So how DID David Cameron and Nick Clegg actually get together? Here, in the third chapter of my book, I introduce the aftermath of the election and my sketches from that crazy week in May 2010 which ended in the Rose Garden wedding where I was, of course, a guest
Chapter 3: A Mad Week in May: The Pre-Nup and the Wedding
The day after the election dawned, bleary-eyed, and, though the British people had spoken, no one was entirely sure what they’d said. The Tories, at 36.1 per cent of the vote, had 307 seats. Labour, at 29 per cent, was down 91 seats to 258 and the Lib-Dems, down five seats to 57, had 23 per cent. Perhaps the biggest loser was Nick Clegg, whose hopes had been raised by the nation’s brief bout of Cleggmania. But now, with no party having won the 326 seats necessary for a majority, Britain had its first hung parliament since 1974. No one was sure what exactly happened next. Nick, shaking off his disappointment, saw his chance and grabbed it. What followed was a crazy hazy five days in May in which Nick flirted with Dave, then Gordon, then Dave, then Gordon, then … well you get the idea. We were watching a pre-nup in the making and then, of course, there was a wedding
Loves me, loves me not: Clegg and the dating game
08 May 2010
The day after the vote before, confusing reigning, the word went out that Nick Clegg was on his way to London from Sheffield to address the nation
Spare a thought for Nick Clegg. He had believed he was a contender. He had thought that the voters agreed with Nick. But now, the morning after the nightmare before, he was merely a pretty face lusted after by the other two (real) contenders for their own selfish reasons. Thus he did the only thing he could: he played hard to get. For yesterday we saw three men playing a very public game of power dating.
The most dramatic moment of the entire campaign came at 10.40am when Nick Clegg emerged from his car parked at the end of Cowley Street and plunged into the mob of press that had gathered outside his headquarters in Westminster. He stood in a tiny circle of space, boom mikes and cameras bobbing perilously over the scrum, the crush overwhelming, photographers on stepladders, helicopter whirring overhead. He seemed tired but resolved.
Here, in this street, his tie orange, his mood blue, he was going to salvage something. He’d said that whoever got the most votes and seats had the “first right” to try to govern. “I stick with that view,” said Nick. (Politician keeps promise shock!)
Then, just in case Gordon Brown didn’t hear the first time, Nick added that it was up to the Tories to prove that they could govern in the “national interest”. In dating terms, this was a clear invitation. “Dave, call me!” he was saying. But there was a warning there, too: don’t leave it too late. Dave didn’t. He called a press conference for 2.30.
Nick, observing this, must surely have plucked a few petals off a daisy and told his aides: “He loves me, he loves me not.”
Our love-hate triangle now moves to Downing Street where Gordon Brown is fuming. Yes, it’s true he dislikes Nick, but he hates Dave. How dare they talk of love! Such was his fury that he knew he had to do the hardest thing of all —act. Thus at 12.40pm, Gordon strode out of No 10. He looked straight into the camera (and thus into the eyes of Nick) and did all but throw himself at Nick’s feet. He even told Nick that he respected him (yes he did, even though everyone who has ever dated knows that this is a bad line). Then he gushed about their wonderful new life together.
Nick, plucking his daisy absentmindedly, laughed. He may have just lost the election but he was winning the love-bombing war. Then, at 2.30pm, he tuned in to hear Dave declare HIS love. The Tory leader, his tie as blue as the eyes that now bored straight into the camera (and thus into Nick) declared: “I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats.”
Dave talked about how much they had in common. They both hated ID cards. They both wanted to get rid of the “jobs tax”. And, unsaid but lurking behind every word: they both hated Gordon! Their manifestos had much in common.
“We can give ground,” said Dave, which all married people know means total surrender. Dave mentioned his “big open and comprehensive offer” again. Then he laid it on thick about how it was in the “national interest” for this relationship to go ahead.
“I hope with all my heart that this is something we can achieve,” said Dave. Nick listened to this declaration. Had Dave really said: “With all my heart”? Yes, he had! Then Nick selected another daisy from his bouquet and began to pluck its petals: “He loves me, he loves me not…” (To be continued.)
A great big mess all in the national interest
10 May 2010
By Sunday the confusion had gone viral. Suddenly everyone had an opinion and the phrase on everyone’s lips was “in the national interest”. It sounded good but what did it mean?
It was a day in which absolutely everything was done in the national interest. First, on The Andrew Marr Show (which I believe could emerge as the epicentre of coalition government), Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws announced that Labour must rule with a rainbow coalition.
“But Brown is not a colour in the rainbow,” noted Rory Bremner, who, in the national interest, is learning to impersonate Nick Clegg and David Cameron at the same time.
