What Disraeli really meant when he said “England does not love coalitions”

It’s a favourite quote amongst Conservatives who are opposed to electoral reform wheeled out to suggest that there’s something fundamentally alien to this country about coalition government “England does not love coalitions”.

But what did Disraeli really mean when he said it on 15 December 1852? The words were uttered during a debate on the Conservative budget, which was under attack for proposing a deficit. What’s more, the day before he had tried to get the group of Radical MPs to agree to back him and eventually join the Cabinet.

In other words, it was more a matter of “England does not love coalitions, unless they include the Conservatives and support a budget deficit”.

Perhaps not quite the statement of principle which modern Conservatives should wheel out to bolster their own arguments…

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  • There is every difference between some fleeting deal of confidence between a minority government trying to get a measure like a budget through, and the looming prospect of an unholy coalition between Labour and the social democrats and wadicals in charge at the Lib Dems – that stays in for 30 years, growing ever more sclerotic and tired and Scandinavia-ising the country which can’t be thrown out, even if the Tories get 45% of the vote.

    Oh and the 1852 budget was in surplus – a small one due to bad Treasury predictions, which turned into a healthy surplus when the predictions were realised. Sadly, the priggish Gladstone got the credit for a budget when it was his speech that had brought down the Chancellor who proposed it.

    But there’s nothing like a misreading of some fly-blown phylacteries to produce a most bizarre stick to beat Cameron and his party with, eh?

  • Grammar Police 12th Feb '10 - 8:09am

    @ Parasite: “which can’t be thrown out, even if the Tories get 45% of the vote.”

    Personally I don’t think there would be the unholy alliance you talk about, but there’s an interesting jump of logic in your post, for one (presumably) a democrat. Why should we ever be happy with a Government that commanded less than 50% of the vote? Even for a majoritarian, who believes in fptp, surely this is counter-intuitive?

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Feb '10 - 1:27pm

    The British public will cheerfully tell you

    1) They do not like coalitions, they like strong government which has no squabbling in it.

    2) They do not like MPs voting as their party leaders tell them, they would prefer MPs to make up their own minds and vote accordingly.

    The British public will also cheerfully tell you

    1) They do not want to pay any more tax

    2) They do not want cuts in tax-funded public services and they want more done on …. (long list)

    They will add

    1) They don’t want the government interfering in people’s lives

    2) Something must be done to stop … (long list)

    They will even tell you, on a more specific thing:

    1) Bloke drives round a corner a bit fast, speed camera gets him and he’s fined. The state is evil to make money out of that poor bloke in that way.

    2) Bloke drives round a corner a bit fast, in exactly the same frame of mind as the bloke in 1), but instead of a speed camera, there’s a kiddy crossing the road, and he can’t avoid hitting and killing the kiddy. Bloke is an evil murder who should be put away for life.

    That’s politics for you.

One Trackback

  • By What we’ve been saying about the general election | Mark Pack on Wed 17th February 2010 at 10:04 am.

    […] But regardless of what you think of the ability of Stephen and myself with the crystal ball, as Iain has pointed out – where we work, we win. If that ends up in a hung Parliament, then we know what Liberal Democrat members think the party should do though if Conservatives start quoting Disraeli you may want to remind them what that quote really means. […]

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