Danny Alexander: Coalition deal ‘changed politics’

Lib Dem candidate Danny Alexander during a visit to Tomatin Distillery on the last day of election campaigning. Picture: PA
Lib Dem candidate Danny Alexander during a visit to Tomatin Distillery on the last day of election campaigning. Picture: PA
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THE 2010 coalition talks have provided the beginnings of a blueprint for what will happen if, as expected, no overall party wins control, Danny Alexander has told The Scotsman.

With the polls suggesting that no one or even two parties may hold the balance of power, the final weeks of the campaign has focused on what might happen and how the talks between parties will be conducted.

It was obvious to me that the Conservatives had actually prepared for this outcome and were clear on where they would compromise

Danny Alexander

“There were no rules when we sat down to talk to the Conservatives and Labour,” Mr Alexander who led the Lib Dem negotation team said.

There had been coalitions before in times of crisis such as the Second World War and before that the 1930s depression but generally governments have been formed by majority parties with a voting system aimed at bringing single party stability.

There was a hung parliament in 1974 but it was quickly followed by another election.

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But with his party failing to win an outright majority David Cameron held a historic press conference on the afternoon of Friday 7 May to invite Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to form a coalition with him.

“We had prepared for the talks and knew what our red lines were,” Mr Alexander said, but he added that it was also clear the Tories had also carefully prepared for coalition talks despite running a scare story during the election campaign warning that a coalition would lead to chaos and economic collapse.

“I led the Liberal Democrat team and William Hague led the Conservatives but with him was Oliver Letwin, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of his party’s manifesto and our manifesto,” Mr Alexander said.

“It was obvious to me that the Conservatives had actually prepared for this outcome and were clear on where they would compromise.”

In contrast, Labour who could not win a majority even with Lib Dem MPs at the time, were not enthusiastic.

“The only people in the room for Labour who wanted to do a deal were Lord Mandelson and Lord Adonis neither of whom were elected politicians,” said Mr Alexander.

“Ed Miliband and Ed Balls wanted the talks to end as quickly as possible because they were obviously preparing for a leadership election.”

The Lib Dems at the time said that they would talk to the party with the most seats first but left the option open to talk to Labour as well who came second.

Out of the discussions with the Tories came the first ever Coalition Agreement document and Mr Alexander believes that will change politics forever.

“That agreement had more authority than party manifestos in Whitehall,” he said. “I don’t think that a coalition could be formed without such a document again.”

But he added: “It would need to be improved. We put it together in four days and I think in future it would need to be more specific and detailed.”

He went on: “I don’t think such a document would work though for other types of agreements like confidence and supply.”

The big difference in 2015 is that no party may hold the balance of power on their own because of the SNP surge in Scotland.

The SNP have also ruled out a deal with the Tories while Ed Miliband has ruled out any deal with the SNP and said he would not form a Labour government if it relied on Nationalist votes.

The last government to rely on Nationalists were the Liberals, who did a deal with Irish Nationalists just over 100 years ago and for some it played a part in Ireland breaking away and the end of the Liberal party.

If the Conservatives just fall short they could do a deal with Ukip and the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland or the Lib Dems if they keep enough of their seats.

For many the most likely now option is a minority Tory or Labour government which would struggle to govern and could lead to a second election before Christmas despite the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

The provisions of the Act mean that if a government cannot pass a Budget or Queen’s Speech and falls then there are 14 days for a new government to form and if that does not happen there will be another election.

The final issue is when and if David Cameron leaves Downing Street.

In 2010 the Tories called Gordon Brown a squatter for refusing to move.

Labour have already acknowledged that the “largest party has the right to try to form the government.”

If the Conservatives are the biggest government it could be weeks before Mr Cameron is forced to quit Downing Street even if he does not command a majority.

While it took four days to form a coalition in 2010 in Germany talks lasted for 83 days, so a quick resolution is not guaranteed.