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17 November 2010

Revealed: what the Lib Dems really said to Labour

And why David Laws doesn't want you to know.

By George Eaton

Here, for the first time, is the list of demands submitted by the Liberal Democrats during their coalition talks with Labour. In his forthcoming book, 22 Days in May, it is understood that David Laws publishes a selection of documents from the negotiations, including papers tabled by both the Conservatives and Labour. But the former Lib Dem cabinet minister does not include the papers tabled by his own side. And with good reason.

The document, titled Recovery and Renewal: A headline programme for a new government, and tabled on 10 May, reveals that the Lib Dems never had any intention of sticking to their election pledge to delay spending cuts until next year. A section on “the economic recovery and deficit reduction”, calls for “further and faster action on the deficit”, including “some in year cuts”. A senior Labour figure close to the negotiations, described the revelations as “embarrassing” for Laws. The source rejected claims by Laws that a “truculent trio” of Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman wrecked any chance of a progressive coalition, and says that a deal was possible on every issue apart from the pace of deficit reduction.

Read the full document here

In addition, the document reveals that even at this late stage (Monday 10 May) the Lib Dems were still demanding the introduction of the Alternative Vote without a referendum. A significant number of Conservative MPs believe that, in order to secure an improved offer from the Tories, Clegg decieved Cameron into believing that Labour had promised to meet this demand. But Labour figures have since confirmed that this was never the case.

As Jason Cowley writes in tomorrow’s issue, the document also reminds us how much the Lib Dems have compromised for power. Nick Clegg and the other Lib Dem negotiators called for a “a commitment not to raise the cap on tuition fees” (a watered-down version of their manifesto pledge to phase out tuition fees over six years), a cut in the number of government ministers, a four year fixed-term parliament and “a commitment to no public subsidy for nuclear power stations”. All of these pledges have since been broken by the government.

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What is now clear is that Clegg, Laws and Danny Alexander never had any intention of forming a coalition with the Labour. As Jason writes: “[T]he Lib Dems’ personal dislike of Gordon Brown (the old saying that you should be good to people on your way up as they will be kind to you in return on your way down was never more applicable than to the former Prime Minister in his hour of urgent need) and the leadership’s “Orange Book” neoliberal instincts, and desire to move the party away from its entrenched social liberalism, made a deal with the Conservatives inevitable from the moment the election returned a hung parliament.”

The Lib Dem papers do much to improve our understanding of why.