What do we Lib Dems want from a reshuffle?

While the massed ranks of the mostly right-wing political commentariat obsess about the imminent Cabinet reshuffle, Lib Dem interest has been relatively muted.

In one sense this isn’t surprising.

As it stands, 18 of the party’s 57 MPs are on the government payroll, so Nick Clegg has little room for manouevre even among the middle ranks of government. And with only five cabinet positions (four if you exclude Nick himself as Deputy Prime Minister) there’s even less wiggle-room at the top table. Nonetheless, this reshuffle will most likely be the only one that actually matters for the Coalition: this is the one and only chance to re-cast the government in a way that could actually have a long-term policy impact.

The biggest question, the one from which all other personnel changes follow, is whether the founding structure of the Coalition is right: spreading Lib Dem ministers across pretty much all government departments to present the picture of an integrated government of Conservatives and Lib Dems. This seemed the natural and right way of doing things back in the sunny Rose Garden days of blossoming unity. It looks increasingly forced and abnormal now the Coalition is approaching a gloomier autumnal phase.

There have been successes in this form of government. For example, Lynne Featherstone has tenaciously battled for the equalities agenda within the Home Office in a way Theresa May would never have allowed a Tory minister in her department to do. Nick Harvey has been able to thwart Tory efforts to make a faith-based commitment to renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent rather than one based on evidence. Steve Webb has struck up a surprisingly effective partnership with Iain Duncan Smith notwithstanding Lib Dem discomfort at the extent of the Coalition’s welfare cuts.

But these (limited) successes cannot cover up the fact that Lib Dem ministers’ successes depend either on their own devil-may-care gutsiness (Lynne), or on forging an effective working relationship with their Conservative cabinet minister (Steve). I’ve heard from many sources of Lib Dems being in effect shut out of the decision-making in their department. Though Nick Clegg rightly insisted on seeing all papers that pass the eyes of David Cameron, the equivalent licence was not given to our ministers. Too often, they are instructed to face the cameras to announce bad news, and kept hidden out-of-sight for the good news. It is hard to see this modus operandi shifting the closer we get to a 2015 general election.

It’s time to have separate Lib Dem / Tory government departments

Is there an alternative? Yes. It’s the one practised by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government in Scotland for two terms (1999-2007), and recently hailed by The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson as a shining example of ‘mature coalition’:

That worked because of the way that the late Donald Dewar divided his Cabinet: Lib Dems were given responsibility for portfolios (justice, agriculture) and prided themselves on how competently they handled those portfolios. Ross Finnie and Jim Wallace (farms and justice respectively) acquitted themselves very well, and the Lib Dem share of the vote went up in the 2003 Holyrood election as the electoral admired it. Both were swept away by the SNP surge in 2007 but for eight years it was an example of how coalition can work in Britain. And work to the benefit of the smaller party.

Now I think Fraser overstates how important was the structure compared to, say, the greater shared ‘progressive consensus’ that existed between the two coalition parties in Scotland. But I think he is right to highlight the risk of the next three years of Coalition Government becoming more of a battle within government, with Tories and Lib Dems in each department calculating how best they can spike the other’s guns and leak that they have done so to the media. Not only will that be bad for government, it will also damn for a long time the very concept of coalition in the public’s eyes.

The Lib Dems have two hugely tricky tasks to perform in the second half of the Coalition. The first is to try and restore Lib Dem electoral fortunes. The second is to try and ensure the public sees coalition as a viable and functioning form of government. At the moment those two aims are pulling in different directions. The party is straining at the leash to differentiate itself from the Tories’ increasingly right-wing direction; and finding the only way to demonstrate that is to block Cameron & Co in government. That kind of half-way Coalition satisfies no-one: neither those who want to see outright opposition, nor those who want to try and make the Lib/Con alliance work.

