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What do those five days tell us about the Coalition?


8:50 am - July 30th 2010

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contribution by Phil BC

Nick Robinson’s Five Days That Changed Britain yesterday evening was not the revelation-fest BBC trailers led us to believe.

I was almost knocked out my chair to discover Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown “didn’t get on”. My jaw hit the floor when it was revealed David Cameron thought Clegg was someone he could do business with. Okay, I’m being a bit facetious. But I did come away with the impression the real story of the post-election negotiations between Labour, the Tories and LibDems is yet to be told.

For the LibDems, ultimately a deal with Labour couldn’t be done because of Gordon: the real reason, it turned out, had more to do with Clegg’s volte-face over spending cuts. The official ConDem narrative claims the LibDems changed their minds once they saw the books.

In fact, as Clegg says in his interview, he had changed his mind because of the Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis. Curiously, he couldn’t bring himself to mention this while the campaigning was in full swing, making his attacks on the Tories particularly hypocritical.

What did come as a genuine surprise was how little prepared the Labour leadership were. In his interview, Peter Mandelson said Cameron’s public offer to the LibDems was met with genuine bemusement and scepticism by Brown and the rest of his team (the Dark Lord had already divined a coalition between the two was more than possible, of course). If this is true, if they did expect the LibDems to spur the Tories’ advances, why weren’t the leadership already preparing for serious negotiations?

Asking Ed Balls and Mandelson about their first meeting with the LibDems, their admission that there was no briefing document or even a discussion beforehand damns Brown’s team as criminally complacent.

At the second formal meeting between the two parties, the LibDems dropped Clegg’s cuts bombshell, a position all wings of Labour would have found unacceptable. In truth, while the voters on May 6th didn’t know it (nor, for that matter, the vast majority of LibDems), the yellow party’s policies were already in alignment with the Tories.

A rather softer portrait of the Tories emerges from the documentary. Apparently Cameron had originally decided to go for a minority government if the Conservatives had won over 300 seats but were short of a majority. But then, we’re told he woke up on the Friday morning thinking “a coalition [with the LibDems] seemed the right thing to do.”

In other words, the coalition began life as a whim. This explanation of its origins were reinforced by William Hague’s contribution – he said apart from some idle musing before the election, no one thought about forming a coalition. I know the Tories are not-so-affectionately known as the Stupid Party, but surely there was some hard political calculation going on.

Returning to the LibDems, Clegg, David Lyons, et al. all emphasised how accommodating they found the Conservatives. Reporting on conversations with his party’s negotiators, Paddy Ashdown said they were amazed at the speed Tories were conceding key points on their brief. He paraphrased their positions as “Would you like this? We’ve been trying to get rid of this for some time.” More evidence Cameron calculated a tie-up with the LibDems would marginalise the moonbats on the hard Tory right.

One thing Ashdown said stands out. On the hung parliament result, he said “The electorate had invented an excruciating instrument of torture for the LibDems.” Going by the policies they are now promoting, you could say they’re returning the favour.

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More evidence Cameron calculated a tie-up with the LibDems would marginalise the moonbats on the hard Tory right.

A moonbat is by definition left-wing. The Tory equivalent is a wingnut.

Sure, the programme was short on earthshattering revelation, but it takes so long to make a telly doc that by the time of TX all the facts are in the blogosphere and sometimes even in the papers.

I know there’s something fishy about Clegg’s account of his Damascene conversion to a cuts now policy, but looking back I do remember the complete sense of panic and imminent collapse the media’s coverage of the Greece/Eurozone crisis portrayed. It was like modern civilization was on the brink. Now whose interests did all that serve?

What I found fascinating about the prog last night was how Cameron and the Tories had spent months before the election thinking out the terms of a Lib Dem/Tory coalition.

Had anyone in Nu Lab even thought of a coalition before the election – even though it was blindingly obvious it was going to have to happen – let alone started to think and map it out, develop it?

Unbelievably, incredibly incompetent. These people are meant to be politicians, not some sort of Ceasar-esque Gods.

And Balls and the Millibands are really going to lead us to electoral success?

3. Alisdair Cameron

The superciliousness and hauteur of the senior ranks of Labour, the rank incompetence of not having planned for a variety of outcomes and scenarios, and the damning inability to adapt and react adequately when events don’t turn out according to their dogmatic,rigid worldview don’t bode terribly well for the party, do they? I mean seriously, we got paeans to the great brains, the strategic vision etc of them for years and years but this exposed senior figures as shambolic, inept and none-too-sharp.
(Mandy of course presented himself after the factas the only Lab figure to see this coming.Self-serving bullshitter)
It all lends weight to those calls for genuinely fresh blood (so not the bulk of the candidates for leader) at the top of the party, not the tired,flabby figures that still preside, and who still display the arrogance and inflexibility that they developed in office. Really dismal viewing.

