Contain your excitement, CoffeeHousers: the Lib Dems are debating whether to change their ‘constitution’ so that their members have a greater say over future coalition negotiations. The amendment has been put forward Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, and proposes that, in the event of coalition talks, the party's ‘negotiating team’ should have to consult with a ‘reference group consisting of not more than nine people appointed equally by…’ blah, blah, blah. In fact, you can just read the whole thing on page 41 of this document. The Lib Dems will be voting on it at their Spring Conference next month.
But while internal Lib Dem governance may not be the sexiest topic in Westminster, this Farron ‘n’ Lamb amendment is actually quite intriguing. On one level it is typically Lib Demmy: they love making a show of involving party members in policy decisions. But it is also quite strategic too, and is no doubt designed to counter some of the problems that the party encountered after the last election. The feeling among many Lib Dems now is that Nick Clegg — for all that he gained in the coalition agreement — too easily surrendered ground on key issues such as tuition fees. The plan with this amendment is no doubt to dilute those sorts of accusations next time around, as well as to bind the party membership, tighter and earlier, into the finished document.
This is also the first proper step to formalise the coalition-making process since 2010. Much of that work will have to be done by the Lib Dems — because the Tories and Labour won't be eager to admit publicly that they're preparing for coalition — but all sides will have to give it some thought. Should the Lib Dems open negotiations with the party with the most seats, even if that's Labour? Or do the Tories have first dibs by default? These and a hundred other questions abound. And, with odds of 6/4 that the next election will yield another coalition, there will likely have to be answers.