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The Liberal Unionists fought elections against the Liberals. Did Liberal Unionists ever stand in the same seats as Conservatives too, or did they have a pact right from the beginning?
Yes. There was at least one case from the very start, during the 1886 election. This was of course the birth year of the Liberal Unionists, and they formed a close alliance with the Conservatives thereafter.
Despite the Conservative Chief Whip's promise, three of the 93 were opposed by Conservatives, and two lost their seats to Conservatives. Those two included the one Liberal Unionist who was opposed by a Gladstonian Liberal as well, who finished bottom of the poll.
Douglas, Roy. Liberals: A History of the Liberal and Liberal Democratic Parties. London: Hambledon and London, 2005.
There was kind of a pact from the very start. When the Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone attempted to pass the First Home Rule Bill, the Conservatives sough support from within Liberal ranks. Liberal members who voted against the Second Reading of the bill were promised non-competition, and 93 of them sided with the Conservatives in the vote.
Britain's first female prime minister came to power with the country descending into industrial and economic chaos. A relatively inexperienced politician, she nonetheless adopted a personal style of indomitable self-confidence and brooked no weakness in herself or her colleagues. Derisively dubbed the 'Iron Lady' by the Soviet press, she wore the moniker with pride. Her government's free-market policies included trade liberalisation, deregulation, sweeping privatisation, breaking the power of the unions, focus on the individual and the creation of an 'enterprise culture'. 'Thatcherism' has had a profound and lasting economic and social impact on Britain, and still sharply divides opinion to this day. The first PM to serve three consecutive terms (including two 'landslide' victories) she was eventually toppled by her own party following the disastrous imposition of a 'poll tax'. Nonetheless, she is generally considered to be one of the best peace time prime ministers of the 20th Century.
British political parties from their origins to today
A short history of political parties in Britain
England has the oldest parliament in the world. The English parliament met for the first time at the Palace of Westminster in the year 1265, but it took more than four centuries before the concept of "political parties" gave a new dimension to political life in Britain.
Before the birth of political parties in the seventeenth century, the English parliament consisted of aristocrats and wealthy men who formed alliances and majorities based on specific factors or loyalties. It was not until after the English Civil War, and parliamentary upheavals during the Republican years of the Commonwealth and Protectorate (1649-1660), that the first English political parties began to take shape. During the years from 1678 to 1681, and the constitutional crisis known as the Exclusion Crisis, most members of the English parliament formed into two "parties", named Whigs and Tories. The descendants of these two original parties are the two parties that formed the coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron from 2010 to 2015.
Until the early 20th century, alone or in coalition with other groups, these two political parties in turn formed successive British governments, based on the results of parliamentary elections.
Initially, the Whigs were the party of the liberal and reforming aristocracy. In contrast to the Tories, the Whig Party attracted people more favorable to constitutional reforms, and in 1832 led the most significant modernization of the British Parliament, the Reform Act, which rebalanced parliamentary constituencies, and greatly expanded the electoral base to the middle classes. In the 1850's, the Whig Party became the most important element of a union of Whigs and Radicals who took the name "Liberal Party". This centrist party continued until 1988, when it merged with the new but smaller Social Democratic Party to form today's Liberal Democrats
. The word Tory designated early supporters of strong royal power Tories were monarchists and traditionalists, especially at the time of the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. During the eighteenth century, the Whigs dominated British politics, and the Tory party played a relatively small role in the political life of the United Kingdom.
This changed in the last three decades of the eighteenth century, when the rise of reformism and radicalism in Europe, which was to lead notably to the French Revolution (1789), gave a new impetus to defenders of the status quo and conservatism . The Tories re-emerged as a major force in British politics in 1770 - but this time as a modern party in favor of maintaining the best traditions of Britain, but at the same time strongly supporting the new opportunities created by the industrial revolution and imperial and commercial expansion. During the 19th century - as today - the Tory party, which became the Conservative Party in 1834, was torn between its traditionalists and its reformers. Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative prime minister from 1874 to 1880, was one of the great reformers of the 19th century.
After the First World War, a new party came to power in the British Parliament, the Labour Party . The first Labour MPs had been elected in 1900 as representatives of the Independent Labour Party. The Labour Party formed a minority government in 1924, but it did not last. Labour first formed a majority government in 1929. The rise of the Labour Party came however at the expense of the other non-Conservative party, the Liberals, and Labour replaced the Liberals as the main alternative to the Conservatives.
