance of two parties this one has, and defended it on that basis. I have made the point that there ought to be a different balance better representing the share of votes of the two parties, but also that the people of this country showed they disagreed with this in the 2011 referendum.

    I am HUGELY AND MASSIVELY opposed to the idea that “coalitions have no place in this country”. That idea goes against all I have ever stood for politically. I have again and again spoken out against the Leninist model of politics which says it should be about a single party seizing power and using Parliament as a rubber stamp just to formally endorse decisions made internally in a political party. I was perhaps this country’s lead opponent to the idea that as coalition and compromise is all wrong and we should instead have government by one elected dictator, when I was Leader of the Opposition in the New Labour flagship council which wanted to be the pioneer of imposing this sort of government locally, as the elected mayor system. It was me who pointed out that the same sort of government was what the movement founded by Mussolini in Italy was all about, and that movement like the 2011 “No” campaign supported the idea of distortional representation in elections in order to give all power to one party and so avoid coalitions.

    Being in support of coalition government is at the core of my political being.

    My concern is that this idea which I support so strongly is being wrecked by the way Clegg and the Cleggies present it. It upsets me enormously that when I stand up to defend what I have always believe in, I find myself being attacked by both sides, the Cleggies on one and the “nah nah nah nah nah”s on the other, each side accusing me of being an uncritical supporter of the other.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '15 - 2:55pm

    Phyllis

    So, given that the Lib Dems will never achieve a majority and are always going to be the junior partner in any coalition, we have no idea which policies they will actually deliver and which they will claim have to be sacrificed for ‘good Coalition’.

    I think it rather obvious that they would have to sacrifice those which were in direct contradiction to what the other party in the coalition wanted, particularly if the other party had many more MPs. In May 2010 the people of this country decided to put in place more Conservative MPs than those of any other party, and the key principle of the modern Conservative Party is that taxes should be kept as low as possible, especially taxes on rich people. Any doubt that the people of this country did not mean to do this and did not really want so many Conservative MPs was destroyed in the 2011 Referendum when the way the current electoral system gave us so many more Conservative MPs than their share of the vote was put forward as the best thing about it by the Labour and Conservative MPs who came out to argue retaining, and by two-to-one the people of this country voted to agree with them.

    Therefore, the Liberal Democrats have had to go along with what the people of this country voted for in 2010 and said by two-to-one in 2011 is what they wanted – a government dominated by the Conservative Party. Quite obviously, therefore, they have had to drop those aspects of their policies which are most against what the people of this country said they wanted. That’s democracy, is it not? They would not have had to drop them if the people of this country had voted for more Liberal Democrat MPs, or made clear as they had the chance to do so, that they were unhappy with the way our current electoral system gave us so many more Tory MPs and so many fewer Liberal Democrat MPs than those parties’ share of the vote. The people of this country mostly voted against how the Liberal Democrats would want them to have voted, and therefore have to bear the consequences.

    So, as tax cuts are at the heart of what the Conservatives are about, with five times as many Conservative MPs as Liberal Democrats MPs, it is hardly surprising that those aspects of Liberal Democrat policy that go are those which would require more taxation to pay for. If the people of this country didn’t want that, they shouldn’t have voted Conservative.

  • David Allen 11th Mar '15 - 5:15pm

    So, then, coalitions, in principle. Terrible idea (John Tilley), wonderful idea (Nick Clegg), great idea in principle being wrecked in its implementation (Matthew Huntbach). Quite a diversity of views!

    Well – When I went into politics, I wasn’t interested in coalitions. The SDP – Liberal Alliance said it existed in order to replace Labour on the left of the political spectrum, and thereby replace unworkable economic policies with viable and electable policies. We nearly made it, too. But Blair came along, played a similar game in his early days, and played it better.

    What happens when a party finds its reason for existence undermined by events? I guess the answer is, it invents another one. Between around 1995 and 2002, the Lib Dems shifted rather uneasily between declaring Blair to be a dangerous leftie and declaring Blair to be a dangerous rightist. The “penny in the pound” idea gave us just about enough differentiation from Labour to be noticed, though it was a close thing. Then along came the Iraq war, and suddenly we had a real cause to espouse once again.

