Oxford historian Angus Hawkins argues that peacetime coalitions 'almost always' lead to 'seismic shifts' in politics - one casualty of which could be the Labour party's very existence
By Guy Collender
Today’s changing political landscape and Labour’s 'existential crisis' are entirely consistent with the upheaval that follows peacetime coalitions, according to Oxford historian Angus Hawkins.
Addressing a busy lecture theatre at Keble, Hawkins substantiated his claim by reviewing a series of historical parallels, including David Lloyd George’s coalition government after the First World War. The end of the coalition in 1922 heralded the arrival of Labour, instead of the Liberals, as the main opposition party.
Hawkins (pictured left) outlined his three rules about peacetime coalitions:
1. The prospect of the next election hangs over the minor party in a coalition like the sword of Damocles
2. Exiting the coalition is harder than entering into the agreement for the parties concerned
3. The further from the ministerial offices and the heart of power, the harder it is to maintain the coalition, especially in constituencies
Hawkins focused on the recent Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and its aftermath. He dissected this year's British general election, commenting on the retribution shown towards the Liberal Democrats, the rise of the Scottish National Party and Scotland's 'one-party state', and the 'existential crisis' for the Labour party.
In response to Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party, Hawkins predicted that the party is likely to split. He added that a Social Democratic party might emerge, possibly including the Liberal Democrats.
Professor Hawkins, Fellow of Keble and Director of Public and International Programmes at the Department for Continuing Education, explained his compelling theory during Oxford’s Alumni Weekend. Hawkins concluded the lecture, which was entitled Party games: coalitions in British politics, by saying that politics in the United Kingdom might become more like the politics of continental Europe.
Guy Collender is a Keble alumnus (Modern History, 1998) and Head of Alumni Marketing and Communications