What will Cameron and Clegg talk about tonight?

It’s worth revisiting Heath, Thorpe and 1974.

A letter-writer to the Times reminds us of how talks during the hung parliament of March 1974 between the then Tory leader (and incumbent PM), Ted Heath, and the then Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, broke down over Heath's inability to promise electoral reform:

Robert Armstrong, then Heath's private secretary, kept a detailed and highly confidential account of the negotiations between Heath and the Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, which was made public last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

The decisive meeting took place in No 10 on Sunday, March 3, 1974. Armstrong recorded that Thorpe asked for a firm undertaking on electoral reform, which he had raised in previous discussions. Thorpe reminded Heath that he had "drawn attention to the fact that his party had polled nearly six million votes in the election but had won only 14 seats, and asked what were the government's views on the subject of electoral reform. In his telephone conversation earlier in the day Mr Thorpe had adumbrated a proposal under which there would be a Speaker's conference, with the Conservative and Liberal parties committed in advance to what their spokesmen would recommend to it, and pledge to implement the result within six months. The Prime Minister explained to Mr Thorpe that he and his colleagues could not honourably undertake to deliver anything like this."

Thorpe replied that without it "there was no possibility of the Liberal Party agreeing to participating in the government at this stage, though that prospect might change if and when a measure of electoral reform were passed . . . [and] if there were to be any prospect of an arrangement between the two parties [short of coalition], it would be necessary for the Prime Minister and his colleagues to give more indication than the Prime Minister had so far given that they recognised the injustice of the present system and were in favour of changing it to a system of representation which was fairer to the minority groups".

Since no such indication was forthcoming, the discussions collapsed.

You can read the full memo here.

The Speaker's conference idea didn't take off in 1974. Tony Blair kicked the Jenkins commission report into the long grass. So will David Cameron really be able to fob Nick Clegg off with an "all-party inquiry" on electoral reform? I hope not, but in this election, as we've seen, anything can happen.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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