Coalitions: Churchill's Strange Brew

As the Coalition government marks its first anniversary Martin Pugh sees its blend of Liberal and Conservative policies mirrored in the long and chequered career of the most famous of all 20th-century prime ministers.

Coalitions between Liberals and Conservatives are far from new in British history. In the mid-Victorian era Lords Aberdeen and Palmerston formed coalitions comprising Whigs, Liberals and ‘Peelites’ (Conservative free traders). From 1895 to 1905 Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour led coalitions of Conservatives and Liberal Unionists (who opposed Irish Home Rule). And from 1931 to 1940 Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain kept Conservatives and ‘National Liberals’ in National Governments. In the process major figures changed sides – Gladstone from Tory to Liberal, Joseph Chamberlain from Radical Liberal to Conservative. Winston Churchill changed parties twice. Was this just opportunism or does it tell us more about British politics?

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