Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In Conversation with Lord Adonis 18 November 2013

Yesterday evening the Vice-Chancellor at University of Reading Sir David Bell hosted a 'In Conversation' with Lord Andrew Adonis.

Lord Adonis sat in the House of Lords for the first time at the age of 42 and considering that the average age in the Lords is 71, this is remarkably young. He became a Minister for Education under Tony Blair and the Minister for Transport under Gordon Brown.

The Vice-Chancellor in conversation… with Rt Hon. the Lord Adonis

Contact : Admission is free, but places are limited to book a place, contact us: events@reading.ac.uk 0118 378 4313 or visit: www.reading.ac.uk/events

Join Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, in conversation with Andrew Adonis, Education Minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as Secretary of State for Transport 2009–2010. His most recent book, 5 Days in May, tells the inside story of the negotiations in May 2010 that led to the country’s first coalition government for over 60 years.
It is essential reading as the 2015 election approaches, with the prospect again of no single political party securing a majority of parliamentary seats.
Andrew Adonis is one of the country’s most original thinkers, behind such radical policies as the creation of Academy schools and the development of HS2, the high speed rail network. 
It was a good evening of questions mainly of three topics: coalition, education and transport.

I should start with my question and the answer I received. Due to having recorded the answer, I have transcribed it.

Q - 'What came out of your book was that the Labour and LibDem negotiating teams didn't gel due to one individual, Mr Balls. With the revelations from the media over the weekend that Mr Balls is a 'nightmare' to work with: is he fit for purpose in his current role?'

A - I'm anxious to despair that somehow, which was what the Lib Dems were putting about, that is was the body language of the Labour negotiators that we didn't agree. The reason we didn't agree was a perfectly honest decision, which I respect by the Lib Dems, that they wanted to go into coalition with David Cameron and the Conservatives. In terms of the negotiations they were perfectly civil and there were some strongly expressed views as you would expect when you get 8 politician in one room together. But who were the people who expressed their views most forthrightly, in my recollection, the person who expressed his views most forthrightly in those 5 days wasn't Ed Balls it was one Mr Chris Huhne who I remarking on after one of the negotiating sessions that I wish I was as competent for anything as Chris Huhne is of everything. Those who have met him will know precisely what I mean.

The reason they went into coalition with the Conservatives is that is what they wanted to do. Nick Clegg decided he wanted to go right on the Economy. He was perfectly comfortable with the George Osbourne austerity plan and didn't seem to change it at all. With David Laws also on the right. David Laws wrote a book, The Orange Book, which puts out his thinking. 

It was clearly much easier to form a coalition with the Conservatives than it was with Labour. Conservatives plus the Lib Dems was a big majority. Labour plus the Lib Dems was still a minority Government and that was a significant factor. But I think he [Clegg] should have just have been honest and said the reason we have formed this coalition is because we think it would be more legitimate in terms of votes and we are more with comfortable with it in terms of the idea of the economy.

It wasn't because of discussion we have in terms of pupil premium should be phased in within 2/3 years years, or when the AV referendum would be - they were side issues. The big issues were that he wanted to go right rather than left on the economy and he wanted a coalition with would give a commanding majority in the house. That was the reason. It wasn't anything to do with the negotiators in the room.

Its very interesting that Lord Adonis passed the blame onto an individual who has already been discredited due to the penalty points fiasco and has not served time in prison. Secondly (and unsurprisingly), he didn't actually answer the question whether Ed Balls is fit for purpose in his current role. Instead he tried to lie blame with Liberal Democrats.

Coalition questions (these questions and answers have been summarised)

Q - What was surprising about the coalition days?
A - The rapid decision to form a coalition Government rather than proceed with a minority Government, which was a legitimate option. During the 5 days, he wrote an article for the Guardian paper predicting that the coalition would only last a year. The article can be read here.

Q - Was 5 days long enough?
A- No. The German Government are two months in and they are still negotiating. The coalition agreement was very sketchy and a longer version had to be released 2 weeks later to ensure all areas had been covered. 

Q - What can we learn from our Europe counterparts?
A - Treat the transport department as important. Ministers, particularly junior ministers, need to be in their posts longer. In Britain, it is uncommon to speak about coalition openly before hand but preparation needs to occur. 

Transport (summarised points)

Here HS2 was a the main topic. Lord Adonis, was pretty much in favour of HS2 and said Britain needed to realise their is only two options - patch and mend the old lines or build a new line for our future needs. He preferred the second option. Lord Adonis did remark however, that we are very bad at project managing and do go over budget but this is due to the lack of encouragement of engineering fields meaning we have to buy skills and materials from abroad.

Education (summarised points)

Lord Adonis was happy that the Academy scheme has been continued under the current Government and although doesn't agree with all the changes, he does agree changes do need to happen. He noted that it is good to agree.

Over all a good event. Lots of interesting questions. I even got my version of his book signed!

More photos can be found here.

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