History does not repeat itself. Reading some and understanding it helps people and parties avoid making the same mistakes.
Some Lib Dems are currently worried that belonging to a Coalition will lead to unpopularity. As the party which has argued long and loudly for coalitions and has told us they can be better than majority party governments, they could not avoid picking up the burden of coalition government in the difficult circumstances of 2010. No-one said government is easy, and governments rarely inherit the legacy they would like from the outgoing team. Few have inherited such a strong economy as Labour in 1997. The debt and recession legacy of 2010 is more common, a bigger version of 1974 and 1979. The Liberals had a period in coalition with Labour in the 1970s doing unpopular things, but survived it with no obvious damage from the fact that they had been in government.
Today I wish to argue that belonging to a coalition is not of itself likely to make a party unpopular. Tomorrow I will look into the resons for the collapse of the old Liberal party as a governing party between 1914 and 1924.
From May 1915 to July 1945 the UK was governed by a coalition for 21 out of the 30 years. In the early period it was largely a Liberal/Conservative coaliton, in the later period a Labour/Conservative coalition. During this period we had a coupon election, where Liberals stood as pro coalition candidates or stood as independent Liberals, with the Conservatives not standing against the coupon Liberals, and later elections where candidates made clear their adherence to a “National” government to tackle the 30s crisis. In wartime there was general acceptance of the need for cross party government, and no elections.
Coming out of those coalitions, both the Conservative and the Labour parties in their turn were able to win convincing majorities to govern in their own right. Being associated with a coalition government was not terminal for them, even where the coalition government had had to do difficult things or was not especially successful. Coalition governments like majority governments need to govern well to woo the public. They are not of themselves bound to lead to the demise of a party in them.