Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Triple lock strengthens Nick Clegg's hand in negotiations

Now the negotiations are underway, some focus has now fallen on the Lib Dem's "Triple Lock" mechanism for decision making. I was asked about this on LBC yesterday and did my best to explain how it works from what I know.

My understanding is that there needs to be agreement from 75% of all MPs and also 75% of all members of the Federal Executive. If that cannot be reached then a special conference is convened and 2/3rds of voting reps (who vote) have to agree. Failing that it then goes to a postal ballot of all party members where the threshold is 50%.

David Mellor pressed me on this and suggested it was a complex convoluted mechanism that could take many weeks. I agreed it could take some time but pointed out that I also understand that as long as the leadership thinks it will win the vote then it can go ahead and the decision can be ratified later. I also said that it was a good feeling to be in a party that was so democratic. Ken Livingstone chipped in at this point to mention that the Labour Party used to be democratic like this too. Indeed.

I think that this mechanism actually strengthens Nick Clegg's hand during the negotiations to insist on some sort of decent concession regarding proportional electoral reform and also other important Lib Dem issues. David Cameron, whilst having to take account of the feelings of his MPs and party has no directly accountable mechanism in place. Nick Clegg on the other hand can point out to Cameron that whatever is being discussed not only might be a "difficult sell" to his party but that it could actually be vetoed by them. Therefore he is able to drive a harder bargain precisely because he has the weight of the democratic will of his party directly behind him.

I am a voting rep and I know plenty of others who would be ready to vote against something that was not a proper concession on proportional electoral reform for example. I also think the majority of the membership at large would be on the same side.

Nick Clegg and his negotiating team will be very aware of this. So will David Cameron and his team. For this reason, I think the Triple Lock will ultimately be seen as a very good thing for imposing party democracy on the process.


Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

"...a complex convoluted mechanism that could take many weeks. I agreed it could take some time but pointed out that I also understand that as long as the leadership thinks it will win the vote then it can go ahead and the decision can be ratified later"

- so this means the leadership would be obliged to resign if it lost a subsequent vote then?

- and hence any vote in those circumstances becomes a de facto confidence motion?

Seperately, as for Clegg's negotiating strength, recall he leads a party that lost seats and barely changed its support levels. He also has no alternative coalition, although admittedly does not need one.

Tim Hobbs said...

Indeed. In tough negotiations never send in someone who can make the decision. If the negotiator can only say no and ultimately is just an agent for someone else (in this case the whole party) then the hand is strong. A negotiator with absolute power to agree can quickly be backed into a corner.

This technique is used by car dealers all the time - they always have to "go and persuade their boss" to give you the discount. It's nonsense of course, but it's how the game is played.

patently said...

Good to hear that you feel secure in your negotiating position.

Just remember three things, please:

(1) The purpose of this fandango is to further the interests of the United Kingdom, not any one specific party.

(2) the Lib Dems secured significantly fewer votes than the Conservatives and are therefore the minor party in this.

(3) PR has always been a major plank of the Lib Dem manifestos. It did not secure them a majority of seats or votes. There is therefore no clear mandate for PR, or for any specific form of voting reform.

If the Lib Dems delay or spoil these negotiations because Cameron will not go beyond a general commitment to allowing voting reform to be considered, they will be putting their own narrow interests before those of the country.

Sabrina said...


It's absolute rubbish to say there is no clear mandate for PR based on the fact the Lib Dems didn't get a majority share of the votes. Have you even spoken to a cross-section of the electorate? Many people had no idea what PR and its various forms like STV even were until two days ago. Those not involved in politics who vote purely based on what party they choose to identify with, without proper consideration of anyone's manifesto, simply did not know Lib Dems push for PR.

And this also comes down to the lovely scaremongering from the Tories and Labour that warned people not to vote Lib Dem for various reasons. Causes hung parliament, volcanic eruptions, gives you cancer, etc. If you think the public would be so very against having their vote mean something so much more than it does now - surely you have nothing to fear from promising a referendum?

The Futility Monster said...

I'm a big fan of the democratic nature of our party, but I was actually a little disappointed to learn that if the MPs and the FE get 75% in both then that is the end of the process. I would have preferred a Special Conference in all circumstances.

patently said...


