Alistair Carmichael MP writes…The truth about those “secret Tory talks”

A couple of weeks ago I was due to meet with one of my counterparts in the Conservative whips office. These meetings are routine and are not normally the subject of comment.  This particular meeting was intended to deal with allocation of offices between the parties for MPs to use. In fact the meeting did not go ahead although I DID meet the Government Chief Whip’s Private Secretary (known inside the bubble as the usual channels).

The meeting that did not happen (mundane though it was) somehow found its way into the Daily Mail who proceeded to speculate wildly about whether the meeting was indeed a sign that the Lib Dems were now cosying up to the Tories to stitch up a secret coalition deal.

Of course at that time the Conservatives were trying to negotiate a deal with the DUP, negotiations were going badly (due mostly to their own mismanagement).  Briefing the press in this way was a mark of the desperation with which they were seized.

So when I read in the Times yesterday that Tim Farron’s chief of staff Ben Williams had met with his No 10 counterpart Gavin Barwell last Thursday I took it with a pinch of salt. Not least because I knew that Ben was in Leeds on Thursday.

What actually happened was that on Tuesday in Portcullis House, the large shopping centre-style atrium on the parliamentary estate where MPs, staff, journalists and visitors mingle, get coffee, have informal meetings and things like that, Ben bumped into Mr Barwell, with whom he was previously acquainted. The conversation was polite, friendly even. They made small talk. They went their separate ways.

Reports of that meeting then somehow again found their way to the press – via Number 10 we believe – by which time the casual encounter was transformed into some kind of secretive quasi-negotiation about helping Theresa May’s struggling minority government to pass legislation.

It was utter bollocks.  Pointless, distracting and annoying bollocks.  Are you getting the idea here?

Maybe it is just the heat of the Westminster summer or maybe it is the general uselessness of this minority Conservative Government and the people around it or maybe it is a combination of the two.  Frankly I don’t really care because it is still bollocks.

So don’t believe everything you read in the papers.   If you see a story like this then have a look at the Lib Dem Press Office Twitter feed.  They are usually pretty sharp off the mark and to the point.  On this point they made it pretty clear that the story was untrue.

Tim Farron made clear repeatedly throughout the election campaign that we would form no coalitions and do no deals of any kind to prop up either Theresa May’s Conservatives or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Every single Lib Dem MP backs him and every single one agrees.

We will campaign for the policies we want to see – from putting a penny on income tax for the NHS and social care to lifting the cap on public sector pay, improving mental health services and holding a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Our job is to create the public and political pressure to make Theresa May’s fragile government cave in on any of these issues – as they appear to be doing on public sector pay and as they did on Stella Creasy’s recent amendment to allow Northern Irish women access to abortions in England – and we will work with people of all parties and none to achieve that.

We can all speculate as to why the Conservatives may feel the need to exaggerate the details of our encounters to the press – perhaps because they want to stop the DUP from getting too cocky by giving them the impression they could get support from elsewhere.  It shows just how naïve they are.  Away from the solemn moments for the cameras the DUP are laughing at them – laughing all the way to the bank, in fact.

Can we stop stories like this from appearing in the papers?  Short of keeping all our MPs and their staff under twenty-four hour surveillance (something for which I am prepared to consider any properly made case), probably not.

Remember that the journalists who write these stories and those who own the papers that print them are not our supporters.  They mostly supported the Conservatives at the general election.  They were wrong then and nothing has changed since.


* Alistair Carmichael is the MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.

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  • Basically – if the Government cave and put through Lib Dem proposals into law (without any agreement from us), we’ll vote for them. We’ll vote for Lib Dem proposals (eg on mental health) regardless of what rosette is worn by the proposer: blue, red, orange, green, yellow, or sky-blue-pink with luminescent multicoloured dots on.

    And isn’t that exactly what people should WANT us to do?

  • Galen Milne 5th Jul '17 - 1:34pm

    Thank goodness for that – and I trust he wasn’t a gate crasher at the recent whisky tasting event.

  • David Pocock 5th Jul '17 - 1:40pm

    What tangled webs we weave lol. Glad there was never a hint of a deal and thanks for the transparency Alistair. I agree with Andy that if anything we agree with is put to a vote we would be fools to vote it down out of spite. As long as there us no back scratching we should totally vote in favour.

  • James BLESSING 5th Jul '17 - 1:42pm

    You could always invest in some of those video recorders that police officers wear to collect evidence… Maybe even live stream them on occasion to show what an MP/MEP/MSP/AM/etc get to do in a day

  • Yeovil Yokel 5th Jul '17 - 2:22pm

    James Blessing – careful what you wish for, the resulting footage might scare the horses. On the other hand, if Nigel Farage were to record what he gets up to in the European Parliament it would make for pretty boring viewing.

  • David Pocock 5th Jul '17 - 2:26pm

    Lol Yeovil yokel. It would warm my heart to see the lifestyle EU money gives to ukip meps.

    If anyone wants to pay me a fortune to live in France and moan about stuff I’m up for it.