    It was good while it lasted. Kennedy’s line about “the two old conservative parties” gave us space once again to provide a real alternative to Labour, now more specifically from the left. But Campbell soft-pedalled it, and as the money men moved in, Clegg ditched it comprehensively. An opportunity had been lost.

    Somewhere, in all this somewhat confused political development, emerged the idea that the Lib Dems exist to advocate coalition government. In truth, the genesis of this idea was not hard to discern. The Lib Dems were of course in favour of PR, which was well designed to give them an unfairly high degree of influence in place of an unfairly low share of influence. PR would bring coalitions. Ergo, the Lib Dems were passionately in favour of coalitions.

    Whilst these arguments were primarily self-serving, they did – potentially – also have a fair amount of real merit. Certainly, Tweedledum and Tweedledee politics did do a lot of harm, as each major party knocked down whatever their opponents had built. In principle, coalition could have led to something more consensual, perhaps stodgier, but also less destructive. A reasonable option to pitch to the voters, then – if hardly a rallying cry to arms for a party that claims to be “radical”. Anyway, we pitched it.

    So, when it happened, did it work? Our spinners would say yes. They would claim that the Lib Dems softened Toryism at the edges – or at least, they would claim that on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On the other days of the week, our spinners would try the alternative argument that the Lib Dems are at the heart of the Coalition and would like to have the credit for all the good things. An alternative and diametrically opposed view, which Norman Tebbit put forward, is that Lib Dem support emboldened the Tories to move further and faster to the Right than they would have been able to do on their own. My view is simpler, and it is between these opposing poles. We put the Tories in. They have governed like Tories. Coalition has not made a lot of difference either way. But the Lib Dems have helped the Right, and have joined the Right.

    Well, some will agree with me on that, and some won’t. But the aim of this somewhat rambling post is to take a view on the general principle of coalition, per se. My conclusions are – It isn’t a terrible idea, but nor is it the answer to life, the universe and everything. I rather sympathise with Roy Jenkins, who designed his ingenious AV-Plus system with the aim of producing single-party government about half of the time, so that the nation could vote either to give a resounding mandate to a party with the wind in its sails, or alternatively to require coalition and compromise between more than one party when that was more appropriate.

    But above all – It isn’t the cornerstone of politics. It isn’t enough to be a “pro-coalition” party. A strong party ought to stand for something more than governmental mechanics. Just holding the ring isn’t enough.

  • David Allen

    As usual your analysis is good and well worth reading.

    I usually agree with Matthew Huntbach but not on the desirability of coalitions. My sincere desire has always been for an overall majority for a Radical Liberal Party, owned by its members and equipped and prepared to work with people in their communities to take and use power.

    I want to pick you up no one thing that you said —
    “. …..PR would bring coalitions. Ergo, the Lib Dems were passionately in favour of coalitions.”

    I joined the ERS (Electoral Reform Society) around 40 years ago and believe that our politics would be greatly improved by STV (the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies.

    I have never believed that STV would automatically result in lots of poitical parties and coalitions.
    It has not done so in the Republic of Ireland or in other legislatures where it has been used.
    Indeed there are more political parties in the UK Parliament thanks to FPTP than there are in Ireland’s Parliament.

    Tony Greaves’ article is about possible working arrangements when no party has an overall majority. Many Liberal Democrats in local councils over the last 35 years have practical experience of making things work in such circumstances. There are former MEPs who are Liberal Democrats (some of whom may have time on their hands at the moment) who have experience of making this work in a Parliament where no part has an overall majority. No party has ever had an overall majority in The House of Lords.

    So there are many, many Liberal Democrats with knowledge and experience of the practicalities.
    Unfortunately these are precisely the type of Liberal Democrats that our leader routinely ignores as he prefers instead to employ an army of SpAds whose expertise is (in the main) in areas other than practical politics in the UK.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Mar '15 - 8:39pm

    Well, after a number of wide-ranging diversions which I am not going to comment on, John Tilley has brought this thread back to its purpose – to consider “possible working arrangements when no party has an overall majority”.
    Thanks for all those interesting comments which have stuck to this. Time to get on with putting the finishing touches to part 2 – whether a NOC parliament after 7th May can, or indeed must, survive the five years.

