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'Triple lock' and the hurdles of Lib Dem policy

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 08 May 2010

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continue talk of agreement, and perhaps formal coalition, Channel 4 News looks at the obstacles Nick Clegg may encounter if he wants to do a deal.

Nick Clegg (Getty)

First of all, the Liberal Democrat leadership has the “triple lock” to contend with.

Established by the party in 1998 - when talk of an arrangement between Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair was rife - it states that any "substantial proposal which could affect the party's independence of political action" will need the consent of a majority of Lib Dem MPs and of the party’s federal executive.

Unless three-quarters of each of these two groups support the proposals, a special conference is called. And two-thirds of those who vote at the conference - which is open to all party members - need to support any deal. If that fails then a full ballot of party members will taken and a majority will be required.

But making a deal is only the start – you also have to have policies. And the Liberal Democrats live up to the second part of their name when it comes to policy-making.

A party spokesman took Channel 4 News through the process of turning an idea into Lib Dem policy.

The first step is to set up a working group, which is normally chaired by the relevant party spokesman. They look at a variety of options. The working group will take in members of interested think tanks, party members and MPs. The group will eventually approve a policy working document.

These papers are sent to the Federal Conference Committee (the FCC) which is responsible for organising and running the Lib Dems’ two annual conferences. It is chaired by Duncan Brack and has elected representatives from the UK regions.

If the paper is selected by the FCC it goes before the party conference and is gone through line by line. Most parts are simply accepted or rejected, but amendments can be made. The mechanism for voting is a simple majority of party members present.

So all-in-all a very democratic way of operating – but how might such a system work given the fast-paced demands of life in power? And how would the Liberal Democrats make policy in tandem with a much larger partner?

If a deal is struck between Nick Clegg and David Cameron, we may be about to find out. 


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