An FT article titled in jocose fashion something like “beware of the beardies”, drew attention towards those elements in the LibDem Constitution designed to prevent any radical changes to the party’s relationship with other parties.
A series of obscure rules buried in the Lib Dem “constitutions” (184 pages) and “business motions” give the party’s left-leaning activists considerable clout over their leader, particularly when it comes to deals with minority governments.
The so-called ‘triple lock’ was appparently introduced under Ashdown, and leaves the leadership obliged to seek several different supermajorities in certain situations.
On the surface, such attention is unwelcome, given Nick’s superb recent efforts (also FT) to get the Lib Dems rebranded as the party that holds the sensible middle ground between nutcase spendingcutters on the Right and wishful deficit deniers on the Left. It is no good having the most respected Shadow Chancellor in modern history and a sound grasp of the difficult dynamics of this situation (see Chris Giles’ wondeful post on this) if you can’t do anything about it, without a cumbersome and uncertain process of internal party haggling.
Martin Kettle in the conference programme makes a flattering comparison between LibDem Conferences and the ‘stage managed rallies’ with ‘heavily vetted and coached speakers’ of the other Parties. He writes:
“Among the main UK-wide parties, Liberal Democrats are the only ones whose conference is not from beginning to end a stich-up”.
And I love every minute of them. But I am not sure that a bond market investor eavesdropping upon a ferocious speech defending public spending at all costs would applaud the democracy, rather than question the maths. From the FT article:
Richard Batty, investment director of strategy at Standard Life Investments, said: “This is a laborious process, which could take time to resolve and lead to a delay in the setting up of a coalition government. That creates short-term risks for the government bond markets.”
I agree with Liberal Vision that the triple lock needs to be neutralised for Parliamentary negotiations about taxing, spending, and repaying our creditors. The vast majority of the voters who will be responsible for sending (we hope) 60+ Lib Dems into Westminster this spring think they are in a representative democracy, selecting a man or woman to take his or her own choices in Parliament. They do not think they are giving something they have never heard of a final say over our credit rating, no matter how diligent and worthy the members of that body might be. And if this worries someone like me, imagine how it could be used during the campaign.
As Angela writes, “If we want to claim that a hung Parliament is not necessarily a bad thing and that the markets needn’t panic, we at least need to have our own rules sorted out”
I would love to be able to twist this post around and say “surface impressions are misleading”. But in this case they strike me as true. The FT article suggests, somewhat optimistically, that Nick may be able to use a threat to ‘take it to the beardies’ as a way of gaining negotiational traction with a Conservative or Labour adversary this summer. I cannot imagine this working in the LibDems’ favour. Pure democracy is much easier in the wilderness, and in this case it could be a good way of staying there.