I’m increasingly of the view that the only way to align our incentives in a lasting way is to focus Lib Dem resources in key departments, rather than spread ourselves so thinly. There are exceptions: I think it’s crucial we retain a foot-hold in the Treasury with the post of chief secretary. Whether Danny Alexander is the right person for the job is another matter: while I think too many Lib Dems are quick to malign someone in a role where unpopularity is guaranteed, I just don’t think he’s the person you want fronting for the party on Newsnight. I also think we must avoid carrying the can for Andrew Lansley’s failures at the department of health.

But there are areas of government — most obviously: education, justice, transport, communities and local government, and environment — where I think Lib Dems should be pushing for greater responsibility… even if that means ceding foot-holds in other departments to the Tories. That won’t always be comfortable. In education, for instance, it would mean sticking with the Coalition Agreement’s commitment to free schools, something that’s contrary to official party policy, even while it allows us to ‘own’ Lib Dem policies like the pupil premium.

What it would deliver, though, is clear accountability, enabling the public to judge Lib Dems (and Tories) on their ability to deliver the policies agreed within the Coalition Agreement in government. And it would give all ministers a real incentive to make sure their departments are seen to deliver effective government.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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39 Comments

  • Would love to see separate Lib Dem/Tory government departments.

  • Fraser Nelson needs to check his facts Jim Wallace wasn’t ‘swept away’ by the SNP in 2007 he had already stood down by then and we still hold the Orkney seat in the Scottish Parliament.

    I would have thought what we as Liberal Democrats and most other people (especially the Tories but I don’t think they have the sense to see it) is to get Osborne out of the Treasury.

    Also Cameron should be hanging onto Ken Clarke not getting rid of him surely even the most militantly anti-European Tories should coincide that he has a lot more class and intellectual fire power than most?

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '12 - 10:56am

    Stephen Tall

    This seemed the natural and right way of doing things back in the sunny Rose Garden days of blossoming unity.

    Why do you have to use words like that? It continues to give the impression that the coalition was a result of the two parties coming together as a “marriage” i.e. on an intended permanent basis and because they found a closeness in each other which they would not have found in any other partner. This has been enormously damaging to us. It has lost us a large part of our more left-leaning support, and has brought in very little in the way of new support.

    If we wish to recover from the damage caused by the “Rose Garden”, it is not enough to say things are different now. We need to make it more clear that it never was like that in the first place – that the coalition came about because it was the only possible stable government, and was always a business-like acceptance of that rather than a love-in. I think that business-like acceptance of the coalition was what the party accepted through its democratic mechanisms. I do not recall it being out to party members in any other way but that.

    I hope I can be charitable and say that the “love-in” impression, and the suggestion it was going to lead to a more permanent union, was always only being pushed by forces outside our party who do not have our interests at heart. If there were forces inside our party pushing it, I hope they can have the decency to stand up, admit responsibility, accept it has damaged us, and resign from any positions of influence in the party.

    Continuing to talk about “blossoming unity”, however, suggests very much otherwise. People reading it will follow the line that is being heavily pushed from outside (again, I hope just from outside), that there was some sort of merger planned between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, and that underneath the Liberal Democrats remain a party that wants such a thing and are frustrated in not getting it by the right-wing of the Conservative Party not willing to go for it. If you let that way of thinking happen, you might as well say “bye-bye” to our party, because it means you will never win back those millions of votes we used to have who saw us as an alternative left party.

  • Concentrating on a small number of Departments with more full control would be good and Communities and Local Government should be the first target. Lib Dems have a great LA record and this would give a chance for implementing policies that make a difference on a wide basis where the expertise is readily available.

