Peter Hoskin

5 days that changed the country

5 days that changed the country
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Westminster has rewound the tape today, in anticipation of Nick Robinson's documentary on the coalition negotiations tonight. There's speculation about what Nick Clegg did or didn't say back in May; Anthony Seldon has a piece on Gordon Brown's side of things in the Independent; and Robinson himself has a summary article in the Telegraph. Much of what's revealed so far could already be pieced together from the Mandelson memoirs, as well as from Westminister chatter, but some of the new contexts are eyecatching. This, for instance, from Robinson, suggests just how important personality politics was during those days after the election:

"Gordon Brown had not prepared a policy offer, nor got the backing of his Cabinet, nor developed a relationship with Nick Clegg. This despite the fact that he must have known that a Lib/Lab deal was likely to be his best hope of political survival. When I put it to Peter Mandelson that Clegg found Brown impossible, the Prince of Darkness replied with a wry grin that 'No… he'd found him Gordon-ish'.

Instead of building a relationship with the man with whom he might have to share power, Gordon Brown relied instead on his contacts with former Lib Dem leaders – Charles Kennedy, Paddy Ashdown and Menzies Campbell – and Vince Cable. Cable, who has known and liked Brown for three decades, was a regular pre-election visitor to Number 10. There were even hints of a ministerial job for him. Brown ignored the advice of Cable and all his Lib Dem friends to find a way to get on with Clegg.

Cameron, on the other hand, had spent years wooing the Lib Dems – calling himself a Liberal Conservative; declaring that there was 'not a cigarette paper' between many of their policies and praising Clegg for his campaign for Gurkha rights. Although Clegg was determined to resist any invitation to meet Cameron before polling day, tonight's film reveals a chance 45-minute meeting, at the opening of the Supreme Court last October, which allowed them to get to know and trust each other – as Cameron says, he established that Clegg was 'a reasonable person, in politics for the right reasons'."