Electoral reform is a “deal-breaker” for 80 per cent of Lib Dems

Poll shows party members are in favour of discussions with the Tories -- but reform remains paramoun

With talks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives well into their third day, Nick Clegg has told the BBC that he has "almost, almost" made a decision.

If a pact is reached, each party leader will have to present it to his backbenchers and gain the support of his party.

It is widely accepted that the Lib Dems have more in common with Labour. Indeed, for those who voted Lib Dem after becoming disillusioned with Labour, the idea of the party working with the Conservatives is anathema.

But, Nick Clegg will be heartened to see, a poll of about 350 party members for Liberal Democrat Voice implies that the majority of members are not in principle opposed to the idea of the two parties working together.

The poll showed that 89 per cent support Clegg's decision to let the party with the most votes and most seats try to form a government, while 90 per cent support his decision to enter into discussions with the Conservative Party on that basis.

While this is positive for the Lib Dem top command, the key result of the poll is that 80 per cent say that significant progress on electoral reform is a deal-breaker.

Proportional representation has long been a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy, but it is entirely possible that this is wavering. Before the election, senior Lib Dems reportedly indicated to top Tories that the issue might not, in fact, be a deal-breaker, while Clegg said that he would be entering into discussions with "no "preconditions".

The Lib Dem negotiating team rejected the Conservatives' initial offer of a commission to look into electoral reform and, at the weekend, Clegg told protesters that "reforming politics is one of the reasons I went into politics". However, it remains to be seen how far he will pursue this goal, and whether it will be sufficient "progress" to keep party members on board.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.