If you give up what you most care about you start dying. It doesn’t matter what age.
Debate within the coalition on the key issues is a positive thing, insists Williams:
What we have to do is get as much as one possibly can of what Lib Dems believe into the coalition programme. It’s no good simply saying our role is to say no to everything.
Williams admits her surprise that the Liberal Democrats, of whom she was a founder, formed a coalition with the Conservative Party. Indeed, she had warned against such a deal, in the days following the General Election.
It’s a scenario she had simply never considered. “I’m making no bones about this, almost to the very end I argued for there to be a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. But Labour had already turned their mind to how they were going to rebuild – they weren’t interested in a coalition and treated us with considerable contempt.”
Having said this, she accepts that outcome would have made for a government so compromised as to be unworkable, just like the one she served in as a minister in the late 1970s. “And when I realised it wouldn’t work because there wasn’t the majority, my preferred choice – which may have been very irresponsible of me – was for a minority Conservative government.” Why? “It was a slightly selfish position. We wouldn’t have been forced to support things we didn’t agree with. It was about protecting the legacy of the Lib Dems. I didn’t want to see the Lib Dems, who I’ve always regarded as a left-of-centre party, suddenly becoming a right-of-centre party.”
So what is it like to end up in bed with the Tories? “Not one bed,” Williams says sharply. “Two beds.” She pauses. Actually, it’s not always two beds. “I find myself in bed with Ken Clarke on an awful lot of things the public would describe as liberal, and I’m perfectly happy there.” Williams has a way with unintended double entendres.
On keeping in touch with Lib Dem grassroots opinion, her advice to Nick Clegg is to “Listen very closely to what the party tells you and see how far you can go to meet it,” saying that Nick, in fairness, does this a lot. In any case, Williams predicts a lively party conference next month.
You can read the full interview, (including Shirley Williams’ views on academies, health, Trident and civil liberties) in the Guardian.