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Monday, March 05, 2007

The mythical coalition

I was not there but if Sir Menzies Campbell was really setting down his terms and conditions for a coalition with Labour yesterday then I suspect that the price is significantly higher than any future Labour Leader would be prepared to pay.

Even without proportional representation, and that would definitely be in there, the idea that Gordon Brown might effectively reverse many of the policies that he and Tony Blair have implemented over the last ten years is fanciful.

What Ming was in fact doing was setting out our stall. It was just unfortunate that the rhetorical device he used and the spinning of an over-zealous party official led journalists to interpret his words differently. It is a lesson in effective news management that the party must learn.

The Guardian quotes a party official as saying that the five tests were not a policy list but a 'value system'. There must have been a clue in that phrase surely as to what Ming was trying to do. The tests are; ending Labour's attack on civil liberties; tackling climate change; breaking the poverty trap; decentralising power; and "rebalancing" foreign policy to show greater independence from the United States. I am told that Ming specifically cited the need to scrap ID cards, ditch council tax, and rule out an attack on Iran.

The fact that PR was not in that list is not significant. Apparently, a large part of the speech was devoted to that subject and it would be taken as read that we would require it in any coalition deal. After all the first past the post system does not look kindly on such alliances and if we were to take that risk we would want to ensure that subsequent elections were fought under a fair process in which the outcome reflects how people have voted.

But the main reason why I do not believe that this speech was an invitation to the Chancellor to talk is that a shrewd and experienced strategist like Sir Menzies Campbell, would not commit himself to such a course until he needs to do so. It helps as well that all the MPs within his inner circle are also denying it. The Liberal Democrats in the next General Election will be going to the voters with a distinct set of policies and an invitation to people to vote positively to maximise our influence so as to provide the best possible opportunity to put those policies into effect. We will be doing the same in Wales in May.

As in Wales, even with a balanced Parliament it does not follow that a coalition is inevitable. There are many other options and a number of scenarios in which we can achieve our political goals. For Liberal Democrats, the priority is not bums on the seats of government limousines, it is the chance to implement policies that we have been honing for decades. We are not going to blow that by prematurely inviting Tony Blair's as-yet-unelected successor to talks now.
Why did Ed Davey get all confused and say that PR for local government was no longer a sticking point, only to change his mind later on? Surely somebody was advising him that the policy was no longer a top priority?
The Proportional Labour Minister (c/of "Look Me In The Eye", Satire Press)

There’s a brain (of sorts), a middle section and a leg section.

The brain-power to brain-weight ratio is typically so low that scientists think the only way to describe the number is to write “zero”. Thus the brain-weight to brain-power ratio is so large that it can’t be written down on a ream of 500 pages of double-sided A4 sheets of paper.

The middle section is of considerable size and processing power to handle large appetites for rich meals washed down with lots of champers.

The legs: fast-moving to enable rapid maneuvering away from difficult questions.
Your reason for saying that the 5 conditions speech could not have been an invitiation to coalition to Labour at a remarkably low price without PR, is that Ming is to smart to have made such a stupid speech.

It seems he has.
Bethan, you are confusing Ed Davey with an unnamed press officer. It was the press officer who was briefing that PR was no longer a sticking point. Ed Davey contradicted him with the correct and official line.

Neil, my reason for saying that Ming's speech was not an invitation to Labour is simply that it was not. No reading of the speech could come to such a conclusion. The problem was with what was spun afterwards and I have already commented that the Party needs to improve its performance in this regard.
If there is a "hung" parliament will the Labour parliamentary party allow Brown to take the Lib Dems on as a coalition partner, or if not will he become the 21st Century's "Ramsay MacDonald?
I'm sorry that this has happened. The Liberal Democrats were setting themselves apart (in a good way) on this issue. Now the media will have something of a field day with it at the Liberal Democrats expense.
That's not what I read in the Guardian, sorry. I think it's more that the lib dems are confused!
Well you are reading a different Guardian to me then Bethan. The on-line version clearly says that Ed Davey retracted an official briefing (given by somebody else). As I said, a rogue press officer got carried away. As Ed Davey is Ming's Chief of Staff then his version is the correct one. It is not a pretty picture I know, but the bottom line is that there was no invitation for coalition and PR stays on the table.
I subscribe to everything Peter has written in this blog entry.

It is a pity that respectable news media, like the BBC and the Independent newspaper, have been led astray by spin from unauthorised sources.

Not all the BBC is to blame. Radio News yesterday reported the slapping-down by Ed Davey.

- Frank Little
Now I really am confused. According to the icWales website Mike German is quoted as saying 'No single policy,including PR in council elctions,was a precondition for joining a coalition Assembly government.' Will the real Liberal Democrats please stand up or are you being dragged along by Mike German's desire for the the trappings of a government minister?
Well now you are talking about PR for local government as opposed to Westminster and Wales as opposed to the UK. There is nothing in what Mike German said that indicates in anyway that PR for local Government should not form part of the Welsh Lib Dems demands in post election talks after May. In fact Mike and I are agreed on the fact that PR in local government remains unfinished business from the 2000-2003 Partnership Government and that we want to see the Assembly's new powers used to enact it. It will be in our manifesto and it will be brought to the table if we are involved in talks. The Tory adoption of this idea makes it more likely that we will succeed in this endeavour.
Mike German said last September:

"I can tell you that if we don't get a change in the way we vote and get fair voting for local governments, then it won't even be worth anyone picking up the phone".

Labour have ruled out PR for local government. Is Mike still hanging on the telephone?
Labour have ruled out a lot of things but that does not mean that they will not change their mind after the election. Besides which there are other options.
Peter Hain, in the Commons last week: "Our Welsh manifesto will contain a commitment not to introduce proportional representation in local government."
Looks like we will have an interesting constitutional crisis very early in the new Assembly then.
Your comment about other options is interesting. I think that this could be a possible scenario. In their manifestoes all parties other than Labour make a commitment to PR in local government. The election result will probably see Labour down to about 25 seats . It could therefore be argued that there is now a mandate from the Welsh electorate for issues which appear in all the other parties manifestoes. You can still have a Labour/Lib Dem coalition but allow a free vote on PR in local government. This flies through the Assembly by 35 to 25. Labour tells its disgruntled councillors that it couldn't do anything and privately offers the possibility of the Scottish bribe of a pay off in 2012 if they don't stand. Only problem of course is what happens when it gets to the Commons. But at least it will liven up Welsh politics wghich can be pretty boring.
In practice I think it will be pretty difficult to obtain agreement on any really serious local government reform in the third assembly.

Once you start talking aboput changing electoral systems, you can't escape from debates about how many councillors Wales really needs and also how many councils we need and what sort of areas of policy they are competent to control. The WLGA can be pretty much guaranteed to oppose any alteration to the status quo.

Finally, call me a cynic, but unless they are actually in government, I suspect the Tories damascene conversion to STV might turn out to be somewhat less sincere than Anon 8:44 thinks!
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