In fact, as Clegg says in his interview, he had changed his mind because of the Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis. Curiously, he couldn’t bring himself to mention this while the campaigning was in full swing, making his attacks on the Tories particularly hypocritical.

You just weren’t paying attention.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/7644204/Britain-risks-Greek-style-crisis-warns-Vince-Cable.html

Check the date.

“the LibDems dropped Clegg’s cuts bombshell, a position all wings of Labour would have found unacceptable”

apart from the wings that enthusiastically embraced the idea of cuts…. i.e. most of them apart from the far left.

hypocrites.

still, Clegg looks a right tosser for effectively lying to the public.

The leadership candidates compromised by the fiasco over coalition talks are Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.

The latest poll suggests that Ed Miliband has now peaked and that it seems increasingly likely that David Miliband is going to win the leadership. He has the Big Mo: most MP support, most CLP support and most public support. Ed may have the union recommendations, but the membership have minds and votes of their own.

Thing is, if he does win then we really are into all that Animal Farm stuff about pigs morphing into people. Most ordinary voters couldn’t tell Cameron, Clegg and David Miliband apart at fifty yards. Same hair. Same suits. And fairly identical policies and world views.Same, same, same. It’ll be hard to mobilize anyone to even cross the road in that atmosphere, let alone fight for political objectives.

>Most ordinary voters couldn’t tell Cameron, Clegg and David Miliband apart at fifty yards.

True of the other two, but I think you’re grossly underestimating Cameron in this. I know its early days, but one thing he’s worked out is that the country is swinging to the left, and, having dropped the Thatcherite Right is, at least in his rhetoric, moving left with it. Nu Lab are still in the pockets of the neo-cons and the bankers.

Time to dust off our books on Disraeli?

8. James from Durham

Given that the prospect of a hung parliament was widely expected, it is staggering that Labour weren’t thinking about what they might do. I would have expected that behind the scenes “what if” discussions would have taken place, in the same way that clearly there were negotiations “my people talking to your people” between the IRA and the UK govt before this started taking place in the open. Talking, negotiating and compromising where necessary is what politicians are supposed to be good at.

Are they just lying and saying these talks didn’t happen because they don’t want to admit that they didn’t manage to make it work out?

Time to dust off our books on Disraeli?

” There can be economy only where there is efficiency” – Benjamin Disraeli.

Yikes, he sounds like Osborne.

Tim – an article tucked away in the corner of the Telegraph few people noticed. What the nice Uncle Vince didn’t do was spell out the case for immediate swingeing cuts, otherwise us bloggers, the media and Labour’s campaign team would have picked it up.

Blanco, we’re talking about a programme of immediate cuts here. That was what all wings of Labour found unacceptable.

Cat – I never knew moonbat was a pejorative exclusively reserved for the left. It shouldn’t be: it connotes hatstand far more effectively than wingnut.

>Yikes, he sounds like Osborne.

Any politician could – and does – make fatuous comments like that. Pretty much any of the Labour candidates could have said it.

Disraeli pioneered “One Nation” conservatism and specialized in stealing his opponents clothes – while they were off bathing somewhere in August.

10 – It was a pretty widely covered speech by Cable – it’s quoted by the Guardian, the BBC, the Independent, Reuters and the Daily Mail.

Incidentally, the division between the parties was whether £6bn should be cut this year rather than next. Since borrowing figures have subsequently been amended by, what, 10bn it rather underlines the point that £6bn is a rounding error in Britain’s public finances. Describing it as swingeing is just silly.

Labour seems to be forgetting already that they were promising drastic cuts of their own for 2011.

I do think though that after last night’s performance Peter Mandelson should really consider a new career in TV comedy. The purring uncle in the Victorian armchair and dressing gown, flawlessly giving his highly flawed advice, skewering every last comrade as his eyes benevolently twinkle in the firelight.

Comedy gold.

@3 AC

Right on the money about the shambolic, dysfunctional mess that was masquerading as a political party.

Am I the only one who feels a sense of despair that there is no party, no individual that seems to offer the prospect of anything other than more of the same? It’s so dispiriting you can only hang your head and wonder where it all went so wrong.

“Had anyone in Nu Lab even thought of a coalition before the election – even though it was blindingly obvious it was going to have to happen – let alone started to think and map it out, develop it?”

