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					report: CampbeLL-bannerman CommemoratIon

of Britain’s Greatest Statesmen’,      Centenary Commemoration,                              both to be superficial and to
a portrait sketch by Sir James         High School of Glasgow                                omit explanations of key issues
Guthrie, RSA and – arrayed             The High School of Glasgow –                          and individuals (for example,
with a wreath of daffodils to          which has a bronze plaque of Sir                      although the Corn Laws are
mark the centenary – a marble          Henry by Benno Schotz, RSA                            referred to, there’s no explana-
bust by Paul Raphael Montford.         – will be having its own Cen-                         tion of what they were or why
Sir James (another Glasgow             tenary Commemoration in the                           their abolition was so con-
High School former pupil) also         autumn. Efforts are also contin-                      troversial). The level of detail
painted, in 1907, the portrait         uing to have a new commemo-                           provided is too shallow for any
of Sir Henry in the Scottish           rative plaque erected at a more                       reader who knows anything
National Portrait Gallery. Paul        public location in Glasgow.                           much about the background,
Montford was responsible for                                                                 but inadequate for those com-
the bronze bust of Sir Henry in        Dr Alexander (Sandy) S. Waugh is                      ing to it afresh. And the chapters
Westminster Abbey (1911) and           a member of the Liberal Democrat                      actually say very little about the
the Stirling statue as unveiled by     History Group and, like Campbell-                     internal workings of the coali-
H. H. Asquith, then Prime Min-         Bannerman, a former pupil of Glas-                    tions in question.
ister, on 1 November 1913.             gow High School.                                          Even on its own terms this
                                                                                             part of the book is pretty inco-
                                                                                             herent. Having rightly observed
                                                                                             that most of the coalitions tended




revIews
                                                                                             to be unstable because they were
                                                                                             formed in the midst of crises (and
                                                                                             therefore had a limited range
                                                                                             of issues on which the coalition
                                                                                             partners could agree), Oaten
                                                                                             then criticises the Aberdeen
                                                                            oaten’s aim      coalition for not being formed in
Analysing coalitions                                                        was to derive    one, and therefore having noth-
                                                                                             ing to bring it together. He does
Mark Oaten: Coalition: The Politics and Personalities of                    lessons from     not attempt to consider what else
                                                                                             could plausibly have happened
Coalition Government from 1850 (Harriman House, 2007)                       the history      in the hung parliament delivered
Reviewed by Duncan Brack                                                                     by the 1852 election. He blames
                                                                            of coalition     the coalition for the outbreak of
                                                                                             the Crimean War (an accusation


M
          ark Oaten’s book                 Having said that, the book
                                                                            government       Disraeli also levelled), but never
          caused a small stir          is not entirely without value.       in britain       explains why. Having stated at
          upon its publication,        Oaten’s aim was to derive les-                        one point that Asquith’s large
in September 2007, with its            sons from the history of coali-      and from         war cabinet was not a prob-
apparent call for the Liberal          tion government in Britain and                        lem, he then argues that Lloyd
Democrats to consider a post-          from the rest of Europe, in the      the rest of      George’s much smaller one made
election coalition with the            belief – entirely reasonable in                       a key difference. And so on.
Conservatives. In fact, that           2007, not so clear now – that the
                                                                            europe, in           Where Oaten provides
conclusion is not put so starkly       next election is likely to lead to   the belief –     a political viewpoint, it’s
in the book itself – it stemmed        a hung parliament. He aimed                           essentially a right-wing one.
more from the article Oaten            to look both at the process of       entirely rea-    Apparently the 1931 National
wrote for The Times the week           putting coalitions together and                       Government should have
before publication (‘A Lib-Con         the personalities that made them     sonable in       made bigger cutbacks in the
pact? You shouldn’t rule it            work, or fail.                                        ‘vast sums being wasted on
out’, 6 September 2007). One               Five chapters thus exam-
                                                                            2007, not so     social security benefits’ – so
conclusion, however, is clear          ine Aberdeen’s Whig/Peelite          clear now –      much for Keynesianism, then.
from reading this analysis of          administration of 1852–55,                            Throughout, ideological dif-
coalition government in Brit-          Asquith’s and Lloyd George’s         that the next    ferences are sidelined; politics
ain and abroad: it’s that if Mark      wartime coalitions of 1915–16                         is almost entirely about per-
Oaten wants to forge a writing         and 1916–18, Lloyd George’s          election is      sonalities. Where the coalition
career after his departure from        post-war coalition of 1918–22,                        leaders were weak, or where
the Commons, he’ll have to             the National Government of
                                                                            likely to lead   they were strong but disagreed
manage a great deal better than        1931–35 and Churchill’s war-         to a hung        with each other, the coalitions
this superficial, incoherent and       time coalition of 1940–45.                            failed; where they worked
poorly written effort.                 Unfortunately they manage            parliament.      well together, the coalitions

