Tag Archives: liberal history

Labour claims credit for the NHS, but Liberals laid the foundations

One of the enduring myths of British politics is that the Labour Party was uniquely responsible for founding the National Health Service. “It was the Attlee government’s introduction of the National Health Service which will rightly go down as Labour’s greatest achievement,” says the party’s website. “Labour created the NHS,” maintains the party’s shadow health secretary.

But this partisan, somewhat sentimental version of history has been demolished over the years by historians of the welfare state. In 1995, Nicholas Timmins started his magisterial (and recently updated) study, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State, by highlighting the vital role …

Posted in Conference | Also tagged | 45 Comments

The 2019 European Election and Liberal History

Everyone knows the 2019 European election result in the UK was remarkable – but do you realise quite how much? 

It was the best Euro election result for the Liberal Democrats or their predecessor parties ever. 

This is true in terms both of seats (16) and votes (20.3 per cent). The party’s previous best seat performance was 12 in 2004, though the UK then had 78 seats in the European Parliament, rather than its current 73. Our previous best vote performance was right back in 1984, when the Liberal-SDP Alliance scored 18.5 per cent. That was in the days before PR, when the country was divided up into giant Euro-constituencies fought on first past the post; the Alliance won none of them. Post-merger, the best Liberal Democrat performance was 16.1 per cent, in 1994.

The Liberal Democrat performance looks even better when compared to the other main parties, outpolling both Labour and the Conservatives by large margins. This has never happened before. 

The last time the Liberal Party won more votes than Labour in a nationwide election (i.e. a general or Euro election) was in 1918 (by 25.6 per cent to 20.8 per cent), though only if you combine the votes of the two factions the Liberal Party was then split into, led by Lloyd George and Asquith. And in that election the Labour Party fought only just over half the seats, and the two Liberal factions about two-thirds, making comparisons tricky. The Labour Party, on 14.1 per cent this year, has never scored even remotely this badly since it started contesting all UK seats; its previous low point was 27.6 per cent, in 1983.

The last time the Liberals beat the Conservatives in a nationwide election was 1906, the year of the great Liberal landslide: 48.9 per cent and 397 seats for the Liberals to 43.4 per cent and 156 seats for the Unionists (as Conservatives were known then). The Conservative performance this time, a mere 9.1 per cent, is staggeringly bad; the party’s previous low was three times as much, 29.2 per cent in 1832 (though throughout the nineteenth century many seats went uncontested, and MPs’ allegiances were often fluid, making calculations difficult), or, in the modern era, 30.7 per cent in 1997.

Posted in Liberal History | Also tagged | 6 Comments

1951 – the nadir of Liberalism

The General Election of 1951 occurred only eighteen months into a parliament. It was called by a Labour government with a small parliamentary majority led by Clement Attle then at the head of what was a tired and ageing administration.

For the Liberals led by another Clement it proved to be a very difficult campaign for a party wracked by decades of division and desperately short of money. Liberalism was split with the breakaway National Liberals propped up by the Tories still enjoying parliamentary representation.

A situation that would exist until 1968.

Clement Davies, himself a former National Liberal, led the Liberal Party …

Posted in Op-eds | 33 Comments

Political breakaways are no easy option – a reminder of how the last one played out…

In 1981 and 1982 the Alliance between the two parties, under the leadership of Roy Jenkins and David Steel, was seen to be the perfect answer to Mrs Thatcher’s highly controversial first government, then two years old. Polls suggested that the Alliance could win power ‘if there was an election tomorrow’ as the polls liked to say, but, as many will remember, there wasn’t an election tomorrow. Instead there was the Falklands War, which Mrs Thatcher led us all into and won, thereby turning round many public perceptions of her. The Tories won the 1983 election comfortably, in the …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 20 Comments

Opinion: Rebuilding the party – lessons from history

I’ve already had journalists ring me up to ask when was the last time Liberals did so badly. The answer is 1970, when the Liberal Party won six seats on the back of 2.1 million votes, 7.5 per cent of those who voted. Last week’s result was similar: eight seats from 2.4 million votes, 7.9 per cent of those who voted.

There are other parallels. The opinion polls in 1970 had pointed consistently to a victory for Harold Wilson’s outgoing Labour government; Ted Heath’s win for the Conservatives came as a considerable surprise. On the other hand, then the polls underestimated …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 48 Comments
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