From a purely political point of view, I think Labour did very well out of those five days. There were basically three options:

1. Lib/Lab rainbow coalition. People were already pretty sick of Labour, and if they had ended up clinging on to power and pushing through £40 billion of public spending cuts, there would have been a very real danger of complete annihilation.

2. Minority Tory government and a second election soon after at a time of the Tories’ choosing. Likely result would be landslide Tory victory.

3. Tory/Lib coalition.

I doubt that this was the result of planning rather than luck, and it is very arguable that it would have been better to have a rainbow coalition which might have been unpopular but which wouldn’t have been as savage and incompetent as the government that we ended up with, but the argument that “Labour was politically incompetent because it failed to do a deal with the Lib Dems” is entirely wrong.

Short on revelation and high on maintaining Nick Robinson’s profile. The one impression I was left with after watching is that Clegg really didn’t come off well…

“Right on the money about the shambolic, dysfunctional mess that was masquerading as a political party.

Am I the only one who feels a sense of despair that there is no party, no individual that seems to offer the prospect of anything other than more of the same?”

Or, a more optimistic reading of this, if Labour can get 260-odd seats after a shambolic election campaign, and be on 38% in the opinion polls now without a leader or any clear strategy, imagine how well they would be able to do if they acknowledged and learned from their mistakes, and changed their policies to win back some of the people that they alienated during their time in power.

Or, a more optimistic reading of this, if Labour can get 260-odd seats after a shambolic election campaign, and be on 38% in the opinion polls now without a leader or any clear strategy, imagine how well they would be able to do if they acknowledged and learned from their mistakes, and changed their policies to win back some of the people that they alienated during their time in power.

Don’t you think there’s an extent to which Labour is actually benefiting in the polls due to not having a leader? In the US, for example, Obama currently ‘loses’ an election against ‘a Republican’. He wins though against Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Pawlenty and any other actual person named.

#15 That perspective depends on how long the current government lasts. My concern is that people were saying in 1979 that the government would collapse within a couple of years. Yes, the government was rescued by the Falklands to some degree, but we can’t predict what events might take place in 4 years time.

I have to admit, even though I always thought Clegg was a right-winger closer to the Tories than the left of his own party, prior to the election I thought in the case of a hung parliament the most likely option was that he would offer private confidence and supply in return for a referendum on voting reform and negotiate every piece of legislation on its merits. I suspect that’s what Labour’s leadership also thought: that it would be politically suicidal for the Lib Dems to go into formal coalition so they wouldn’t.

@15 don

“….but the argument that “Labour was politically incompetent because it failed to do a deal with the Lib Dems” is entirely wrong.”

We hear this old chestnut a lot. It isn’t sounding any more convincing just because NuLabour’s apologists keep repeating it. NuLabour was politically incompetent in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to start frankly.

There was a deal to be done; the fact that it wasn’t is down chiefly to the unreconstructed, no-nothing tendency in NuLabour who had set their faces against it. We all heard and saw a parade of NuLabour has beens on election night rubbish the idea…. they actually WANTED to be in opposition.

The tragic thing is that there was nobody within the party untainted by the Bourbonesque ability to “remember nothing and forget nothing” who could forge an alternative.

If you think Labour did well out of the five days, I’ll have some of what you’re on…cos it must be really powerful stuff!

#18

You may have a case there. But I’d also argue that the American public knows figures like Huckabee, Palin and Gingrich much better than they know any of the Labour leadership candidates. That’s partly because of exposure, partly because of collective responsibility. Any Labour leadership candidate will get a chance to create a new impression on their own terms if they win the leadership.

The flip-side is that you may be completely wrong and the public may still be associating Labour with Brown, and a new leader may bring an end to that. I don’t think any polling has been done that can suggest one or the other.

@17 don

” imagine how well they would be able to do if they acknowledged and learned from their mistakes, and changed their policies to win back some of the people that they alienated during their time in power”

From your lips to God’s ears.

I’m not holding my breath.

Show me the cold, dead body of NuLabour first.

With a stake through it’s heart.

23. Rhys Williams

Do you think that Labour honestly thought that the Tories were going to win outright, no point making pre election promises which the press would have picked up. This would have shown both Brown and Clegg as Pompey and Caesar type figures dealing behind the republics back.
Interesting though no one in the press mentioned the talks between the Tories and Liberals before the election. I wonder why ?
I agree with the idea that Labour wanted to lose the election.
Most of the rank and file were sick of Brown and policies like ID cards.
To be honest most of us think privately that many of the social libertarian ideas put forward by the new government are correct and the new Labour leader should be in that camp.

