My “It’s 8th May 2015” scenario-question to the Lib Dem party president candidates – Daisy Cooper responds

by Stephen Tall on November 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the forthcoming election for the Lib Dem party presidency – the post about to be vacated by Tim Farron – between Sal Brinton, Daisy Cooper and Liz Lynne.

Here’s the question I said would ask all three of them (my post offers fuller background about why I’m asking it):

It’s 8th May, 2015. The Lib Dems have lost some MPs but are still a force to be reckoned with in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg announces he will step aside to let a new leader take over. No single party has an overall majority. What will you do in the next 7 days to maximise Lib Dem influence and keep the party united?

All three have responded and I’m publishing their responses in full here today. You can read Sal Brinton’s here.

Next up is Daisy Cooper

daisy-cooperMaximising Lib Dem influence and keeping the party united are critically important. As President, I will devote myself to achieving these ends. I will draw on my strong working relationships across the Party membership and the Parliamentary Party, and will deploy my leadership and consensus-building skills to ensure the party is brought together after what may be a bruising experience for some. Whatever the outcome of the election, I will ensure that our party is – and is seen to be – a strong political force for individual freedom, social justice and repatriating powers back to communities.

In very practical terms, it’s vital that we have laid the groundwork in advance of 8th May in order that we can act quickly and deliver an outcome that is right for the country and which delivers on the principles of our party. Below, I have set out my immediate priorities for the 8th May and the preparatory work that would be required.

Immediate priorities
On 8th May, my immediate priorities as President would be to:

• Engage fully with the members. In advance of the 8th May I would put in place mechanisms for consultation and two-way communication with members. I would ensure that if the Parliamentary Parties and FE agree to an arrangement with other parties that agreement will have to be approved by a Special Conference or all-member ballot in accordance with the “Triple Lock”. I will insist that amendments properly tabled to a draft Coalition Agreement are debated and voted on by the Conference.

• Prioritise inter-party negotiations over a leadership election. In this scenario of the Leader stepping aside, it would be essential to prioritise inter-party negotiations over our leadership election. As a Party we should focus on delivering an outcome that is right for the country and which delivers on our principles. The Party and its members should have a proper leadership contest only after the completion of these negotiations. If necessary, I would hold regular meetings with all likely leadership candidates to ensure that we do not present a divided face to the public.

• Back the Acting Leader. In the event that the Leader stepped aside with immediate effect (as opposed to waiting until a new Leader was elected), I would ask the Parliamentary Party to elect an Acting Leader (the current Deputy Leader, Malcolm Bruce, is standing down as an MP this May, and we need a parliamentarian in this role).

• Consult with a broad reference group. As President, I would work closely with the two relevant Federal Committees – the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee. I would create a reference group (pursuant to article 15.2 (b) of the Federal Constitution) and would make arrangements for broader consultation and engagement with the Leaders of the Welsh and Scottish Parties and representatives from ALDC and representative groups (Lib Dem Women, Ethnic Minority Lib Dem, LGBT+ Lib Dems, the Lib Dem Disability Association, Liberal Youth). I would also create open lines of communication with all those organisations that represent different political views within the party.

• Deliver clear messages to the public. I would publicly reinforce the message that:
o The British people have not voted to give any one party power – and we respect that. We will not vote to allow a minority government rule without conditions.
o The Liberal Democrats are prepared to take the time to get this right – and ensure we have a strong government with a strong programme for the country.
o We will seek to deliver as much as we can of our manifesto – while recognising that we do not have a mandate to achieve all of it.
o Because we believe in democracy, we will also be fully involving our members who will need to endorse any political agreement and who, in due course, will choose the new leader.

Preparatory work
As President, I will ensure the party is fully prepared for all likely scenarios including the one you outline, so that we are in a position to respond to a fast moving situation. Preparatory work would need to include:

• Agreeing provisional ‘red lines’. I will ensure that the FE and FPC agree in provisional terms what our priorities and red lines will be in negotiations with any other parties. I will ensure that the FE and FPC meet the day after the election result is known to update that position in light of circumstances that may have arisen.

• Plan for all likely scenarios. I will ensure that FE and FPC have conducted scenario planning that includes:
o Planning for various electoral outcomes
o Choosing between the option of spreading ourselves across multiple ministries or concentrating on ‘owning’ a few ministries
o Choosing between ‘confidence and supply’ and taking part in government
o Planning for up to three- or four-way party negotiations
o Having the option of forming a government with more than one combination of different parties

• Learn lessons from other coalitions. At the Spring Conference in 2015, I would work with the FCC to ensure there is a consultative session on lessons learnt from various coalitions, from across the UK and from abroad. I would want this to also address how other political parties have involved their members.

• Ask local parties to elect Special Conference Voting Reps. Whilst One Member One Vote has been agreed in principle it won’t be operational by the time of any Special Conference so I will remind all Local Parties to ensure that they have elected their conference reps. I will also ensure that there are mechanisms for all members to have a voice.

• Ask local parties’ to consult members. I will also ask local parties to hold consultative sessions where the votes of their local party membership can be recorded and submitted by email (hence enabling members that do not have email addresses to take part).