Lib-Con pact

An important meeting of Lib Dem MPs last night. Opinion has hardened in a number of areas:

Vince made his first intervention – in favour of the Tories So far Cable has kept his powder dry. He’s a former Labour man. But last night he acknowledged that those arguing for a Tory deal were probably right. (There was a wise crack about feeling he was being “set up” to wield the public spending axe.) As a senior figure representing the old-SDP wing, this is a significant development.

Labour need to make a much better offer There was some surprise at both the tenor and the substance of the negotiations with Labour. While Mandelson and Adonis seemed mustard keen on a deal, the others, particularly Balls and Miliband, showed much less enthusiasm. Whether on electoral reform or policy, the first formal meeting suggested they were well short of the Lib Dem policy shopping list. Danny Alexander and David Laws both conveyed this message to the meeting. The MPs demanded to hear if the other two negotiators agreed — and they did. Today’s Labour meeting will be crucial but there is a mountain to climb.

Opinion hardened towards backing a Tory deal There are powerful and senior figures in the party singing the praises of a Lib-Lab deal. It is a faction — including all the former leaders — that can’t quite resist the opportunity to realise Jo Grimond’s dream of a uniting Britain’s progressive forces. But the younger generation are less convinced. All of them would be more comfortable with a Labour deal. But there are worries about legitimacy, about Labour’s ability to deliver, about the good faith of Labour’s Medusa-like leadership. The middle ground is to explore all avenues with Labour. But the mood is with a Tory deal. 

Strange as it seems, one of the easiest concessions the Lib Dems won from the Tories was a guarantee on the length of a parliament.  The reason is that David Cameron is as worried about a snap election as Nick Clegg.

This is a prize the Lib Dems have sought for decades. It puts hung parliaments on a more stable footing by taking away the right of a prime minister to suddenly call an election, just when his junior partner is crashing in the polls. 

The good people of New Zealand are past masters are power sharing. You can see a version of an enhanced “confidence and supply” here, where the junior partner is offered a few ministerial posts, but there are firebreaks on collective responsibility.

In Westminster there’s rightly been a lot of focus on policy. But the terms of co-operation are often as difficult to negotiate. From the NZ examples, it’s possible to sketch out some of the key elements underpinning a deal. (Warning: this is one for the legal scholars.)

1. A clause on “good faith and no surprises” These politicians trust one another. They really do.