Country Before Party: Coalition and the Idea of National Government in Modern Britain 1885-1987
by G R Searle
Because modern British politics is conventionally studied via the political parties, we fail to register just how many important developments have ... Show synopsis Because modern British politics is conventionally studied via the political parties, we fail to register just how many important developments have taken place beyond or across the frontiers of the party system. Coalitions, multi-party groupings and "National Governments" have frequently held power - far more often, indeed, than most of us are aware. Even when unsuccessful, the drive for them has left permanent marks on the nation. Moreover, many of the key figures in modern British history - Joseph Chamberlain, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill amongst them - can only be fully understood within this context, free from the distortions and limitations of the usual party lens. G.R. Searle's invigorating book explores the origins, triumphs, failures and impact of this tradition down to the present. In doing so it does more than retrieve a robust, active and highly influential dimension of British political life from indefensible neglect: it also reveals the whole familiar landscape of modern British political history from a strikingly new angle. Starting with the party realignment of 1886, the book explores the early strivings for 'national' and 'centre' parties involving, amongst many others, Chamberlain and Lord Randolph Churchill and, later, Lord Rosebery and Milner, before considering the coalition ministries of the First World War under Asquith and Lloyd George. It goes on to examine the "National Governments" of the 1930s. It then analyses the coalition government under Winston Churchill in the Second World War, and the implications of the 1945 General Election that returned British politics to what, in the postwar period, often seemed the inevitability of the two-party system.Yet, as Professor Searle shows, even here the coalitionist tradition has proved resilient and resourceful; and his book ends with the vigorous attempts of the Alliance parties to "break the mould" of postwar politics in the 1980s.