We can now confirm this story. Nick Clegg has nominated a manifesto working group and Laws is the proposed chair. Clegg’s nominations will be discussed by the party’s Federal Policy Committee (FPC) tomorrow (Monday) evening.
The other proposed members of the group are the leader himself, the party president (Tim Farron MP), the four officers of the FPC (chair Duncan Hames MP and vice-chairs Duncan Brack, Julian Huppert MP and Julie Smith), Baroness Sal Brinton, Jo Swinson MP (representing Scotland), Jenny Willott MP (representing Wales) and Sharon Bowles MEP. Only two of these nominees (Duncan Brack and Julie Smith) are not parliamentarians.
On the face of it, there appears to be no particular ideological imbalance. The significant thing about the majority of these nominees is not their ideology but their loyalty to Clegg.
The controversy centres on the nomination of Laws as chair. There would have been little or no objection to Laws as one member of a balanced team, but putting him in charge of drafting the manifesto is a highly provocative act – and Clegg knows it. Indeed, several members of the FPC have told Liberator that they see this appointment as a “declaration of war” and Monday evening’s discussion is likely to be a full and frank exchange.
In case anyone wonders why Laws is such a controversial choice, the 2010 expenses scandal is the least of people’s concerns. The problems are Laws’s ideological views on economics (which are well to the right of most of the party) and his general contempt for party policy. And Laws is only too ready to broadcast his contempt:
- The shared responsibility for the laughable slogan ‘Alarm Clock Britain’, revealed in the Daily Telegraph (11 January 2011) – “Alarm Clock Britain: David Laws to lead policy team”.
- The smearing as ‘grumpy’ of any Liberal Democrat not expressing unalloyed joy about the coalition, reported in the Sun (16 September 2011) – “Lib Dem David Laws in ‘grumpy’ warning to party”.
- The astonishing statement “George Osborne is proving to be a very strong chancellor who gets the big decisions right,” in an article in the Guardian (21 February 2012).
- A call for further and permanent spending cuts (via the market fundamentalist think tank IEA), reported on Conservative Home (25 June 2012) – “David Laws battles for classical liberalism in the Lib Dems”.
- A declaration that “All Lib Dems have ‘collective responsibility’ for breaking tuition fee promise,” reported in the Daily Telegraph (20 September 2012).
POSTSCRIPT: An update reporting the decision of the FPC is here.