  • Tony Greaves said:

    “It would be a wonderful chance for Parliament – in both Houses – to become more powerful as against the executive.”

    Indeed!!!!

    I think we need greater separation between executive and legislature. You only need to have watched just some of Inside the House to see how difficult it is – virtually impossible – for “backbench” MPs to get things done in Parliament. But Parliament is not and should not be the executive’s kingdom. Indeed some of the biggest constitutional battles have been to make sure that it was not – in most cases when the executive was the King. And indeed a very good aspect of a hung parliament is that it puts more power back into Parliament. And probably this has happened more in this Parliament – on military action in Syria, on the struggles over the Health Bill and with progressive MPs coming together from all parties on Equal Marriage. It is difficult to say on all these and many others why only an executive view should be allowed to prevail rather than a legislators. And we see in this country “Government” as synonymous with Parliament. It is not and we should aim more towards the American model with the separation between the legislature and the executive – even the executive in practice has quite a lot of power – congress has its own separate sphere of power in itself – and often because of the electoral cycle is controlled by a different party to the executive.

    In short Parliament should not be the servant of the Executive as in practice it too often it is but the Executive should be the servant of Parliament .

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '15 - 7:08pm

    JohnTilley

    I usually agree with Matthew Huntbach but not on the desirability of coalitions.

    So you prefer Leninism or fascism? I.e. it’s better to have a government of one party, even if that party has minority support, because then all debate takes place within that party, there’s no need for any of this nasty compromise stuff, and no need to try and win support of the people of the country as a whole – so long as your party can find a way of seizing power, they can rule as a dictatorship, with the formal democratic mechanism of the state as just a rubber stamp, and that’s all fine?

    I don’t think so, and that’s what I meant by my comment, I’m a liberal, I’m against that sort of thing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '15 - 7:12pm

    David Allen

    So, then, coalitions, in principle. Terrible idea (John Tilley), wonderful idea (Nick Clegg), great idea in principle being wrecked in its implementation (Matthew Huntbach). Quite a diversity of views!

    I believe in political pluralism, open debate, and government by consent. Don’t you? I don’t believe any coalition is good purely by virtue of it being a coalition. I certainly don’t think a coalition is good if its components do not accurately represent the proportion of people voting for them due to a distortional representation system. That is especially so if the negotiating power of one of the components is taken away by that distortion making any alternative coalition unviable.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '15 - 7:21pm

    David Allen

    Well – When I went into politics, I wasn’t interested in coalitions. The SDP – Liberal Alliance said it existed in order to replace Labour on the left of the political spectrum, and thereby replace unworkable economic policies with viable and electable policies.

    The SDP may have said that, but I don’t think it was ever the position of the Liberal Party. I most certainly did not think that as a member of the Liberal Party I wanted to see the Labour Party destroyed and a new two-party system out in place with my party as the other one to the Conservatives.

    What I did want to see was plurality on the left. I felt the political left was being damaged by there being a monopoly of one party of the left. I wanted a choice of parties on the left. I wanted us to exist alongside Labour. I wasn’t opposed to Labour because of their economic policies, I was opposed to them because of their arrogance and illiberalism and complacency, all of which stemmed, at lest partly, from their position of monopolising the political left.

    So I didn’t see Blair coming along as making my party irrelevant because Blair was doing what I wanted to see be done. Quite the reverse, Blair showed very much the arrogance and illiberalism and complacency that I was in the Liberal Party to offer an alternative to.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Mar '15 - 11:04am

    Mathew Huntbach .As we move to a more federal and devolved system of governance then coalitions become more likely not less likely .Mathew is right the SDP/Liberal Alliance led by Roy Jenkins and David Steel wanted to see the break down of the two old party system. That has in most respects now been acheived .I think Liberal Democrats above all people should not complain about a new consensus in governance emerging .
    What we need to ensure is that we have a viable constitutional settlement that enables a federal united kingdom to operate in parliament .Parties that do not support that settlement should not be allowed to hold seats or peerages in Westminister because that would undermine the the constitutional settlement.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar ’15 – 7:08pm
    So you prefer Leninism or fascism?

