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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are publicly aired differences any way to run a coalition?

This morning's Guardian has an interesting take on an interview with Nick Clegg in which the Liberal Democrat Leader says that it is time that people should know more about the disagreements between him and David Cameron.

They say that the Liberal Democrats plan to air future disagreements with their Conservative partners in public in an attempt to assert a more distinctive identity for the party:

In a shift of tactics for the coalition, which was launched by the two party leaders in the Downing Street garden last May, the deputy prime minister said: "David Cameron and I are leaders of two separate parties. Both of us are acutely aware of that. We are acutely aware that when we sit down every day dealing with difficult decisions together we start from the starting point that we don't fully agree."

Clegg's decision to assert the Lib Dems' distinctive identity marks the end of speculation – mainly from ultra-modernising Tories – that the two parties could reach a deal or even merge ahead of the 2015 general election. Conservative cabinet ministers have been speculating that the Tories could stand down in Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency to give him a clear run in 2015.

Clegg stresses that this is not a u-turn but a natural development in the way that the coalition works. It is certainly very welcome that the Liberal Democrats are going to reassert their distinctiveness but are there not inherent dangers in this approach?

My main concern is that a Liberal Democrat Minster will stake out a position in public and then fail to get his or her way. We have already seen a bit of that on bankers' bonuses where some Ministers have talked tough but have so far not delivered similarly tough actions. I am hopeful that once talks with the bankers have concluded this will change but so far all we have had is grief as people perceive us not to be delivering on our principles.

The tuition fees debacle highlighted how public perception of a policy position does not take account of the reality of coalition politics. Open debate on government policy in the way suggested by Clegg, in which both parties set out their views and then come to a compromise may well help to educate people on the realities of two parties working together but it also risks portraying the coalition as weak and divided and will provide acres of newsprint for journalists and commentators determined to exploit that.

By all means let us be more open and transparent but for goodness sake avoid the elephant traps that will hand political advantage to our opponents.
Sounds as if new politics is getting just a little old.
Isn't the whole point of collective responsibility is that the cabinet shows a united front in public?
The place for these disagreements are in cabinet.

Also Peter will you make a comment on the Western Mail's article that the Welsh LibDems could lose all their seats in the Welsh Elections. However it's more likely that you'll lose all but one (and that's your seat). Do you think the party should be more vocal against your colleagues in Westminster? Rather than stand next to the awful Cheryl Gillan and say how good it is?

Do you also think there will be trouble if the Tories get less losses in the Assembly at London level. Or do you think the press coverage will be tiny (as per usual!!).

On a final point about the Referendum. There is very little news about it on the UK media. Have AM's discussed this? As if people don't see coverage about it and debates about it, people just won't turn up/
Jake, the Western Mail article was hot air and pure speculation. It was utter nonsense. My view is that the Lib Dems will emerge from the Assembly election with between 6 and 8 seats.
Dear Sir,
Myself and my mates want to vote for you but we hate what Nick Clegg and the LibDems have done. I know in Assembly elections you have to vote twice. So can we vote for you but then put the LibDems last in our last section or is that not possible?
We want you back in Cardiff but no one else from the LibDems as to whats happened recently. FYI there was mention that may happen in either bbc or westernmail. But if we can vote just for you itd be great. If not then I cant see me voting you in.

Thanks for any reply,
Thanks, you re right that you have two votes, one for the constituency and one for the party list. I am on the party list so if you want to vote for me you have to vote for the Liberal Democrats on that list. That will not be a vote for Nick Clegg but to return me to the Assembly. How you vote in the other ballot is then up to you.
"The tuition fees debacle highlighted how public perception of a policy position does not take account of the reality of coalition politics."

Peter, you're right but it's a shame you didn't apply that rule to the debate on tuition fees in Wales when you accused Plaid of 'selling out'.

Consistency would be great.
Consistency in this issue of course should work both ways.
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