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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Clegg dilemma

Collective responsibility is an essential part of any government. If you cannot get your Ministers all singing from the same song sheet then you have no chance of implementing a programme for government, let alone whipping all those rebellious backbenchers into supporting contentious legislation.

That principle applies to coalition government as much as one-party rule, though in a coalition one would expect a lot more open debate between ministers as each party seeks to protect its own brand.

Collective responsibility is also a convenient shield within a coalition for Ministers. Compromise is not easy to sell to voters but it is an essential part of government, especially when there is more than one party involved.

Thus, Tory Ministers will accept that supporting gay marriage is the price they have to pay for bringing the Liberal Democrats into government. In return the Liberal Democrats may swallow hard and sign up to reform of the health service.

But what happens when collective responsibility is breached, as it was today on the vote to investigate Jeremy Hunt? The Liberal Democrats have quite rightly made their point but these things work both ways. Let's hope we don't need reciprocal support for one of our Ministers.

Nick Clegg has made his point, but has he opened up a pandora's box by dumping collective responsibility in this way?
Surely it has been made amply clear that the principle of collective responsibility did not apply here, as the decision not to refer Hunt for investigation was not a collective one?

But congratulations on being the only Lib Dem I've seen to argue (apparently) that the Lib Dem MPs should actually have voted with the Tories.
Lousy example Peter. The tories said "We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage" in their manifesto for equalities in the 2010 election
I have made no such argument, just pointed out the consequences. Hywel, the example may or may not be a lousy one but that is immaterial to the point I was making.
Peter, this decision was different - Cameron didn't consult and there's nothing in the Coalition Agreement that means we have to support Tory ministers who have clearly not acted as they should have done.
Caron, although I agree with the decision to abstain the bit about not being consulted is a red herring. As a former minister myself I know that most ministerial decisions of this nature are taken without consulting other. However, despite that other Minister are meant, in public to back the decision and to operate a system of collective responsibility. Natuarally, a coalition challenges these rules and so it should but, as I point out in the blog post, there are consequences for both sides.
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