Many Liberal Democrat activists would have found the Rose Garden love-in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg “sick-inducing”, a senior Lib Dem adviser has said.
Julia Goldsworthy, who has just stood down as aide to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander to fight to win back her parliamentary seat in 2015, tells The Independent on Sunday the sun-drenched press conference that sealed the Coalition in May 2010 was deliberately “hammed up” by the Prime Minister and Deputy PM to convince voters the deal would work.
Ms Goldsworthy says the closeness between the two parties was, however, completely necessary because it was in the national interest to have a stable government in difficult economic times.
She says: “I sat at home watching Nick and David in their first press conference in the Rose Garden. I think probably for a lot of political activists it was quite sick-inducing, but it was absolutely necessary because of the economy and national interest. Coalition was a fairly new thing to get our heads around. It was fairly important to demonstrate that this was a relationship that could work. It was fairly important to ham it up at the start, to show that this was something that was going to last.
”Danny and the Chancellor have said … because economic stability so crucial, the Treasury is the department where the Coalition more than anywhere else has to work.
“George has always been very very clear to anyone coming in to the Treasury, he told any ministers and advisers, this is the department where the coalition has to work: 'If I catch you doing anything to undermine the Government you will be out of here faster than your legs can carry you.'”
Ms Goldsworthy was selected earlier this month as the Lib Dem candidate for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, where she was an MP between 2005 and 2010 and where sitting Tory MP and environment minister George Eustice has a 66-vote majority. It is the closest fight between the two governing parties and their battle tells the story of the wider 2015 campaign - how Lib Dems and Tories will have to turn against each other after five years of being on the same side.
The former MP lost her seat in 2010 after becoming one of many embroiled in the expenses scandal. So does she think many would find it surprising that she is seeking support from the same people who voted her out? She says: “The whole expenses scandal was a total firestorm for Parliament, it was personally pretty bruising but it was absolutely necessary. There are going to be challenges. But there is no better way to show them that I am committed to representing them than giving up my job and campaign to be their MP.”
Since leaving Parliament, Ms Goldsworthy has got married to Christopher Church, and the couple have a one-year-old daughter. The Lib Dem says she was opposed to all-women shortlists when she was first selected as a parliamentary candidate a decade ago but has since changed her mind. “The problem is with the pace of change. I just don't think the way Parliament is going to take the step change that we need without all-women shortlists. If you want a big impact and do it quickly, now is the time to consider all-women shortlists. It is going to be a necessary thing to get us where we need to be.”
The former MP says Lib Dem candidates like her have a “really good story to tell about what we have achieved in Government”, but admits that the fight in Camborne and Redruth will be tough because, unlike many places in the country, unemployment has risen and the area remains deprived. At the Treasury, she has overseen the implementation of the key 2010 Lib Dem manifesto promise to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000, but admits that she will also defend the Bedroom Tax if challenged on the doorstep.
“I quite strongly believe that not changing anything is really unfair, it is fair to have a level playing field. That is an argument I am happy to have. Part of the solution is making sure we are able to get people into the size of accommodation they actually need.”
There is mounting speculation that the next election will result in a second hung Parliament but this time Labour will be the largest party and will form a coalition with the Lib Dems. Senior figures from both parties point out how much these two parties have in common, so does Ms Goldsworthy agree?
“The people who decide the outcome of the next election are the voters. In 2010 it was very clear that the Labour Party they didn't want to be in Government, they wanted someone else to be sorting out the problems of the economy. After being in Coalition I know why I wasn't and never will be a Conservative. You are there to understand your differences but you are also there to make common ground.” But would she be a Treasury minister under Chancellor Ed Balls? “I am not going to speculate about that.”