Miliband, Harman and Balls 'wrecked' coalition

A "truculent trio" of Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman wrecked any chance of putting together a left- wing coalition after the last election, the former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws claimed yesterday.

In the first "inside" account of how the Coalition was formed, Mr Laws, who was on the Liberal Democrat negotiating team, said Mr Miliband was at best "indifferent" to the talks, and Ms Harman was "patronising".

Mr Balls, he added, set out to "wreck" the discussions by suggesting Labour would not be able to persuade its MPs to back a referendum on electoral reform.

In contrast, Gordon Brown offered to match any offer made to the Liberal Democrats by the Tories, but went on to withdraw a promise to stand down early in a new parliament.

In his book 22 Days in May, which is being serialised in The Mail on Sunday, Mr Laws reveals that during talks with the Tories William Hague joked that the Conservative Party "was like an absolute monarchy moderated by regicide". The Liberal Democrats, Mr Laws says, were like "an absolute democracy, moderated by very little". He also reveals how Buckingham Palace and the Civil Service worked together with the Tories to ensure that Mr Brown remained in No 10 until a coalition could be stitched together.

The book, which uses a near-verbatim record of the talks, marks Mr Laws's return to the political fray following his resignation from the Cabinet just weeks into the Coalition. When it emerged that the secretly gay MP had claimed £40,000 in second-home expenses for renting a room from his partner, he stepped down.

As long as Mr Laws is not censured too severely when the results of an official inquiry into the matter are published, he is widely expected to return to the Cabinet within months.