Battle of the Andrews over 5 Days in May: Lib Dem Stunell lambasts Labour’s Adonis for “spurious rubbish”

adonis stunellLord (Andrew) Adonis, a former SDP councillor and the very model of a modern Blairite New Labourite, has a new book out offering his assessment of those five heady days in May when the alternative Lib-Con and Lib-Lab coalition options were discussed.

In the main it confirms what was already known: that Labour had not given any thought to the fact they might have to work with the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament.

But his Lordship, having conceded how ill-prepared Labour was, is nonetheless mustard-keen to lay much of the blame for the failure of the Lib-Lab option at the door of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. Andrew Stunell, Lib Dem MP and one of the party’s five-strong negotiating team, is having none of this revisionism — as he points out punchily in a letter in today’s Guardian.

(I hope he and the paper don’t mind us re-printing in full, below: a snippet just wouldn’t do it justice.)

Your interview with Andrew Adonis made fascinating reading for me, as one of the Liberal Democrat team negotiating with the Labour party in 2010.

Lord Adonis rightly spells out Labour’s lack of preparation, which certainly astonished us at the time. But he doesn’t mention that they made up in arrogance what they lacked in comprehension. Their offer was for us to join them to deliver Labour’s programme unconditionally. It took two days to wring out the only “concession” ever offered – to cancel Heathrow’s runway 3. Indeed, when Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne, David Laws and I met Adonis and the rest of the Labour team, they wouldn’t even commit to supporting legislation on alternative voting, despite Labour being the only party that had such a proposal in its manifesto.

I can appreciate how keen he now is to avoid making the same egregious mistakes twice. But it is a pity that he feels the need to cloak that welcome reappraisal in some spurious rubbish about the Lib Dem approach to the same negotiations.

The fact is that Labour was lamentably unprepared, disunited on the merits of coalition, and never accepted that give and take would always be of the essence of it. Slagging off Nick Clegg ill serves the facts of the case. Those are that both Clegg and our team made it clear to our parliamentary colleagues every step of the way just what an intransigent shambles Labour presented. Hardly misleading, as it’s a view I see that Adonis now shares.

And Clegg said loudly and clearly throughout the campaign that we would, if the need arose, enter negotiations with the largest party first. We did just that – no tricks, and no surprises.

In the event, it would have been odd to do otherwise, with the election outcome meaning no Lib-Lab government on its own would be possible, and would have also had to include various stripes of nationalists. Interestingly enough, that was the one aspect the Labour team was most blasé about. It seemed their lack of understanding didn’t stop with us but embraced an assumption that the SNP and the DUP would happily string along with them, too. In return for what?

Coalitions are new to British politics, so it’s all the more important to ensure they’re seen as legitimate. That’s why our approach was right, and is the one we’ll adopt again in future.

Andrew Stunell MP
Liberal Democrat, Hazel Grove

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  • mike cobley 14th May '13 - 1:19pm

    Result – privatisation of health, cuts in corporation tax, degradation of legal aid, housing crisis, introduction of draconian punishments for benefit claimants of all kinds, and now a suicide caused by the bedroom ‘tax’. What a triumph.

  • Martin Lowe 14th May '13 - 1:20pm

    Even though Lord Adonis has now come out and said that Labour should be prepared for coalition negotiations in 2015, he’s virtually a lone voice within Labour (who’d rather wait for a majority and Buggins’ Turn).

    I read his statement online last week, and the amount of vitriol and abuse he received from Labour supporters was breathtaking.

  • Well done to Andrew for a great letter.

  • I wish we could defend ourselves without resorting to angry ratty retorts. Its really puts ‘normal’ people off politics. Calling labour ‘arrogant’ or what they say ‘spurious rubbish’ does us no favours at all and actually weakens our positon

  • Fab response by Stunell, really pleased he’s set the record straight.

  • Richard Church 14th May '13 - 3:27pm

    Adonis also conveniently forgets that negotiations with Labour were undermined even before any attempt to get them started by a co-ordinated media campaign by Straw, Blunkett and backbench Labour MP’s demanding that Labour go into opposition rather than attempt to negotiate a coalition.

    The will to do it simply wasn’t there, sadly.

  • It does show Labour in poor light. They seem to have a Henry Ford view of dialogue ” You can say what youwant, provided you agree with us”.

  • @mike – nobody’s calling it a triumph. If anyone is being honest about it, if a government had been cobbled together it would have lasted at most two years. Labour seemed to assume – as it always does – that other parties will dance to their tune in order to get power, and then is shocked when they don’t. It happens in local councils more frequently – I’ve seen that close up – so it’s just the same at Westminster too.

    Some food for thought – would any Scottish Labour Cabinet Minister really have put up with, for example, an SNP Scottish Secretary? How would their SDLP allies have reacted to the DUP in Westminster? Would the Greens really have gone along with some of Labour’s policies?

  • Well done Andrew – now can we all follow his lead and get into the media – letters articles etc and have a go back at Labour – we have been sitting like rabbits looking at the headlights for too long.

  • Well put by Andrew. It’s quite remarkable that Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson thought a quick chat over a cup of tea is what counted as preparation ahead of coalition talks with the Lib Dems.

  • We can’t exactly say the “negotiations” with the Tories went that well, can we? And there would be quite a number of people, some very thoughtful and experienced in the ways of this party, who would agree with Andrew Adonis in that an issue was some of Nick Clegg’s basic political attitudes (he characterised Clegg as ‘basically a Tory’). It would be nice now Andrew Stunell is out of office for him to make some comment on the ‘off centre’ nature of our negotiating team – and the group of Lib Dems that now finds itself at high level in the Government (see some of Tony Greaves’s comments on other threads of LDV, for instance).

  • Don’t doubt Andrew S’s account for a moment. So we honestly went into coalition with the nasty party and are responsible for a stagnant economy, exhorting the unemployed to work with 2.5M unemployed, the bedroom tax attacks on benefits increasing child poverty. Actually most of the things we would be outraged by if we were in opposition.

  • @ Brian D

    The “stagnant” economy is a darned sight better than that achieved by many of our European partners and the reason it is so slow to grow is little to do with current government policy, much more to do with the huge mountain of consumer debt left behind by Labour as well as the overgrowth of the financial sector, also Labour’s fault.

    Meawhile, what would YOU do to limit the increase in benefits spending that ran out of control under the previous government? Trying to solve poverty by unlimited benefits spending is both unaffordable and a failure in terms of results.

    The Coalition is what it is because we only got one eleventh of the MPs and Labour wouldn’t negotiate with us as an alternative to the Tories, as is underlined brilliantly by Stunell in his letter. Under the circumstances, the strength the Lib Dems have show in mitigating what would anyway have been very severe cuts under whatever government was formed in 2010 is little short of miraculous.

  • @RC How about continuing with Alistair Darling’s approach which was at least stimulating economic growth? Growth would help pay benefits and the use of the term “unlimited” for benefits defines a certain political stance! Maybe I would also be prepared to acknowledge that the banking collapse precipitated the current crisis. Actually at least 6 of our European partners are growing their economies faster than the current Osborne /Alexander performance!! But the no brainer is to parrot the blame Labour for everything even though I don’t recall anyone but Vince commenting at the time and that was on personal debt.

  • I’ve just read Adonis’ excellent book. His main point about Stunell was that it was he who was acting in a hectoring and arrogant manner.

    He also points out how the Lib.Demss have been hijacked by right wingers like Laws and Clegg who wanted to do a del with the Tories anyway.

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