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Tuesday 20 April 2010

A Desperate Retelling

As the fallout from the first Leaders’ Debate continues, the Tory cheerleaders within the blogosphere have been reduced to a state of desperation: they don’t want to appear nasty towards Corporal Clegg, but their belief that Young Dave only had to turn up and look confident has been shot apart. The prospect of a hung parliament, and potential coalition Government, is clearly causing distress, so much so that creative retelling of history to frighten voters back to the Tories has begun.

And today’s singularly desperate storyteller is Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda. Dale has exhumed David Low’s caricature of Lloyd George as coalition Prime Minister (after the “coupon election” of 1918) riding a two headed donkey. He says that this Government was “possibly the worst ... of the 20th Century”, which fails to explain why Lloyd George was, by 1922, at the height of his personal popularity. He summons the memory of Michael Foot in telling what did for LG.

What sunk Lloyd George was partly that he had no party by 1922: the coalition had ended (so the two headed donkey was no more), and the Liberals, something that Dale’s simplistic analysis omits, were split between those backing LG and the followers of Herbert Asquith, with the latter having been part of the opposition after 1918. When the election came in 1922, LG and those of like mind stood as a party separate to the Liberals, and suffered as a result. The Tories, who had formed the bulk of the 1918 coalition, emerged if anything stronger (the lesson of what happens to a politician who has no party was not lost on LG’s friend Churchill in 1940).

And the Tories did it again in 1931: Ramsay MacDonald and a group of Labour and Liberal MPs went into a coalition “National Government” with them, the Tories emerging by 1935 as a party with a parliamentary majority of around 200. MacDonald was, on one occasion, discovered by Lloyd George wandering around the House of Commons looking lost: he left LG with the impression that he had come to realise he had been duped.

What Iain Dale and his fellow Tory cheerleaders cannot and will not admit is that there is one lesson to learn from recent peacetime coalition Governments in the UK: you go in with the Tories, and you end up getting screwed over. The Liberal Party suffered most, though they inflicted much of the damage by their infighting and indiscipline. Labour were rescued by their contribution to Churchill’s wartime Government, and the desire of the electorate not to go back to the policies that had failed so many of them in the 30s.

Nick Clegg, an Asquith Liberal, and the likes of Chris Huhne, who leans towards LG, will know their history well enough to hold together, and treat the Tory cheerleaders with the contempt they deserve.

[UPDATE: This post has also featured on Liberal Conspiracy today. My thanks as ever to Sunny Hundal]

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