Learning the lessons of 2010? Nick appoints his hung parliament negotiators

by Stephen Tall on March 4, 2014

Nick Clegg has appointed his top-team of negotiators in the event of a second hung parliament. It’s clear a lot of effort has gone into selecting as representative group as is possible within a five-person team.

On the economic liberal ‘right’ of the party there’s David Laws and Danny Alexander. On the social liberal ‘left’ of the party there’s Lynne Featherstone and Steve Webb. The fifth member, Sal Brinton, is a Lib Dem peer well-connected throughout the party, not obviously aligned to either wing.

That means the group includes two women, both with strong interests in diversity (Lynne as champion of same-sex marriage, Sal as chair of the Lib Dem Diversity Engagement Group).

Of the four who are elected, two face Labour opponents (Danny and Lynne) and two face Conservatives (David and Steve). Lynne also ticks other boxes, having been a councillor and a member of the Greater London Assembly before becoming an MP.

There is some continuity from the team in 2010 – Danny and David – but the changes go beyond the three fresh faces. After 2010, it was decided there would be two groups involved in any coalition negotiations.

The first, appointed by the leader, is the group that’s been announced by Nick – they will lead on discussions with whichever of Labour or the Tories have won the most votes and seats.

The second group will be elected by three crucial party bodies – its Federal Executive (the party’s governing body), the Federal Policy Committee (which approves the manifesto) and the Parliamentary Party (MPs and peers) – and they will closely scrutinise the deal-making. Think of them as the “tuition fees: never again” part of the Lib Dems’ Coalition due diligence.

It’s a process which seems to have learned at least some of the lessons of the past. The additional trouble-shooting ‘check and balance’ of the second group should avoid fees-shaped bear-traps.

And there is at least someone wearing an economic hat (Danny) on the negotiating team. The absence of Vince Cable from the negotiations in 2010 has always been incomprehensible to me given the Coalition was always going to stand or fall based on the success of its economic policies.