Lib Dems in 'state of flux'

Lib Dem backbenchers still not yet settled on outright government loyalty
Lib Dem backbenchers still not yet settled on outright government loyalty

By Alex Stevenson

Liberal Democrat MPs are in the final stages of negotiations about how to retain their party's independent identity while remaining in government.

The party is expected to approve a number of practical measures at its parliamentary party meeting this evening, following days of frantic talks.

Discussions between the party leadership, the new deputy leader Simon Hughes and the parliamentary party have been continuing since last Wednesday's meeting failed to reach agreement.

One Lib Dem MP told his backbench colleagues were "in a state of flux".

At the top of the list of matters to be resolved is the way the party advances its interests in areas where there is not a Lib Dem minister in place.

Some form of spokesperson is now considered likely but it is not yet clear whether these would be referred to as 'shadow' ministers or by another term. understands the most likely solution is the formation of cross-departmental policy committees headed by a 'convenor'.

Among them could be a global affairs spokesperson covering the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development, for example.

Many Lib Dem backbenchers feel disappointed by the way the coalition agreement, including the Lib Dem abstentions on the married couples' tax allowance, higher education and nuclear power, was concluded without consultation with the party.

Some are beginning to openly question the party's alliance with the Conservatives, who are determined to reduce the £180 billion welfare bill.

"I supported the formation of the coalition through gritted teeth but I have never voted for big cuts in welfare benefits and I am not going to start now," left-leaning Lib Dem MP Bob Russell told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"I am not going to walk away from the people I have been fighting for the past 40 years. Just because my party has formed a coalition with the Conservatives does not mean my principles and conscience can be parked elsewhere."


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.