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on 30 June 2013
This is a very readable, insider's account of the unsuccessful negotiations between the Labour and Lib Dem parties, following the last general election. At 180 pages, there is very little padding, which is commendable.

Adonis seems to be motivated to go into print by a sense of frustration that the two parties who were closest in terms of political views, were unable to form a coalition, with the Lib Dems opting for what has been an uneasy and unnatural alliance with the Tories. I suspect in this, he underestimates the difficulties that the Lib Dems would have experienced in appearing to prop up a defeated government and an unpopular Prime Minister, at least in the short-term. Nevertheless, Adonis does make some credible points about the power imbalance within the current government.

This felt like an interesting subject that needs a writer in a more objective position. Adonis was a participant who can only give a partial account.
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on 15 April 2014
A useful view from the Labour side on the making of the coalition. This is a good book which will provide material for historians of the era. It is a well told story that demonstrates that the Libdems were intent in going in with the Conservatives whatever the cost, to their ultimate detriment.
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on 28 July 2013
Or, rather, one never offered Labour by Clegg. The pessimism inference to be drawn is that coalitions are hard to make work yet extremely likely in this political epoch.
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on 19 August 2013
A behind the scene idea of went on between the election and the government being formed. Public needed to know
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on 22 July 2013
Andrew Adonis was quietly at the heart of the Blair and Brown governments, one reason why Gordon Brown chose him as a member of Labour's small delegation negotiating in the crucial days following the 2010 general election to keep their party in power. That therefore gave him a ringside seat from which to recount probably the most dramatic week in 21st Century British politics so far, which is what he does here.

The majority of his book, telling the narrative of those five days (from the Friday immediately after the election, when the results were still coming in, to the Tuesday on which Cameron formed his new government), was written within a few weeks of the events they describe and have been published unaltered. This gives it a great sense of immediacy and you feel the emotions flow among the discussions, the intrigue, the fatigue and - particularly for Labour - the waiting and watching. The second, written much more recently, is Adonis' take on how the Coalition has fared and what lessons are to be learned from the events.

Adonis writes well and the detail is impressive. What I took from it more than anything though was the scale of the delusion that Brown, Adonis and some others on the centre-left suffered from when trying to cobble together a government: again and again they see politics solely in terms of being pro- or anti-Tory without recognising that some - and in particular many Lib Dems - had at least as many differences with Labour as with the Conservatives. Indeed, they never really get beyond platitudes such as 'progressive' when trying to identify why Labour and the Lib Dems are natural allies and should form a coalition. That flawed analysis was clearly at the heart of Labour's failed attempt to hold on to power (time and again Brown talks about the numbers making a deal including the smaller parties possible, yet the only common factor between the parties was a common dislike of the Conservatives - there was virtually no suggestion of what it would have been a government *for*).

As a record of those fraught days in May 2010, it makes an excellent companion to David Laws' '22 Days in May' (the other 17 being Laws' short time in office). It's less informative in terms of the talks than Laws' book as Labour was far less actively involved in them than the Lib Dems. Adonis does however relate well the frustration and concern within Number Ten as Labour's overtures are rebuffed, and then the growing realisation that a Con-Lib Dem deal is not only possible but likely. His was a ringside seat in more ways than one.

The second part, analysing the fortunes of the coalition three years down the line, is more measured and thoughtful, looking back at that week and why Labour and Gordon Brown couldn't hold on, how the Lib Dems have changed, how they've fared in government, what opposition means for Labour and so on. It's an interesting extended essay in its own right.

As a whole, this is a valuable contribution to the record of one of the defining weeks in British political history; one which will have consequences for years if not decades. To understand how politicians tick, how British politics operates, and why the UK ended up with the government it did, it's a good read; one that's inevitably partial (in both senses) but a fine companion and answer to Laws' earlier book and, perhaps, an insight into where a new Labour government would take the UK.
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on 27 June 2013
David Laws and others have given largely unchallenged accounts of the coalition negotiations. Here Andrew Adonis gives a riposte to critics of Labour's stance immediately after the election results. He argues, persuasively I think, that Labour was right to seek to cling on to power. His claim that the Lib Dem leadership is essentially a soft Tory clique is surely designed to discomfit Lib Dem activists who identify as social democrats. With polls hinting at another close election this is a thoughtful book coloured by intimate details of a heady few days in politics.
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VINE VOICEon 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....
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 May 2013
Andrew Adonis's book about the May 2010 coalition negotiations following the general election is very much one of two halves: a near-contemporary account written in the heat of the moment and then reflections on what happened, written three years on. It's also a book of two halves in that one part reveals little new whilst the other offers much worthwhile insight.