    Ending the ridiculous interpretation of collective responsibility would also be key. Ministers should be free to state that they are voting for, and implementing, policies they disagree with only because of the coalition. They can then be expected to defend the working of the department but not the policy itself.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '12 - 11:19am

    Adrian Sanders

    In the absence of PR we should have argued for Government places proportionate to the support for our party in the country that would have given us around 40 per cent of the Cabinet and pay-roll. That or PR on the statue book within the first 12 months of Coalition and no refererendum. C’est la vie

    I don’t think we would have got it. When the coalition was formed, people were starting to get edgy, and I could see a “blame the Liberal Democrats for existing and preventing a stable government from being formed” way of thinking was growing. Unfortunately, the PR argument requires a little mathematical thinking, and many of our public commentators seem incapable of that. I’m afraid holding out in this way would have been written up as “silly LibDems with under 10% of the seats holding out on some minor technical point which we don’t understand and no-one else cares about”.

    However, quite obviously it was a huge issue, and I do find it astonishing that it was not raised at the time by our party leadership, at least as a bargaining point and to set down a mark which could be returned to later. The “Rose Garden” pretence of almost equality of influence was just such an incredibly poor tactic – and I myself did set down the mark at the time in these columns of saying so and saying how and why it would damage us: it has worked out just as I said then it would. Then we had tactics such as the “75% of our manifesto implemented” line, which seemed designed to damage us by claiming more influence in the coalition than we really had, and as a result we have had to take the blame for ALL of the coalition’s policies, even though it is in reality a coalition where the mix of influence is as determined by the FPTP electoral system i.e. they have five times as many MPs as us and so five times as much influence.

    If we had been more clear at the time that this was the reality, then we could be more easily mounting our defence now – don’t blame us for all the government is doing, we have only a small influence in it, it’s the government YOU the people voted for (against what we wanted) in 2010 and in 2011 when you voted to endorse the electoral system whose distortion gave the Tories five time as many MPs as us on one-and-a-half times as many votes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '12 - 11:54am

    Stephen Tall

    Is there an alternative? Yes. It’s the one practised by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government in Scotland for two terms (1999-2007), and recently hailed by The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson as a shining example of ‘mature coalition’:

    Ah, you are suggesting that once again we follow the wise advice of a right-wing commentator on political tactics?

    In my over 30 years membership of the party, I have noted that right-wing commentators mostly write us off based on ignorant and outdated prejudices when they are forced to mention us, but just occasionally write a whole article suggesting tactics to us – almost always tactics where their right-wing interests show through as does their lack of knowledge about how our party really works. We seem to be very flattered when this happens, far too often take up their advice, and it ALWAYS damages us.

    Sorry, as in their constant suggestion before he got elected that we must have Nick Clegg as our leader because he is so able and better than all the rest, we do need to realise that these commentators are not our friends and that however much they hold out the possibility they will be nicer and more friendly to us if they do what we suggest, when we do it, they won’t. See how once he was in, in the way we were covered Clegg immediately went from being the great communicator and a sensible fellow because a little bit right-wing in policy, to being dismissed as a poor communicator pushing loony left policies onto the Conservative government. Electing the right-wing press’s choice as leader did not make them any more friendly to us.

    So, seeing where it’s come from, I’m tempted to dismiss this advice without thinking about it. However, after thinking about it, I dismiss it even more. It means that in most policy areas our MPs are going to be forced to vote for an entirely Tory line. And in return in a few areas, Tory MPs will vote for an entirely LibDem line … Hah, hah, I think I can see where that leads to. The Tory MPs won’t accept it unless we are given departments where it’s all routine admin, nothing heavily political, all hard work but nothing you get noticed for. We’ll have to vote the full Gove line on education etc in return.

    We’re a generalist party, so I think we should stick out for a generalist influence. We should admit that given the balance of MPs this influence will be small, and is likely to be on the detail and not the broad thrust. We can comment internally in a constructive way, and just occasionally perhaps the Tories will see we have a point and modify what they are pushing through. I think this fair and in line with what the people voted or in the 2011 referendum when they endorsed the “No” campaign with its central line of distorting the representation of the biggest party upwards and of third parties downwards in order to get a more decisive” government. That’s what we have now, very decisive, very Tory. Don’t blame us – we asked the people to vote in other ways, and mostly they didn’t.

