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Which former Lib Dem Cabinet Minister disagreed more often with Danny Alexander than George Osborne?

September 13, 2015 12:15 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

The Journal of Liberal History - Sept 2015is a serious academic publication. When it arrives on my doorstep, I know I have an enjoyable couple of hours with a cup of tea learning about interesting events and people in the history of the Liberal Party, SDP or Liberal Democrats.

The issue of the publication which will be on sale at Conference is no less worthy and serious, but my reaction to it was unusual. Within a few minutes, I was hyperventilating and my eyes were out on stalks at what I was reading. Seriously, they should have sold serialisation rights to the press.

You see, this issue covers the Coalition and its aftermath. Adrian Slade spent May and June persuading many former ministers, including all of the Cabinet ministers bar Carmichael - and by all, that includes Chris Huhne - to give their take on how the Coalition had worked, or not, as the case may be. Some of their interviews are more predictable than others, but all are candid. Some are almost painfully defensive, others offer a wince-inducing verbal hiding. Who was the former Minister who said:

I don't think that the decision to go into coalition made this inevitable at all but I do think that pretty much everything that happened thereafter contributed to it. To say that it was bungled would be a gross understatement.

Harsh. Although when it came to the election in May, one of the nicest things said about our campaign was that it was "weak and abysmal."

And who was the minister who said to Nick Clegg just two days after they went into Government: "I think you may just have cost me my seat.?" And who was the hero of the clickbaity headline, who reckoned that "part of my problem was that I found that I disagreed with Danny more than I disagreed with George Osborne"?

Apart from the ministerial interviews there are articles from coalition insiders like Jonny Oates, William Wallace and Matthew Hanney. The latter writes on how the party stayed so unified throughout and asks whether it was right to do so. Jonny Oates looks at the mechanics of setting up a government machine that responds to a coalition.

Analysis of what went wrong comes from Stephen Tall and Mark Pack, with John Curtice and Michael Steed looking at the psephological side of our downfall.

There's no better expert on coalitions than Jim Wallace. He's been a minister in two of them, at Holyrood and at UK level. He compared his experience and had some interesting observations about the mechanics of government, citing the quad as a more effective way of getting a final decision on key issues. He also suggests that some decent rows on policy might have increased our profile. In contrast, Chris Huhne argues that the effective replacement of the Coalition Committee (which never met) by the quad was one of the problems, as the committee would have included himself and Vince Cable, whereas the quad didn't.

There are 84 pages of analysis which, although compelling now will also be extremely interesting to re-read in 5 or 10 or 50 years' time. It's an invaluable resource.

There is one thing lacking, though - of those 84 pages, only around 4 have any contribution from women - the interview with Lynne Featherstone and my article on the impact of the coalition on Scotland. That's an imbalance I will be making it my personal project to redress in the coming months. To be fair, they do tell me that more women were approached to write for it, and their articles may be forthcoming in future issues. However, I offer them a bit of unsolicited advice: they might wish to consider having more than one woman on their Editorial Board of twenty-one. It seems very strange that Shirley Williams, with her esteemed academic background, isn't on there and off the top of my head I can think of a dozen women who would be great and would make sure that we get more than HIStory.

This issue, though, is one which no Liberal Democrat with an interest in these last five years can afford to be without. It will take you through the emotions and events of our time in government, making you want to scream in parts and cheer in others. You don't have to be going to Conference to buy it - it's available from the Liberal History website here. You can pick it up from the Conference stand for £10, too. I hope they have printed lots of extra copies.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings