Coffee House

Nick Clegg is changing the way the government works

1 December 2012

4:58 PM

1 December 2012

4:58 PM

Say what you will about Nick Clegg’s decision to take a different stance from the Prime Minister on Leveson, but the Deputy Prime Minister has this week effected another big change to the way Westminster government works. He has sent party members an email today explaining why he felt it was necessary to make a separate statement to David Cameron in the Commons on Thursday. The Lib Dem leader writes:

As you may have picked up, the Prime Minister and I disagreed; there is not yet an agreed ‘government line’. That’s in part why we had to make separate statements – a major departure from Parliamentary protocol, apparently.

I’m often non-plussed by the arcane rules of the House of Commons, most of which make no sense to ordinary human beings. To me it felt like the most natural thing in the world: two opinions, two statements.

Not everyone felt quite so comfortable with this, though. Peter Bone, ever the DPM’s adversary, tried to adjourn the House once Cameron had finished taking questions on his statement. I suspect Bone might, if he had to, try to adjourn a wedding to stop Clegg giving a best man’s speech, but on this occasion, his attempt failed. Others asked the Lib Dem leader about the implications for collective responsibility of having two separate statements from government ministers. But Clegg explained:

‘In a coalition government here can be no collective position that is not agreed collectively by all parts of that government. I know people in Westminster get terribly hot under the collar about some of these doctrines, but people out there in the country find it perfectly normal that in a government with two parties, there are issues on which those parties, because they are two parties, might not have the same view. We have to be relaxed and grown up about explaining that to the House and to the public, and then, as has been set out, seek to resolve those issues in the national interest.’

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Although some Coffee Housers might, like Peter Bone, wish Clegg didn’t have the opportunity to make his own statement on issues like this, the Deputy Prime Minister does have a point. There isn’t yet an agreed government position, and from the Lib Dems’ point of view, the worst thing Clegg could do would be to sit on the front bench with a frozen face listening to the Prime Minister giving a statement that he is reported to disagree with. In a way, this sort of dual statement-making in response to a report rather than as part of the announcement of official government policy, is a sign of a more mature coalition, where the parties are honest about their differences.

But there is another aspect of government that Clegg is changing where it is much more difficult to argue that the Lib Dems are behaving with maturity. The party’s ongoing insistence that even its ministers will vote against their government’s agreed policy on the boundary changes as revenge for the failure of Lords reform is a unique constitutional event. The coalition is divided, not just over the policy, but over the effects of the rebellion. Senior Tories believe it will be a ‘nightmare’ for their ministers to sit down in departments the day after the boundaries vote with their Lib Dem counterparts and expect life to continue as it did before. They worry – and indeed some senior Lib Dems tell me that they hope this to be the case – that once the Rubicon of ministers voting against their own government without being sacked has been crossed, the Lib Dems will believe they can make dire threats about rebellions more often. Lib Dem ministers themselves are rather eerily relaxed about the prospect, shrugging their shoulders, and arguing that this is a one-off event, and that the Tories can defeat a policy from the backbenches only, while Lib Dems need their ministers if they are to win a vote.

It’s worth noting that senior Conservatives still hold doubts that this particular Rubicon will be crossed, though. One minister tells me he hopes for a ‘Black Swan moment’: an event that the party can’t yet foresee, but which will mean the Lib Dems end up voting for the changes. That’s not a view supported by the Libs, though, and if a black swan doesn’t swim into view before the vote takes place, Nick Clegg will change the way government works, but not, as he did this week, in a positive way.

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Show comments
  • barbie

    What ever this man as to say I’ve no interest at all. His last general election pledges made in good faith, but dumped fast when he realised he had a chance to be in government and everything changed over night. How can you have faith or trust in any party or man who changes when he gets power. They keep saying they’ve done this and they’ve done that, really they’ve done zero. What they have done is what the Conservatives allow them to do, or can live with. Fact. The Coalition is a disaster for both parties, it just does not work fully well. We can see some progress as been made in some areas, but overall, the country can see where it’s failed and continues to fail. Clegg is in love with Europe, Cameron is half in love, Miliband loves himself and the Labour party, and we are expected to accept whatever he thinks or says. In all none are any good really. None really accept that the electorate should be listened to and given what they demand, they believe MPs do that for them. I don’t agree. I want a referendum nothing less will do, and well before the next election so the choice is made by us, so the new government knows how to proceed. Getting what I want is going to be difficult, but getting what they want is going to be the same come voting time.

  • D B

    I’m starting to hate this Coalition.

