"But what was it that Karl Marx said about History repeating itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce?"
Amidst all the speculation regarding negotiations about the creation of a post-election arrangement between the Conservatives and LibDems I haven’t seen any reference to the last time the Liberals (as they were then) put in a minority government.
Actually, they did this twice in the 1920s, first in 1923 and then in 1929. Neither time will give Nick Clegg much comfort.
After the 1923 election Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin resigned as his Conservative government had lost its majority, although with 258 seats (and 38.5 per cent of votes) his remained the largest party in the Commons. After some hand wringing Henry Asquith decided that his 158 Liberal MPs should allow Ramsay MacDonald to hold office, the two parties sharing a common position on free trade. They supported Labour on a supply and confidence basis. The MacDonald government however lasted just ten months, after losing a vote of confidence, having achieved very little of substance.
The resulting 1924 election saw Baldwin return to power with a working majority. The Liberals, having angered many of its supporters for enabling Labour to hold power for the first time, lost 118 seats and its share of the vote collapsed from 29.7 per cent (and virtual parity with Labour) to 17.8 per cent. They would never again enjoy such a strong position as that held in 1923.
After five years as Prime Minister Baldwin lost the 1929 election. This time Labour had become the largest party in the Commons but at 287 seats MacDonald was still short of a majority. The Liberals, by now led by David Lloyd George, had 59 MPs (albeit elected by 23.6 per cent of voters) and again allowed Labour to take power. This time, however, there were some strings attached – specifically a royal commission on electoral reform. Unfortunately for the Liberals by the time Labour left office in 1931, amidst a grave financial crisis, it had failed to pass any legislation.
Of course, just because this earlier Liberal experience of supporting minority governments was so miserable does not necessarily mean it will be in the future. But what was it that Karl Marx said about History repeating itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce?
Professor Steven Fielding