Simon Hughes (the favourite for the Lib Dem deputy leader position) has issued 10 proposals for Lib Dem MPs under coalition (see Lib Dem Voice for details). Most of his points seem to revolve around the Lib Dems have spokespeople outside government for various departments and ensuring they get a fair hearing.
I have been wondering for a little while now how the independent voice of the Lib Dems is going to be maintained but I wonder just how these proposals would work in practise. I am not sure how viable it is to be part of the government and also have spokespeople on subjects outside of government within the same party.
Having said all that, coalition politics is new to me and from what I have read these sort of arrangements have worked for e.g. Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly so perhaps I am wrong and this is just something I need to get my head around.
We certainly do need a way to maintain our party's distinctive voice, I just worry that if we were to follow Hughes' suggestions that the electorate may get very confused about who is speaking for the party with some Lib Dem MPs bound by collective responsibility and others not both speaking "for the party" on the same issue.
One thing that I have considered is whether the strictures of collective responsibility could be further loosened. There are already specific issues on which the Lib Dems are going to be able to argue against the Conservatives and/or abstain on (e.g. AV vote, tuition fees being raised etc.). Maybe if the scope of this was extended further so distinctive Lib Dem positions could be laid out on other issues even if they were sometimes at odds with the government and that Lib Dem ministers were able to be honest about this then that could be a happy medium. Well maybe happy is the wrong word but perhaps an acceptable half-way house? This could actually be hailed as part of the "new politics" where ministers no longer have to pretend they agree with everything that everyone else in the government says and does.
This is just the kernel of an idea though. I am not really settled on what the best way forward for maintaining our distinct voice is and would be interested to hear other views.
What do you think?