Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Does the coalition need to be more flexible?

The David Laws' resignation at the weekend put the coalition government in a bit of a pickle. They had to very quickly replace Laws as Chief Secretary to The Treasury not least in order to make sure that the markets were not spooked, although to be fair ministers are always appointed very rapidly.

However this government was even further constrained than recent governments because the replacement had to be another Lib Dem. In the event, Danny Alexander was promoted from being Secretary of State for Scotland to Chief Secretary. This then left a gap in his former role which also had to be filled by a Lib Dem and was by Michael Moore.

The thing is, I am wondering if this is the best way to go about things. It appears that the roles currently filled by Lib Dems have to be filled by Lib Dems if a minister resigns. That way the Lib Dems retain 5 cabinet ministers. Now I don't know if Danny Alexander is the best person from the government ranks to fulfil the role of Chief Secretary. Maybe he is, but that does not appear to have been the primary consideration but instead his party.

Perhaps at subsequent reshuffles both parties can try and be a bit more flexible. Maybe the Lib Dems don't always need to have 5 cabinet ministers. Maybe it could be 4 or 6 for example depending on who had performed well. I also think that the specific roles should be flexible too (this may be the case anyway, I am not clear on the terms of this) and that the current cabinet roles should not be locked to Lib Dems in perpetuity (and hence all the other roles locked out). I can certainly imagine that a junior Lib Dem minister performs very well over the next couple of years and merits promotion to become the cabinet minister for that department. That should be able to happen. Equally the boot may be on the other foot and a Conservative may shine in a junior role. I also do not want them locked out of the cabinet by inflexibility in the rules.

This may also mean that the great offices of state (Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary) need to be potentially opened up to Lib Dems too.

I expect some from both sides will baulk at these suggestions but if we are truly to have a "new politics" as we keep hearing then we cannot have the evolution of the government constrained by inflexible and dogmatic rules.

We have been mature enough to form a government consisting of two parties. I hope we can be mature enough to allow its future composition to be decided in a mature way too.


Kalvis Jansons said...

You are completely correct. This will lead to a suboptimal

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

My understanding is that Cameron could have installed a Tory Chief Sec if he wanted to, and simply reshuffled the rest of the Cabinet to ensure the Lib Dems continued to have five posts overall. That he chose not to do so had more to do with a desire to make the hatchet man a Lib Dem than anything else.

The real lesson to learn, in my view, is to what extent the Tories are using Lib Dems in the cabinet as human shields. This needn't be a deal breaker, but it does mean that Clegg and others can get away with being somewhat more forthright than they have been thus far. Chris Huhne's intervention in the Guardian today regarding nuclear power is the sort of thing I want to see more of over the next few weeks. It isn't as if Tory cabinet members are being as backward in going forward.

Dingdongalistic said...

I think that there's maturity, but there's also tact -- there are bound to be suspicions between the two parties, and it would be very easy for the senior party to gradually shift the Lib Dems into positions of lesser importance -- even if they are cabinet positions. So it's all in all less of a headache for Cameron to retain the agreed positions in the original negotiations.

Of course, James' explanation probably has more than a ring of truth to it.