Political Promise

Five Days, One Documentary, and “a series of untruths”

In Vicky Wong on July 31, 2010 at 10:48 pm

By Vicky Wong

Nick Robinson’s recent documentary on the five days after the 2010 General Election, which saw in the new era of British coalition politics, has been the latest instalment attempting to prise apart the Tory-Lib Dem marriage. After only a few months, the honeymoon period long over, the Lib Dems are trailing in the opinion polls, electoral success for the Lib Dems are devastatingly bleak, even the prospect of electoral reform is being overshadowed by the swift cuts set out by George Osborne’s decisive budget cuts.

The documentary revealed the cogs and wheels of what really went on behind the closed-door negotiations that Cameron warned the British public against, and saw those on all sides of the political parties relive those exact moments which saw Gordon Brown relinquish the keys to no. 10.

The most damning of discoveries was that despite reports the Labour had made the Liberal Democrats an offer for electoral reform (AV) without a referendum, the documentary reveals that no such offer was actually made. Although it was revealed that Gordon Brown had discussed the possibility of introducing AV without a referendum with Nick Clegg, no such formal offer was made. Given that the Labour negotiating team had a lack of abundant and comprehensive briefs to initiate an offer, no such offer could have been deemed legitimate anyway, even if touched upon briefly.

But then there is the allegation that David Cameron “tricked” his colleagues into believing that Labour have made the Liberal Democrats the offer of AV without a coalition, and in order to return to power, they had to offer a referendum at least. Leftists, Labourites, the media are all trying to exploit the minute details of this to try and prise apart this flawed “brokeback coalition” or “coalition of broken promises” as Ed Miliband had penned it in Newsnight.

Most revealing to say the least is that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister who was accused unfairly of clinging onto power. Despite it being his constitutional duty to remain in office until the Queen can formally appoint a new government, we have been given the impression by Alistair Campbell and Ed Balls that Nick Clegg “used” Gordon Brown, and tried to humiliate him by keeping him in office under the glares of the media and public who have been waiting to oust him from office. After five days of talks, the conclusion appears to be that Gordon Brown was the kingmaker at the end of the coalition talks; it was implied that Nick Clegg asked Brown to stay in office until he could reach a deal, and Brown, unable to carry on his constitutional duty as “illegitimate” Prime Minister, had cast the final stone and leave no. 10.

The idea that Nick Clegg was humiliating Gordon Brown and would not allow him to resign without dignity (as Ed Balls seemed to have implied) may further damage the Liberal Democrats future electoral performance.

It also emerged that shortly after tendering his resignation, William Hague and Nick Clegg were hastily patching together a potential coalition deal that would secure the new government.

Lord Adonis was critical of the conditions under which the coalition deals were made; he noted that everyone was tired, and the glare of the media and the whole nation was an incredible amount of pressure to put on the negotiators. This is an unfair assessment to make; we were warned beforehand of the possibility of a hung parliament and that in the event that that would happen, would lead to talks of deals shielded from the eyes of the British public behind closed doors, and policy promises would be compromised. We were also warned that such talks could lead to an indefinite number of days and eventually lead to a failed government, forcing another general election. Had the media not been hot on the tails of the negotiators, then the coalition talks may have taken much longer.

There is a great deal of unfairness as to which Nick Clegg has been faced with. He has been accused for selling out his own party, for only caring about his job as opposed to the jobs of others, and for being the Conservative party poodle. The issue of Clegg lying about the offer of AV without a referendum from Labour appears to be over-egged a little bit. Everyone knew that Proportional Representation was the forefront of the Lib Dem’s manifesto, everyone knew that no deal would be made unless either Conservatives or Labour were willing to make concessions over the electoral system. The protest group that gathered outside Lib Dem HQ is testimony to that and Clegg has an obligation to those protesting, and Lib Dem voters, to not renege on their promise of a PR system, entering a coalition agreement would have been the only way to safeguard that.

The consensus amongst many has been that hearts were pulling one way, but minds were pulling the other. Clegg did make the bold decision to compromise on some of his manifesto policies, but this was done in the interest of the country. A decision had to be made quickly, and the documentary reminded us that the election took place during the most volatile of economic conditions, everyone was aware that the markets were watching, and indecisiveness would have set the British economy plunging.

It is unlikely that the documentary will disastrously divide the government, but the only indicators will be when the next set of economic forecasts and GDP figures come out, but most importantly, whether or not the referendum on AV has succeeded.

  1. For me, it wasn’t the AV without a referendum factor that was most astonishing about the documentary – it was that Clegg said he had changed his mind about the pace at which to introduce cuts before these five days even happened. If Clegg is telling the truth here, then it was he who was misleading the electorate.

    I also objected to Clegg’s apparent dismay at Brown refusing to wait until a proper coalition had been officially formed. At the point where Brown could not guarantee a majority with Labour as the major party of government, there was no other option but to allow Cameron into Downing Street – minority government or coalition.

    In terms of potential longeavity of this government, I think the 12% poll rating is simply another thing to factor into how the Liberals will conduct themselves in future campaigns. Ideologically, it was always going to be difficult for the majority of the LDs to back a Tory led executive. Charles Kennedy has not ruled out a return as leader. I suspect that with the support of Ming Campbell, Paddy Ashdown, Lord Steele and eventually Vince Cable, Nick Clegg will be replaced as leader.

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