David Laws’s ‘Coalition’ – the coverage

David Laws CoalitionDavid Laws’s account of his and our party’s time in government, Coalition, was published earlier this week by Biteback, having been serialised in the Mail on Sunday.

Keep an eye out for a review here on LDV soon, but in the meantime here’s a round-up of what others have been saying.

The BBC have put together this film featuring former Lib Dem advisers Polly Mackenzie and Phil Reilly, and David was on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

As for the reviews, Robbie Millen in The Times (£) thought life was imitating art perhaps a little too often:

Coalition is not a piece of score settling, nor is it a powder-keg of revelations. It’s not gossipy, though we learn that Eric Pickles referred to Theresa May as “Tricksy Belle of Marsham Street” and Mr Clegg called her the Ice Queen.

Instead, this is a crisply written chronological look at the ins and outs of policymaking during 2010-15. It’s all there: the “omnishambles” Budget, Andrew Lansley’s NHS debacle, the alternative vote referendum, tuition fees. Pettifogging detail overwhelms occasionally — the Lib Dem fight for a plastic bag levy isn’t Churchillian in its grandeur — but Laws is a wry, thoughtful observer and gives a good sense of how hard governing is.

Sometimes Coalition is a deadpan version of The Thick of It. Steve Hilton, No 10’s blue-sky thinker, we learn, had a solution for the cloudy weather problem: “Why can’t we fly planes over the Atlantic to drop chemicals on clouds and force them to break up, and get rid of their rain before they get to our shores?”

Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian sees Laws’s book as “a strenuous attempt to defend both his party’s record in government and his good friend Nick Clegg”, which, she generously says, “almost works”:

The greatest moment of clarity in the book comes in a pre-election memo from Chris Rennard, the party’s then chief executive and resident clairvoyant. Coalition invariably damages the smaller party, Rennard writes, and so jumping into bed with the Tories would be “suicide without PR” – a reference to electoral reform that might allow smaller parties to bounce back. Try it, he warns, and you’ll end up on 10% in the polls.

Yet they went ahead, knowing the risk; they stuck at it even after losing a referendum on electoral reform, even once it was clear they were toast. These were obviously miserable times for Clegg, who seriously considered resigning as leader on several occasions rather than drag the party down with him. But the agonising question for surviving Liberal Democrats now is whether the near-obliteration of the party could have been avoided. Did it really have to come to this?

And in case actually reading books is not your thing, the Guardian has summarised the eight things we learned from David’s memoirs.

You can buy the book here.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Any light hearted tales of The Bedroom Tax or amusing stuff on how he and others at the Top Table destroyed the name Lib Dem. Awful.

  • Nick Collins 24th Mar '16 - 11:47am

    Clegg and Laws, apparently, are proud of the LibDem performance “in government”. Pride normally comes before a fall; in this case it seems to have persisted thereafter.

  • It is all very touching to see ex Lib Dem advisers appearing now to tell us how awfully, frightfully difficult welfare reform was. Why did they not listen to the party on the ground at the time? Councillors and other activists were warning them what disasters PIP and the bedroom tax were.

  • Looking back now its almost impossible to fathom that no serious threat ever hung over Cleggs leadership..as if the collective mood was that everyone goes down together. The result is the party is so wounded so damaged in the soul. Awful.

  • David Allen 24th Mar '16 - 6:16pm

    Gaby Hinsliff puts it very well:

    “This book describes not a sham marriage but an arranged one between people who ultimately learned to like, respect and work with each other, despite their differences.

    For Laws, as for many who served, that’s a source of pride; they look back on legalising gay marriage or lifting low earners out of tax and think the sacrifice of so many seats almost worth it. …

    But for those voters who left the Lib Dems in outrage at the very idea of conniving with the Tories, the coalition years remain a source of shame, not pride.”

    Meanwhile, our current leadership expresses neither pride nor shame. The slogan seems to be “Let’s ignore our past, let’s talk to people as if none of it ever happened, and then maybe they’ll gradually just forget about it all.”

    Absolutely nobody is buying that line, and so we’re down from 8% (in 2015) to 6% now.

  • The strategy of trying to be in government & opposition at the same time was never going to work.

  • The loss so so many hard working MPs and many of their supporters cannot justify the continuing coalition. We should have got out when we saw which way the wind was blowing and there was little we could do to stop it. The Yellow Book brigade should go away and hide. I note Clegg is bringing out a book shortly. No doubt this is what we did to try and stop them will again be the message.

