Monday, June 07, 2010

The Hughes Plan

Tom Harris has the detailed gist of it. (And another thing...: Looking enviously at the opposition benches) Over on Liberal Democrat Voice a post lists Simon Hughes’ 10 proposals for Lib Dem MPs under Coalition . It looks suspiciously like a programme for organising a party in opposition, just one that happens to be sitting on the government benches. At a glance it seems Simon Hughes wants the Liberal Democrats to be neither one thing nor the other but somewhere in between. How very Liberal Democrat.

There's a vague historical precedence for this (there nearly is for everything!). In 1932-1933 the Liberals sat on the government benches for a year after they had resigned their ministerial posts over the introduction of Imperial Preference on tariffs. But that was stage three of a four stage process by which the Liberals extracted themselves from the National Government and settled into opposition in as intact a position as possible. (The other stages were - separate manifestos in the general election; formal agreement to suspend collective responsibility on an area where the governing parties simply did not agree; and finally moving to the opposition benches. The second stage isn't that different from some of the elements of the coalition agreement and of course the coalition being formed after the election rather than before removes the need for the first.)

I have no idea if Simon Hughes is even aware of that brief period in his party's history (even amongst Liberal historians it is one of the more neglected periods) or if he's consciously trying to mimic it. But it feels like he wants to create a position whereby the Liberal Democrats can evade responsibility for everything that the coalition does that's unpopular - and with the necessary tax cuts boy are there going to be unpopular things done - whilst Liberal Democrat ministers can cream off credit for popular successes. It's not exactly a party fully participating in government but rather a recipe for opportunistic mess. I give full credit to Nick Clegg for not (yet) having implemented an opposition within a government but if Hughes wins the deputy leadership election (as seems increasingly lightly), will Clegg bin or implement the Hughes Plan?

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