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TL;DR: if you're concerned about another Con/LD coalition, you should know the Lib Dem constitution was changed a few years ago to make that harder. Details follow.

There was a conversation over on [personal profile] liv's journal about how the Liberal Democrats make the decision to go into a coalition, and in general lots of people have made comments along the lines of "I can't vote Lib Dem because they'll just go and prop up the Tories again". In May 2010, just after the Tories made a coalition offer, I wrote to my newly-elected Lib Dem MP (Julian Huppert) to say how scared I was about it, including this:

Their offer doesn't seem worth the price of a Conservative government with a working majority, and I'm concerned that if the Lib Dems accepted it we would not only alienate our base but also ruin our chances of electoral success for another generation by associating ourselves with the draconian spending cuts that seem inevitable. I could only even start to support an LD/Con coalition if there were a clear and believable commitment towards PR, in which case there's just a chance that it might be worth the risk. Otherwise, it seems like suicide.

So, er, yeah. But obviously I wasn't the only person in the party thinking this, and the rules were changed in 2012 to make it harder for the parliamentary party to enter a coalition without the consent of the party as a whole. It was really difficult to work out retrospectively what exactly had been changed, because Lib Dem data publication is not quite what it might be, but with a pointer from [personal profile] miss_s_b I was able to dig it out of old conference reports. I'm reposting that here as a top-level journal entry so that I can point people to it without others having to deal with the resulting comments, and so that nobody else has to go through the effort of trying to dig it up.

Here are my sources:

The old rules, dating from 1998, were that "any substantial proposal which could affect the Party’s independence of political action" required:

  1. A 75% (of the total number eligible to vote, not just of those voting) majority approval by both the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and the Federal Executive; or
  2. Failing a), a two-thirds majority approval by those present and voting at a Special Federal Conference; or
  3. Failing a) and b), a simple majority by those voting in a Membership Ballot.

The new rules are that if the Commons Party after negotiation and consultation decides to support a coalition government, then it shall seek the approval of a special conference, and the motion requires a two-thirds majority of those present and voting at conference to pass. (See Article 22 of the current constitution for the details. Side note: Tim Farron moved the conference motion to add this article.)

This is a significant tightening: a two-thirds majority of conference is now absolutely required, whereas previously MPs and Federal Executive could act alone if they had a 75% majority among themselves. Even if Tim Farron is gung-ho to cosy up to the Tories (which I personally don't believe, but let's run with it), to think that another Con/LD coalition is likely under these rules, you have to not only believe that Farron and the rest of the parliamentary party would support it, but also that a supermajority of the most activist subset of Lib Dem party members - the sort who've spent the last couple of years working to claw things back from near-destruction at a national level - would want to do it all again after the last time with a party committed to exactly the opposite of our primary campaign message. Being cynical about politicians who are only out for power or whatever is one thing, but this seems a whole lot less plausible to me.

(Full disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem member and very low-level activist, i.e. I occasionally get sent out to deliver leaflets and such. I have nowhere near enough time or energy to go to conferences or gets involved with party policy. I have plenty to criticise in Lib Dems past and present, but I also want to make sure that my criticisms are accurate.)

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I wrote this to my MP (Daniel Zeichner, Labour, Cambridge) today:

Dear Mr. Zeichner,

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the Remain campaign. Although I'm normally a Lib Dem voter, I'm quite in agreement with your article in today's Cambridge News: this was likely a protest vote in many areas, it should never have been a referendum in the first place, and it is a disaster for the country.

I'm scared now that parties of the Left will move sharply to the right in appeasing a perception of voters' intents. We're already seeing signs of this kind of thing: the "Lexit" campaign focusing on the theoretical structure of the EU at the expense of the human costs of leaving it, the Shadow Home Secretary saying that this is a vote for "real change on migration policy", and the constant refrain that politicians must do more to react to concerns about immigration rather than leading the national debate and fixing the underlying issues of deprivation and austerity that cause people to cast around for somebody to blame.

Please could you do all you can to hold the line? I would vote for a politician with the courage to assert parliamentary supremacy and say that a 52-48 referendum result is indicative of widespread public criticism of the state of the country but not a mandate for massively destructive constitutional change. But failing that, we need the Left to stand up for social justice and ensure that the vital protections formerly afforded to the underprivileged by the EU are preserved in some form. The Right are quite capable of campaigning to "reform" immigration, demonising those who want to come here as scroungers, and stripping away the human rights of people who are already here. The Left, and Labour in particular, doesn't need to help them; it can only make itself irrelevant by trying.

Thank you.

ETA: Zeichner has stated that he will be voting Remain when this comes before parliament. Good news!
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[livejournal.com profile] ghoti prompted me with "Filioque. Go!", because clearly my darling wife wants to give me nice easy prompts that don't require much research or thought, or for that matter that don't cause me to play the priest-on-Trinity-Sunday game of "let's see how long I can talk for before accidentally committing heresy".

so, there was this Cerularius, right, and he spilled our Humbert's pint )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
cjwatson: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] miriammoules asked me about "hope", which is, wow, quite a broad prompt.

but the greatest of these is love )

This post is part of my December days series. Please prompt me!
cjwatson: (Default)

I sent this to my MP (Julian Huppert, LD, for Cambridge) this morning. I deliberately took a different line from the usual one because I'm well aware that Julian doesn't need persuading on this but it may be useful for him to have more ammunition of the form "Catholics are not quite such a unified block as it may appear".

Yesterday at Mass it was suggested to us that we might like to support a campaign to preserve the current legal definition of marriage (I forget exactly which campaign). This is of course in line with what our bishops tell us. But this Catholic does not support the party line; and I felt it important to write to you in favour of equal marriage, although I know you've already publicly stated your support for it.

Campaigners against equal marriage, including many Catholics, seem to feel that it is in some way a threat to their existing marriage or their existing way of life. Allowing consenting adults to marry even if they happen to be of the same sex poses no more a threat to my marriage than allowing the marriage of black people, or people past the age of having children, or people who happen to be taller than me. I do not fear it, and indeed I can see no respectable reason why I shouldn't welcome it wholeheartedly. The support of a verse of scripture (amid many other prescriptions rarely followed nowadays) and some dubious claims about what is "natural" are little more than unconvincing fig leaves for a fear of what is different, and the Catholic hierarchy should be ashamed of its un-Christian attempts to cast as many of the first stones as possible.

I rather suspect that the current reactionary point of view of a number of traditional religions, including my own, will come around eventually. Judging from carefully-phrased comments one of our priests has made when he's been required to read a bishops' letter on the subject, not even all of our clergy are as reactionary as it might seem today. In the meantime, it is the right thing to do for the state to move on without them.

(It occurred to me some time after sending this that "casting the first stone" was a poor choice of scripturally-inspired metaphor, because Christ didn't say that the woman caught in adultery hadn't sinned, only that he didn't condemn her. That wasn't what I intended to imply. Nevertheless, getting the Catholic church to bless equal marriage is clearly a bridge too far at the moment; for now it would be enough if they simply got out of the way.)

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