Then Michael “Meerkat” Gove appeared, blinking frantically. He said that in the national interest he would make the ultimate sacrifice to form a coalition with the Lib-Dems. “Are you prepared to give up your Cabinet seat?” Mr Gove stared into the camera. “Yes!” he barked.
Next up was Lib-Dem Commander Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, wearing corduroy in the national interest. I was disappointed he did not abseil into the TV studio. He kept fiddling with his ear. Was he getting messages from Nick? It looked suspicious. He sees this as a patriotic test. “It is the sovereign command of the British people, which I must obey,” he announced. The British people (were they the ones in his ear?) had told him: “You may not like these other guys but we now require you to talk to them!”
I raced to Whitehall to see all the guys talking to each other (no women involved, I note in the national interest). I have never seen a constitutional crisis before and I can report that, basically, it is just one big mess. No one seems to know what is going on. All’s we knew is that something – Talks? Coffee? Tea? Daisy plucking? – was going on between the Blue Team and the Yellow Team behind the studiously apolitically coloured door (teal, I think, very Farrow and Ball) of the Cabinet Office. My but it was cold. It felt like February on that pavement outside that door which had never been troubled by a crowd before, much less this raggle-taggle of media, tourists and the occasional British citizen.
I talked to one man sporting an “I Should Be In Charge” badge. “I suppose you know that we are in between prime ministers for the first time in decades,” he said.
So who was in charge? Hard to say but soon at least we knew who was in Number 10. Gordo, aka Mr Squatter, had arrived along with Mrs Squatter and the little Squattees via the back door in the early afternoon, direct from Scotland. Lord Mandy, wearing an open-necked shirt, was already inside. Ed Miliband was also there. This was the ancien régime, the Squatteriti if you like, gathering to plot how to hang on to power.
The only one to enter No 10 via the front door was Iain Bundred, the press officer also known as Bunders. How very Jeeves and Wooster that a man named Bunders was at the heart of this.
By 5.30pm the crowd outside the Cabinet Office numbered in the hundreds, cameras sticking out like barnacles. Finally I saw the sharp eyes of George Osborne flash through the windows and the blue team emerged to say that the talks had been positive.
Then we heard from the yellow team, led by Danny Alexander, the tall carrot-head MP and Nick Clegg’s chief of staff.
Afterwards Danny walked along Whitehall, a huge pulsating scrum around him, looking bemused.
“Is it Tony Blair?” asked a passer-by. No, I thought, just Danny A. Who would have thought it? These are heady times for the Liberal Democrats, not to mention the national interest.
The hand of history, the clunking fist and a finger puppet
11 May 2010
Everyone kept calling it the “New Politics” but, as Gordon set out to woo Nick in earnest, it looked alarmingly like the old politics, just messier. But Nick, the one they all wanted, seemed to be loving it
It was not so much the hand of history as the great clunking fist that hit Westminster at 5pm yesterday. Gordon Brown’s announcement left Westminster reeling, spluttering, bleeding and, in some cases, furious. “They are duplicitous b******s,” said one Tory MP of the Lib Dems, with truly snarling relish. The brand new MPs looked a bit like baby seals who had just been clubbed.
Which they had, of course. So much drama on their first day. There were five or six statements but Gordon’s was the only shocker. There was no warning, just an aide suddenly running out into Downing Street and erecting the wonky lectern that No 10 has used since Gordo lost the election (the smart one with the No 10 logo, we must assume, is being kept for whenever we get a new prime minister).
It was a magnificent non-resignation resignation. Indeed, possibly the finest of the genre. Gordon told us that he was a loser but a progressive loser. He was so progressive that he felt called to form a government with other progressive losers before he, Gordon, would quit (eventually). Gordon looked sombre but, surely, beneath all that dourness, this was all part of the dating game. In Mills and Boons terms, he was saying: “Nick! Even if you love me not, Labour is the one for you!”
When Gordon returned to his bunker, we could hear the sound of clapping from inside No 10 (so that is what the hand of history does on such a day). The Squatter had spoken and his fellow squattees approved.
So the first official day of the new politics was, to use the technical term, a total mess. It was divided into three distinct sections: morning (happy), afternoon (confusion) and 5pm (nuclear).
In the morning, under the expensive fig trees in Portcullis House, the MPs office block next to the Palace of Westminster, the new MPs really did look fresh faced as journalist stalked them as hyenas do their prey. “Are you enjoying the first day back at school?” asked Ed Vaisey, the affable not to say rotund Conservative MP for TV Appearances, as he passed by.