  • Ninfan

    “‘In a coalition government here can be no collective position that is not agreed collectively by all parts of that government. ”

    No, sorry – I thoroughly disagree with Clegg’s point – Its a constitutional principle that decisions are made collectively in cabinet meetings with the final decision by the Prime Minister – and once the decision is made all members of that government back it or resign – this is clearly set out in the constitutional examples in the cabinet manual, agreed by both parties: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/cabinet-manual.pdf

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Surely the title is wrong? Surely it should be

    Nick Clegg is making sure government doesn’t work

  • HooksLaw

    if you want to know why no government works and why nothing gets done and why Britain endlessly descends into a backwater?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/9716511/Major-legal-battle-to-stop-HS2-set-to-commence.html

    Perhaps we should send all the people who do not like HS2 to live in Ironbridge Gorge museum, they would be happy there living in the past.
    They might ponder where we would be if we had stopped the industrial revolution and all the energetic Victorian engineers.

    • MirthaTidville

      you dont have to live in the past to hate the H2B………

  • Malfleur

    Quel branleur!

  • Malfleur

    Quel branleur!

  • abbop

    Not all of us have seen Black Swan darling.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Clegg has ensured that the British people will dread the thought of Coalition Government for generations to come. He and the Libdems are a disgrace and if one of them is re-elected in 2015 that will be one too many!

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Westminster BubbleBath

  • Swiss Bob

    Posting here all day while England were giving the All Blacks a spanking, shame on you.

  • swatantra

    You can say that again! Clegg is a true European and his greatest contribution is to introduce coalition politics into the arena and show that coalitions can actually work, if you set your mind to it . This coalition cobbled together out of necessity will probably set the template for future coalitions in years to come when Labour becomes the largest Party in 2015.

    • treborc1

      What a thought Miliband and Ball with Clegg Jesus it’s a nightmare.

    • MirthaTidville

      Clegg is a true European……and therein lies the problem with the slimy little toad. Lets hope we never have these bozos near a government ever again…

    • Colonel Mustard

      Well, we’ve got stupid Labour trolls so I suppose it only fair we should have a stupid Lib Dem troll too.

      • swatantra

        Who are you calling a … Lib Dem?

  • Colonel Mustard

    “I’m often non-plussed by the arcane rules of the House of Commons, most of which make no sense to ordinary human beings. To me it felt like the most natural thing in the world: two opinions, two statements.”

    Yes, I think we understand what this person thinks of our parliamentary tradition when it runs contrary to his arrogant egotism, just as we understand what he thinks of those English people who choose to disagree with his European political views. I’m often non-plussed by the arcane rules and labyrinthine regulations of Brussels, few of which make sense to ordinary Englishmen. To me it feels like the most natural thing in the world: one country, one sovereignty.

    • 2trueblue

      Beatifully l put. The man has an ego where his brain should be.

  • nicknuts

    WE DON’T CARE WHAT THIS LITTLE WEASEL SAYS OR DOES. GET IT? The Liberals are a waste of space, oxygen and everything. We can quite happily live without them. Come on UKIP.

    • Austin Barry

      Why doesn’t Cameron just sack his Deputy Prime Minister?

      This sanctimonious drip is the leader of a zombie party that is already dead. Like gangrene he needs to be excised and let the consequences take care of themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

    .
    I must first declare an interest before I comment further

    (1) – I have never worked for or accepted financial reward from any foreign institution that is seeking to damage Britain’s national interest.

    (2) – I do not expect to receive and neither would I accept any salary or pension from such an institution at any future date.

    (3) – My primary loyalty is to my country at all times. And I would never do anything that would weaken Britain’s Sovereignty or damage her ability to remain prosperous and secure.

    Now, what was I going to say?
    .

    • Heartless etc.,

      IFF the Limpid Dim really IS changing ‘Government’, – it is an indictment on the Conservative Party, the H2B, those who voted him in, and the general ignorance and hopeless foresight of the ‘Conservative’ Party, who, indeed, deserve to perish – and miserably.

    • Malfleur

      No place for you in the Coalition then, mate!

    • Malfleur

      No place for you in the Coalition then, mate!

    • telemachus

      Are you Ed Balls?

      • telemachus

        In which case you should repeat here on the autumn statement
        If you cannot change the medicine
        Change the prescription
        *
        The best interests of the country would of course be served by the latter

    • telemachus

      Are you Ed Balls?

      • telemachus

        In which case you should repeat here on the autumn statement
        If you cannot change the medicine
        Change the prescription
        *
        The best interests of the country would of course be served by the latter

    • David Ossitt

      Hello Phil, perhaps you were going to say that Nick Clegg is an unprincipled twat but then again you might have been intending to tell us that he is dishonourable slime-ball.

      • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

        LOL :-)

        • 2trueblue

          Are you sure you are using the term correctly?

          • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

            LOL x

    • David Ossitt

      Hello Phil, perhaps you were going to say that Nick Clegg is an unprincipled twat but then again you might have been intending to tell us that he is dishonourable slime-ball.

  • Mike Fowler

    Government! What Governement???. Cameron is a one man band that is well and truly out of fashion. If Clegg had a backbone he would let the country decide, but then maybe he cant afford to loose his deposit. As pantomime’s go its early and its a total flop

  • In2minds

    Nick Clegg is changing the way the government works” – But the public have yet to spot this! The results from Rotherham show that the public ignore him but still those inside the bubble carry on as before.