  • Christopher Curtis 5th Jul '17 - 3:08pm

    It’s a shame that people see politics as total war. We assume that the only reason someone could be talking to someone from another party is to be a traitor or make some other dirty deal. This is dangerous and unhelpful (as well as being inaccurate).
    We’re a democracy. It’s good for anyone to talk to anyone, and maybe especially for our politicians to do so. That’s the only way we’ll ever work through our differences and disagreements.
    It might have been good to be positive about these (ill-intentioned) reports. I’d have said: “Lib Dems are always happy to talk and work with anyone who will co-operate to help make the UK fairer, freer and more open. We have explained and costed all our priorities and why we think they’re important and we will pursue them with anyone who will help. There is nothing hidden or ambiguous about our political programme. Unfortunately, this report was in error: no conversation took place. We’ve also made it very clear that there will be no formal deals with any parties in this hung Parliament.”

  • Always refreshing to read Alistair’s straight talking.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jul '17 - 5:05pm

    ” recent amendment to allow Northern Irish women access to abortions in England – and we will work with people of all parties and none to achieve that.” but, noting it does not apply to Scotland or Wales, it must of course be new money.
    Memories of Jim Callaghan (Labour, Cardiff) and the special bill for the slate quarrymen, getting 3 PC votes for one motion.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jul '17 - 7:04pm

    How do you propose to “get rid of this government”, at least in the short term? They are in power for as long as 10 DUP MPs vote for confidence, supply and Brexit motions. Unless they collapse internally and give up the effort (like Labour in 1951). For all their woes there is no sign of that happening for the foreseeable. The jobs of our MPs and Peers in Parliament is to vote for or against according to what we think is best, and to put forward positive Liberal proposals.

  • Brian Milnes 5th Jul '17 - 8:07pm

    I like a man who says, “bollocks”!

  • Peter Watson – Oh the irony of you posting with the word irony in the post. You couldn’t make it up.

  • David Becket 5th Jul '17 - 11:49pm

    @ peter Watson. We have already had one nasty comment removed from this thread. Let us treat each other with respect.

  • The idea of blocking the current government at all turns, with a view to getting rid of them, is all very well if you think we could in fact force an election, but in reality the current lot are entitled to stay there for the next five years, and why should the general public suffer because we’d rather engage in point-scoring than implement the policies we stood on?

    We have a great chance of playing our part in getting the government to change their minds on the public sector pay cap, and that would be a massive victory for the country. If that does happen, we’ll probably have to endure the Tories pretending that it was all their idea, and Labour insisting it was all down to them, but waiting until we can get full credit is not viable.

  • Yet again others are setting our agenda. It should be the other way round. Two dreadful election results, can it get any worse, and nothing seems to be changing. Have there been any resignations or changes in the Campaign and Press Office?

  • Alex Macfie 6th Jul '17 - 10:42am

    theakes: don’t be so negative It’s all “woe is us” with you. Others are trying to set the agenda. Our spokesperson is telling them where they can stuff their agenda (where the sun doesn’t shine)

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jul '17 - 10:43am

    Tony Greaves is right. The 1945 Labour government became a row of exhausted volcanoes, more so than in 2010, and only had a small majority after the 1950 general election. The Tories were utterly ruthless (plus ca change) with late night sittings, refusal to pair, etcetera, so that cabinet ministers were on permanent standby for votes, not just for motions of confidence or no confidence.

  • David Garlick 6th Jul '17 - 11:09am

    Two things.
    Conservatives utterly ruthless – nothing unusual there then.
    Labour and compromise? An oxymoron I think

  • Alex: if you read ALL my submissions you will see that some are praiseworthy. We have to change our approach, be much more aggressive and outspoken. That will court criticism but so what, we have nowt to lose and everything to gain. Needs fresh faces who are prepared to get their hands dirty..

  • Bernard Aris 6th Jul '17 - 1:28pm

    As someone from a coalition government country, I find Alistairs clarification entirely believable.
    After an election has rearranged the number of seats (and thus: working spaces in backroom corridors) for each party in parliament, even WE negotiate with Geert Wilders’ people about who gets what room in which corridor. Nothing political, just doing practical homework.

    To think that the Tories who as coalition partners wrecked a referendum (or something like that) on one of our points (electoral reform I think it was), and who after Cameron left politics dumped part of his environmentalist public information (o, so trustworthy Gove scrapping Global Warming from the Geography curriculum in schools, and NOT restoring it after he is readmitted to Cabinet office),

    that those same Tories would now be so desperate that apart from their Ulster namesakes (Unionists seeking Unionist support…) they would cosy up to the party with 100% opposite views on program issues like EU, Environmentalism, and paying enough for decent mental health services,

    just beggars belief.

    Lets give Trump a subscription to British tabloids (especially Murdoch & Tory ones); THAT will teach him in a hurry what “Fake News” really is.

    On the other hand, those tabloids are just as bad as the Breitbart conspiracy stories his advisor Steve Bannon has been feeding him for the past couple of years… addling his brain powers…

  • Alex Macfie 6th Jul '17 - 4:47pm

    Using the language that Alistair used on this subject *is* pretty aggressive.

  • John Littler 8th Jul '17 - 2:56pm

    A Tory compliant press working for damaged fools.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '17 - 8:37am
  • I am a would-be LD but, with respect, and from reading the exchanges on these pages over the last few months, I can understand the reason why the LDs have never been able to assume any standing with electors or, I’m afraid, are likely to while bickering like this continues.

  • Roger Mullenger 22nd Jul '17 - 5:23pm

    Re: J. A. Sloan. The “bickering” can be normal discussion, however the opinions expressed here are not necessarily by LDs – anyone can post – so some very non-LD views are also here.

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