by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2014
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?
As I wrote then:
My guess is all three will be reluctant to be drawn by the premise of the question (Lib Dems losing MPs, Nick quitting). Fair enough, that’s how politics works. You’re not allowed publicly to think through the Plans B, C and D you need to be thinking through, or the media will tear you to shreds. So I’m not necessarily expecting their real answer.
The reason I’m asking it to them is simple. That scenario, above, is the most likely one to play out in six months’ time, and I really want them to be thinking now about how they handle it. Their response will likely determine not only the success of their time as party president, but also how the party handles it.
To their credit, all three answered. Quick snippets from each below, but well worth reading in full what they said, I think.
I would go back one step from Stephen’s scenario. It would be very disappointing if the Leader stepped aside before any contact with the President. It was evident from Labour’s experience with Gordon Brown (see Andrew Adonis book 5 Days in May) that they had not talked through together how to manage Gordon Brown’s departure, with the consequent chaos for them during that short period.
So, my 5 practical steps would be:-
1. Ensure that the parliamentary party has met at the first possible opportunity to elect (even on an acting basis) a Deputy Leader and a Chair – Sir Malcolm Bruce is standing down, and the new parliamentary party needs to elect its new chair.
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.
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.
In the first seven days I will have to make sure that the constitution is adhered to in every way. As required by the constitution I would have to be the public face of the Party explaining to people outside the Party what the situation is regarding both the leadership question and any coalition talks.
Apart from safeguarding the constitution I believe in those first seven days my main task will be to keep the Party in the country informed of what is going on and make sure constituent parts of the Party are consulted widely. Part of this consultation has to be with the regional and state party chairs. I would already have put a mechanism in place so that constituency chairs and their members could also have a way in to the process in order for them to give their views to the reference group.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.