The near-contemporary account adds little to existing books such as those by David Laws (22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition) and Rob Wilson (5 Days to Power). It does try to give an account more favourable to Labour politicians than those others, but the key elements of criticism of Labour are (to the author's credit) still very clearly present in this book, including such basic mistakes as Labour's senior figures being so insular that they didn't even know who former Lib Dem Chief Whip Andrew Stunell was.

The book makes clear how horribly under-prepared for a hung Parliament Labour was, with little thought having gone into how to hold the party together if a deal was to be struck and there was little understanding from senior Labour figures about the sort of compromises a coalition would require. Even where Adonis tries to pin the blame on those in other parties, he doesn't convince - such as when he complains that Paddy Ashdown wouldn't sit down in public on a train and talk to Peter Mandelson about possible deals. In public? No wonder Paddy Ashdown ran for the toilets rather than stay and talk.

Where the book becomes much more interesting is in the second half (though it's much less than half the book), where Andrew Adonis looks back from three years on, reflecting that his account, "reminds me of a general's despatch after one of Britain's all too common defeats in the Napoleonic wars, dictated whilst the smoke was still swirling and the dead and maimed being taken off the field. It is vivid, partisan, and angry."

He goes on to use the advantage of hindsight to adjust his views of events, including concluding that, "In retrospect, I downplayed Labour's fatalism during and after the 2010 election ... a fair proportion of the Labour Cabinet were resigned to losing the election. And when the election wasn't won by the Tories, they were equally resigned to handing power to David Cameron on a plate".

In two key respects, even with hindsight, I think Adonis still misjudges the Liberal Democrats. He fails to grasp just how unpopular the record of much of the New Labour government was with Liberal Democrat of all stripes, especially but not only when it came to civil liberties and the love of micro-management. He still seems to fail to see that many who put themselves on the centre left were heartily fed up with Labour's record in power. Moreover, he is airily dismissive of the idea that the Liberal Democrats might say that the largest party should get the first attempt to form a government in a hung Parliament for any reason other than a covert right-wing plot.

However, despite that Adonis is also pretty self-critical of Labour, emphasising how much more seriously it needs to take preparations for any future hung Parliament. Moreover, his suggestions for what Liberal Democrats should do differently in a future hung Parliament are, for all the acerbic commentary around them, thoughtful and interesting.
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on 21 June 2013
Very easy political book to read. Given it only covers 5 days it is quite short but an interesting first hand account of those days. How much you believe probably depends upon your political standpoint.
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Labour peer Andrew Adonis gives us his account of the negotiations that followed the UK General election of 2010, when no party won enough seats to form a Government alone. Although not published till now, Adonis explains that the book was written near-contemporaneously and that shows through in the anger and frustration that seeps from the pages.

The book is short and the main part concentrates entirely on the negotiations - Adonis assumes that readers understand the background and the main political and economic questions of the time. We get a vivid, sympathetic view of the Labour team and of the much-maligned Gordon Brown. The Conservatives are only in the background (since Labour obviously wasn't negotiating with them) and the Lib-Dems don't come out of the whole sorry episode well - Adonis (once a Lib-Dem himself) can't stop some of his bitterness showing through at their turn to the right. It's a very readable account, not bogged down with some of the self-aggrandising that can be a feature of political memoirs, and the reader gets a real feel for the stress and exhaustion in the Labour camp.

In the last 40 pages, Adonis looks back at his account with the benefit of distance and is endearingly honest about his own bias in the first, contemporaneous section:

'5 days in May was written in the heat of battle. Re-reading it after nearly three years, it reminds me of a general's despatch after one of Britain's all too common defeats in the Napoleonic wars, dictated while the smoke was still swirling and the dead and maimed being taken off the field. It is vivid, partisan, and angry about the perfidy of Albion's supposed allies, in this case Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.'

Adonis assesses why the Lib-Dems acted as they did, concluding that both Clegg and David Laws (their chief negotiator) were always more right-wing than they seemed or than the rest of their party. He also discusses the benefits or otherwise of coalition and concludes that Labour must keep the door open to a future coalition with the Lib Dems, however bitter that pill would be to swallow, but must first and foremost try to win outright.

I found this an excellent read, biased yes (but then I'm on the same side as Adonis so that didn't bother me too much) but revealing and blessedly short and to the point. Is it still a democracy when one man (in this case Nick Clegg) gets to decide who will govern for five years regardless of pre-election promises? A question that will become more and more relevant in Britain as the old two-party system fades further into the distance with each passing year. Highly recommended for left-leaning UK political nerds - not sure how interesting it will be to other people though!

PS I had to laugh at the subliminal advertising on the book jacket - Brown faded into the background, then Clegg, then Cameron; and finally, right at the front, Ed Miliband! A triumph of hope over experience, perhaps?
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