I’m not sure Nick Clegg knows which way to turn. Labour, who feel they have the government on the rack over whether the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was biased in favour of Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB takeover, have proposed a Commons motion that says Hunt should be investigated for breaches of the ministerial code. The Liberal Democrats’ are set to abstain.
Leaving aside the Hunt soap opera, this begs the question, “Why?” If the Liberals don’t agree with Labour’s motion, they are perfectly at liberty to vote against it. If they do agree that Hunt should be investigated, then they should make a stand and vote in favour.
The politics are complex. The Liberals are part of the government, so a vote in favour of Labour’s motion ostensibly means they would be calling for a probe into one of their own ministers, although that minister is not from their party. On the other hand, the pact with the Conservatives has been a disaster for them in terms of their poll ratings, so there may have been something to be said for showing their independence of thought if they think Hunt may be in breach.
An abstention is a weak resolution that represents neither principled objection nor loyalty. It says, “we have our doubts about Hunt but aren’t quite strong enough to express them”. This is dreadful management strategy – good leaders avoid indecision and fudge.
There’s an old saying that if you sit on the fence, you get splinters in your behind. I fear the Liberal Democrats have ahead of them a long and excruciating night with the tweezers.