From 1929 to 2010, power alternated between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.
Following the general election of 2010, no single party emerged with an absolute majority of MPs so for the first time in living memory, a coalition government was formed, with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats sharing power.
Former stability of the political landscape
British prime ministers of recent years. Left to Right Gordon Brown and Tony Blair (Labour), John Major (Conservative), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat, deputy PM) and David Cameron (Conservative, PM in 2014)
As this historical overview shows, the British political landscape in general has until very recently been characterized by a remarkable stability. The British electoral system, a system of "relative majority" (known as the " first past the post" system) 1 , has not changed for more than four centuries, and is favorable to large parties and stable governments. It tends to prevent parties fragmenting into smaller factions or clans, and encourages consensus positions around strong party leaders.
In a referendum in 2011, British voters reaffirmed their commitment to this historic electoral system, rejecting a new system that would have introduced an element of proportional representation.
Britain's three major parties are all now more than a century old, and the system makes it very hard for new parties to get a foot on the ladder. The rise of the Labour Party in the early 20th century was the result of major changes in society. Since then, no new party has succeeded in establishing itself in England, and new parties that are created remain marginal in terms of representation, or merge with larger ones. The situation is different in other parts of the United Kingdom, where nationalist parties have broken into the political landscape, even to the point of becoming the principal political party in Scotland.
However, the result of the European elections held in May 2019 show that an earthquake has hit the formerly stable political landcape. In the European elections,the traditional "main" parties, the Conservatives and Labour, took just 25% of the vote between them, with the Conservatives taking their lowest share of the vote since the nineteenth century. less than 10%. Over 66% of the votes were taken by other parties, notably the new Brexit Party (31%) , the Liberal Democrats (20%) and the Greens (12%).
Then, just seven months later, the Conservative party was back up to a 43.6% share of the vote in the 2019 General Election - sufficient (given the way the British voting system works) to obtain an outright majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons.
The Political landscape in Britain today
2016 - 2020 - Parties in turmoil
In the May 2019 European Union parliamentary election, the ruling Conservative Party fell to a historic low of under 10% of the vote. The far right, in the shape of Nigel Farage's "Brexit party", took over 31.6%, while the three main anti-Brexit parties, the Lib Dems (20.3%) the Greens (12.1%) and ChangeUK (3.4%) took a combined share of 35.8%. Labour, the main opposition party, saw its share of the vote fall to 14.1%.
Then, seven months later, the Conservatives romped back to the top of the list, taking 43% of the vote in the December 2019 General election, and giving Boris Johnson a strong parliamentary mandate to take the UK our of the European Union.
The remarkable fluctuation of the scores of the Conservative Party from under 10% in an election in May, to over 43% in an election in December of the same year, dramatically illustrate the chaos in which Britain's political parties found themselves in 2019.
As many commentators have noted, the result of the 2019 election was not so much a victory for the Conservatives, as a defeat for the Labour Party. The far-left policies announced by Jeremy Corbyn, such as a four-day working week, frightened hundreds of thousands of traditional Labour supporters, and handed victory to the Conservatives in spite of their unpopularity (as evidenced in the European elections in May).
In 2020, the Conservative Party is completely controlled by its militant right wing. Many former Conservatives, including former Prime Ministers Theresa May, David Cameron and John Major, have condemned Boris Johnson for the way he is running the affairs of the nation. Government policy is seen to be controlled by the Prime Minister's very right-wing and unelected advisor, Dominic Cummings. Several moderate senior civil servants have either resigned or else been replaced by neo-liberals brought in more for their political leanings than for their experience.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has returned to electability since the replacement of the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn by the centrist Sir Keir Starmer, a former human rights lawyer and also former Director of Public Prosecutions. By September, Labour had again caught up with the Conservatives in the opinion polls.
Main British parties (excluding regionalist parties / nationalsts )
Right-wing or conservative parties
The Conservative Party
The Boris Johnson era
The Conservative party has been taken over by the hard right. Boris Johnson has filled his Cabinet (government) with men and women who campaigned for Brexit, and has appointed arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to the position of Leader of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House is the member of the Government who is in charge of organising the business of the House.
