This entertaining and instructive analysis leads on to our own times when the author himself was involved in an effort to broaden the base of the left and found himself caught up with that self-destructing missile David Owen. He locates the fatal flaw of the latter (as far as coalition building was concerned) in an addiction to managerial rather than participatory politics. In the triangle of liberty, equality and fraternity, it is the first two on which practical politicians concentrate, but the third is essential to hold the other two together.
Just as fatal, of course, although he does not mention this, was the inability of the Gang of Four to bring out of the Labour Party any but a handful of activists. A political party (or movement) needs leaders, voters and, above all, activists, those seasoned NCOs who can train and deploy an army of young (or in this case middle-aged) wet-behind-the-ears recruits. The Social Democratic Party had the first and second but not the third.
It may be that other opportunities will occur for the building of an alliance, although the Tories have spoilt the fun by themselves "shooting the fox" in the shape of Mrs Thatcher. Labour is, bit by bit, beginning to shed that exclusivity which bedevils any Band of Brothers (and which alone seems to enable them to remain brothers). Professor Marquand closes by underlining that this is the essential; that enough people see the importance of interdependency.
He has an illuminating reference to Albert Hirschman's "Exit, Voice and Loyalty". Hirschman compares the differing responses of the individualistic and corporate ethics to failure: the first takes its custom elsewhere (Exit) while the second harnesses Voice (argument and nagging) to Loyalty in order to make the existing system work. Society, if it is to be humane, progressive and fertile, needs to adopt the latter approach. Mankind is interdependent. Moreover, there is (contrary to the teachings of Mrs Thatcher) such a thing as society.
This book is hardly a blueprint for a Government which will put such a thesis to work, but it is a very valuable, instructive and entertaining pointer in the right direction.
(Lord Beaumont is a former chairman of the Liberal Party.)