    However, let’s be clear – as we should have from the start – what we have now is essentially a Conservative government, it is NOT what we ideally would have wanted, and we don’t have to pretend we agree with everything it is doing, or have Rose Garden events which make us out as equal participants, and we most certainly must not give out lines which suggest (even if only to the less numerate) that somehow this is a 75% Liberal Democrat government.

  • Alex Sabine 20th Aug '12 - 1:03pm

    @ Adrian Sanders: “In the absence of PR we should have argued for Government places proportionate to the support for our party in the country that would have given us around 40 per cent of the Cabinet and pay-roll.

    As Alan Watkins used to say, we Brits take a pretty dim view of those who moan about the rules of the game from a position of weakness. By all means try to persuade the public that the rules need changing (ie from FPTP to PR), but unless and until that argument is won, it is no use simply asserting that the allocation of Cabinet seats must be based on an alternative, preferred, electoral system whatever its merits.

    “That or PR on the statue book within the first 12 months of Coalition and no refererendum.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that neither the Tories nor Labour would ever accept such terms as the price of coalition. It’s also difficult to see what justification there would be for changing the electoral system to one favoured only by the Lib Dems without consulting the British people. It would simply reinforce the perception that coalition is about backroom deals between self-serving party hacks that exclude the voters.

  • coldcomfort 20th Aug '12 - 3:25pm

    In the very first comment Jedibeeftrix said: ” Because both parties, the Lib-Dem’s in particular, were always going to want to differentiate themselves in the latter half of the parliament”. The reality is that it is the right wing of the Tory Party that is desperate for differentiation. They perceive that the chances of an overall Tory majority in 2015 are receding fast, recall to themselves that David Cameron had a big lead at Christmas 2009 & lost it by May 2010 & reason that if they could only be differentiated as true Tories instead of being tainted by coalition with the LibDems it would all come right . Despite Cameron’s desperate efforts in betraying the Coalition Agreement & tearing up his own party’s manifesto in order to give the Conservative Party some fig leaf cloak of credibility (an effort not helped by the devastating incompetence of Tory Ministers like Hague [Ecuador], Hunt [Murdoch] et al ) I predict the Tory right will do what the Party did to Thatcher & get rid of Cameron sometime before 2014.

  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '12 - 6:54pm

    ” I also think we must avoid carrying the can for Andrew Lansley’s failures at the department of health.”

    Er..no. Andrew Lansley was very successful pushing through his Tory nonsense deformation of the NHS. We didn’t carry the can for Lansley’s failure, we carried the caddy for his round of success (sic). 🙁 The failure on the NHS was that of (many of) the Liberal Democrats in allowing such hugely costly and infantile rubbish to go through.

    “This seemed the natural and right way of doing things back in the sunny Rose Garden days of blossoming unity.”

    It seemed the natural and right thing to do by those who had no understanding at all of political reality. Matthew H above has pointed out that anyone with a GCSE in political PR would see what a monstrous trap this egotistical affair was setting for the Lib Dem leadership which would drag the Party down with it.

    I am seriously perplexed at references above to the Lib Dems in coalition in Scotland. The wipe-out by the SNP was not some strange Tsunami which we could claim to be nothing to do with us. It was effectively a tartan SDP moment, pinching much of the centre ground while Labour was unpopular and we were seen as being the same to them in Scotland as we are, nationwide, to the Tories at the moment.

  • Rob Harrison 20th Aug '12 - 8:44pm

    Not only was the Scottish Government an example of how to run successful coalition governments, the German Christian Democrat/FDP government shows how “one-party” ministries mould the electorate’s view of the respective parties. The FDP are clearly in charge of the foreign office (ex-party leader Guido Westerwelle), Ministry of Justice (Sabine Leuthauser-Schnarrenberger), Health Ministry (Daniel Bahr) and the Economics Ministry – roughly equivalent to BIS – (Philipp Rösler – party leader).

