The other Lib Dem-Tory talks

Facebook friends and enemies.

Until last Friday, my Facebook newsfeed had been pretty tedious. I've been a Liberal Democrat for 20 years, and most of my Facebook "friends" are in the party. They spent the election using the social networking site to vie for supremacy in pavement politics: one would update his status to "has knocked on 10,000 doors in this election", to be bettered minutes later by someone who had "knocked on 20,000".

But as coalition talks continue, the newsfeed has become a lot more interesting.

As proportional representation slips down the list of priorities put forward by Nick Clegg (behind economic stability), there is a sense of real unease among many members. "Stick to the bottom line -- implemented & genuine PR, not just some claptrap commission . . . Lib/Lab/Others is over 50 per cent of the popular vote -- not exactly shabby," goes a typical post.

"We must insist the new parliament introduces a fair voting system and a new election under new rules within a year," is the rallying call by another, pushing a demonstration at Reading Civic Centre.

These posts get plenty of "Likes". And listening in on the social network exchanges, Clegg clearly has a problem here. In an election where "Labour with 8.0m votes; LibDem with 6.3m; Labour get nearly FIVE TIMES the seats", the sense of unfairness is raw. Oddly, Clegg would have had a freer hand here if 80 Lib Dem MPs had been returned.

Scores of "Friends" are now members of competing Facebook pages backing electoral reform. "We want the Liberal Democrats to insist on Proportional Representation", has approaching 2,000 members. "Every vote counts" is also popular, as is "We want proportional representation".

As they rally to these, Lib Dems who are still hurting from the result, still looking at options they know will split either the party or its support base, are the target of Tory "friends". A thread starts in good humour, maybe with an expression of sympathy, or musing about what happens now, but soon the mood changes.

The comment thread from an MP who lost lost last Thursday is typical. One "friend" posted "Sorry for the loss of the vote", and followed up with a plea to be careful about a tie-up with the Tories. It quickly got ill-tempered, with one "friend" saying it would be "unfair and undemocratic" for Clegg to "prop up the losers"; and we're quickly back into a debate about whether Thatcher "f*cked us over good and proper".

"It's going to happen Ed. Accept political reality," hectors one of my oldest friends. "Recognise that constructive engagement on a pragmatic centre-right basis is what you've ended up with, rather than hankering after Labour and a referendum on PR that will likely be rejected by that public. Your party won't be forgiven at the polls in six months." This followed a link I'd shared to a long, moderately worded article by the academic and former staffer Richard Grayson that urged a Lib-Lab tie-up.

That kind of finger-wagging is common, and Tory friends have been most active on Lib Dems' Walls. "If they turn down a deal with the Tories and go for a Lib/Lab pact, they run the gauntlet and deserve everything they get," writes another in response to a post by former staffer: "I voted Lib Dem for a number of reasons. One of which was to keep the Tories out."

What does all this show about how a coalition decision would play out in the Lib Dems? The Facebook chatter shows that by letting PR slip further down the list of priorities, Clegg will be putting himself in hot water with the membership.

The postings from Tories also tell us a great deal. Cameron and his team have been appropriate, measured and sensible -- but beyond those Cabinet Office negotiations the Tories aren't playing so nicely.

And do we detect in the shrill tone from Tory supporters a hint that, if this deal falls through, their anger will have to turn inward?

Eduardo Reyes was vice-chair of the Student Liberal Democrats. He worked for the Liberal Democrats from 1995-98, and has been a party election agent and council candidate.

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Theresa May could live to regret not putting Article 50 to a vote sooner

Today's Morning Call.

Theresa May will reveal her plan to Parliament, Downing Street has confirmed. They will seek to amend Labour's motion on Article 50 adding a note of support for the principle of triggering Article 50 by March 2017, in a bid to flush out the diehard Remainers.

Has the PM retreated under heavy fire or pulled off a clever gambit to take the wind out of Labour's sails while keeping her Brexit deal close to her chest? 

Well, as ever, you pays your money and you makes your choice. "May forced to reveal Brexit plan to head off Tory revolt" is the Guardian's splash. "PM caves in on plans for Brexit" is the i's take. "May goes into battle for Brexit" is the Telegraph's, while Ukip's Pravda aka the Express goes for "MPs to vote on EU exit today".

Who's right? Well, it's a bit of both. That the government has only conceded to reveal "a plan" might mean further banalities on a par with the PM's one-liner yesterday that she was seeking a "red white and blue Brexit" ie a special British deal. And they've been aided by a rare error by Labour's new star signing Keir Starmer. Hindsight is 20:20, but if he'd demanded a full-blown white paper the government would be in a trickier spot now. 

But make no mistake: the PM didn't want to be here. It's worth noting that if she had submitted Article 50 to a parliamentary vote at the start of the parliamentary year, when Labour's frontbench was still cobbled together from scotch-tape and Paul Flynn and the only opposition MP seemed to be Nicky Morgan, she'd have passed it by now - or, better still for the Tory party, she'd be in possession of a perfect excuse to reestablish the Conservative majority in the House of Lords. May's caution made her PM while her more reckless colleagues detonated - but she may have cause to regret her caution over the coming months and years.

PANNICK! AT THE SUPREME COURT

David Pannick, Gina Miller's barrister, has told the Supreme Court that it would be "quite extraordinary" if the government's case were upheld, as it would mean ministers could use prerogative powers to reduce a swathe of rights without parliamentary appeal. The case hinges on the question of whether or not triggering Article 50 represents a loss of rights, something only the legislature can do.  Jane Croft has the details in the FT 

SOMETHING OF A GAMBLE

Ministers are contemplating doing a deal with Nicola Sturgeon that would allow her to hold a second independence referendum, but only after Brexit is completed, Lindsay McIntosh reports in the Times. The right to hold a referendum is a reserved power. 

A BURKISH MOVE

Angela Merkel told a cheering crowd at the CDU conference that, where possible, the full-face veil should be banned in Germany. Although the remarks are being widely reported in the British press as a "U-Turn", Merkel has previously said the face veil is incompatible with integration and has called from them to be banned "where possible". In a boost for the Chancellor, Merkel was re-elected as party chairman with 89.5 per cent of the vote. Stefan Wagstyl has the story in the FT.

SOMEWHERE A CLOCK IS TICKING

Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has reminded the United Kingdom that they will have just 15 to 18 months to negotiate the terms of exit when Article 50 is triggered, as the remaining time will be needed for the deal to secure legislative appeal.

LEN'S LAST STAND?

Len McCluskey has quit as general secretary of Unite in order to run for a third term, triggering a power struggle with big consequences for the Labour party. Though he starts as the frontrunner, he is more vulnerable now than he was in 2013. I write on his chances and possible opposition here.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Emad asks if One Night Stand provides the most compelling account of sex and relationships in video games yet.

MUST READS

Theresa May is becoming adept at avoiding defeats says George

Liv Constable-Maxwell on what the Supreme Court protesters want

Theresa May risks becoming an accidental Europe wrecker, says Rafael Behr

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.