New warning coalition could split the Lib Dems

As the new coalition government unveiled its full programme this morning, David Cameron’s old politics tutor and leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanorwarned that the Liberal Democrats risked being split and “swallowed up” – as happened during all previous coalitions between the old parties – and that coalition government had “always benefited the Conservatives”.

David-Cameron-Nick-Clegg-front-benchWriting in this week’s New Statesman, Professor Bogdanor sets out the historical context in outlining one possible scenario:

“Coalitions have been of less benefit to the Liberals. In fact, they have always led to, or have been the product of, a party split – for example, with the Liberal Unionists, who split from the Liberals over Home Rule in 1886, and the Liberal Nationals in the 1930s. One wing of the party would subsequently be swallowed up by the Conservatives, while the other wing remained independent.

“In 1932, when one group of Liberals left the National Government over free trade, the Liberal Nationals (later National Liberals) remained, and, under the leadership of Sir John Simon, became even more enthu siastic appeasers of Nazi Germany than the Conservatives.

“A similar split could easily occur today, with the right wing of the Liberal Democrats under David Laws merging with the Conservatives, while the left, under Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, deserts the coalition, perhaps to seek an arrangement with Labour.”

Professor Bogdanor also calls Nick Clegg’s campaign “tactically shrewd” for not stressing which way he would jump in the event of a hung parliament, enabling the Lib Dems to take votes off Labour to ‘keep the Tories out’ and vice versa off Tory voters:

“Nick Clegg was tactically shrewd in not making his preference known; had he done so, the Lib Dems would have secured fewer than the 57 seats they won. But in Oxford West and Abingdon, the seat lost by Dr Evan Harris, leaflets were delivered to electors telling them that voting Liberal Democrat was the only way to keep the Conservatives out, given that Labour, a distant third, had no chance.

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