When the issue of Shirley Williams' offered advisory role on nuclear proliferation came up, Menzies Campbell issued this statement:
There will be no Liberal Democrats in Brown’s Government. I have no objection to and indeed welcome an initiative which results in Liberal Democrats acting in an independent advisory capacity or participating in an independent commission or investigations which make independent recommendations on policy to the Government. The conditions for taking part which must be satisfied are that participation is not token, there is a proper remit which allows for independent analysis and conclusions, and that there is a reasonable prospect of their advice being accepted and their conclusions being implemented.
I am perfectly happy with that. So, I look forward to confirmation that the roles offered to Lord Lester and Baroness Neuberger comply with those conditions. I am surprised that I can find no statement from the party on those two latter names.
The Norfolk Blogger asks: "Does anyone in their right mind believe that Baroness Neuberger or Lord Lester will hold sway or influence Gordon Brown in their advisory capacity?"
If we assume that the answer to that question is "No", then that means that they or the LibDems cannot be held responsible for Gordon Brown's governmental actions, doesn't it? So that confirms their position as "independent" advisers, doesn't it? Pointless advisers, yes, but also very independent advisers. There is nothing more independent than an adviser who is obviously ignored.
The fields of nuclear proliferation (Williams) and volunteering (Neuberger) are so narrow as to be microscopic in the overall scheme of government.
What I am concerned about is Lord Lester's advisory brief on the constitution. This needs urgent clarification. The Independent says he "is expected to play a leading role in all-party talks on the constitution." If that is the case, I am reasonably comfortable with it, but why isn't there a Conservative adviser in a similar position?
I am very nervous that the LibDems could be blamed for Brown's wilder constitutional reform botch-ups. Even if he makes a good job of constitutional reform, the kudos for the LibDems would be drowned out by the brickbats aimed at us for other Brown mistakes, with which we would also be seen as complicit (even if they have nothing to do with us).
I am concerned that I see no Conservative names on the list of government non-Labour advisers. Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington is a crossbencher. Digby-Jones will take the Labour whip. I look in vain for Conservative advisers to balance off the LibDem ones.
That makes me feel very nervous.
Having said that, the public will be heartily sick if political parties refuse to co-operate where they have experts in specific fields. Williams, Lester and Neuberger are universally acknowledged experts in specific fields. It would be wrong to prevent their advice being given for tribal reasons, but the LibDems and Labour do not have a monopoly on experts. Believe it or not, there are some experts in the Conservative party.