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29 January 2011

Lawson on the coalition and why the Tories lost

Former Tory chancellor says it would be “far better” not to have the coalition.

By George Eaton

There’s an entertaining interview with Nigel Lawson in today’s Daily Telegraph in which the former Conservative chancellor, who remains influential among Tory activists, adopts a decidedly anti-coalition line.

He says: “I think you have enough differences within your own party not to want to have a coalition. And you have problems to contend with out there in the real world without having to spend a large quantity of your time worrying about strains in the coalition, and how the marriage is coping. So yes, I think it would be far better not to have one.”

Elsewhere, asked why the Tories lost the last election, he cites David Cameron’s decision to agree to the three-way leaders’ debates: “They should have got an overall majority and they didn’t because they made a number of mistakes. One was agreeing to the three-way television debates. There was no way the country was going to elect Nick Clegg, so it should have been simply between Cameron and Brown.”

Lawson is right. The debates transformed Clegg from the little-known leader of the Liberal Democrats into the head of a revolt against the Labour-Tory duopoly. And, though “Cleggmania” would not last, the Lib Dem surge forced the Tories to fight a war on two fronts when they needed to concentrate their firepower on Labour.

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He has similarly harsh words for the “big society”: “That was the other big error – they should have made a greater thing out of the economy being a mess. Though they started the election doing that, the immediate results in the opinion polls were unfavourable, and so they stopped talking about the economy and talked instead about the ‘big society’, which nobody understood anyway.”

But best of all is his definition of the ideal chancellor:

You need three things to do the job well: the constitution of an ox, the hide of an elephant, and the sensitive antennae of an insect.

He adds: “Of course, it does mean you end up looking like the most peculiar creature.”