    I had to thnk about that question, Matthew.
    Leninism is pretty much what we have at the moment, but without the ‘Dialectical Materialism’

    I have never really understood what ‘Dialectical Materialism’ is — but have always wanted to use it in a sentence and this was my first chance.

    In fact I wrote — “..My sincere desire has always been for an overall majority for a Radical Liberal Party, owned by its members and equipped and prepared to work with people in their communities to take and use power.”

    That does not sound like Leninism to me, with or without any sort of materialism.
    You reacted to the sentence before which you took out of context.
    But we all do that sort of thing occasionally. 🙂

  • Philip Thomas 14th Mar '15 - 12:51pm

    @JohnTilley I think that coalition is a desirable form of government and that it works. And since you don’t think that, I presume you’re busy trying to work out which party will get the most votes on May 7th, so that you can join them and help them get a majority? After all, according to you, nothing else works!

  • @Philip Thomas
    I’m inclined to agree, though a lot of Lib Dems (or at least some vocal ones on LDV) seem opposed to another coalition. Which is fine, but I just wish the Lib Dems had thought about the possible disadvantages of coalition before they agreed to fixed term Parliaments. It’s obvious to most people that the current coalition ran out of steam long ago, and in the normal course of events we would have expected an election last year. Instead we’ve had to hold on to a pretty weak and directionless government for a year too long.

    Given that the Lib Dems have given us five-year fixed Parliaments, it would be pretty unforgiveable for them to turn their backs on the idea of coalition now and condemn us to political chaos.

  • Philip Thomas 14th Mar ’15 – 12:51pm
    I cannot follow the logic of your comment.
    You think my repeated statements in LDV that another coalition would be a very bad idea because we need to rebuild our party means that I want to join another party. This seems an odd comment from you.

    Or we’re you trying to make some sort of “clever” point that is lost on me?

  • Dialectical materialism is a vapid philosophical construction, which despite its supposed “materialism” rests largely on magical thinking, as one might expect from a theory based on the maunderings of mystical Germans. It lacks falsifiability and so is wholly non-scientific; it amounts to a set of vague axioms about how one set of historical conditions gives rise to another, but has no predictive power (and those Communists who attempted to use it predictively were always wrong). It is more of a bullet in a propaganda arsenal (“see how scientific and philosophically grounded we are”) than a functioning philosophy; it can be used to justify or explain absolutely anything, even totally contradictory things.

    Lenin never took it seriously (except as a propaganda tool), nor did most of his Communist successors; modern Communist régimes, like the one in China, don’t bother with it either.

  • Philip Thomas 14th Mar '15 - 3:22pm

    @JohnTilley. I apologise if I was being clever, but my point was, what is the alternative to coalition?- it is majority government by a party that is not the Liberal Democrats!

  • James Smith 11th Aug '15 - 2:16pm

    To the people arguing that ‘if you don’t like the current moderation policy, you should go and found your own site’ – it is clearly the case that LDV enjoys a very dominant and important position in the Lib Dem blogosphere. At present there is no other forum of the internet with such influence over the party.

    Any challenger would take a lot of work to create and a lot of time to get off the ground. At least until such a challenger exists – it is reasonable for readers to question the moderation policy – and push for it to be fair, in-tune with wider Lib Dem values, and reflective of the broad spectrum of opinion within the party.

    If we want a diverse and informed debates that are read by as many members as possible, for the time being this is the site where it happens.

    This is politics: Tempers flare, rude words are sometimes used. In fact, it’s unreasonable to think that intemperate language will never be used. Whilst I’d love to live in a world where debates were conducted in pure logic, in the real world getting angry sometimes helps get your point across. Indeed, Caron herself has praised it when party officials get angry about a point that she agrees with https://www.libdemvoice.org/call-clegg-nick-condemns-morning-after-critics-as-misogynist-medieval-and-insulting-to-women-38833.html

    Clearly Tony Greaves was angry about something. Everyone gets angry about something. Sometimes, everyone uses intemperate language, especially in private.

    To ban him (an articulate, thought-provoking and often usefully dissident voice) strikes me as hypocritical (given that the words he used have been used here before – and given the insults that sometimes get leveled at other members without bans) and a nail in the coffin of informed, lively and productive debate within the party.

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