    Whilst justice minister Sabine LS has had a high profile defending civil rights against attempts by the coalition partners , none of the other ministers have really shone in their roles. The FDP’s position in the polls reflects the electorates view of the ministers. On the other hand, the Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble from the CDU have shown themselves competent in steering through the country during the Euro crisis. They clearly have the backing of the majority of the electorate, even if their views are not so popular outside of Germany.

    Regional governments, such as the one in Bavaria, reflect this division as well. The FDP hold the economics ministry and the culture ministry in the state government. Both ministers are clearly competent, but overshadowed by a very strong premier, Horst Seehofer, who is not afraid of muscling in on his ministers’ portfolios.

  • jedibeeftrix at 20th Aug ’12 – 3:28pm wrote:
    “hey, i’m pretty sure it’s odds-on that neither cameron or clegg roll into the 2015 GE as leaders.”

    I think our party constitution makes thus unlikely with respect to Nick Clegg. Page 29 of the link below.

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/Election%20Policy/Constitution%20February%202012%20edition.pdf

  • Martin Pierce 20th Aug '12 - 9:57pm

    Very good thoughtful article Stephen. I hadn’t thought about it much till I read this but makes a lot of sense.

  • Kevin McNamara 20th Aug '12 - 11:34pm

    ouch. growler is right. the constitution makes it very difficult to remove a leader…

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '12 - 11:46pm

    coldcomfort

    In the very first comment Jedibeeftrix said: ” Because both parties, the Lib-Dem’s in particular, were always going to want to differentiate themselves in the latter half of the parliament”. The reality is that it is the right wing of the Tory Party that is desperate for differentiation.

    No, I can assure you very much that there are very few Liberal Democrat members I know who are content with it being assumed that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are on the road to merger, with just a few Tory right-wingers dissenting.

    For those of us in the LibDems who count ourselves as on the left politically or at least whose news and comment tends to come from a left direction – and I think that’s the majority of activists – the moans about the coalition from the Tory right are a useful antidote to the depression we tend to feel when it seems all around us are attacking us for having “sold out” to the Tories. It’s an indication that however horrid this government seems to be, if we had a pure Tory one – which we would have right now had we not formed the coalition – it would have been far more horrid. If this government still seem horrendously right-wing, as it does, it reminds us just how far to the right the Tories have moved, because it actually is being moderated by us. It shows what utter rubbish was the line we heard from so many on the left during the AV referendum “Nick Clegg is to blame for the coalition, so vote against electoral reform and hope the LibDems get smashed to pieces so we’ll never have another coalition again”. Er yes, but do those who thought this way suppose a majority Tory government would be almost social democratic?

    I don’t actually see the way the coalition was initially portrayed as “egotistical”, as Tony Dawson puts it. I remember at the time just how difficult it was to fight against the wave of commentary which insisted that the tactics the LibDems should adopt should be to look proud and happy to be in government, as the people of the country would be very impressed by that, it would make us look “serious” and our great problem up till then was that many people didn’t vote for us because they did’t think us to be serious. And yes, this commentary mostly did come from right-wing normally Tory-supporting outlets, yet another example of how the advice the political right gives us is almost inevitably bad advice.

    That it came across as “egotistical” or “selling out your principles for power” doesn’t mean it was really done for this reason. I’m afraid everything I see of Nick Clegg suggests to me he really is out of his depth, doesn’t have the feel for what works that years of grassroots activism would have given him, and is too easily swayed by those around him sweet-talking him. So I feel he really was genuinely taken in by the line that the “Rose Garden” stuff would bring in the votes as people thought “Gosh, look LibDems in cabinet, now I’ll vote for them, I used to think they were bearded sandalled losers, but now I can see they are winners”.

  • Unless there’s a fundamental shift in the policies involved, a reshuffle is almost irrelevant. If I’m honest all I’m seeing is a preoccupation with internal struggles and that’s usually a sign that the job is beyond the workforce.