The centrist Conservatives who were prominent in all of Theresa May's cabinets - men such as Philip Hammond, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Rory Stewart or David Gauke, former Justice Secretary - have either refused to work with Boris Johnson, or have been dropped from the government.
Under Johnson, the Conservative Party has become the party of Hard Brexit – forcing traditional moderate Conservatives to question their party loyalty. Many supporters and a fair number of former party members have abandoned the party, some of them becoming independents, others (even including former Conservative deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine) joining or supporting the Lib Dems. Many moderates have now either left the Conservative Party, or did not stand for reelection in the 2019 General Election.
December 2019 In the December 2019 election, the Conservatives won a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons, taking 43.6% of the national vote, taking dozens of traditional Labour seats in the largely pro-Brexit urban areas of the North of England. With his new big majority, Johnson was able to take the UK out of the EU on 31st January 2020.
The Theresa May government
The Conservatives are the British party of the right, traditionally including a broad range of middle-of-the-road conservatives and royalists, neo-liberals and social conservatives. For the last forty years, the party has been deeply divided over issues of sovereignty and the role of Britain in the European Union. A majority of party members were in favour of a revision of the terms of Britain's membership of the European Union, and the holding of a referendum on withdrawal. But other Conservatives, including industrial and business leaders, were and mostly still are strongly pro-European. Recent leaders have been beset by problems trying to reconcile the strongly opposing views of party members on this issue.
In 2016 , the divisions were sharply amplified during the campaign for the Brexit referendum two thirds of the Party's MPs - essentially the centre-right moderate wing of the party - were in favour of remaining in the EU one third, the Conservative sovereignist hard-liners and the neo-conservative faction, were in favour of leaving. However, grass-roots Conservative party activists are on the whole further to the right than their MPs.
Since the resignation of David Cameron, the Party has moved to the right, as pro-Brexit and sovereignist MPs have taken up key positions in Mrs. May's cabinet. Since the election of Boris Johnson as leader, the Conservative Party has become essentially a UK (or, as some say, English) nationalist party.
The Conservative Party is made up of local Associations which play a major role in the selection of candidates and the appointment of the party leader. The importance of this local structure reflects the very old tradition of territorial representation in British politics, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. However, "Central Office" often imposes candidates on local associations to enable up-and-coming stars to enter parliament, as was the case with Margaret Thatcher.
In her short speech to the press, on taking up her job as Prime Minister, Theresa May positioned herself very clearly as a "one-nation" moderate Conservative, keen to build a new Britain for ordinary people, not just for the wealthy. It was a speech that could equally well have been made by David Cameron, or most of the recent leaders of the Labour Party.
UKIP - The UK Independence Party
A sovereignist , founded by national populist Nigel Farage, that wanted Britain to withdraw from the European Union. The party has little in the way of policies, apart from Europe-bashing, but is surprisingly popular with voters disgruntled with the perceived failures of the main parties . In the 2015 election, UKIP obtained just one member of Parliament, a sitting MP who had moved over from the conservatives. UKIP had several members in the European Parliament.
In 2016 , UKIP provided the foot-soldiers of the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union but the non-UKIP part of the Leave campaign sought to distance itself from UKIP after the referendum, worried at the damage that UKIP's xenophobic campaigning has done to Britain.
After Farage left the party that he created, and created another new party, the Brexit Party, UKIP lost most of its supporters. It won no seats in the 2019 European elections, nor in the general election of the same year.
BNP - British National Party
An extreme right-wing party , with nationalistic and xenophobic views. No members of parliament
Parties of the centre
The Liberal Democrat party - the Liberal Democrats , or Lib Dems
The Greens - The Green Party
A centre-left party, in many ways rather middle-class, committed to the promotion of environmental issues. One Member of Parliament (since 2010)
The parties of the Left
The Labour Party
The party of a populist left-wing Labour party dissident, George Galloway, who was its sole MP until 2015.
The Communist Party of Great Britain
Very marginal, the party has only ever had two elected MPs. It was never a mass party, not even when at its peak in the 1940's.
Main regional and nationalist parties
England does not have any serious regional parties, however, regional or nationalist parties are now very important in the political landscape of other countries that make up the United Kingdom.
SNP - Scottish Nationalist Party
Plaid Cymru - Welsh nationalist party
Democratic Unionist Party 2
Sinn Fein 2
Social Democratic Party and Labour Party of Northern Ireland, a non-sectarian social democratic party made up of both Catholics and Protestants.
