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Jill Kirby: A Cleggeron Coupon? Lessons from history

Is next week's contest in Oldham and Saddleworth a "coupon election" in all but name? David Cameron may not have offered the LibDem candidate a formal endorsement, but it is clear he would not be unhappy with a LibDem victory. So perhaps this is a good moment to draw a few comparisons with the 1918 Lib-Con coalition campaign, in which the coalition partners (Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law) issued a letter of endorsement to pro-coalition candidates (159 Liberals and 364 Conservatives).

  • The coalition duly won the election.
  • The coupon enabled the parties to avoid a merger and to maintain separate party identities - but provided a formula to ensure that they did not campaign against each other
  • It was driven by the party leadership and tolerated by the (largely submissive) rank-and-file
  • The fact that the election took place in the immediate aftermath of war meant that the party could claim to be pulling together at a time of national hardship
  • Political historians point out that Lloyd George's motive was his ambition to create a centrist party to dominate British politics.
  • But the resulting split in the Liberal party was to destroy them as a political force.

So what might a coupon do for the Conservative and Liberal parties at the next general election?


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