The Liberal Democrats would push to be allocated every ministerial post in three Whitehall departments if they enter into a new Coalition after the next election, under plans being discussed by senior party figures.
The move is designed to give the Lib Dems greater “ownership” of key Government achievements instead of finding themselves filling junior jobs in ministries headed by their Coalition partners.
They could press to run the Business, Transport, Energy and Climate Change departments in the event of a power-sharing deal with either Labour or the Tories, according to a party source.
Taking full charge of those departments would enable the Lib Dems to develop the narrative that they were renewing the national infrastructure by investment in railways and green energy.
One of the “Lib Dem-only” departments would be headed by Nick Clegg, who would continue as Deputy Prime Minister.
In addition, they would retain the posts of Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Cabinet Office minister, as well as running their own whip’s office. The moves would leave the Lib Dems with 20 posts, around the same number that they fill at the moment, but concentrated in a series of departments. That would allow them to drive their agenda through in the hope of gaining credit for their achievements in government.
Decisions in other ministries where they are absent – including the Home Office and the Health and Education departments – would have to go through the Lib Dem minister in the Cabinet Office, currently David Laws.
The source told The Independent the plan was being “kicked around internally” at senior levels of the party.
It would be certain to run into fierce opposition from Labour or the Tories if they were to go into government with Mr Clegg’s party. It would also run the risk of the Lib Dems getting the blame for policies over which they had little control.
Despite gloomy opinion poll ratings, which suggest the Lib Dems have shed about 60 per cent of their support in 2010, the party is preparing for a second hung parliament.
It is optimistic that it can retain between 35 and 40 of the 57 seats it won at the last election because it is well established in many constituencies. That could still give it a large enough bloc of MPs to enable it to wield influence in a Coalition.
The party leadership acknowledges that it was naïve in some aspects of its approach to Coalition negotiations with the Conservatives in 2010 and is determined to learn from the experience.
One lesson some have drawn is that they allowed themselves to become too thinly spread to “man-mark” Tory secretaries of state.
The source said: “Taking control of transport, climate change and business would allow us to make the most of our willingness to spend more on investment. At the moment, one Lib Dem MP can’t possibly be expected to stop everything that we don’t like in their department.”
Mr Clegg yesterday accused the Conservatives of a “right-wing lurch” which had led to tension in the Government.
But he denied that the Coalition had “broken down” following the resignation of Norman Baker as a Home Office minister, accusing Theresa May of treating it as a “Conservative department in a Conservative Government”.
Mr Clegg said the Tories had changed during Coalition, while his party was consistent. “If you think back to what the Conservative Party was saying about itself when we went into coalition – they said they cared about the environment – they clearly don’t; they said they wouldn’t bang on about Europe – it’s all they bang on about these days,” he said.
In Lib Dem sights: Key Departments
Department for Business Innovation and Skills
Currently headed by Lib Dem Vince Cable. It is charged with boosting economic growth and helping companies expand.
Department for Transport
Currently headed by Tory Patrick McLoughlin. It has responsibility for ensuring England’s roads, railways, bus services and waterways operate smoothly. It takes charge of projects such as Crossrail and the planned HS2 scheme.
Department of Energy and Climate Change
Currently headed by Lib Dem Ed Davey. Created six years ago, its main tasks are ensuring the lights don’t go out and keeping bills down.