Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

So, that coalition then

I could probably get a vote in tomorrow's special Lib Dem conference fairly easily; it has been called at such short notice that I doubt that all the voting reps of the Brussels branch of the party will be able to go, and substitutes will probably be welcome. I won't go, as I am not sufficiently active in the party these days and also have other plans. But if I were going, I think I would be going as a neutral leaning to yes vote.

It took me several days to come around. I wasn't especially shocked by the fact that the deal was with the Tories rather than Labour, as the arithmetic pointed that way; I have not been particularly surprised by the howls of outrage from Labour supporters who feel nobody else deserves to be in power. But I started as a coalition sceptic because the deal doesn't go far enough on electoral reform, and it seemed to me a catastrophic error to risk the Lib Dems' reputation without getting the most significant possible gain up front.

I came around partly as a result of reading the growing debate on the proposed 55% rule. First off, I'm amazed by the wrong-headedness of some of the commentary about this; if you want fixed term parliaments, you simply have to decouple votes of confidence from dissolutions in more or less this way. Of course there are going to be ways around it, as Helmut Kohl showed in 1982, but the point is to deter a prime minister from rushing to an election when the polls look right, and to raise the political price of doing so. The 55% figure is probably a bit low, but is basically high enough to ensure that neither of the current coalition partners can easily pull the plug on the other, and to provide an incentive to stable government. loveandgarbage's analysis has already been widely linked, but if you haven't already seen it it is here and here.

Which leads me to my reason for switching from soft no to soft yes on the deal. In my write-up of last weekend I expressed certainty that there would be another election soon, so the Lib Dems would need to get their price for coalition out of their partners early. The fixed term parliament deal kills that worry stone dead. The referendum on AV will therefore go ahead as normal government business rather than as part of the run-up to the next election campaign. I am not a huge fan of AV, but I do buy the argument that it is a first step towards proper reform, and the removal of the prime minister's power to run to the voters on a whim is sufficient compensation for me, for now.

There are other aspects of the package I don't like. I'm a sceptic on electing the Lords, so I hope that the coalition parties implement the first half (appointing enough members now to reflect party support at the election) and forget the second half of the plan. Of course, I have the luxury of not living in the UK so I can pick and choose the bits I like to comment on - the economics will make very little difference to me.

I'm alarmed by the lack of reference to international affairs or Europe in the coalition agreement (keep Trident, stay out of the euro, that's it). Also the Lib Dems have not done well on the international affairs portfolios - nobody in DFiD, and I've never heard of Jeremy Browne, the junior minister at the FCO who is still in his 30s. (Nick Harvey gets to be armed forces minister; I quite like him but have no idea of his suitability for the job.) But I can't honestly say that the Lib Dems have had much of substance to offer on British foreign policy recently other than on cases which actually shade into civil liberties (where the coalition agend is much more robust, and Labour particularly awful), so perhaps it's only to be expected.

I shall email my views to my local conference reps, as well as sharing them here. But I expect the package will get a thumping endorsement at tomorrow's conference.
Tags: election: uk: 2010, house of lords, lib dems
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