The new paperback edition of In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government by Matthew D’Ancona is not much changed from the previous hardback edition, save that its documenting of a government which is still in office has been brought up to date with some extra chapters. In the process, it has, alas, lost the Peter Brookes cartoon cover done for the hardback edition.
This book is, despite the subtitle, very much an account of the Conservatives in power. The Liberal Democrats do get mentioned now and again, but when same-sex marriage gest discussed without mentioning Lynne Featherstone or the pension triple lock without mentioning Steve Webb you get the idea.
In It Together is a book primarily about the Conservatives and the references to the Liberal Democrats, taking as true pretty much every caricature that ‘well placed sources close to the leader’ like to wheel out when dissing their own party, suggest a range of Lib Dem sources that might be well placed in Westminster but are also small in number and homogenous in outlook.
As instant narrative history of the Conservatives, however, this book is brilliantly done. The Conservative sources look to be both numerous and well-placed, with controversies involving senior figures often having conflicting versions of events from the different sides set out.
The words flow easily as events move on a pace, with a skillfully done thematic structure. Despite the jumping back and forth in time that a thematic discussion requires, the overall chronology of events and changing nature of the coalition comes through clearly.
But it is much much narrative history, written right up close to the coalface of political events. Even though it is now four years since the start of the coalition, there is not much wider perspective or analysis deployed beyond the sort you get in a Sunday newspaper at the end of the week. The book, for example, repeats the simplistic and myth-laden story about children being removed from parents in Rotherham because the parents were UKIP members – rather than setting out the rather different full story of the events that came out after the initial headlines. Nor does the book put issues such as the impact of the ‘Quad’ at the heart of government on the way the civil service operates in much perspective.
In other words, if you want a close up narrative of the Conservatives in power, this is a great read. If you want to know more about the Lib Dems or to see issues put in greater perspective, it’s not so great.
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