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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Five Days That Changed Britain

On the day before moving into Number 10, David Cameron told his wife he wouldn't be PM – such was the uncertainty in the negotiations to form a coalition government following this year's General Election. Cameron also reveals that when he went to Buckingham Palace to see HM The Queen he told her he didn't know what sort of government he would form and that he might have to return in the morning. The BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, tells the inside story of the forming of the coalition government, in Five Days That Changed Britain, on 29 July at 9pm on BBC Two.

David Cameron denies misleading Tory MPs when he told them that Labour had offered the Liberal Democrats voting reform without a referendum. He reveals that he argued with Nick Clegg that you could not have AV without a referendum. Clegg says it was "an offer that might have been made" though not directly to him.

Also in the programme, David Cameron says he was taken by surprise by the timing of Gordon Brown's departure and called his wife to tell her to "get your frock on" as they would be going to the Palace. The Queen's Principal Private Secretary told Lord Mandelson that Gordon Brown had a duty to stay on.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Lord Mandelson, Ed Balls and other key players talk exclusively about what exactly took place in the negotiations between the election on 6 May and the forming of the coalition government on 11 May.

The following extracts are transcripts of interviews in the programme:

On the day before moving into Number 10, David Cameron told his wife he wouldn't be PM. "I remember going home, I think, on Monday evening, and I think Sam and I had supper in the kitchen and I remember saying, you know, it's not going to happen, I'm going to be leader of the opposition. And I remember saying I want to go on being leader of the opposition.

"I think we can defeat this new government, I'm depressed that it hasn't worked out as we wanted it but we've got a strong party, had a strong election. We did very well, we made the right offer to the Lib Dems we put, you know we put, we behaved in the right way, we made them a big generous offer to have a coalition government, they're going with the other lot, we're going to fight them all the way. And I thought that's it I'm going to be in opposition for another couple more years.

"On Sunday I was thinking I probably will be Prime Minister, on Monday I was thinking by the end of Monday I definitely won't be Prime Minister."

David Cameron reveals that when he went to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen he told her he didn't know what sort of government he would form and that he might have to return in the morning.

"I went to see Her Majesty and she asked me to form a government and I said I couldn't be totally sure about what sort of government I was going to form. I said that I hoped to form a coalition government but I might have to come back in the morning and tell her it was something rather different."

David Cameron says he didn't mislead Conservative MPs when he told them Labour had offered the Liberal Democrats voting reform without a referendum. Nick Robinson asks Cameron: "Did you mislead your MPs by saying Labour will give them voting reform without a referendum?" David Cameron says: "No, because I was absolutely certain in my own mind that was the case and I had, I think, good reason to be certain I had a number of people had told me what was, what they thought was going on and conversations that were taking place about AV without a referendum and also I'd had a conversation with Nick when I'd argued very vigorously that you couldn't do alternative vote without a referendum – it would be wrong."

Robinson asks Nick Clegg: "But, but if Conservative MPs think they're being misled into backing a referendum because you told David Cameron: 'Look, we can get this changed without one', you're saying that's wrong?"

Nick Clegg: "To be fair, I think that's not in a sense what the kind of perception, the perception which I think was accurate was discussions are out and it might have been an offer that might had been made and might have been considered. In answer to your direct question was it ever formally made to me, no, it wasn't not formally made to me."

David Cameron says he was taken by surprise by Brown's departure: "I remember having to ring Samantha and saying, you know, what are you doing and she was doing Nancy's homework. And I said we could be going to the Palace, you'd better get your, you know, get your frock on."

David Cameron reveals that he had a 45-minute-long chance encounter with Clegg before the election. "We'd spoken, funnily enough, I think, by accident when the government opened the Supreme Court. I think because the Prime Minister, then Gordon Brown, and the Queen were both there they didn't really know what to do with the opposition politicians they left Nick and me alone in this room together for about 45 minutes ... now we didn't talk about, you know, hung parliaments or anything like that, we just talked about politics and things and I think that helped ... so I knew that he was a reasonable person, in politics for the right reasons, like me."

Ed Balls, the Labour leadership contender who was closely involved in negotiations, describes how he was surprised to hear the Liberal Democrats saying they wanted immediate spending cuts. "I was astonished, if I'm quite honest, because, you know, it didn't, it didn't, didn't occur to me that they would think for a moment they could hold their party together on such a sort of massive breach of the manifesto."

Nick Clegg is asked if he changed his mind about cuts this year during the five days of negotiations.

Nick Clegg says: "I changed my mind earlier than that ... firstly, remember between March and the actual general election ... a financial earthquake occurred in on our European doorstep."

Nick Robinson: "Forgive me, in the election you didn't say things have changed I'm in favour of cuts now?"

Nick Clegg responds: "Ah, to be fair, we were all, I think, reacting to very, very fast-moving economic events."

Lord Mandelson reveals that the Queen's Principal Private Secretary told him that Gordon Brown had a duty to remain in post until a new government could be formed.

Lord Mandelson tells Nick Robinson: "And I spoke to him in the corridor, and said: 'Look, this is really getting quite difficult for the Prime Minister. I do think we need to sort of bring this to as swift and dignified a conclusion as we can.' And he said: 'Look, I fully understand, nobody likes it but equally the Prime Minister has a constitutional obligation, a duty, to remain in his post until the Queen is able, and to ask for somebody, either Gordon or an alternative, to form an admin. You'll have to wait a bit longer until things become clearer.' I accepted that, obviously understood it, and I went up to the Palace."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell warns that coalition partners end up looking like each other just as owners look like their dogs.

Nick Robinson asks Menzies Campbell if he recalls watching the first news conference, then of the Prime Minister and now Deputy Prime Minister.

Menzies Campbell says: "... enormous chemistry between the two of them ... you know that old thing if you have a dog then eventually, for long enough, eventually, you begin to look like your pet? Well, if you have ... a coalition partner then it seems to me there's a very grave risk, eventually, you'll come to look like them."

Five Days That Changed Britain, 29 July at 9pm on BBC Two.


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