Since the Second World War, two third party leaders have been in a position to determine the balance of power in a Hung Parliament. Five years ago, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg secured his party a position in government but failed to achieve a proper cabinet position for himself or any of his party’s aims in office.
Liberal leader Jeremy Throrpe in February/March 1974 antagonised his Liberal colleagues (notably Chief Whip David Steel) by negotiating with Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath without consulting them first. Thorpe ultimately rejected the trappings of office and emerged with his reputation enhanced. We may well see another display of coalition-building if there is another Hung Parliament after the election in three months’ time.
Few politicians would wish to emulate Jeremy Thorpe today, however, as Michael Bloch’s excellent biography reminds us. Indeed one wonders if the real reason Jeremy Ashdown changed his name to Paddy…
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