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on 6 April 2015
At the time of writing this review in early April 2015, the polls are pointing strongly towards the next UK government consisting of a coalition, which until five years ago was something not seen in this country since the Second World War, and not seen for even longer in peacetime. This is a fascinating insider account written around the time by Labour's Lord Adonis of the five days of negotiations that took place between the parties immediately after the 2010 general election on Thursday 6 May and the formation of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition on the evening of Tuesday 11 May. The progress of the negotiations between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to prevent the Conservatives coming to power is clearly told here from Labour's perspective, but Adonis is quite well respected across the political spectrum and not generally seen as a tribal politician, so the account carries conviction.
The five days saw many twists and turns, but ultimately failed due a number of first and second order factors. Ultimately, Nick Clegg and David Laws saw themselves as more naturally Conservative-inclined on economic policy, as opposed to the social democratic Labour inclinations of figures like Vince Cable, Menzies Campbell and Paddy Ashdown. The premiership of Gordon Brown was seen as a major obstacle to the success of a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition working, yet could also not even get off the ground without his being in charge as the existing Prime Minister for at least an initial period of some months. In addition, while Adonis is right to argue that: (a) the combined number of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs slightly exceeded the number of Conservative MPs, and that: (b) the minor parties had little or no reason to vote to support the Conservatives against this outcome, I think that this putative coalition lacked conviction as a basis for "solid, stable and principled government", notwithstanding the potential for a progressive realignment that it might have afforded if the numbers had been different (if Labour had been the largest party in the hung parliament, and/or if the combined Labour/Liberal Democrat total had given an overall majority, or something very close to this).
The final quarter of this book was written nearly three years later and offers an insight on what Adonis sees as the successes and weaknesses of the current coalition government from the point of view of 2013, and of coalition governments in general, and offers some pointers to any future coalition, especially one between Labour and Liberal Democrat (though if the 2015 outcome reflects the low current polling position of the Liberal Democrats, there may not be enough of the latter to make this viable, even if Labour were to emerge as the biggest single party).
Well, we'll find out in just over a month....