Roy Jenkins on what you should do in a hung Parliament

Whilst reaching for something else on my bookshelf, I came across my copy of Learning the Lessons of History, a pamphlet that records a speech by former reforming Home Secretary and SDP leader Roy Jenkins from 1991.

At the end there is also a record of the question and answer session which followed the speech, including this:

Question: It always seemed to me that the lesson of 1924, which really smashed the Liberal Party for the next however many years, was that it was a terribly dangerous thing to support a minority government and yet not participate in it, in that you collect all the blame for the things the government does that the people don’t like and the government itself, even though it is a minority one, collects all the credit for the things the people do like. To which the lesson seems to me to be drawn that you don’t support a minority government if you end up holding the balance of power but you try as hard as possible to get into coalition. Would you care to comment?

Roy Jenkins: Yes, that may be one of the lessons of ’24; I would draw another lesson from ’24 – not necessarily contradicting this one. I think one of the things which applied in ’24 was that people were terribly fed up with elections – three elections in two years was a tremendous ratio. One in each autumn of ’22, ’23 and ’24, and I think this disposed people to vote for a decisive result, and the Liberal Party paid the price for that.

This context helps explain why the Liberal Democrats were so keen to enter into coalition government when faced with a hung Parliament in 2010.

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