Lib Dems Lost Out In Coalition Deal, Admits Party's Former Defence Minister

Nick Harvey MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, during this morning's Question and Answer session on International affairs at the Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham.
Nick Harvey MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, during this morning's Question and Answer session on International affairs at the Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham.
David Jones/PA Archive

The Liberal Democrats were outfoxed by the Tories in the coalition negotiations which resulted in the party agreeing to a series of policies that they should not have, a senior Liberal Democrat has admitted.

In an interview with The Huffington Post UK, former defence minister Nick Harvey admitted the party had been unprepared in May 2010 and should have done a better deal rather than succumb to "the Tories' agenda". They had game planned this." The North Devon MP also suggested the party may decide to turn its back on power in 2015 - even if it has the opportunity to form another coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour.

"It was completely unacceptable to ask a national political party like the Lib Dems to come into government on a comprehensive deal and then have some departments in which there is no Lib Dem minister," he said.

"Why on earth should we support any executive action or any legislation which came form a department in which we don’t have a minister, it's absolutely preposterous."

He added: "In the nature of the horse trading that has gone on we have agreed to a lot of things that we don’t basically agree with and I don’t think we would make that same mistake again. If you don’t agree with something don’t agree to it."

Harvey's comments echo those made by Labour's Lord Adonis, who was part of Labour's negotiating team. The former Labour cabinet minister has argued Clegg made "a series of serious misjudgments" during the negotiations and should not have "conceded a dreadful allocation of ministerial posts".

Harvey also said which ever party secured the secretary of state job should be required to have a deputy secretary of state from the other coalition party. And he said the deputy should be able veto any policy coming out of the department.

"Nick Clegg negotiated for himself a very useful, sensible and effective arrangement that basically everything that passed the prime minister's desk had to pass his as well. He got for himself an effective veto that has actually been what has made the coalition work. Without that it would have come apart. The same ought to obtain in every department," he said.

The most obvious example of the Lib Dems allowing a policy to make it out of a department without the agreement of the Lib Dem minister was the Home Office's 'Go Home' illegal immigration vans. The controversial scheme made it to pilot stage without junior minister Jeremy Browne even being aware of it.

One of the reasons there is currently no Lib Dem minister in the Ministry of Defence is that Clegg decided to sack Harvey from the government in the 2012 reshuffle. However Harvey said this happened because the Lib Dems "didn’t secure enough positions in the first place".

He said that instead of accepting the Conservative suggestion that ministerial positions be allocated based on the number of seats each party had, it should have been done on the proportion of the vote received.

"I would have thought our opening position would have been, 'you got 36% of the vote we got 24% of the vote, you get 3/5 of the government we get 2/5 of the government'. We’d have hammered out something in the middle. Instead it all seemed to fall on the Tories' agenda. They had game planned this."

The North Devon MP said David Cameron and George Osborne had realised that the coalition agreement set the policy agenda for the first year, but after that agenda would be set "by having the right people in the right places".

"The practice of the divvy up of places could and should work far better for the junior partner, so we don’t make the same mistake again," he said.

In the interview Harvey also predicted that Labour was "on course" to win the next election, bar a game-changing event, and said politicians and pundits should not assume the Lib Dems would want to remain in office.

"I don’t think you should take it as read there would be a stampede to join a coalition again," he cautioned. "I think there would be serious debate to be had inside the Lib Dems as to whether we would do better to remain outside of government and let them form a minority government."

Harvey also said he had been "stunned" Clegg's flagship free school meals, which he said was "squandering a lot of money".

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