  • I see this morning a report in the press suggesting that David Laws may be given a role in a reshuffle. I had noticed someone had picked up similar on here a day or so ago. In relation to Matthew Huntbach’s comments above, I think Nick Clegg should be very careful about this – it could fall into the category of things that could happen as a result of “not being an activist for many years, and being sweet talked by those around him”. Aside from Laws’s well documented misdemeanours, of course, he is a purveyor of a brand of Lib Dem politics and economics which will go down like a lead balloon with activists, and will not help rebuild the party towards the next General Election. He is also someone else who is not steeped in the party’s activism/traditions / feelings etc, and could well fall into similar errors as we have seen recently. The party needs the enthusiasm of its activists, which currently is only half hearted at best. Sorry to be so blunt.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '12 - 11:01am

    @Tim13

    Le’;s be fair to David Laws. If we were in a coalition with Labour he would probably be a very good counterbalance and so worth being in the cabinet. But we aren’t in a coalition with Labour.

  • The trouble with bringing anyone back who, is that we will be seen as, just like the other parties, ‘doing a Mandelson’. The people he needs to promote are the younger energetic radical liberals, and the women in particular… Jo Swinson and Tessa Munt would be in my re-shuffle.
    – and Kevin, yes Growler is right, but it is not ‘ouch’, the Leadership election rules are well thought out and for good reason, we don’t want grey suits running our party.. we have the FE and FCC and that’s clique enough for me thank you.

  • Hmm. Stephen Tall rightly laments the way the “thinly spread Lib Dems everywhere” approach has served only to present us as junior supporters of Tory policies. However, Matthew Huntbach is also right to warn that to go for the opposite approach, “Lib Dems run a few key Ministries and leave the Tories to do all the rest” could just be to jump from frying pan into fire.

    Surely the key decision the Scottish Lib Dems made, which made their coalition a relative success, was on policy, not on cabinet structure? They got one key policy concession from Labour – ironically tuition fees – which they could consistently point to as their big achievement in coalition. In the UK, we didn’t.

    As to the government structure, I will have to declare ignorance of detailed Scottish affairs, but, it seems to me that justice and agriculture could have been good choices, if Lib Dems had wanted to show individual capability. A justice minister tends to make decisions which don’t get overruled or sidelined by anyone else in government. Similarly, an agriculture minister may have to lament that his chancellor didn’t give him as much money as he wanted, but he can then go and try to prove to farmers that he understands their business and can administrate it effectively.

    Stephen is suggesting we go for different choices, such as education, where he seems to think it would be good to get a bigger Lib Dem contribution, even though Tories (Gove?) are still in overall charge. This just sounds like the NHS all over again, with Lib Dems boasting about how marvellously well they have been able to make Coalition policy a bit less bad than it would have been without us. That is not going to bring us an avalanche of votes!

  • Alex Sabine 21st Aug '12 - 1:39pm

    @ David Allen – “Similarly, an agriculture minister may have to lament that his chancellor didn’t give him as much money as he wanted, but he can then go and try to prove to farmers that he understands their business and can administrate it effectively.”

    I can see why this recipe might appeal to some disgruntled Lib Dems: Blame the Treasury for parsimony, pander to the organised producer interest in a department that is already in hock to it, and hope to harvest votes at the Tories’ expense and hold on to a few more rural seats.

    Alternatively, a radical liberal agriculture minister could lobby for CAP abolition, start dismantling the vast corporatist agricultural welfare state, reduce the regulatory burden and compliance costs faced by small farmers, and not pretend that it is his job to “administrate” farmers’ businesses (effectively or otherwise).

    If we could have a modern day Cobden or Bright as a Lib Dem agriculture minister then I’m all for replacing Caroline Spelman! But it probably wouldn’t bring the kind of fuzzy interest-group popularity that some think is the tonic to coalition blues.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '12 - 1:40pm

    @ David Allen
    Justice and agriculture, hmm. Add in foreign affairs, as actually I do think Nick Clegg would make an excellent choice for Secretary of State Foreign Affairs, it’s fairly self contained so doesn’t interfere with other things, and it’s big an important so it makes a fair deal to offer a junion coalition partner. All important jobs which will tie up able people who will be able to take pride in what they have achieved – and all jobs where most of the electorate couldn’t give a toss what happens. So essentially it’s LibDems running the things that don’t make a big popular impact (however important they really are), and Tories complete control of everything else.

