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Will Conservative and Lib Dem MPs refer to each other as "honourable friends"?

I have been speaking to a number of Conservative MPs - both ministers and backbenchers - over the last few days, trying to ascertain what they will call their coalition partners in the chamber of the House of Commons.

In the political lifetime of the entire membership of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrats and their predecessors in the Liberal Party have always been merely "honourable members", with the term "honourable friend" reserved for fellow Conservative MPs.

However, nobody I have spoken to has a definitive answer as to what the correct terminology will be now that we have a formal coalition government involving both parties.

I would imagine that those in both parties who are sceptical of the deal would baulk at the idea of using the word "friend", whereas I find it had to imagine David Cameron, for example, referring to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (who will sit next to him on the Government front bench) as anything but "my Right Honourable Friend" under the circumstances.

Might the attitude prevail that those Lib Dems with ministerial status are friends whereas Lib Dem backbenchers are not? Or does this whole question unveil a subtle shibboleth which will enable onlookers to identify the attitudes of MPs to the coaltion deal?

Some are wondering whether there could be a third way and that the term "honourable colleague" could be introduced to fit the bill.

Perhaps a historian reading this could enlighten us as to what the pratice was in previous coalitons in the first half of the 20th Century?

Jonathan Isaby


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