Lib Dem backbench committees to pressure coalition

Nick Clegg's shadow: Lib Dems prefer the term 'backbench committee co-chairs'
Nick Clegg's shadow: Lib Dems prefer the term 'backbench committee co-chairs'

By Alex Stevenson

The Liberal Democrats have finally published their plans on how they will maintain an independent voice within the coalition government.

Backbench policy committees chaired by middle-ranking MPs who did not gain ministerial posts will scrutinise the government's policies in a bid to ensure their consistency with Lib Dem values.

The 15 committees are co-chaired with Lib Dem members of the House of Lords, which will limit the ability of individual malcontents to undermine the party's leadership.

Many of the party's spokespersons in the previous parliament have been shuffled away from their old posts, making it easier for individual politicians to support the coalition as the policies they campaigned for are rejected by their predecessors.

New party leader Simon Hughes will also co-chair the communities and local government committee.

The man he beat to the post, the more anti-coalition Tim Farron, will co-chair the international affairs committee covering foreign policy, defence and international development.

Meanwhile Stephen Williams, whose opposition to top-up fees is in stark contrast with the policy now being pursued by Conservative higher education minister David Willetts, is moved to the Treasury portfolio.

And Tom Brake gets the home affairs committee, which will cover the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and equality issues.

The establishment of backbench policy committees comes after weeks of negotiations within the party.

Internal debate between the leadership, the deputy leadership and the parliamentary party struggled to reach agreement as some advocated the appointment of 'shadow' ministers.

Spokespersons for the party cited the announcement of select committee posts as a reason for the delay, but today's publication comes one day before the Lib Dems are due to publish their list of MPs who will sit on Commons select committees.

Most MPs backed the idea of backbench scrutiny but were worried that the process will provide a conduit for dissent. Opponents of the Tory-Lib Dem alliance hope this will prove the case.


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