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Saturday 18 April 2009

The Deadly Embrace

Previously, I mentioned coalitions, and asserted that nobody except the Tories should relish such an arrangement. Here I’ll show why that assertion was made so unequivocally.

UK Governments have managed without formal coalitions for most of the recent past. There was a brief “Lib-Lab Pact” in the late 1970s between David Steel’s Liberals and Jim Callaghan’s majority Labour party, but this stopped short of full coalition. Where there have been such coalitions, they have involved the Tories, and it is that party that has emerged stronger as a result.

The wartime coalition that saw David Lloyd George become Prime Minister in 1916 was continued after the war, and this alliance of Tories and some Liberals gained a majority after the 1918 General Election of over 250 seats. The Tories, however, became increasingly unhappy with Lloyd George and in 1922 the coalition was ended after an impassioned speech to his fellow Tories by Stanley Baldwin – something that surprised LG, who noted that Baldwin never uttered a word in Cabinet. Lloyd George, now without a party, was effectively finished, as was a divided Liberal Party.

The Tories, however, were by 1924 able to form a majority government on their own, but were defeated by Labour in 1929. The economic situation, and the lack of unanimity in Labour ranks, led to Ramsay MacDonald going into coalition with the Tories in the National Government of 1931. MacDonald became merely a figurehead Prime Minister, with Stanley Baldwin holding the levers of power. Labour were, as with the Liberals previously, divided and weaker after the event. The Tories had a majority after the 1935 General Election of over 300.

Outside parliament, the Tories have occasionally courted and encouraged Trade Unionists: during the so-called “Winter of Discontent” they egged on council workers, and even settled their wage demands on taking office in 1979, only to throw many of them out of work soon afterwards as a result of rounds of spending cuts. This encouragement continued with the Nottinghamshire miners during the 1984-5 Miners’ strike: the Notts miners carried on working, formed their own trade union, then were as effectively doomed as their former colleagues in the NUM.

There’s a lesson here, and a straightforward one, for anyone tempted by overtures from young Dave: get into bed with the Tories, and you get shafted.

My hunch is that Andy Coulson may be avoiding that particular strapline.

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