Cabinet ministers wandered round as if they didn’t have a care in the world or, indeed, a desk. Hillary Benn had lunch in the canteen. Ed Balls raced by. Jack Straw mooched round, carrying his gym bag (it has a portcullis on it) and buying himself a cup of tea. “I’m still the Lord High Chancellor,” he noted. But, clearly, one without much to do.
Then, in mid-morning, the blue and yellow teams met again behind the suddenly famous teal door of the Cabinet Office. Afterwards, as everyone left, blowing air-kisses at each other, rumours of a deal stole through Westminster like cat burglars in the night.
At 1pm Nick Clegg was supposed to meet his MPs in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall. He was, of course, late. This hall, with its great vaulted wooden ceiling, its fabulous stained-glass window, is a place where you can feel history: Charles I was tried here in 1649 and, 11 years later, Cromwell’s head was put on display. And now Little Nicky Clegg, kingmaker, was meeting his MPs to decide the fate of the nation.
Or not, as it turned out. I felt that I was not seeing the hand of history here so much as its finger puppet. There was a poignant moment when the defeated MP Lembit Öpik appeared, a lone, not to say desperately seeking attention figure, to give his not very deep thoughts on it all. He ended with these chilling words: “I’ll be back.” Schwarzenneger should sue.
The Lib-Dem meeting ended with the news that the Lib Dems were also flirting with Gordo now, and soon afterwards Gordon detonated his nuclear device (this is his version of flirting).
It was evening before we caught sight of David Cameron as he met his MPs in Westminster. As he entered, we heard a thunderous rumble as Tory MPs used their hands of history to thump their desks, a Tory tribal tradition. It sounded like a stampede.
Constitutional crisis? What a constitutional crisis!
12 May 2010
Was Nick going to choose Dave or Gordon? The Lib-Dem leader seemed to be playing one off against the other until, finally, as twilight loomed, a decision was nigh
The deal that did for Gordon Brown all began with an innocent little Tweet from William Hague just before 2pm. “Will be returning to Cabinet Office shortly to resume negotiations.”
Then the Tory team strode down Whitehall, with Michael Crick of the BBC stuck to their side like a raucous little burr. I think that Mr Crick, whose fuzzy microphone has been ubiquitous in past days, may be the mascot of this constitutional crisis.
“They are like rock stars,” gushed Elizabeth, a pensioner, eyes wide, looking thrilled to have just seen Mr Hague (it has come to this). “It is so frantic!”
And it was. Indeed here, outside the teal door of 70 Whitehall, it felt frantic all afternoon. The scrum grew and grew until, finally, hundreds were gathered round the door, staring at it. Hundreds of lenses were trained on it and everyone was gathered round it, in a big unruly horseshoe. Photographers on stepladders faced it, police guarded it. To the uninitiated, it would have looked as if the door was sacred and we were, in some strange ritual, worshipping it (which, actually, we were).
The Siege of the Teal Door lasted five and half hours. Not even the resignation of the Prime Minister, which took place only yards away in Downing Street, interrupted it. For this one afternoon, the centre of power, such as there is in a constitutional crisis (known as CC from now on), was here.
Everyone who was anyone in the CC was here. There were police, protesters, cameras, random actual voters, tourists and Big Ben. And, of course, Sky television’s Adam Boulton, he of the great on-air bust-up with Alastair Campbell.
“Lots of people have e-mailed me saying I should have punched him,” said Adam. But did he think so? “No,” he said. “I regret it.” Still, it’s made him a mini rock star, too. “Adam! Adam! Adam! Give us a wave,” shouted the protesters.
We had no idea what was going on, as is always the case when you are at the heart of events. Behind the door, in three adjoining rooms, eight men were thrashing out a Teal Deal. At first, on this cold grey May day, it didn’t seem possible that the deal would end with a change of prime minister within hours. The rumour that someone had seen luggage taken out the back door of No 10 seemed quite ridiculous.
But about halfway through, about 4pm, it began to feel different. The crowd kept getting bigger—and noisier. The protesters from Take Back Parliament chanted unwieldy slogans. “What do we want? Electoral reform!” they shouted. “When do we want it? In a structured time frame!” In a structured time frame? That was so incredibly Lib Dem. We’re going to have to get used to it now.
It all felt very heady. Everyone kept warm by trying to name the new Con-Lib Cabinet (or should that be Con-Dem Cabinet? John Prescott calls it the Con-Dem Nation). The protesters were shouting: “Danny Alexander! Danny Alexander! We just want to see you.” So here was another absurdity of the CC: now even Danny A—Nick Clegg’s chief of staff —had become a rock star.