No, it is not rubbish.

I'm happy to agree that there may be support for voting reform. Indeed, I find myself sympathetic to the principle; comparing the 2005 and 2010 votes shows that the current system is clearly unfair.

But it is a logical non-sequitor to conclude that because there is general and widespread agreement that the current system is not appropriate, then one specific system (such as PR) is appropriate. There are a wide range of options, such as adjusting the current FPTP system or other systems short of full PR, none of which have been explored openly and none of which have been tested for support.

That is my point; that the Lib Dems are probably right to insist that some form of reform to our voting system is necessary, but almost certainly wrong to pre-judge the issue and make a specific reform (such as PR) a precondition.

If they do so, then they will have fallen for the politicians' syllogism:

Something must be done.

This is something.

Therefore This must be done.

Meanwhile, in the real world, genuine harm is going to be done to the economy if we do not put in place a government that works to deal with the financial crisis that Brown has left to us. I doubt people will be grateful to the Lib Dems if they place themselves before the rest of us. Nor will they become sympathetic to a system of PR which would inflict this on us at every election.

Sabrina said...

I think the problem is that the Lib Dems are going to get bashed whatever decision they make. And can you blame our party for wanting real commitment to change, not some half-arsed inquiry committee, after Labour's promise from last time? While you may be sympathetic to voting reform, a large and vocal part of the Tories are not and if we enter into some agreement with them without a proper commitment we will lose support. I don't think it's fair that we should be obligated to prop the Tories up without getting concessions on what we feel is really important. Even given the economy troubles, the attitude that we should sacrifice our principles for the good of a country who will then turn on us is a distasteful one. I'm really very disheartened by how many Lib Dem voters say that would never consider voting for the party again if they strike a deal with the Tories.

And I suppose a large part of this comes down to your priorities - quite honestly, I think a long-term fairer electoral system is a more important one than the short-term economic safety net a Con/Lib alliance would provide. And that's partly because I'm not entirely convinced that it's really the only way to secure our economy. This election has made it even more difficult to trust media speculation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read, I hadn't considered that the Lib Dem system would give Nick Clegg a stronger position in negotiation.

I'm no expect in negotiation but my feeling was that Nick not having the power to agree to a deal directly would make him personally weaker, he's just a representative of the decision makers.

I am biased towards the Tories, so I could be wrong on this, but I think Cameron will ignore the 'triple lock' and put the responsibility on Nick to persuade the Lib Dem party to back the deal that they agree to.

The reason I see the pressure is on Nick Clegg is that if the deal is rejected by either Nick or the party you then need to support Gordon Brown in office, and form a coalition that includes the SDLP, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru, which would give you a majority of 2.

Imagine trying to negotiate a deal with all of them, and keep all 327 members of the coalition on side for every vote. Do you want to be part of a Gordon Brown led coalition that has a parliamentary majority of 2?

patently said...

I don't think it's fair that we should be obligated to prop the Tories up without getting concessions on what we feel is really important.

But this isn't about fairness to any specific party. It's about fairness to the country. You could make exactly the same comments from a Tory perspective - why should they give up things they have held to for years, just to gain the support of a minority party? How is that fair?

The fact is, no-one has a clear mandate to rule. Together, the Tories and the Lib Dems do; therefore, the only set of policies that has a mandate is the set which is the common elements of the Tory and Lib Dem policy sets. If that is a workable basis for government, then there is a potential coalition. If not, we have a problem.

Sabrina said...

Sorry, but I think fairness to the country DOES include a referendum on PR. I don't think "there's no clear mandate for PR because Lib Dems don't have a majority" is anywhere near a good enough excuse for saying otherwise. From what I've seen, the majority of the country feels very let down by the electoral system and I cannot see that the burden is not on the Tories to allow a referendum if they're so keen to govern in the "national interest."

And the parallel you draw is not a fair one: the Tories do not have policies where the public would be consulted in a referendum to decide. The Tories will clearly not have to give up things like their stance on the EU. What the Lib Dems want is merely a chance for the public to have their say.

patently said...

You're again confusing a desire for some form of reform to the voting system, with support for one specific reform of the system.