Tuesday 8 January 2013

Laws scrapes home

The Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee (FPC) last night voted by 14 to 8 to accept Nick Clegg’s nomination of David Laws to chair the working group that will draft the next general election manifesto. (See this blog’s previous reports here and here).

This decision was not a ringing endorsement. Clegg and Laws won the vote but lost the argument, with some of the 14 who voted for Laws nevertheless openly critical of his nomination. They reluctantly accepted Laws only after it was made clear that the working group would remain subordinate to the FPC.

This is not a good start to the manifesto drafting process. Laws does not have the full confidence of the FPC and, given his habit of making provocative statements, the working relationship is likely to deteriorate.

There is also a more fundamental problem. Leadership is about keeping the party together, not fracturing it still further. When you consider Clegg’s nomination of Laws together with his refusal to budge over the issue of secret courts, it seems that our leader thinks he has nothing to lose by arrogantly driving through his own agenda.

This hubris will be Clegg’s undoing. In British politics, leaders are never bigger than their party – as even Margaret Thatcher found to her cost.

POSTSCRIPT: A post on Liberal Democrat Voice disputes this version of events:
A motion from Gareth Epps saying the Manifesto Working Group shouldn’t be approved until a full process and remit was agreed was defeated 14-8. However, David’s position as chair was unanimously approved, 22-0.
We have checked with our sources. What Gareth Epps’s motion actually proposed was to decline to endorse all of the nominations for the working group, not just David Laws. It called for a hearing session with the chair of the working group to ensure that he accepted the primacy of mainstream thinking in the party. It also called for terms of engagement, and most of the debate at the FPC meeting was about that. This motion was rejected by 14 votes to 8. Separately, there was also a vote to add Lord John Shipley to the working group. There was no unanimous 22-0 vote to approve Laws’s position as chair.

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