    • Dimoto

      With each showy “differentiation”, a few more of the chump’s electorate peel away. You have to laugh.

  • http://twitter.com/John_J_C_Moss John Moss

    I think the Conservatives need to learn that, as a party, they can say things which are not Government policy.

  • Archimedes

    “Nick Clegg will change the way government works, but not, as he did this week, in a positive way”

    He didn’t change it in a positive way, because it set a precedent where the LibDems now believe they have an individual voice in the Commons. The LibDems always felt that they could disagree outside the Commons – it’s not a positive change that they now feel that they can disagree inside the Commons. The arcane rules of our institutions are there to make sure that there is no slippage when it comes to the important things.

    And tell me, did Labour refuse to try and exploit his little play on principle? No, they didn’t – they went gung-ho trying to cause a division. Would they have succeeded on another policy? Perhaps.

    • IsabelHardman

      Archimedes – I think in these specific circumstances where a line had not been agreed, it was right for there to be two separate statements. Where it would be damaging would be if Clegg and Cameron started making separate statements in the Commons about their own stances on ongoing policy rather than maintaining collective responsibility. For instance, there would be a great temptation for there to be separate statements on energy policy, given the spat between Davey and Hayes. That would not be positive at all, and my worry is that the second example I’ve given, of Lib Dem ministers rebelling but not being sacked, could make this situation more likely.

      • Archimedes

        You said that this was a change in the way government works, and that implies that it will be used again if it’s felt that it is needed. I’m quite sure that if this kind of thing becomes frequent, then it will be used as a justification for further divisions between coalition governments. There really isn’t any logical argument, capable of holding, that declares that it’s perfectly natural for two separate parties of government to have a difference of opinion in the Commons on a policy not yet implemented, but can’t disagree on a policy being implemented – surely, then, collective responsibility is just an arcane rule that normal people wouldn’t get?

        • salieri

          Quite so. It’s an existential problem, isn’t it? “In a coalition government there can be no collective position that is not agreed collectively by all parts of that government.” This may be logically true but it’s circular and ultimately meaningless: a blunter way of putting it would be that we have a coalition government but we don’t (and won’t) have collective governance, unless the DimLumps in their infinite wisdom deign to agree. Rather like the concept of Schrödinger’s cat, the coalition is simultaneously alive and dead. One might even say that it’s collective irresponsibility.

      • Andy

        So why shouldn’t there be a separate statement on Energy Policy ? The LibDems can’t have everything their own way, which is what appears to be happening at the moment.

  • David Lindsay

    The Government works?

    • telemachus

      The Government does not and never will work

      Tories and Liberal Democrats formed the coalition for two reasons. First, they
      agreed that the British economy needed to be rescued through a massive
      programme of public spending cuts. Second, each party believed its own
      interests could be advanced through the coalition.

      Its not looking good on either front. To start with the second, Clegg hoped
      that the Lib Dems could run for re-election in 2015 on the platform of solid
      achievement in the area of constitutional reforms.

      He was scuppered by the Tories’ lack of scruples and utter ruthlessness. .

      Cleggy then pressed the nuclear button instrucing Lib
      Dem MPs not to vote for the boundary changes

      The Tories are clearly desperate to implement the boundary
      changes, which will significantly increase the number of seats they are likely
      to win in the House of Commons.

      The only thing that either Tories or LibDems have now is the core objective of getting the deficit under control, getting the economy back on track.”

      Meanwhile we are confronted with an increasingly fractured and fractious government,rudderless in stormy economic seas.
      The coalition is there for the taking, if the forces of resistance can get their act together.

      • Robert Castlereagh

        For once dear Telemachus you have a point.
        Just what are the LibDems for.
        Is Clegg there for any other reason than his telegenic appearances at the 3 pre-election debates
        The electorate has now grown up

        • telemachus

          But have they grown up enough?
          I guess we will have to wait till 2015

        • treborc1

          Perhaps they are training to work with Labour after the next election. See they do have a reason for being…..

          • telemachus

            Perhaps sadly they will exist only as a Grimond rump after the election

            • MirthaTidville

              Nothing sad about that prospect old son!!

        • jsfl

          Just what are the LibDems for.

          Every palace needs its palace fool and Westminster has the Libdems. That said they are nowhere near as amusing now Lembit has gone…..

      • John Jefferson Burns

        Why should it not work.
        Governments throughout the rest of Europe work on coalitions.
        Your European parliament, arguably more important than Westminster, has to work on coalitions.

        • wanderer

          Ouch. Please don’t mix up democratic government structures with undemocratic regimes like Brussels.

      • nicknuts

        Pointless talking about the Tories.
        These people are not Tories.
        The Conservatives seem to have disappeared.

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