  • Nick Collins 25th Mar '16 - 10:20am

    It is a mantra of Clegg, Laws & Co. that history will be kinder to them than the electors were in 2015. Are they trying to fix that by writing the history themselves?

  • @ Joe Otten “The voters who wanted to give us a kicking for going into coalition would have done so, had Clegg remained leader or not.”

    Did you realise that in May, 2010, Joe ? Many of us did, but I’m afraid St Sebastian and his mates weren’t listening.

    The lessons from May 1915, December 1916 and August 1931 were all there for inspection. It would have been better had there been some clear identifiable red lines. I’m afraid it was more mess than pottage.

  • Mark Blackburn 25th Mar '16 - 11:57am

    The more I encounter @JoeOtten the more I like him, on a personal basis. But that piece of revisionist nonsense cannot go unchallenged. One, the voters who wanted to kick us wanted to do so not because we went into coalition but how we behaved in coalition – and I know we did lots of good and put a handbrake on the Tories etc but it’s all the stuff we didn’t have to do, but the Clegg/Laws/Alexander/Marshall axis wanted us to do – tuition fees, NHS privatisation and austerity economics. Two, SNP – well, that was the final nail in the coffin but the lid was already on by then. Previous Euro & council elections, Joe? And three – sorry, where’s the supposed luck? Is 6% lucky?!

  • Nick Collins 25th Mar '16 - 12:03pm

    I don’t think many people wanted to give you a kicking, Joe; they just saw no reason to vote for you. Speaking for myself, I still don’t

  • It looks to me as if the comments on this thread stem rather more from general attitudes to David Laws (and to Nick Clegg) than from actual reading of David’s book. As Liberal Democrats we like our politics to be evidence-based, and maybe we should hold our fire until we have had the opportunity to reflect properly on what David has written.

  • @ Hugh p “we like our politics to be evidence-based,”.

    A quick scan through 650 results in May 2015 provides enough compelling evidence based information for me.

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '16 - 3:37pm

    @Joe Otten “As it turned out the killer blow was the Labour/SNP “fear””
    Which begs the questions, why did Lib Dems join in with hammering that particular nail into their own coffin?

  • If the killer blow was the Labour/SNP fear, one might have expected the majority of the voters David Laws himself, say, lost would have gone to the Tory candidate for Yeovil. Unfortunately the evidence doesn’t back up the supporters of Laws & Clegg: the Tory increase was less than half of the votes Law lost – had Laws retained the rest, he still would have won. However the Orange partisans try and blame a fear of Labour for the loss of all those MPs, it was only a minor contribution. The Lib Dems drifted to the right, and this was the killer blow in terms of electoral support. The fact that those who supported the rightward drift are still so vocal in their attempts to prevent the party drifting back towards the centre is what marginalises the party’s support – or do some claim it is a continued fear of Labour/SNP that keeps the party in single figures?

  • Chris Rennard 3rd Apr '16 - 2:43pm

    There is a review of the book in today’s Observer:
    It again features a memo I sent to Paddy in 1998 warning about the dangers of coalition without Proportional Representation

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '16 - 11:25am

    David Laws said on the Daily Politics that “the one they really want is “Michael Gove”, the former Education Secretary. Michael Gove has changed his mind and decided to stand himself for the Tory leadership.
    Theresa May has said that if she wins “there will not be a general election” by which she must mean that she would not call one. Nevertheless Liberal Democrats should start adopting parliamentary candidates.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '16 - 11:36am

    “coalition without Proportional Representation” is an obvious danger and would have been a red line for me if I had been able to attend the special conference.
    Move on to this week’s PMQ and David Cameron made an overture to the DUP, founded by the late Ian Paisley, including his son Ian Paisley MP, although they voted to Leave.
    The DUP leader in the House of Commons has hinted at support for the Tories, probably wanting something on security and willing to support changes on human rights. Any such changes are likely to be negative and should usually be opposed by us.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '17 - 10:20pm

    Ian Paisley MP (DUP) features on page one of the Daily Telegraph 8/9/2017, columns 1,2 & page 2 columns 1,2,3,4. He is the son of the late Ian Paisley, founder of the DUP.
    His denial is in the Belfast Telegraph

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '17 - 10:27pm

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