“In other words, the coalition began life as a whim. This explanation of its origins were reinforced by William Hague’s contribution – he said apart from some idle musing before the election, no one thought about forming a coalition.”

“What I found fascinating about the prog last night was how Cameron and the Tories had spent months before the election thinking out the terms of a Lib Dem/Tory coalition.”

Which?!

“There was a deal to be done; the fact that it wasn’t is down chiefly to the unreconstructed, no-nothing tendency in NuLabour who had set their faces against it.”

If a deal had been done it would have been a total and utter disaster politically.

Just to take one example, to pass a budget, the Rainbow coalition would have needed to make sure that the cuts didn’t affect Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (because otherwise the nationalists would withdraw their support), and kept John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas on board by avoiding public spending cuts, and at the same time got the support of people like Nick Clegg and David Laws who wanted immediate spending cuts.

Since this would have been (a) impossible and (b) incredibly unpopular, the government would have been unable to pass a budget and would have fallen. Then there would have been an election and the Tories would have won a massive majority.

Was there a possible alternative to this? What would it have been?

@25 Don

“If a deal had been done it would have been a total and utter disaster politically.”

For whom? The Labour party? The country? The LD’s? I think we all know that a lot of the old guard NuLabour types WANTED to wander into the political wilderness for a while, lick their wounds, hope everything would go tits up and ride back into town in a few years saying “Told you so, there really IS no alternative”. They did not then (and still do not now) get the fact that the game is up.

As for the point you make about the Nationalists, it’s another canard. Of course they would have tried to wring the best deal out of the coalition they could… just as the LD’s tried with both the Tories and Labour. However, if you really think that Alex Salmond (or any other natonalist for that matter) is so politically naive that they could insulate Scotland/Wales/NI totally from spending cuts, you are deluded.

The alternative was simple. The LD’s shold have let the Tories form a minority government, tolerated it where they could, demand a referendum on AV, then watched it fall in a few years. At a subsequent election (hopefully under AV) they could have made a principled case to the public, and hopefully formed a progressive coalition with Labour..assuming Labour has managed to sort itself out.

So we agree that a Lab/Lib deal wasn’t possible?

The problem with your alternative is that what the Tories could have done was take power, do a few popular things, and then call another election shortly afterwards at a time of their choosing, when they would have had lots of money and Labour and the Lib Dems none. Result would have been Tory landslide.

“There was a deal to be done”

Seats needed for a Commons majority (Sinn Fein seats not counted as seats)… 323. Combined Labour and LibDem total… 315. Oh. Right.

“the fact that it wasn’t is down chiefly to the unreconstructed, no-nothing tendency in NuLabour who had set their faces against it.”

Actually a lot of people on the Labour Left were against it as well.

29. astateofdenmark

A lib/lab deal was a non-starter. Even Reid, Blunkett and Harris could see it (and publically said it). Those keenest on a Rainbow coalition seemed to be a small coterie of pro-PR labour and LDs, plus the nats (who knew they would have the government by the balls).

The choice was the LDs giving support to a minority tory government or a coalition. So should the LDs give support (and risk the tories calling a GE whenever they fancy) or do they go for a coalition, tying the tories in but running the risk of suffering the junior partner syndrome.

I personally expected a minority tory government from about 1 am on election night.

30. vulpus_rex

“Then there would have been an election and the Tories would have won a massive majority.”

Why would they win convincingly at a later date when they couldn’t manage it last May?

Because they have far more money than the other 2, and the ability to get the tabloids to make stuff up and frighten the electorate into a “strong government to deal with the economic crisis”.

Far better for all concerned to have the coalition. The lib dems get a couple of policies implemented – including a raising of personal allowances which will be massively popular. They also de-toxify the word ‘coalition’ amongst tories and the public.

Labour get 5 years of opposition and the opportunity to re-build with breathing space, but with a victory a realistic possibility next time.

Bringing down the coalition at this stage would be disastrous for the left.

Sounds like I did not miss much. Anything with Nick (I want to have Dave’s kids) Robinson was always going to be a waste of time.

“Result would have been Tory landslide.”

Not sure that is the case. Brown had a very bad effect on many voters even Labour ones. With him gone Labour could have won maybe 20-30 seats. I think the Lib Dems should have sat back and let the tories form a minority govt and set a budget, and then let them swing in the wind.

“Why would they win convincingly at a later date when they couldn’t manage it last May?”

They get to pick when to have the election, and neither Labour nor the Libs had any money left to campaign.

