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Rene Kinzett

Let’s finish what Winston started….

January 2nd, 2011 by René Kinzett

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill

All this talk about the merger between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is not new. Very much old hat. Old top hat, indeed, if you take into account that the last chap who publicly advocated such a thing was none other that Winston Churchill.

When Winston “re-ratted” back to the Conservative Party in 1925, after a twenty year sabbatical with the Liberals, he sought to add some context to his political journey by claiming that what he really wanted to see was a two party system: a Socialist Party opposed by a Conservative Party with a strong Liberal wing. As a man who had worked tirelessly and shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of David Lloyd George and Herbert Asquith on welfare reforms, improvements to industrial conditions and generally to make the lot of the working man a good deal more bearable, Churchill’s motivation in wanting to encapsulate the best of Liberal radical and progressive thought with the constitutionalist and fiscal strength of the Conservative Party is plain to see.

When Churchill became Prime Minister for the second time in 1951, he undertook to persuade, unsuccessfully, the then Leader of the Liberal Party Clement Davies, leading his Parliamentary Party of 6 MPs, to join forces in formal coalition with the Conservative Government. Twenty three years later, Edward Heath’s Conservative Government rather needed the Liberal Party and its popular Leader Jeremy Thorpe to shore up his minority government but again the hopes of a Tory-Liberal deal were dashed.

Now with the first minority Conservative Government in 30 years, Cameron has pinned his hopes of leading a sustainable administration on a successful working relationship with the Liberals. Only Cameron wants to go further than Heath and his strategy harks back to a Churchillian desire to realign the right. Blair’s dream of the realignment of the centre-left, egged on by Claret-fuelled sessions with Roy Jenkins, was really nothing more than window dressing and couldn’t really progress through the realities of a partisan Labour movement totally hostile to working with the Liberals (or with anyone else for that matter).

But Cameron has a real chance to bring his ideas of Liberal Conservatism to fruition and to succeed where even Churchill tried and failed.

  1. Daniel Emmett-Gulliver Daniel Emmett-Gulliver says:

    As the Iron Lady or Charles de Gaulle would say no, no, no!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

    Or as I would say,”yes,yes,yes! Great post Rene. Happy New year

  3. Splendidly put and the exact thoughts I had over the holidays when re-reading Churchill’s memoirs.

    Look out for my article on conservative liberalism in the TRG’s next edition of Reformer, coming soon…

  4. Ralphy Ralphy says:

    Very interesting article and very interesting times for us to be in, eh?
    I can imagine a full coalition somehow.

  5. [...] Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph, with Tory councillor Rene Kinzett then picking up the baton and getting a little carried away with the comparisons to Winston Churchill. (There’s a certain class of people who never miss an opportunity to compare themselves to [...]

  6. Paul Bentley Paul Bentley says:

    Had he won the election in 1945, Churchill would in all likelihood have offered to continue the National Government that he had led through the Second World War. In this respect, Churchill wanted the freedom as Prime Minister to operate like a nineteenth-century oligarch, oblivious to the realities of twentieth-century party politics. It didn’t mean he wanted to merge the Conservative and Labour Parties.

    I would think that Clement Davies’s refusal to support Churchill’s second ministry, based as it was on the raw calculation that it would destroy his already decimated party, is the more pertinent example to draw attention to now.

    • René Kinzett René Kinzett says:

      Interesting discussion points. I will however pull you up on Churchill’s wish for a merger – he stated this as his aim back in 1924 when he rejoined the Tories.

  7. [...] those calling for a pact or even a merger (in particular Lib Dem-turned Tory Rene Kinzett’s thoughtful post at Think Politics this morning) as well as some of their arguments, and putting aside the enormous hostility in the Tory [...]

  8. Good post, I enjoyed reading it!

    Perhaps it is useful to re-define “the Lib Dems” as “Liberals” and “Social Democrats”, as they used to be?

    If we do that, then it could make sense for the Conservative Party to absorb the “Liberal” wing of the Lib Dems (as it has done in the past).

    Adding more economic liberals to the Tory Party would be no bad thing, and a bit more social liberalism might increase debate in that area too (I might not agree 100% with the conclusions of that debate, but it would be a worthwhile one to have!).

    But I don’t think there would be a place for people like Simon Hughes or Charles Kennedy in the Conservative Party, people with the “Social Democrat” background.

    So perhaps the re-align the Right as Churchill wished, it would require a Lib Dem split and the absorbing of the “Liberal” wing, rather than a full merger of the two parties?

    Just some thoughts!

    Thomas

    • René Kinzett René Kinzett says:

      But this is where those who want to neatly bisect the Liberal Democrats into “Liberals” and “Social Democrats” so often come unstuck. Hughes is NOT from the SDP wing of the party…he is an old fashioned Liberal as opposed to a classical market liberal. The Liberal Party was actually more left-wing and socially-progressive than the Labour Party and many in the Liberal Party feared that the merger with the SDP would actually drag the Party rightwards. Social Liberals dominated the Liberal Party through the 60’s and 70’s, which was the period which witnessed the biggest Liberal revival since the Asquith/Lloyd-George schism (the Feb 74 election share has yet to be beat by the third party). And in the 1980’s under David Steel’s leadership, he coined the wonderful phrase “look right, speak left” to epitomise the Liberal approach – a respectable looking socially radical party (they led way on anti-nuclear, pro equality, civil rights, individual choice eg abortion, etc). The Liberal Party and now the LibDems are more complex than just a 50-50 split between classical liberals and social democrats.

      • Fair point about the distinction being too crude!

        But I think the argument remains that a significant number of Lib Dems – including Hughes – would be hugely uncomfortable within the Conservative Party. Would you agree?

        • René Kinzett René Kinzett says:

          I think MOST (and that’s a very unspecific term!) LibDems see their natural affinity with a centrist Labour Party (Ashdown/Blair “Cabinet Committee” comes to mind) but too many in the Labour hierarchy have a partisan hatred of the LibDems, still blaming SDP for Labour’s electoral oblivion in the 1980’s.

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