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Boris Johnson. controversial new leader of the conservative Party, and British Prime Minister
Debate in the House of Commons - showing Ed Miliband, former leader of the Labour party (the Opposition)
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Photos of the House of Commons and of the Opening of Parliament, reproduced by permission of the British Parliament.
Photo British prime ministers The White House.
Photo Theresa May: by Chatham House - Creative commons
Liberal landslide: the 1906 election
In 2006 I gave a talk at a dinner to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1906 Liberal landslide election victory, drawing parallels between elections now and then which are still very relevant. These are the slightly edited notes I spoke from.
Imagine you are Prime Minister, with a majority of 130 (and in practice a majority of more like 350 on most issues given how small the main opposition party was). You call a general election on a point of principle and end up not merely without a majority but in fact 60 seats short of having even a majority of just one.
Not perhaps a very impressive result.
/>Yet this was what happened in 1910. Within four years, the 1906 Liberal landslide was gone and the Liberals were dependent on other parties in order to stay in office.
Before saying something about how 1906 happened, it is perhaps worth reflecting on this uncanny parallel with that other great landslide government – Labour’s 1945 government.
It too started with a huge majority – 146 in 1945 – but by 1950 shrunk it to a tiny majority of just 5 – and within 20 more months the Tories in government.
So, although both the 1906 and 1945 governments are regularly labelled great, I’m sure you will understand why I – from the party’s Campaigns and Elections Department – would rate them slightly less great!
Doubtless, Lloyd George and Attlee didn’t deliver enough leaflets.
(Actually, if you were to ask me which politician of the 20th century was least likely to have delivered Good Morning leaflets, I think Attlee would have been near the top of the list).
One aspect of 1906 appeals rather more to the party campaigner in me. Years later, Herbert Gladstone boasted as to how he made a profit for the Liberal party on the campaign. And not just a small profit – the campaign had cost £100,000 but he had raised £275,000 – a profit of £175,000. In modern money that is a cost of around £8.5 million and a profit of nearly £15 million.
Though actually there was a fair degree of controversy over the fundraising techniques of both Liberals and Tories in the early twentieth century, even well before Lloyd George got to work. Both Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman and the Conservative Prime Minister Balfour before him were accused of using honours to reward those who had donated to party funds.
But – back to 1906 and 1945. These two governments do form an interesting contrast from Tony Blair’s search for his historic legacy. For all his soul-searching about securing such a legacy, he seems to have missed the point that these two great governments were great – and had their legacies – precisely because their majorities were seen as a means to an end (ends which required radical, often controversial, policies) rather than seeing their majorities as something to be retained at all costs. Winning elections was for these governments, a means to an end – not the end itself. Yet for Blair after his 1997 victory, his huge majority often seemed a burden – the obsession with retaining a big majority restricting his actions and cramping his style rather than freeing him up to make those bold moves which generate historic legacies.
Anyway, back to the Liberals. The scale of the 1906 landslide – in which all but three of the previous Tory Cabinet were defeated – was rather exaggerated by the vagaries of Britain’s first past the post electoral system. Although it was a landslide in terms of seats, the Liberals only polled 300,000 votes (6%) more than the Conservatives. But thanks to the Gladstone-Macdonald Lib-Lab electoral pact the seats gained by the anti-Tory vote were maximised. Labour benefited too from a dramatic growth in the number of its MPs as the number of Tory seats was greatly diminished by these tactical arrangements.
And, it was certainly a dramatic landslide – with diners in the National Liberal Club dancing on the tables as victory after victory was reported. Elections – I should explain – took place over several days at the time.
Even the former Tory Prime Minister, Balfour, was defeated. He was, however, able to quickly return to Parliament thanks to a safely re-elected Tory MP resigning his seat to create a by-election. An option I’m sure a few of our candidates last year would have wished was open to them!
Now – all this was a dramatic contrast from just a few years before. The leader of the Liberals, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, had not had a good previous election – the 1900 election was a Tory landslide, following as it did promptly after a series of military victories that had appeared to bring an end to the Boer war in southern Africa.
The Liberal Party had been deeply split over the war. It had both pacifist, anti-empire members and also those who were happy to go with the much more popular line of supporting the empire and its expansion.
