Lib Dems to confront coalition tensions

Lib Dems want coalition arrangements clarified
Lib Dems want coalition arrangements clarified

By Alex Stevenson

Liberal Democrat MPs are engaged in intensive backroom discussions about the mechanics of coalition government, as they confront growing concerns about maintaining the party's independent voice in Westminster.

Backbenchers will hear proposals at a meeting of the parliamentary party this evening, following concerns that the Lib Dems' alliance with the Conservatives means it is losing its voice at a national level.

Simon Hughes, by far the most senior Lib Dem not to have been given a role within the government, is expected to clarify a number of points currently being debated by Lib Dem MPs.


He was elected deputy leader last week after business secretary Vince Cable quit to focus on the "job in hand" in the government.

The party leadership is likely to face pressure from those who want to see Lib Dem
spokespersons appointed for all portfolio areas where the party does not have a minister in government.

"I think where there's not a Liberal Democrat minister it's absolutely crucial the Lib Dem distinctive voice in those departments is made clear and that we are afforded that right on the basis we don't have a minister," Colchester MP Bob Russell told politics.co.uk.

"Clearly in a situation where two parties in coalition, both parties will have to adapt and adopt accordingly. It doesn't mean to say you change your basic core values overnight."

Others have stressed the importance of making coalition government work. Many Lib Dems feel the collapse of coalition government would undermine their arguments in favour of electoral reform towards a proportional representation system, which would frequently produce hung parliaments.

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood said: "What we have to do is find the way in which we can support the project that is the coalition - that we can support the government and be part of the government - while retaining our own independent voice and values as a party.

"If we can't do that it's a sad day for coalition politics."

Lib Dem MPs are likely to adopt many of the proposals made by Mr Hughes in a letter to Lorely Burt, the parliamentary party chair, before his election in what has been referred to as a 'mini-manifesto'.

Mr Hughes has called for a plan which would see independent Lib Dem representation covering all departments, including those where there is a Lib Dem secretary of state.

He wants to press the Speaker to ensure Lib Dems are allowed to speak second on the government benches during Commons debates and has outlined plans which would see spokespersons and ministers liaising in policy groups mirroring government departments.

politics.co.uk understands most of Mr Hughes' proposals are expected to be endorsed by the party later. The party's culture of ensuring open agreement means Mr Hughes, MPs and the leadership will be consulted beforehand to minimise dissent.

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