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

The Journal of Liberal History is 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

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  • Duncan Brack 13th Sep '15 - 10:36am

    Thanks very much to Caron for the post. It’s our longest ever issue of the Journal; we’re aiming to encourage discussion about the coalition’s impact on the party, and the party’s impact on the coalition. There are plenty of aspects we haven’t covered, but intend to do in future issues. If anyone has thoughts for further articles (or, even better, would like to write one!), let me know at [email protected].

    Thanks also to Caron for pointing out our lack of women on the Editorial Board. The Board meets only very rarely; what we expect them to do is to write reviews of the articles submitted to the Journal, judging whether they’re worth publishing, providing comprehensive feedback to the authors, sometimes requiring redrafting, and so on – it can be a lengthy process. This issue of the Journal of course focuses on very recent Liberal history, but the majority of the articles we publish tend to be much earlier topics, ranging from the late 17th century up to the present day. We always looks out for women writing elsewhere about these topics, with a view to inviting them to join the Board, but there do seem to be very few of them. But we may well have missed people, and volunteers and recommendations are very welcome indeed – let me know on the email above.

    Duncan Brack (Editor, Journal of Liberal History)

  • It is interesting to hear that Lib Dem Cabinet Members thought the ‘Quad’ idea was ‘pants’.

    I am intrigued, if these thoughts were contemporary rather than mere hindsight, how the Parliamentary Party as a whole permitted this setting of the Coalition agenda’ by a group which could hardly be described as ‘balanced’.

  • I have read David Laws book on the negotiations with interest. My opinion of this view, I shall keep to myself. For various reasons, I won’t be in Bournemouth. Would it be possible to advise on how to obtain a copy as I do feel that this would be very interesting comparative reading.
    As for the lack of contributions from women. Unless there is a proactive stance to ask women to contribute to journals/ papers etc, this situation will continue.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Sep '15 - 11:26am

    Karen, there is a lnk in the post that takes you to the site where you can buy a copy – one line from the bottom.

  • Caron, I am not sure we are going to get much feminist comfort from their fringe meeting either! Subject: 25 males in Liberal History. Speakers: 3 males.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Sep '15 - 11:46am


    I had a go at Mark Pack about that on Twitter yesterday.

  • If there is a shortage of women talking about their time in The Coalition surely there is only one person to blame?

    It was Nick Clegg who demonstrably failed to make use of the evident talent amongst women Liberal Democrats.
    So an imbalance is an entirely accurate representation of Clegg’s Coalition, ie dominated by public school boys.

    The original “Quad” was intended to be Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Laws.
    Exclusively public school, white, male, English fromThe South East.
    Danny Alexander with his red hair and education in Scotland at least provided a bit of diversity.

    Perhaps The Journal reports cover this —
    Did the idea of a woman in The Quad or The Cabinet ever cross Clegg’s mind?

  • Duncan Brack 13th Sep '15 - 1:46pm

    Sorry, there was an error on the shop, now fixed. It should now work, but you need to press carriage return when you complete your address details.

  • Joe Otten

    Hopefully you are right and John will still be around in 50 years reminding us all of the dreadful mess Clegg made of leading the LibDems. It would be a shame if members and voters ever forgot how bad it really was. The man nearly ruined the party all because he wanted to feel important and play Deputy Prime Minister. Who will ever forget his TV debate with Farage. The one thing the man was supposed to know something about and it turned out he didn’t have a clue.

  • Nick Collins 13th Sep '15 - 3:07pm

    “The man nearly ruined the party “. Are you sure about the “nearly”, malc?

  • Duncan – pressing return does work – thanks. Might be worth putting that in big letters of the website 🙂

  • Ruth Bright 13th Sep '15 - 6:13pm

    Caron – good for you!

  • Joe Otten- and John Tilley will still be correct.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Sep '15 - 8:20pm

    Joe Otten 13th Sep ’15 – 1:13pm
    “50 years from now, when everybody else has moved on, John Tilley will still be commenting on Lib Dem Voice, whatever the topic may be, blaming Nick Clegg for everything.”

    I agree!

    If any of us are still here in 50 years John Tilley will indeed still be blaming Nick Clegg for what befell our party between 18 December 2007 and 16 July 2015 … and he will still be right!

  • Duncan Brack 13th Sep '15 - 8:20pm

    Anon – thanks. Done! teething problems with the new site …

  • Is it available as a PDF?

  • peter tyzack 14th Sep '15 - 10:14am

    and the assertion by John Tilley will always be wrong. Repeating a falsehood might increase the number who believe it, but it will never ever make it true.

  • peter tyzack 14th Sep ’15 – 10:14am
    ” Repeating a falsehood ”

    Peter Tyzack — which falsehood precisely are you imagining?

    Are you suggesting that The Quad had any women members?
    Are you suggesting that Clegg appointed a woman to The Cabinet ?
    What did I say in my comment that was false?

    If you throw around vague accusations of “falsehood” you really ought to explain yourself.

    You can disagree with my opinion of Clegg but to suggest that I am peddling falsehoods is surely beyond the rules of LDV?

  • Duncan Brack 14th Sep '15 - 11:27am

    Keith Legg – pdf is available to online subscribers. See http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/shop.

  • Sorry Peter, are you saying that Clegg didn’t have any control over ministerial posts whilst he was Deputy Prime Minister? I don’t understand what you mean, I thought Clegg picked the Lib Dems in the Cabinet and so what John Tilley is saying is literally true?

    I’m hopeful JT will be here in 50 years time, telling folk of what’s ahead. He got called all sorts of names, people made comments similar to the ones you’re making now but he turned out to be right, most folk in your position came to terms with that around 4 in the morning on election night. 🙂

  • john Stevens 15th Sep '15 - 2:12pm

    This will be interesting. However Scotland is an important omission since it was the collapse of the Lib Dems there in 2011, on account of the coalition which paved the way for the Independence referendum and thus the fear of an SNP-Labour link up in the last GE which was the real engine of disaster. The other apparent omission is Europe, which could have been used to undermine the Conservatives and blunted their undermining of the Lib Dems. Instead we had Lib Dem ministers, such as Lord Wallace at the FO, falling over themselves to present a deeply eurosceptic line indistinguishable from, or even more strident than that of the Foreign Secretary. We study history so as not to repeat it.

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