Campbell-Bannerman supported the empire’s armed forces but attacked the Government for starting the war and particularly attacked their methods (a familiar-sounding combination to modern Lib Dem ears, I’m sure). The methods in contention then were the burning of farmsteads and use of concentration camps, which he attacked coining the famous phrase, “methods of barbarism”.
It was only the ending of the war in 1902 that allowed the Liberals to overcome their divisions as the war’s end largely removed the issue from the political agenda. In as much as the war was still an issue, it became a burden for the Tories as questions were asked about its conduct despite the military victory (shades of Iraq again). Military failures and organisational blunders were increasingly blamed on the Tories. How had it taken so many years for an international empire to win one military conflict in a small part of the world?
Attempts to answer this question – and prevent similar problems in future – caused deep splits in the Tories.
Some Tories, led by Joseph Chamberlain, believed that the answer to these weaknesses of empire was to bind the empire more closely and effectively with a system of tariff reform that would give colonies preferential trading treatment. This repudiation of free trade caused great splits in the Tories.
Much of this was due to the brash promotion of tariff reform by Chamberlain, who almost single-handedly put the issue centre political stage, making politics about this – the issue he cared about –rather than any other issue. He breezily told the Liberal Chief Whip before his seminal Birmingham speech on the subject that: “You can burn your leaflets. We are going to talk about something else”.
His confidence, bordering on arrogance, that he could change the course of political debate in the country proved correct – it did become the big issue of the day, but it also deeply split his party.
(It was, by the way, the issue which triggered Winston Churchill’s switch from Tory to Liberal in 1904).
In contrast to these Tory problems, the free-trade Liberals were united and able to work together once more, having been given a common and high profile cause to rally around. As an added bonus, supporting free trade was not only unifying for the Liberals – it was also very popular with the public. Indeed, Asquith’s response to reading a report of Chamberlain’s Birmingham speech was, “Wonderful news today and it is only a question of time when we shall sweep the country.”
Supplementing the impact of free trade was religion. Two particular disputes – over education and licensing – energised Nonconformists in their opposition to the Conservatives.
Eventually, the Conservative government, led by Balfour, resigned in December 1905 unable to cope with its free trade splits. Balfour hoped that putting the Liberals into power would in turn expose Liberal splits. However, the prominence given to free trade, the impact of religious issues and the pressures of office served to unify rather than divide the Liberal party. They were aided in this by the skilful leadership of Campbell-Bannerman, who deftly managed the different factions and personalities. He did this in a rather subdued – almost Atlee like way – managing effectively rather than leading dramatically.
This style was partly a reflection of his age. He was 69 when he became Prime Minister – and was, in fact, was the only serving Prime Minister who at the same time was the oldest MP in the Commons.
The first few hours of his government were rather farcical for, on the day the various Cabinet ministers went to see the King to receive their seals of office, London was shrouded in a very thick fog – thick even by the standards of the time. Real pea soup stuff.
On departing Buckingham Palace the Cabinet Ministers were meant to head to their new departments. Yet the fog was so thick, this was a near-impossible task. Fowler was one of a trio who hired a cab but then had to abandon it in the Mall due to the fog. After time spent stumbling around trying to get to his ministry, he eventually realised that all he had managed to do was to make it back to the gates of Buckingham Palace.
He, and the others, did eventually make it to their offices, with Campbell Bannerman as Prime Minister, leading initially a minority government. Not surprisingly, therefore, a general election soon followed.
The election campaign he led in 1906 concentrated heavily on the Tory record. Looking at his 1906 election address, he said, “In coming to a decision, the electors will, I imagine, be largely guided by the consideration, in the first place, of the record of the late Government and, secondly of the policy which the leaders of the Unionist [i.e. Conservative] party are now submitting.”
In terms of positive policies for his Government, he went on to talk about free trade. Free trade was really the only other major issue in the election apart from the Tory record.
In recent times, support of free trade has often been portrayed as being at odds with support for the poorest in society (free trade equals job losses being the argument).
But back then, free trade’s proponents had a much more direct appeal to such people, saying that free trade was about cutting food prices. It wasn’t seen so much as threatening their jobs but rather as cutting their food bills.
Other than free trade and the Tory record, the Liberal program had little to say, with some moderate and imprecise talk about reducing taxation and talk of doing “something” about Ireland.