40 Journal of Liberal History 59 Summer 2008
                                                                                                    revIews

                                     with politicians and political       have to work with each other
                                     scientists in the countries in       after the election; a reluctance
                                     question, and the more detailed      to stress key commitments too
                                     look he takes at the processes       much, in case they may have to
                                     of forming and running the           be dropped in negotiations) –
                                     coalitions, and partly because, I    though his conclusion that the
                                     guess, the material will be less     coalitions were a failure because
                                     familiar to a British audience.      the Lib Dems did relatively
                                     Once again, though, he criti-        badly in the 2007 election seems
                                     cises coalitions for doing things    a bit narrow, to say the least. He
                                     – like running out of ideas –        raises the argument, without
                                     that single-party governments        really developing it, that coali-
                                     are hardly immune from. His          tions may be best negotiated
                                     rather feeble conclusion is that     by politicians who are in some
                                     ‘in a strange way these coali-       sense party outsiders, such as
                                     tions all seem to work for their     Lloyd George, Churchill, Blair
                                     country’ (p. 313). He does not       or Ashdown.
                                     consider why the UK should be            The penultimate chapter
                                     different.                           considers what may happen
                                         Three further chapters cover     should the next election result
                                     more recent British events: the      in a hung parliament. Oaten
                                     Lib-Lab Pact of 1977–78, the         reaches some sensible conclu-
                                     Ashdown–Blair ‘project’ of           sions, including the need for
                                     1994–97, and the Joint Cabi-         some preparatory thought to the
                                     net Committee that followed,         process for potential negotia-
                                     and the Scottish experience          tions, and the need for a care-
succeeded. Needless to say, this     of 1999–2007. These are also         taker government to give them
analysis could also be applied to    a good deal better than the          enough time. He points out the
single-party governments. It’s       earlier chapters, again largely      difficulty, for the Lib Dems, of
an essentially anti-ideological      because of the interviews Oaten      putting Labour back into power
view of politics, an approach        conducted with some of the           once it has lost the election (a
also seen in Oaten’s praise for      key participants in the deals        lesson also drawn from the Lib-
the non-party businessmen            he describes, including David        Lab Pact), while minimising
brought in to government by          Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Jim            the party’s policy differences
some of the coalitions, and his      Wallace and Tom McNally,             with the Conservatives (though
belief that party politics always    as well as a number of politi-       observing that most Lib Dem
gets in the way of good gov-         cal scientists. He makes some        activists would hate a deal with
ernment – as though there is         perceptive observations – I par-     the Tories). He stresses the
always a single solution to any      ticularly liked the comment that     importance of obtaining a guar-
given problem, and govern-           ‘Ashdown had a habit of making       anteed commitment to PR in
ment is purely a matter of find-     every decision the most impor-       any deal. He correctly identifies
ing it.                              tant there has ever been’ (p.        the flaw with Charles Kennedy’s
   Subsequent chapters are           228). There are some interest-       answer to how the Lib Dems
fortunately rather better. One       ing viewpoints from his inter-       should behave in a hung parlia-
chapter deals with the experi-       viewees, including Clare Short       ment (to judge each issue on
ence of coalitions in Europe,        thinking that Blair could have       its merits) which is that before
picking examples from Aus-           pushed proportional represen-        the party gets that chance it has
tria, Germany and Italy. The         tation through the Commons           to decide how to vote on the
German example, though, is           after 1997 (p. 245), and Neal        government’s Queen’s Speech.
the ‘Grand Coalition’ formed         Lawson arguing that ‘there is        ‘Bluntly at this point you have
between the Christian Demo-          nobody [now] left in the Cabi-       to put up or shut up … Whilst
crats and Social Democrats in        net that believes in the Jenkins     it sounds a good soundbite two
2005 – not at all the typical        dream of the reunification of        years away from an election,
German experience, which has         progressives’ (p. 283). Oaten’s      the staying independent route
tended to see coalitions of one      analysis of the Labour–Lib Dem       is just not an option for a party
big and one smaller party. This      Scottish coalition governments       that wants to be taken seriously’
chapter is a good deal more          is interesting, as is their impact   (p. 301).
interesting than the earlier ones,   on politics (a less confronta-           In the concluding chap-
however, partly because of the       tional campaigning style, as par-    ter Oaten mostly sides with
interviews Oaten conducted           ties appreciate that they might      Disraeli’s famous aphorism,

