This could be one of those intrusive Malcolmian asides. Indeed, that was how it started in another post that is cooking.
Let’s keep it as main text.
Malcolm’s morning trip to the doctor’s surgery allowed him to read Andrew Adonis’s account, Five Days in May, of life in Downing Street, while the Quad were stitching up their ConDem package. This is being serialised in The Times.
Unless one is possessed of Mark Packian (who will be featured in that other post) partial eyesight, Nick Clegg (along with the endearingly peremptory Captain Ashdown) does not emerge well.
This is part of the entry for 4pm Monday, May 10, 2010:
Gordon confirmed that Labour would definitely offer AV legislation and a referendum.
The issue now was the status of the Lib-Lab talks. They were for real, Clegg responded.
But, GB pressed, would he say that the talks with Labour were on the same basis as with the Tories?
“Well, we don’t want to bounce ourselves,” said Clegg, uneasily.
So they wanted to negotiate a final deal with the Tories while merely listening to representations from Labour.
The decision — at least on Gordon Brown’s part — was confirmed after Tuesday’s 1pm final Brown and Clegg meeting:
Ming Campbell, the most pro-Labour and pro-Gordon of the senior Lib Dems, erased any lingering doubts when Gordon spoke to him on the phone at about 4pm. “I wish it were otherwise,” said Ming, clearly dejected. Gordon called Vince Cable, who said much the same.
“OK,” said Gordon, putting the phone down. “I’ll do the call with Clegg at five. Get everything ready for the Palace immediately afterwards.”
Even in that 5pm phone-call, Clegg is procrastinating:
“I’m really sorry, but I still haven’t taken a decision,” was Nick’s opener. “Genuinely, I mean this. I’m sitting here with Vince and the party meeting now isn’t until 8.30.” […]
“I can’t wait that long, Nick. I can’t wait the whole evening,” Gordon said, urgent, insistent. “The country expects a decision.”
“Just two or three hours then,” said Nick, almost pleading.
And so Clegg bought himself another hour:
6.30 came and went. Still no Clegg call.
At 6.45, Sue put another call through to Tim Snowball in Nick Clegg’s office.
“I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting and I can’t get him out, ” said Tim.
“It’s really got to be now, Tim. It absolutely has to be,” said Sue.
Thirty seconds’ silence then Nick Clegg on the line.
“Gordon, I’ll tell you what’s happening,” Nick began. “Following our conversation this afternoon I’m basically finding out how far I can push the Conservatives on Europe. I genuinely take to heart what you said about that. We need some sanity on Europe. We can’t seek to renegotiate. I’m trying my best …”
“I’ll tell you what’s happening …”, “basically”, “genuinely”, “some sanity”, “I’m trying my best …” It all seems somewhat pathetic. And unconvincing.
Adonis’s account immediately continues:
Gordon interrupted. “I need to resign immediately Nick. I can’t leave this hanging. I can’t be hanging on to power while we can’t get an answer.”
“But Gordon, this isn’t over yet …”
“Nick, you are continuing negotiations with the Conservatives and you have rejected a deal with us.”
“No, Gordon. Today is Tuesday. We have only just started the talks. We have not rejected you. We are trying to play our role, to find a stable coalition.”
“I have to do the right thing by both the Queen and the country,” Gordon continued.
Nick again said he hadn’t made up his mind. “As you know the working group weren’t able to answer some of our questions …”
“Nick, it’s past that. I have to resign as people don’t understand my clinging on to power.”
“Why? In other democracies trying to do this takes weeks. It’s quite right for us to to do it methodically.” His big concern remained Europe, he added.
What was Clegg’s end-game here? Was it to remain centre-stage for weeks, in some kind of Belgian government stand-off? Or was it part of the Cameron-Osborne choreography, with Brown forced to sneak out of Downing Street in the depths of the night?
Back with Adonis:
“Nick, you’re a good man. But I have to respect the British people. They don’t want me hanging on. I wish you well in the future. I think your decisions are important. I prefer the progressive way forward …”
Nick interrupted, reverting yet again to the negotiations not having gone well, particularly on the economy.
More shaking of heads in the inner office. David Muir [Brown’s SpAd] texted Jonny Oates [Clegg’s Chief of Staff]: “He’s not bluffing.”
Gordon: “Nick, I’ve no choice. I have thought through the implications. I cannot go on for another day. Your are negotiating with another party…’
Nick, dramatically: “Just five minutes. There are two more people I have to speak to. Then let’s speak again. Please.”
A collective groan in the inner office as the line went dead.
We are now in the dénouement:
The No 10 staff were now crowding into the war room, along with Sir Gus O’Donnell and senior Cabinet Office officials.
Five or so minutes later, Nick Clegg again. “Gordon, I cannot give you assurances. That would be acting dishonourably. But please, please don’t resign…”
“I can’t delay. I’ve got to resign now, Nick. I need to go to the Palace.”
“You are holding me hostage. You don’t need to act unilaterally. We have only spent five days holding these important negotiations. I can’t do anything about that …”
“No, Nick. I’ve got to go to the Palace. I’ve got to resign. I haven’t any choice now.”
“It doesn’t need to be like this …”
“It does, Nick, I’ve got to resign. It’s got to be now. I wish you all the best for the future. You’re a good man, Nick. I’ve got to go now.”
We wouldn’t want Nick Clegg to be perceived as acting dishonourably, would we?