Was it just luck that we ended up needing to form a coalition government in 2010 at a time when the leaders of the two parties involved were ‘coalitionable’ politicians? They were not selected by their parties for their coalitionability, but if they had been unable to negotiate, compromise, trust and work together (the essence of coalitionability), the current government could not have been formed.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg are not alone as coalitionable leaders, but some past leaders probably could not have filled the brief. So which ones were which?
We know that Asquith, Lloyd George, Baldwin, MacDonald, Austen and Neville Chamberlain, Bonar Law, Churchill, Samuel, Sinclair, Attlee, Cameron and Clegg have all led their parties (or a faction from their party) within a coalition. Also, Jenkins and Steel led their parties in the SDP/Liberal Alliance. So, all these leaders were proven to be coalitionable.
Additionally, Tony Blair, Clement Davies, Paddy Ashdown and Jeremy Thorpe had personalities which would have suited them to a role in coalition government, but they were prevented from pursuing it by the party situation at the time.
Other leaders whose temperament suggested that they almost certainly would have been coalitionable include John Major, Jo Grimond, Hugh Gaitskell, Neil Kinnock, Charles Kennedy, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan, William Hague, Harold Wilson and Ming Campbell.
But which leaders really were uncoalitionable? Probably Margaret Thatcher, Antony Eden and Gordon Brown were temperamentally unable to perform this role. Also, Ted Heath, David Owen and Jim Callaghan all dipped their toes in the coalition or collaboration water, but failed to make their alliances work effectively, in large part due to their temperaments.
This just leaves a few unknowns. Michael Foot, Michael Howard and Ian Duncan Smith probably, perhaps with some difficulty, could have been coalitionable, but we don’t know, and perhaps they don’t either.
The one other unknown, and the one which may prove crucial, is Ed Miliband. In terms of personality, he probably is coalitionable. We may find out in 2015.
With the high likelihood of future coalition governments, should parties take coalitionability into account when choosing a new leader? They won’t want to, but to fail to do so, could deprive their party of power.