34. Rhys Williams

Labour get 5 years of opposition and the opportunity to re-build with breathing space, but with a victory a realistic possibility next time.

Do you think so, I hate to say it but we have a Tory government for next 20 years. They will ditch the lib dems and most of their floating vote will go with Cameron

Bringing down the coalition at this stage would be disastrous for the left.
I don’t think it will matter. The Tories will win whoever they are with.
Also can the present lib dems described as left maybe socially but not economically.

@27 Don

No, that’s not what I said. It was eminently possible, if difficuly. It was deliberately sabotaged by elements within Labour.

I don’t buy your scenario about the Tories. What were they going to do that was so popular it would have resulted in a Tory landslide at an early election given the economic situation? Fantasy pure and simple.

@28 Alun

I said possible, not easy. A slim majority could probably have been put together for certain measures, and a Lab/Lib coalition is no more intrinsically riduculous than the widely touted alternative of a Tory minority govt.

As for the Labour left being against a coalition with the LD’…. stun me with another: they probably think the policies of the 1980’s and the longest suicide note in history under Michael Foot is due for a rennaisance, poor deluded fools.

“I don’t buy your scenario about the Tories. What were they going to do that was so popular it would have resulted in a Tory landslide at an early election given the economic situation? Fantasy pure and simple.”

They are on over 40% in the opinion polls at the moment…

I think don has the right of it – the Conservatives could set out a radical programme, not only to sort out the defecit, but to clear up the mess left by the last government in most spheres (please note, that would be their line, not a statement of fact), which would be voted out, causing the Conservatives to have called a new election with more funds, a clearer message than a rudderless Labour party and also with a lot more energy (momentum would clearly be with them, and I suspect they would gather more foot troops in such a scenario as well).

It could be argued that from a Conservative-Party centred point of view that the coalition was a mistake on those grounds, but the opportunity of a liberal alliance to marginalise the illiberal idiots of the right (note there are liberal idiots on the right too, but they are less troublesome) was perhaps politically too appealing.

39. Rhys Williams

It could be argued that from a Conservative-Party centred point of view that the coalition was a mistake on those grounds, but the opportunity of a liberal alliance to marginalise the illiberal idiots of the right (note there are liberal idiots on the right too, but they are less troublesome) was perhaps politically too appealing.

Watchman they are same people.
Give one difference between Gove and David Davies
Osborne or Tebbit.
Although I agree with you it was a brilliant move.
Nick Cohen commented that the Tories will gain from the liberals. for once he is correct.
Look at the long term Thatcherite agenda. It was classical Gladstonian economics. the present lot are no different, perhaps the rhetoric is less aggressive.
The Tories will be in power for 20 years. In that time they will have privatised education and health and got rid of the welfare state.

Rhys refocus those questions.

Give one difference between Gove and pre election Balls
Osborne orpre election Darling?

Answer honestly which of the cuts announced so far would not have happened under Neo Con Labour (excluding ID cards)?

What was Labour’s message during the last election again?

#40 Labour were against immediate cuts so any of the capital cuts announced so far clearly wouldn’t have happened. Add to that BSF and the green investment bank, both flagship Labour policies that they couldn’t have cut. The unfair housing benefit cuts, which don’t save much money but disproportionately impact on a few people. We’d have had a national insurance rise instead of a VAT rise, and I doubt very much we’d have had a corporations tax cut, which would’ve meant fewer public services cuts needed to offset it. So too we wouldn’t have the massively expensive reorganisation of the NHS to pay for, or the waste caused by axeing BSF & starting a new scheme. I’d also argue better growth figures and lower unemployment would’ve resulted in less cuts being needed in the long term.

That’s just off the top of my head, and just what I’m confident I could guarantee.

42. Rhys Williams

Give one difference between Gove and pre election Balls
Osborne orpre election Darling?

Answer honestly which of the cuts announced so far would not have happened under Neo Con Labour (excluding ID cards)?

What was Labour’s message during the last election again?

I agree, there was no message apart from the statement “We are not Tories”
But the idea that the Tories have changed is a myth.
You ask a Cameron Tory , 10 things they would love to change in the next 20 years, it would be no different from the most rabid Thatcher supporter in the eighties.

The Housing Beneit changes were already in the Red Book and these are the cuts proposed by Neo Con Labour, including the London exclusion.

http://dwp.gov.uk/docs/hb-consultation.pdf

The SBF was just a give away to Neo Con Labour donors via the Public Finance Initiative. How much did companies like Capita make out of it again?

Darling wanted a 20% VAT rate last year but was vetoed because of the election. I doubt after the election he would have been vetoed again.


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