How George Osborne Denied Us an Election Next Year
Andrew Adonis expounded brilliantly the argument of his book, 5 Days in May, at a special Mile End Group event yesterday. He thinks that, had Labour disrupted the slide to a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and changed the momentum early in the five days after the 2010 election, it would have been possible to construct an alternative “rainbow” coalition.
I have always had my doubts about that, but Lord Adonis is a fiercely persuasive debater and made the case more convincingly than before. He was too clever to criticise Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson and David Miliband, but the implication of his thesis is that they (or two of the three of them, at least) failed to show leadership at the critical time – namely Friday after polling day.
For the “rainbow” coalition to have a chance, Brown needed to announce, on Friday, that he would stand down as leader. The Cabinet should then have met and appointed Johnson or Miliband in his place as leader of the Labour Party (pending a leadership election, as provided for in the party’s rules), and the new leader would then have conducted the coalition negotiations. It would have been odd, but it had a better chance of working than the Labour strategy of waiting to see what David Cameron and Nick Clegg came up with.
Crucially, it might have prevented Clegg from going over so quickly from the fiscal policy on which he fought the election (essentially, the Alistair Darling deficit reduction plan) to that on which the Conservatives fought the election. As Lord Adonis pointed out, 54 per cent of the voters (30 per cent Labour plus 24 per cent Lib Dems) backed the Darling plan, and only 36 per cent backed the Osborne plan. Given that fiscal policy was the main question in the election, Lord Adonis argued, a non-Tory coalition would have been more democratically legitimate than the Conservative-led one.
Lord Adonis also revealed a story that is not in the book, but contained in the notes of many interviews he carried out for it in the few days after the coalition negotiations took place. According to someone who was in the talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, the length of the fixed-term parliament was changed at the last moment from four years to five. Most debate about the merits of fixed-term parliaments in the past has assumed a four-year term, as this reflects the usual length of time between elections in recent British history. Late in the discussions, however, George Osborne simply crossed out “four” and wrote in “five” and all present agreed, realising immediately that this would give them more assured time in government.
Thus the general election will not take place next year.Tagged in: Andrew Adonis, coalition, contemporary history, fixed-term parliaments, george osborne
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