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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Good advice on coalitions that was never given

The evidence given by former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan to a House of Lords committee investigating coalition governments is worth reading if only to gauge the mood within the Labour Party immediately after the 2010 General Election and the problems they had in taking negotiations with the Liberal Democrats seriously.

Rhodri Morgan told the committee that it was “odd” that Labour did not use his experience when the party was trying to form a coalition to stay in power after the 2010 election. He said that the team working to prevent a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government in the days after the 2010 vote could have called upon the advice of former first ministers of Wales and Scotland:

Sitting alongside former Plaid Cymru Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was in post during the 2007-2011 Labour-Plaid coalition, Mr Morgan said: “I did think that in 2010 if Labour had been serious about trying to outwit the idea of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition they should have called in [former Scottish Labour First Minister Jack McConnell] and myself and possibly [ex-Scottish Labour First Minister] Henry McLeish as well as three wise Celts to give them the benefit of our experience.”

Mr Morgan said he thought it was “odd” that his experience was not put to use.

He said: ““I certainly learned a great deal from Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, and [then-New Zealand prime minister] Helen Clark.”

When asked what advice he would give, he said: “I would have told Gordon Brown that he, sadly, had to go and that another Labour leader should be asked to take over.”

In his written evidence to the peers, Mr Morgan advised party leaders to stay out of direct coalition negotiations.

He said: “My view is that party leaders should not be involved because the ‘hard stuff’, the brinkmanship bits and bobs in the negotiation of an agreement may leave behind bad blood which could vitiate the process of government, where the FM/PM to DFM/DPM relationship depends on the ability to rub along together. Negotiation should be carried out by a key Minister or equivalent, with the personal qualities of having touchy-feely diplomatic skills. Alpha Males need not apply!”

He added: “My view is that the negotiating parties should spend as much time as possible drawing up a Green Book or Bible, stating exactly what the putative coalition is going to do, if confirmed in office. An extra week of negotiations may well lead to an extra year of stable coalition government.”

The comment about Alpha-Males is especially illuminating as it seems that Labour's negotiating team in 2010 was dominated by this particular specimen. Perhaps a lesson for Labour in 2015.
But alpha-female Harriet Harman would surely be at the top table.

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