>From the ridiculous to the sublime…Laws and Wilson on those days in May

>Last night an audience were treated to a fascinating insight into those days in May in which the current coalition agreement was formed. David Laws MP, author of’ 22 Days in May’ and Rob Wilson MP, author of ‘5 Days to Power’ described, in sometimes excruciating detail, the goings on between the 3 teams of senior figures in the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and their attempts to woo the Liberal Democrats.

The first thing that struck VN as interesting is that Laws admitted that the negotiation led by Danny Alexander, and including Andrew Stunell, Chris Huhne, and Laws himself, had been put together as far back as Januaray/February. The team had meetings  before the election discussing negotiation bottom lines. Laws refuted the idea that Vince Cable had been sidelined, saying no economic policy was agreed without consulting with him, and indeed it was Cable that was briefed by Mervyn King.

Both Wilson and Laws commented on how upfront the Conservatives were after David Cameron’s now famous ‘big, bold offer’ speech. The speech originally contained multiple references to coalition originally, but was changed, and was still coming of the printer as Cameron went to the venue. Their team of Hague, Osborne, Oliver Letwin, and Ed Llewellyn appeared fully prepared, with a clear document outlining. In fact they were so prepared that Wilson claims Letwin knew Lib Dem policy “better than the Lib Dems did!”

Rather in contrast to what the Liberal Democrat team found when the finally met their Labour counterparts. Ed Balls was apparently phoned and told on the Saturday to come London as soon as possible. He of course hurtled down the motorway in time for the 3pm meeting. He bought a cup of tea, met Peter Mandelson to discuss what was going on. And there ended the Labour preparation. Balls was clearly an obstacle throughout, disagreeing with proposals his colleagues put forward.

Labour also became increasingly determined to have meetings between portfolio holders. In one meeting Deputy Leader Harriet Harman kept insisting that Home Secretary Alan Johsnson must meet the Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman. Chris Huhne was sitting opposite her at the time.

In terms of proposals, it was quite clear that the Conservatives put forward a proper offer straight away and, as Wilson described it, Gordon Brown ‘waited for his nuclear option’. This turned out to be an offer for Clegg which included him having full control of European policy, a referendum on proportional representation, and an astounding 50% of cabinet positions. But as we all know, there was no electoral mandate for this. The numbers did not stack up, and too many deals with smaller parties would have had to be struck.

Laws commented on the camaraderie that was stuck up both by the Con-Lib negotiators and their respective leaders was important. Brown had been ‘phoning everyone under the sun’ to try and get hold of Nick Clegg, and then lectured him until Clegg stopped him. There was also the infamous meeting, which Clegg says he know regrets, in which he and Alexander were so blunt that Brown’s position was untenable that Alexander recalls Brown ‘looking like i’d just shot his dog’.

There was one final attempt at Lib-Lab when Brown’s resignation was announced on Monday evening, but Laws says:  “After years of waiting for great Lib Lab pact, it flopped within 2hrs.” The numbers didn’t work. The personalities didn’t work. It was never going to happen.So came a mad scramble, after some final meetings on Tuesday, to stitch together the vast range of policy that hadn’t been decided, and the coalition was formed.

When you see David Laws in person it become even more apparent what a loss to the government and the country his resignation was. Hopefully he will be back soon. Last night though was a fascinating insight into big politics in action.


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