'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Let's not just do it in public. Let's do it more slowly as well.

I thought I was going to largely disagree with Nick Thornsby's excellent blog post on how coalition parties in government should conduct themselves - then ended up agreeing with almost all of it. My only quibble would be that I think he puts something of a post rationalised gloss on how our approach to government evolved over time - I'm not convinced it was a deliberate strategy to be 'all for one and one for all' for a year, and then start evolving distinct policies, as he implies. I think we got our strategy wrong, ended up on the wrong end of the political debate for a year, had a disasterous May, and changed course.

But that is a quibble. It's a great piece and everyone should read it, and the follow up piece Mark Pack wrote (especially the great comments section) which adds to the debate.

Now, can I add an additional layer on myself?

As we have no recent history of negotiating coalition government in the UK, the whole experience was novel, and to a degree a little trial by error – as wonderfully described in David Laws 22 Days in May. The ‘tradition’ of forming a new government quickly after the election, plus the pressure from The City, dictated that all the negotiation- over policies all parties had been developing , in many case, for years – were actually resolved in a few short hours spread over 4 intense days.

Contrast this to the German approach to such matters. I found this great quote in The Economist …

"Asked how political coalitions are formed, Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, once shot back with a question of his own: “How do porcupines mate?” After a short pause, he then answered it with a grin: “Very slowly.

And indeed, the Germans take several weeks to work through policy between prospective coalition partners, even going into government with some issues unresolved but an intention to work through the policy properly to reach a clearly understood compromise.

So over and above the transparent negotiation that Nick T proposed, I would also like to start laying the groundwork now for getting the media and the public to accept that next time a hung parliament occurs, perhaps a more considered and slower pace to the negotiations would be a more sensible course.

Who knows. With a bit more time, you might even end up with a different government...

PS I am not proposing however, that we do it like the Belgians...or indeed, Cambodia


  1. The Lib Dem media output typically tends to be more 'victim' than of 'leadership'. And at that tense and (media and market) harried point-in-time I honestly don't know why they didn't go for 'a coalition agreement in principle', which would be then formulated in detail over 3 weeks. "Now dear media, you can stand outside these offices 24/7 or you can wait until such n' such date!"

    I think that would have settled the markets enough to buy the time to negotiate properly. Also time to have a special conference to discuss a draft (behind closed doors) and to take back amendments. We are a democratic, one-member-one-vote party, even when that isn't convenient to the eager-beavers at the top!

    We do have an unusually compliant and sorry approach to what is typically a hostile and mischievous media, and need to be a bit more 'robust' in our retorts.

    We also need our own news channel. Lib Dem News Online (including a members only section with a £10/ year subscription might balance the cost and expand the service of archives, research material and more videoed speeches).

    And that's where we release our news, and we publicise it at every opportunity, and that's where other media have to credit the news.

  2. Thanks John - yes, I think the approach you outline in the first couple of paras would have worked well. With hindsight - it seems obvious. Though I do also remember the incredible excitement and buzz at the time - when everyone was also exhausted after a 4 week election campaign - and wonder how much all that played a part.

    On the On Line news channel - have you dropped a line to Helen at HQ? Get that ball rolling...