The future of British politics and, even more, that of the Lib Dems, is unusually obscure at present, based as they are on a political arrangement that has no peacetime precedent since the development of the modern party system. Lloyd George’s post-First World War coalition was a prolongation of his wartime coalition, which already excluded much of the Liberal Party, and its only possible long-term role – as an anti-Labour front – was one the Tories thought they could play just as well if not better. The so-called National Government formed in 1931 was fraudulent from the moment of its foundation. Its basis was the Conservative Party, buttressed by a handful of former Labour leaders with nowhere else to go, and a fair slice of the Liberal Party. It had a negotiated programme of sorts at the start, but its policies soon became those of the Baldwinite Conservative Party, adjusted to suit the large number of ex-Liberal voters who supported it. That government collapsed in May 1940. Churchill’s wartime administration was a genuine coalition of virtually all the country’s political forces and after its break-up we had no coalitions until 2010.
LRB 5 April 2012 | PDF Download