Rumours fell on us like hailstones. Gordon was going to resign. Ken Clarke was the new Chancellor. Samantha Cameron had just arrived. A man with a loudhailer shouted: “This is what democracy looks like.” The crowd spilled over into the central reservation. It wasn’t until almost 20 minutes after Gordon had resigned that the negotiators emerged. The Teal Deal had been done, the constitutional crisis was over but not the drama a few steps away.
Inside Number 10, Gordon had been waiting too. The unelected prime minister (aka, the Squatter) knew that he was on his way out, rejected by the Lib-Dems (the maths were pretty impossible anyway). He, too, was just waiting for the pre-nup negotiations to end and for Nick (of all people) to call. This he finally did. “Nick, Nick, I can’t hold on any longer,” Gordon said.* “Nick, I’ve got to go to the palace. The country expects me to do that. I have to go. The Queen expects me to go. I can’t hold on any longer.”
It was a dignified end to a mess of a day. At 7.19pm, Gordon left Downing Street for good, on foot, walking with his children John (age six) and Fraser (age three) and Sarah. It was the most vulnerable, and the most human, we have ever seen him. By 8.10, Dave was seeing the Queen and then, at 8.40pm, he was in Downing Street, announcing that he aimed to form a coalition with the Lib-Dems, his pregnant wife Sam watching. And then he walked, for the first time, through that gleaming door, prime minister at last.
*As reported by Guardian photographer Martin Argles, who chronicled Gordon’s last hours
Da dum dum dum …. The Happy Couple go down the garden path
13 May 2010
We had no idea when we received the call for an afternoon press conference at Number 10 that “congratulations” were in order.
From the very first sight of the happy couple I knew that it was, actually, a wedding. Nick and Dave emerged from the back door at No 10 on to a garden terrace dotted with bright green spirals of topiary. Deep in conversation, they processed by the cascading lavender wisteria (wisteria! Dave’s fave*). Stride mirrored stride, smile begot smile. We could see how well they chuckled together as they came down the garden path towards us. Yes, down the garden path. You could not make it up.
We were gathered, dearly beloved, in the garden of No 10. The hundred or so velvet chairs were arranged on the lawn, one side for the groom, the other for the other slightly more boyish groomette. The garden was a little bit of heaven with its beehive and wormery, dominated by a graceful majestic magnolia. Many of the flowers were yellow and blue, of course, perfectly co-ordinated for the politics. They had matching his ‘n’ his lecterns.
The grass really IS greener on this side, I can report. It almost glowed it was so lusciously alien green. The only thing missing was a small orchestra and a tremulous song by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“Today we are not just announcing a new Government,” beamed Dave as Nick beamed back, eyes steady, body turned towards him. “We are announcing a new politics.”
OMG, as they say, not just a wedding but a birth too. “I came into politics to change it, to change Britain,” beamed Nick as Dave beamed back. “Together — that job starts today.”
Together for ever! I have to say they suit each other. Indeed, both looked more relaxed together (for ever) than they do with their own parties. They are both 43 but Nick makes Dave look a bit older, which, as he is now Prime Minister, is good. I had never noticed his crow’s feet until yesterday but then he laughed more than usual, occasionally throwing his head back. Everyone was talking about their hair (sorry, I wish I could say their policy on nuclear power but it wouldn’t be true). Dave’s mini-quiff was more coiffed, Nick’s more natural.
We guests had brought only questions but, as it was a wedding, they were a bit soft. “If the phone rings at 3am, do you both have to answer it?” was one. Everyone giggled, especially Dave (or David, as Nick calls him). It seems not.
Where was Nick’s office? “He has the Deputy Prime Minister’s office in the Cabinet Office,” explained Dave. “It is pretty close together. This is not going to be a partnership where we have to book meetings.” Nick said that the Cabinet Office was like a warren. “I have no idea where I am!” he cried, giddy with it all.
Birds were singing as they told us about their relationship. They’d set a fixed term of five years (and Parliament will follow suit), so will be renewing their vows at the election in 2015. Yes, Nick would be standing in for him at Prime Minister’s Questions. “I look forward to lots of foreign travel!” gushed Dave.
It all seemed almost ridiculously chummy. Who knew that coalitions were this much of a love-in? If they keep this up, they’ll need a joint name (Clameron? Camelegg?). But they both did look transformed. At one point, Dave chortled: “This is what the new politics looks like!” Happy days — at least for now.
* In the MPs expenses scandal, Dave repaid £680 for household repairs which included the cost of clearing wisteria from a chimney.
All extracts are the copyright of Ann Treneman and no reprints are permitted without permission