The best kept secret in the Liberal Democrats

Bizarre is perhaps the best word for it, though a little more polite than some that have passed through my mind in the last few days as, once again, the party has drawn a tight veil of secrecy around the concessions Liberal Democrat peers have been securing in the House of Lords over welfare reform.

It’s not new – there’s now a lengthening track-record of requests for information or answers taking weeks to elicit any meaningful response or resulting in games of pass the parcel as each person points at someone else.

Silence, delay – even evasion – might be understandable if the news was bad. But in fact Liberal Democrat peers have secured numerous changes in the proposed legislation. The legislation is still very different from what a Liberal Democrat government would introduce, but this week’s changes, for example, are significant – as Sue Marsh’s detailed post explains, and she is far from a Liberal Democrat cheerleader.

As Sue Marsh’s own work shows, the credit for securing the changes goes much further than the Liberal Democrat peers. But some of it certainly rests with them as they’ve been at the front line of the Parliamentary talks and negotiations over what Parliament passes.

And yet… the official party position is basically, “we’re not going to say anything about the successes we’ve had”.

That would be odd at the best of times, but it’s positively self-destructive when legislation is going through Parliament and therefore the only yardstick by which people can judge them otherwise is the way they vote.

George Potter’s impassioned post, for example, is understandable, but wrong. Wrong – because he is judging the peers by how they voted and not by what changes to legislation they have secured before and after votes. When you are negotiating to secure concessions and get concessions in return for votes, you should really be judged by that overall trade-off. But it’s hardly fair to criticise George or anyone else for not judging by the overall package – because given this omerta-like news blackout, it’s not exactly easy to extract the necessary information.

As for why there has been this communications calamity, it looks to me to be the combination of several factors – communicating what the Liberal Democrats are getting out of behind the scenes talks in coalition can be tricky at the best of times, but added to that is a perceived ‘house style’ in the Lords that you don’t brag about your achievements and the fact that many (though in fairness, not all) of the Lib Dem peers never communicate with party members. No pieces in Lib Dem News, no posts for Lib Dem Voice, no tweets, not even a letter to Lib Dem News (surely the easiest and quickest communication option of all).

As I said at the start, bizarre is perhaps the best word for it, though a little more polite than some that have passed through my mind in the last few days.

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