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Coalitions in British politics and their turbulent aftermath discussed at Alumni Weekend

Today’s changing political landscape and Labour’s 'existential crisis' are entirely consistent with the upheaval that follows peacetime coalitions, according to Oxford historian Angus Hawkins (pictured, right).

Professor Hawkins, Fellow of Keble and Director of Public and International Programmes at the Department for Continuing Education, explained his compelling theory during Oxford’s Alumni Weekend.

Addressing a busy lecture theatre at Keble on Saturday 19 September, Hawkins substantiated his claim by listing a series of historical parallels, including David Lloyd-George’s coalition government after World War One. The end of the coalition in 1922 heralded the arrival of Labour, instead of the Liberals, as the main opposition party. Hawkins said: 'Peacetime coalitions almost always lead to seismic shifts in political realignments.'

Hawkins continued by explaining his three rules about peacetime coalitions: 
1.The prospect of the next election hangs over the minor party in a coalition like the sword of Damocles
2.Exiting the coalition is harder than entering into the agreement for the parties concerned
3.The further from the ministerial offices and the heart of power, the harder it is to maintain the coalition, especially in constituencies

Hawkins continued by focussing on the recent Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and its aftermath. He dissected the 2015 general election, commenting on the retribution shown towards the Liberal Democrats, the rise of the Scottish National Party and 'one-party state' in Scotland, and the 'existential crisis' for the Labour party.

In response to Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party, Hawkins predicted that the Labour party is likely to split. He added that a Social Democratic party might emerge, possibly including the Liberal Democrats. Hawkins concluded the lecture, which was entitled Party games: coalitions in British politics, by saying that British politics in the future might become more like the politics of continental Europe.