New research by the Institute of Government has produced a very welcome study, looking at the fate of junior coalition partners, in coalitions around the world – and the lessons which can be learned by the Liberal Democrats. To summarise their findings:
Smaller parties need to be able to demonstrate their distinct contribution to government to avoid “the narrative of the lost moral compass”.
Small parties’ success rests greatly upon the performance and profile of the party leader.
Parties associated with premature coalition breakdowns are rarely rewarded by voters.
Smaller parties have a limited influence over whether they remain in government or not.
All five points makes grim reading for Liberal Democrats. It’s not the first time studies have looked at this question. G.R. Searle’s Country Before Party (1995) looked at every real or hypothetical British coalition between 1885 and 1987, and came to the conclusion that two things always happened to junior partners:
- Smaller parties can only distance
- They were merged/subsumed into the larger coalition party, or
- They faced near-annihilation in the subsequent general election.