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December 11, 2010

Who owns the party? A question the Lib Dems are now asking themselves

A lot of people are now seeing a showdown developing between the right and left of the Liberal Democrat party. If that happens, it's not inconceivable that the party could split. Certainly, Labour and Conservatives alike will pull on each wing - note Ed Miliband's personal attempt to get Simon Hughes through the Noe lobby in the tuition fees vote. And no wonder Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams and Evan Harris have joined Clegg and Vince Cable in emphasising the need for unity over the past week.

But if there is a split, then the central question is who owns the party - ie do Clegg and the Orange Bookers leave the Lib Dems to join the Conservatives or form a new party? Or do Charles Kennedy and the social liberals leave the Lib Dems to join Labour or form a new party?

It's a question that matters because whoever owns the party starts with some very useful assets - the membership, activists, councillors, loyal voters, history, donors, money, staff etc.

I am therefore intrigued this morning to discover that a debate has been started on Lib Dem Voice over "reforming" the party's power structures. Call me cynical, but at this moment in the party's history, I see in that the possibility of left or right attempting to wrest control of the party unto itself.

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