Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Setup for a coalition?

One of the fridge meetings I attended at the Liberal Democrat conference was a debate asking if the coalition was the correct thing to do. During this discussion I learnt that Nick Clegg had changed his email because he was not receiving some important emails from the filter of White Hall officials. I also learnt that some believed Lib Dems had not been provided with the same resources as others. This demostrates that our civil service is not setup for a coalition (not a shock I know). Nor is the Lib Dem party organised for a coalition, a party that believes in coalitions.

One problem of course is the c
abinet collective responsibility and individual ministerial responsibility conventions. The former requires that cabinet ministers must publicly support government policy, even if they disagreed with it in private cabinet meetings. Ministers who wish to openly disagree with government policy must resign. This of course is difficult when everyone knows your position through party policy.
I think Chris Huhne tackled this subject quite well in his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference where he said;

"The coalition agreement, of course, involves give and take. I expect George Osborne to take more millions of the low-paid out of income tax even though he is a Conservative minister implementing a Liberal Democrat pledge. And George Osborne expects me to deliver our agreement on nuclear power, which is that there is an important place for new nuclear stations in our energy mix as long as there is no public subsidy. A deal is a deal, and I will deliver. I'm fed up with the stand-off between renewable and nuclear which means we have neither – we will have both. We will have low carbon energy, and security of supply."

So this is how Lib Dem ministers have to handle policy that is agreed in the coalition, but may not agree with fully. However Lib Dem back benchers can express Lib Dem policy which may not agree with coalition policy. I think we could temporary redesign our party for a coalition. One idea I have is to put Lib Dem backbench MP's in mirrored major ministeral positions, i.e. a mini shadow cabinet only for the major offices. The mini shadow cabinet don't have to criticise the ministers personally but the could put forward Lib Dem policy verse coalition policy. A voice of the Lib Dems to clearly separate coalition policy from Lib Dem and Tory policy. Maybe the Tories could do this too?

I think the puplic are getting used to a coalition and the longer it stays in place the more people will accept that a given coalition can survive. But we also need to demonstrate to the public that the coalition is made up of two very different parties.

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