Lib Dems to consult on Tory coalition deal
The Liberal Democrats’ federal executive and the MPs are to meet at 7.30 under current plans. They will discuss the agreement their negotiators have put together with the Tories for a coalition.
Nick Clegg needs 75 per cent from each group – it sounds as though at the moment he is thinking of putting them in the same room. This might be a way of getting pressure on the executive dissidents and any dissident MPs to give unanimous approval to what one well-known Lib Dem MP is calling “the best of a bad bunch” of options on offer. They will certainly feel the pressure on them. The world’s cameras pointing at them, their entire leadership’s reputation and standing on the line.
There’s much more enthusiasm than that amongst the younger generation of Lib Dem MPs for the deal now being finalised. There is a generational split that’s been on show in the party in the last few days and an English/Scottish one to some extent. Nick Clegg must overcome those and will be hoping tonight’s meeting keeps the tensions under wraps.
The outline deal is still awaited but it seems to include:
– a referendum on AV in this parliament – if it is successful the next election would be under the AV system (William Hague told the meeting of Tory MPs last night that the Conservative party would campaign against AV in the referendum – but the bill itself initiating the referendum will be a three-line whip)
– the Tories may have ditched the IHT proposals for this parliament – the centrepiece of the 2007 Conference that helped to frighten Gordon off an election
– Lib Dems think they’ve got them to ditch the recognition of marriage in the tax system
– legislation removing the power of a PM to call an election at whim would be brought in with a Fixed Term Parliaments measure – elections would be every four or five years. The Lib Dem MP I spoke to couldn’t remember whether it was Labour or the Tories offering one or the other.
How far will the other reforms go? Lib Dems have spoken of a 100 per cent elected House of Lords, elected, more to the point by PR. That wasn’t run past the Tory MPs last night and may be “talk” and “thoughts” at the table rather than hard promises. Likewise some Lib Dems have spoken about electoral reform for local government but it’s far from clear to me how much if anything has been conceded on this.
Tory MPs don’t seem as troubled by all this as you might expect. It helps that they’re weary, new or, in some cases, both. The Tories, like the other three parties, have rushed straight into this process without grieving properly for the election results inflicted on them. There has been no post mortem with blame apportioned, even if that is a lively topic of conversation amongst some longer serving Tory MPs. Tory MPs have been texted to be on standby for a meeting at 8pm.
Coalitions in UK political history often have unforeseen repercussions. The SDP defectors from Labour in 1983 said it was the Lib-Lab pact that made them start thinking outside their political tribe.
Layered on the experience of a coalition we could have a change of electoral system, albeit not the most radical one we could have. We are entering the unknown and Tory and Lib Dem MPs are acutely aware of that.
Labour MPs seem rather optimistic, not at all as downcast as you might expect as they are turfed out of office. As Margaret Thatcher said on another eventful day in British politics, “funny old world”.