This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Monday, 10 May 2010


"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

1 comment:

  1. So Gordon has (ish) departed from the throne, where does this leave us in terms of the electorate?
    facing a coalition of one form or another, or a minority government. David Cameron thus far is trying very hard to keep a low media profile. The result of this are not overly clear yet on public opinion. It remains to be seen if he can convince either the Lib Dems or sections of his own party that a Blue & Orange mix can work. My biggest concern as a Lib Dem supporter is that a situation arises where no electoral reform emerges and by November we are faced with a second election in a calculated attempt to shed liberal support from a Tory administration.

    For Nick Clegg this should be the thought keeping him awake at night. Clegg must be tempted hold his hand and to let the Tories form a minority government pushing for concessions in an ad hoc fashion in return for support issue by issue, bill by bill.

    The British are a fickle bunch and will turn sharply on Cameron should the Euro zone collapse affect stirling in the next 2-3 months rendering any cuts in an emergency budget meaningless, again we could be faced with votes of no confidence in the government and a winter election.

    Gordon is forcing the issue tonight and it would be quiet a thing to be privy to the conversations going on.

    Whatever the out come social media offers the average person the strongest ability to influence what is happening. When Francis Fukiyama wrote the "End of History" after the collapse of the Berlin wall. He argued the collapse of communism meant that capitalism had "won" the cold war. Idealogical politics was seen to be dead and western free market capitalism had won out.

    Perhaps what we are seeing now is the battle for the shape and form that western free market thinking should take, both ideologically and morally. After all through de regulation we have tried a full financial free market, the result of which did not work we will be picking up the bill for over a generation. Now comes the reaction how we choose to live and regulate our economic lives.

    When you stop to consider what is happening try not to see the situation as a problem, people engaged with politics like never before in this campaign, and I found myself talking about political issues on line and in person with friends who I never would have believed to have an interest. The reality is as a nation we do not agree what course is now the best option.

    Just as the English were the first to curb a monarchs absolute power in the Magna Carter, just as we were the first to create a modern parliamentary democracy, just as we were the first to execute a king to enshrine parliamentary rights. We are faced with taking the first faltering steps in 21st century capitalism.

    P.s pick me up where I have dropped the ball historically speaking


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