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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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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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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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on 27 March 2016
The good aspects of this book are the sense of what it was like to be on the Labour side of the table in seeking to form a coalition, the dawning realisation that Nick Clegg preferred to do a deal with the Conservatives and the contention that the Liberal Democrats briefed the media with a self-serving rather than true summary of the Labour/ LibDem meetings. The less good aspects are the padding out of the book with postscripts which consist of a superficial analysis of coalitions and what is little other than a party political election leaflet on behalf of the One Nation Labour Party. The publishers should have published the book without this unnecessary padding, the sole purpose of which seems to be to reach the magic 180 page threshold.

What is most striking however is, first, the self importance of Adonis and Mandelson in appointing themselves as unelected government makers and, second, the lack of awareness of the extent to which the financial markets were likely to react with dismay at an all colours of the rainbow coalition which would be beholden to each small party's whims at every twist and turn. The analysis of how the SNP would have reacted seems to be based on the suspect assumption that a nationalist party would avoid steps which would strengthen the nationalist cause.
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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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on 29 December 2013
Adonis doesn't grasp the public revulsion that would have been felt had Labour remained in power after the 2010 election. He tries to legitimise a post election lab-lib coalition and lays the blame for its failure to materialise firmly at the door of Clegg. Such politicians need to realise that it is the big issues, such as immigration, economy, health, education etc that the population are concerned about and that the sound bites and semantics they spout hoping to convince the populace turn people off and reinforce the notion that politicians are out of touch and self serving. Look at what you, the Labour part, left behind, even this Is implicitly rejected. This book made me quite angry!
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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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on 25 June 2013
I much preferred Rob Wilson's 5 days to power & David Law's 22 Days in May. These books were better written; gave more of a sense of the febrile atmosphere of the period. Rob Wilson's was by far & away the best one. Although much of this book was supposed to be contemporaneous it smacked of hindsight & wishful thinking. Still worth a read.
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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 22 July 2014
Andrew 'Lord' Adonis is a middle-aged man who sounds a bit like Jools Holland. Unlike Jools, sadly, he hasn't been content to restrict himself to adding innappropriate boogie-woogie piano fills to live pop music performances. After a few years as a policy advisor, Adonis was elevated to the Lords during the fag-end years of the Blair administration in order to oversee New Labour's education reforms. City Academies were the result, meaning Michael Gove is basically his fault. More recently, as Gordon Brown's (unelected) Transport Secretary, he became cheerleader-in-chief for the egregious HS2 project. In government, he was a proponent of ideas for ideas' sake, an adovcate of pointless reforms, a perculiarly monosynaptic one-man think-tank. As political CVs go, Adonis's is hardly impressive; Jools Holland would have probably done less damage to life in the UK if he'd taken ermine.

5 Days in May is Adonis's account of the negotiations which took place after the 2010 general election as both main parties attempted to court Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats. Adonis was there, and he draws on his experience to provide a competent account of the horse-trading which went on. The result is a little dry in places-for a short book, it can feel remarkably long-but it holds the reader's attention and offers a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. At times, it appears that the author's proximity to events might have dampened his objectivity. That Gordon Brown comes across as a decent man under difficult circumstances is unsurprising. He was Adonis's boss, after all, and the authors gratitude for his, mostly, undeservered place at the heart of power has to be worth something. What's more striking is Adonis's relectant to put the boot into Nick Clegg. Reading between the lines, the Liberal Democrat leader and future Deputy PM, is an unprincipled bully but this isn't made explicit in the book. Either Adonis is a master of understated allusion, or he's got one eye on a Lib-Lab coalition after the 2015 general election. Reading this, it's hard to escape the impression that this is what Adonis, a one-time SDP apparatchik, secretly wants.

This isn't a bad book but it's evidence rather than entertainment. Reading it, I found myself longing for the first series of Borgen. It may be fictional, but at least it doesn't end with my pension being stolen and by kids getting priced out of university education.

Etienne Hanratty: Don't Carp, Marley Tiffin
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