                                                                  Journal of Liberal History 59 Summer 2008 41
revIews

‘England does not love coali-          the same thing) and places             oaten mostly    the eighteenth century were
tions’, while at the same time         (Bute House, not Bude House,                           largely out of power. Moreover,
completely failing to explain          is the home of Scotland’s First        sides with      Mitchell classifies the short peri-
how else the country is sup-           Minister). Words are misused           Disraeli’s      ods when they were in govern-
posed to be governed under a           (‘attributed’ where he means                           ment as ‘ugly experiences’ (p.
PR electoral system (which he          ‘allocated’, ‘contingency’ instead     famous          1) and argues that their taste for
clearly does support). He argues       of ‘contingent’, ‘denouncing’                          self-destruction was so marked
that coalitions do not tend to         instead of ‘renouncing’, ‘throws’      aphorism,       that, from time to time, ‘their
provide strong government              instead of ‘throes’). The gram-                        political opponents were driven
(while slightly undermining            mar is erratic, and references         ‘england        to beg them to pull themselves
his own case by accepting that         are incomplete and sometimes           does not love   together’ (p. 1) for the good
Lloyd George and Churchill             wrong.                                                 of the nation. Yet this was the
in fact did) and mainly ends up            Coalition is a frustrating         coalitions’,    period in which the traumatic
with the conclusion that ‘if a         book. The topic is a good one,                         events of the American and
coalition government can have          and there’s enough of inter-           while at the    French Revolutions laid the
a strong leader it stands a greater    est in the text to think that it                       foundations of the divisions
chance of success’ (p. 322). Well,     could have turned out much             same time       between the parties in succeed-
yes; yet again, one could say          better if it had gone through          completely      ing generations and in which the
the same about single-party            a couple of further drafts and                         nature of Whig opposition to
government.                            been properly proof-read before        failing to      the authoritarian Tory govern-
    The book is littered with          publication. As it is, Geoffrey                        ments of the period was a con-
errors, over dates (the London         Searle’s Country Before Party          explain how     tributory factor to the avoidance
bombings of July 2005 are given        (Longman, 1995) is far better                          of a revolutionary outbreak in
as 2004), election results (in 1931    on the historical side; and we         else the        Britain. Eventually the Whigs
the Liberal Party is simply omit-      still await a thorough analysis of     country is      did get their act together and the
ted, though the Liberal Nation-        recent experiences in Scotland                         contribution of their adminis-
als (wrongly called ‘Coalition         and Wales. But Oaten deserves          supposed to     trative brawn to the Victorian
Liberals’) are there), events (the     credit at least for raising a series                   Liberal governments was sig-
Liberal–Liberal National split         of good questions. Let’s hope          be governed     nificant in the constitutional
happened before 1931, not after;       that the hung parliament that                          transformation of the nineteenth
Charles Kennedy became Lib             might provide the answers isn’t        under a pr      century. But, because he is not
Dem leader in August 1999, not         too long coming.                       electoral       trammelled by the chronological
spring), issues (the 1909 People’s                                                            dictates of the life of the various
Budget and the 1911 Parliament         Duncan Brack is the Editor of the      system.         administrations, Mitchell is able
Act are treated as though they’re      Journal of Liberal History.                            to perform a more valuable serv-
                                                                                              ice. He constructs a sociology
                                                                                              of the Whigs, describing their
                                                                                              character and their mode of life,
                                                                                              building a picture of the arche-
No one likes us, we don’t care                                                                typal Whig.
                                                                                                 Gladstone, who joined the
Leslie Mitchell: The Whig World 1760–1837 (Hambledon                                          Liberals from the Peelite wing
                                                                                              of the Conservative Party, was
Continuum, 2005)
                                                                                              reported by a Whig of the later
Reviewed by Tony Little                                                                       Victorian period as complaining
                                                                                              that ‘a man not born a Liberal
                                                                                              may become a Liberal, but to


A
        t the beginning of his         Mitchell has written an enticing                       be a Whig he must be born a
        final chapter, Leslie          introduction to the world of the                       Whig’.1 Mitchell concurs, argu-
        Mitchell claims that           Whigs.                                                 ing that Whigs were ‘made
‘Whiggery is no more’ (p. 175).           Despite the title, Mitchell’s                       by nature and confirmed by
And like many extinct crea-            book is not a narration of politi-                     nurture’ (p. 6). Born to a rich
tures, by their disappearance the      cal events during his chosen                           aristocratic family comprising
Whigs have created something           period, which covers the reigns                        a mother and father of similar
of a mystery, which continues          of George III and his sons, up                         backgrounds and similar intel-
to intrigue Liberal Democrats,         to the accession of Queen Vic-                         lectual and political outlooks,
who claim the Whigs as part of         toria. Superficially, this choice                      indeed possibly cousins, the
their ancestry but who mostly          would appear odd as at this time                       young Whig went through his
know little about them. For any        the Whigs, who had been so                             formal education in the company
such Liberal Democrats Leslie          dominant in the early part of                          of other Whigs and in a suitably

42 Journal of Liberal History 59 Summer 2008

				
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