TL;DR: if you're concerned about another Con/LD coalition, you should know the Lib Dem constitution was changed a few years ago to make that harder. Details follow.
There was a conversation over on liv's journal about how the Liberal Democrats make the decision to go into a coalition, and in general lots of people have made comments along the lines of "I can't vote Lib Dem because they'll just go and prop up the Tories again". In May 2010, just after the Tories made a coalition offer, I wrote to my newly-elected Lib Dem MP (Julian Huppert) to say how scared I was about it, including this:
Their offer doesn't seem worth the price of a Conservative government with a working majority, and I'm concerned that if the Lib Dems accepted it we would not only alienate our base but also ruin our chances of electoral success for another generation by associating ourselves with the draconian spending cuts that seem inevitable. I could only even start to support an LD/Con coalition if there were a clear and believable commitment towards PR, in which case there's just a chance that it might be worth the risk. Otherwise, it seems like suicide.
So, er, yeah. But obviously I wasn't the only person in the party thinking this, and the rules were changed in 2012 to make it harder for the parliamentary party to enter a coalition without the consent of the party as a whole. It was really difficult to work out retrospectively what exactly had been changed, because Lib Dem data publication is not quite what it might be, but with a pointer from miss_s_b I was able to dig it out of old conference reports. I'm reposting that here as a top-level journal entry so that I can point people to it without others having to deal with the resulting comments, and so that nobody else has to go through the effort of trying to dig it up.
Here are my sources:
The old rules, dating from 1998, were that "any substantial proposal which could affect the Party’s independence of political action" required:
- A 75% (of the total number eligible to vote, not just of those voting) majority approval by both the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and the Federal Executive; or
- Failing a), a two-thirds majority approval by those present and voting at a Special Federal Conference; or
- Failing a) and b), a simple majority by those voting in a Membership Ballot.
The new rules are that if the Commons Party after negotiation and consultation decides to support a coalition government, then it shall seek the approval of a special conference, and the motion requires a two-thirds majority of those present and voting at conference to pass. (See Article 22 of the current constitution for the details. Side note: Tim Farron moved the conference motion to add this article.)
This is a significant tightening: a two-thirds majority of conference is now absolutely required, whereas previously MPs and Federal Executive could act alone if they had a 75% majority among themselves. Even if Tim Farron is gung-ho to cosy up to the Tories (which I personally don't believe, but let's run with it), to think that another Con/LD coalition is likely under these rules, you have to not only believe that Farron and the rest of the parliamentary party would support it, but also that a supermajority of the most activist subset of Lib Dem party members - the sort who've spent the last couple of years working to claw things back from near-destruction at a national level - would want to do it all again after the last time with a party committed to exactly the opposite of our primary campaign message. Being cynical about politicians who are only out for power or whatever is one thing, but this seems a whole lot less plausible to me.
(Full disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem member and very low-level activist, i.e. I occasionally get sent out to deliver leaflets and such. I have nowhere near enough time or energy to go to conferences or gets involved with party policy. I have plenty to criticise in Lib Dems past and present, but I also want to make sure that my criticisms are accurate.)
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