Labour – Lib Dem coalition talks: where James Macintyre gets it wrong

Having seen trailed in advance the research being done for today’s piece on why Labour/Lib Dem talks broke down, I was intrigued as to what James Macintyre would dig up.

But reading his piece in the New Statesman, it’s a big disappointment – because it makes a trio of misjudgements, all of which burnish Labour’s reputation.

Let’s take them one by one.

First, he claims that the vetoing of a private meeting between Vince Cable and Alistair Darling someone shows the Lib Dems weren’t serious about talking to Labour. Actually, no. What it shows is that the party remembers how Gordon Brown went for a series of private meetings with senior party figures in the past in order both to side-step talks with Ming Campbell whilst also trying to undermine him. Saying, “stick to talking to our negotiating team” is a pretty basic negotiating approach anyway – and the obvious one to take given Labour’s previous game playing.

Second, the piece suggests the Lib Dems weren’t serious about their talks with Labour because no civil servants were present. That’s a darn odd claim to make, because the repeated lesson from the party’s negotiations in Scotland has been – make the talks direct between politicians and keep the civil servants out of it. That’s the way to make a deal – and is a point that had been made by Liberal Democrats prior to the election. Excluding civil servants wasn’t a sign the Lib Dems were not being serious.  The exact opposite – it shows they were being serious.

Third, whilst the piece talks about the personal chemistry that has been struck up between Clegg and Cameron, it glosses over one of the formative events in its growth. That was a meeting on party funding reform between Brown and the pair of them, during which Brown just lectured the other two. This lecturing style – the ‘I know best and if you’re serious you must agree with me’ style – has been deployed more than once by Brown in his dealings with Nick Clegg.

Yet Gordon Brown’s responsibility for his at times crass approach to the leader of another party (not to mention his addiction to the silliness of repeatedly getting the party’s name wrong) is skipped over and instead it’s all meant to be the Liberal Democrats’ fault.

The truth is very different.

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