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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

David Laws is mistaken on Wales

I am still taking advantage of the time at my mother's to catch up on some reading and have all but finished David Laws' 22 Days in May. It is an excellent read and offers many insights on the negotiations that led to the formation of the UK Government coalition.

One paragraph however stands out as misconceived. Writing about the reluctance of some Liberal Democrats to embrace the chance to go into government David says:

'And in Wales in 2000, Alun Michael suffered the indignity during late night negotiations with the Lib Dem assembly members of sending up to them a list of major concessions only to be told that our team had left the building to go for pizzas!'

On the principle that when somebody gets something (in this case nearly everything) wrong, then they should be corrected, I feel that it is right that I put the record straight.

Firstly, it was not a pizza, it was a curry, but more importantly what happened cannot be understood without some context. It is the case that following the formation of the Welsh Assembly Alun Michael turned down the opportunity to form a coalition government and rejected direct advances from the Welsh Liberal Democrats to open negotiations. Instead he chose to form a minority government in which he execised tight control over every aspect of business.

It was only after he had effectively alienated most of Wales and the Assembly itself by the way he ran the Government and faced a no confidence vote that Alun Michael thought to grasp this particular straw and accept the inevitablity of working with other parties.

The offer of a coalition came on the night before the no confidence vote. I do not recall any 'major concessions' but what I do remember is that we literally had a few hours to negotiate a full coalition agreement before that vote and a decision as to whether or not we would save the First Secretary's bacon. It would never have been enough time as the David will understand.

David Laws talks about how toxic Gordon Brown was and how it would have been impossible to enter a coalition with Labour whilst he was Prime Minister. Much the same situation prevailed in Wales at that time too around Alun Michael.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Group were not prepared to be used as patsies to save Alun Michael's skin, especially when it seemed he still wanted to do it on his terms, and so we rejected his advances and walked. That did not mean that we did not want to enter government, just that we wanted to do so on our terms, something that actualy happened a few months later when we signed up to a deal with his successor, Rhodri Morgan.

I was surprised that David Laws got this wrong. After all he played a major part in negotiating the subsequent coalition agreement. Perhaps a bit more research would have helped in this particular instance.
Did David Laws play a role in negiotating the Lab-Lib Dem Welsh coalition?
David was involved in drawing together the policy papers for discussion by the two sides and helping us cost them.
so on the occasion the lib dems in wales had the opportunity for influence in wales the bosses in london came in to take charge. Typical
A few things wrong with that suggestion: 1. David Laws was not an MP at the time. He was a Parliamentary Researcher. 2. We asked him to come and help because he had particular expertise we did not and because he also worked with the Scots on their coalition so had experience of negotiations etc. 3. David worked behind the scenes and under our direction. The process remained under control of the Welsh Lib Dems. We were in charge not London. They did not interfere in anyway whatsoever as is our custom in a Federal Party who 'get' devolution.
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