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28Jul2015

HUNG PARLIAMENTS AND GOVERNMENT FORMATION

I am speaking this week at a conference in Paris about the 2015 election.  My paper concerns the result in England and Wales (other people are speaking about Scotland), and especially the main explanation of that result: the destruction by the Conservatives of their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. To an historian, this is a truly remarkable outcome, because the history of coalitions and hung parliaments would have predicted almost none of it.

One important historical observation is that in Britain hung parliaments almost never produce coalitions. 2010 is therefore very unusual. Coalitions are either produced by wars or – another interesting aspect – are ‘unnecessary’ coalitions formed by the Conservatives even when they could have governed alone. Another historical observation is that the smaller parties in these ‘unnecessary’ coalitions tend either to be absorbed into the Conservative Party, with the happy outcome that they are often unopposed by the Conservatives at future elections; or to get out in time to preserve their independence.  It is historically unprecedented for the smaller party to do what the Liberal Democrats did, which is to enter a coalition with so few guarantees to enable them to preserve their independence of action in office, and without an electoral pact to protect them in the subsequent election.