>Review: "22 Days in May" by David Laws MP


Cover of 22 Days in May

It is always weird starting a book when you know how it ends. It is even weirder knowing the ending is particularly rather sad.

Laws was a key player in the formation of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government, and he gives a detailed (sometimes painfully so,) account of it’s coming into being. The 22 days referred to in the title start at polling day, include the 5 days of negotiations, and finish with Laws’ 16 highly effective days in the cabinet before he resigned over expenses.

The book is formed both from Laws’ memory and highly detailed notes from Allison Suttie, who supported the negotiation team of Chris Huhne, Andrew Stunell, Danny Alexander, and David Laws. While he does go into meticulous detail, often quoting verbatim, Laws writes with a pace and dry wit that makes his account an enjoyable and compelling one. From ribbing Chris Huhnes’ frequent leafing through of the Government Art Collection brochure, to his exhaustion at Paddy Ashdown’s hyperactive determination to stay in the loop, to the political brick wall the team faced in the shape of Eds Balls and Miliband, Gordon Brown, and Harriet Harman, the reader is taken through the draining set of emotions faced by some of the countries leading political figures.

Much has been made of Laws’ clear frustration at the approach of his Labour counterparts. Some think it just covers a right-wing/orange book stitch-up by a group of senior Lib Dems who never much liked Labour anyway. This though is massively disingenuous to the Conservatives, who clearly came to do business, and to Nick Clegg, who deliberately picked a team to cover all Lib Dem bases, had them preparing from February, and who made no pre-election pact with another party.

The book makes it quite clear that Labour were a divided, exhausted, ineffective political force, with no understanding of how to deal with the situation they found themselves in. From contradicting each other in the middle of meetings, to not knowing the roles of key Lib Dems, it is clear Labour’s negotiators were woefully unprepared. Only Lords Adonis and Mandelson emerge with any credit. Cameron and Clegg were not best friends, but they saw each other as equals, as partners, and this was reflect in their negotiating team. By contrast Laws recounts Brown lecturing Clegg in their first ever telephone conversation, and Tony Blair laughing at his refusal to stand down and help move the process of Lib-Lab talks on.

Laws says that once the coalition had been formed the job he wanted was that of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He writes of nervously waiting by the phone for the call from Downing Street, even though he knew his background in the City made him a strong contender for the role. Having been given his dream job he then set about it with clear talent and zeal, negotiating £6bn worth of cuts in a matter of days.

In typical Laws fashion, while his Treasury work is detailed extensively, the chapter ‘A Resignation’ is one of the shortest. It is little more than a replication of his letter of resignation and the Prime Minister’s response. He says at the start of the book that, despite the touching thank you to partner James Lundie, he remains a deeply private man, and so it seems. He does not waste words on self pity and regret. As Danny Alexander slipped seamlessly into the job he had long desired, Laws ruefully comments:

“We all discover some time in life that none of us is indispensable.”

“22 Days in May” though does show that, in fact, David Laws is indispensable to both Nick Clegg and David Cameron. He was a key architect of this coalition as far back as 1994 and the publishing of the ‘Orange Book’. That book changed how people thought about the Liberal Democrat Party.This book is an essential read for anyone with an interest in current affairs and politics.


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