    I actually do think the LibDems in government are doing marvellously (well, ok, tolerably) well spread out and ameliorating what the Conservatives would otherwise do. But in numbers and influence they are roughly the equivalent to, and balance, the extreme right-wing fringe of the Conservative Party (the fringe that is anti-EU and has plenty of social conservatism about it as well as just right-wing on economics). We should have been honest from the start that our role an capacity was no more than this, and that of people want a more Liberal Democratic government it would help if they voted for it in more numbers than they did and didn’t vote to maintain an electoral system whose main stated advantage from its supporters is that it reduces Lib~Dem influence.

    One of the ways to be seen as a success is to promise little but deliver more. One of the ways to be seen as a failure is to promise much but achieve less. Is this truism so unobvious that those in charge of our party’s national image couldn’t think of it and work to it from the start?

  • David Allen 21st Aug '12 - 2:52pm

    Just to clarify, I wasn’t trying to suggest that the ideal ministries for us today in the UK would be justice and agriculture. I was merely saying they sounded like reasonable choices for the Scots at the time. Thus, we don’t really want to target Ken Clarke’s ministry, I trust! As to Alex Sabine’s comments, don’t worry, I wasn’t advocating a “Yes Minister” ministry either. I agree that the answer to our problems is not to go out and find a producer to bribe.

    The truth is of course that life is hard for the junior partner in a coalition, and whatever we do has limited merit. However, one can guess what the Tories would have said if they had been in the junior position. They would have yelled about how unfair it was, and demanded a 50/50 share of ministries because that would have been necessary to give them a fair crack of the whip. That’s because they are tough, they are organised, and they get their way. We aren’t and we don’t.

  • Paul Mrazek 25th Aug '12 - 5:59pm

    ‘Lynne Featherstone has tenaciously battled for the equalities agenda within the Home Office in a way Theresa May would never have allowed a Tory minister in her department to do. ” Stephen Tall

    So Stephen can you be more specific about what Lynne has achieved in terms of progressing the equalities agenda? I ask this because not everyone in the Party is convinced that she has done such a good job. especially those who do not understand either the cuts to the EHRC and the Equality Act changes that she supported in opposition.

  • “If this government still seem horrendously right-wing, as it does, it reminds us just how far to the right the Tories have moved, because it actually is being moderated by us.”

    While I think this is – to a degree – true, the problem is outside the party it plays as appeasement, effectively. And I see no strategy for changing that perception.

    Laws will come back. Clegg will want his ability. It’s worth Cameron giving up an extra position in government in the long term for the perception it’ll give of the party to swing voters .

  • Simon Hebditch 28th Aug '12 - 10:27am

    Matthew Huntbach

    I am coming to this debate a bit late but here goes. I am one of those who believe that a number of people in the party leadership preferred the idea of a link with Conservatives from an ideological point of view. Whether you describe it as a love marriage or some other description, I continue to believe that there was a meeting of minds between Nick and Cameron which went further than just an arithmetical calculation. Hence Nick’s early comments caught on mic that we needed to find something to disagree about!

    I am committed to a realignment of the centre left rather than the realignment of the right – a reference which William Hague made on the steps of Whitehall at the conclusion of the coalition talks in May 2010. That is why, if a new centre left alliance is to be created, it will have to be accompanied by both a transformation of the approach of the Labour party and a refreshed leadership of the Lib Dems.

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    @ Martin, You seemed to be trapped in your own fixed mindset that the EU is a marvellously progressive, (even slightly socialist?) , entity and,...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 21st May - 12:44am
    Joseph, I note you didn’t address my point that you think wages for public sector workers should increase but you don’t think the real term...