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Five days that revolutionised British politics and laid bare Labour's delusions
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.