The measures we normally associate with the 1906 government – pensions, Lords, and so on – were peripheral to the election, though many Liberal candidates did mention support for the introduction of old age pensions.
Some aspects of the campaigning would be familiar to modern campaigners – such as in London where the Liberal Chief Whip (it was Chief Whips who organised party election campaigns and elections funds) divided the 61 London seats into three groups – 28 it could win, 10 it might just possibly win and 23 it was unlikely to win – and then concentrated financial help and party agents on those first 28. But the money came with strings – it had to be matched locally and was only given where candidates were in place. All very familiar…!
Familiar too in many ways was the volume of literature issued. The Liberal Publication Department centrally issued no less than 25 million leaflets and books – for an electorate of just over 7 million. Or more than three items for every elector in the country – and that’s not counting any literature produced outside of LPD.
Since 1906 we have had the “first TV election” and (more than once) the “first Internet election”. Well, 1906 was the first motorcar election – in which this still relatively new form of transport made a major difference to the ability of campaigners to get about and to get voters to the polls.
Quite remarkably it was estimated that approaching half of the country’s cars were pressed into election service.
Campbell Bannerman was not able to enjoy the fruits of the 1906 landslide for long. Health curtailed his premiership after just two years, during which times the government mainly concentrated on undoing various Tory measures (such as the previous education act) and traditional liberal concerns. It was only when Asquith took over in 1908 – with, perhaps as significantly, Lloyd George becoming Chancellor – that there was a significant radicalisation of the government.
It is unfair to Campbell-Bannerman to put these changes simply down to his departure. Had his health held out, he too might have overseen this radicalisation, brought on as it was by dropping public support and the repeated heavy amendment of government measures by the House of Lords. Indeed, it was whilst he was still Prime Minister that old-age pensions were first introduced in 1907, to be funded by increased general taxation on the better off. And arguably confrontation with the House of Lords over its powers would have happened under him too – he had simply been carefully building up public support on the issue and waiting for the right moment to strike.
We will of course never know what Campbell-Bannerman might have done. We do know what did happen. Asquith’s government increasingly took on the “New Liberal” policies promoted by those who wished to concentrate not just on removing obstacles to liberty but also on providing the positive social conditions which true liberty also requires, such as taking people out of poverty in old age and providing health services.
The crux of the reforms was Lloyd George’s 1909 “People’s Budget” which significantly expanded plans for old age pensions along with a series of radical tax changes, including a new higher rate of income tax and a land tax. Rejected by the Lords, it trigged a struggle for democratic supremacy – which the Liberals won. Or more accurately, the Tories and the Lords lost – because the result of that first 1910 election (and subsequent ones) was not to give the Liberals on their own a mandate. It was only in conjunction with Labour and Irish nationalists that they had the numbers to comfortably defeat the Conservatives in House of Commons votes and to get through the sequence of legislation that makes 1906 so famous, and so beloved to liberals.
One other thought about the 1906 outcome. When Asquith – an MP from Fife – became Chancellor under Campbell-Bannerman, he was given a wide brief to roam over domestic issues outside the Treasury’s immediate remit and was also seen as the obvious successor in due course.
Asquith. Campbell-Bannerman. Brown. Blair?
Doubtless Brown must pine for the very briefing period in waiting – two years – that Asquith had to serve as Chancellor!
But in conclusion, how was 1906 won?
It was won by a united party, fighting a well organised (by the standards of the day) campaign with generous financial resources and technological innovations (the motorcar). It was won largely on the record of the previous Tory governments – but also by having a very clear, distinctive policy difference. On the Free Trade versus Imperial Preference issue, it would have been very easy to tweak and fudge, “Yes, we’re the party of free trade, but there are just one or two exceptions …” But instead, the Liberals managed to draw a clear principled distinction between themselves and the Tories – and take a stance that was both highly relevant to voters and popular.
On trade, pensions and other issues, the Liberal Party managed to combine a moral argument – “we have principles and beliefs, and this is the right thing to do” with a pragmatic one – “it’s not just the right thing to do but it is also what works”.
In particular, taxing the rich to pay for (in modern terms) better public services was justified on both moral and pragmatic grounds.
For Britain, Political Stability Is a Quaint Relic
LONDON — In a little more than two years, Britain has had two general elections and a nationwide referendum. Each time, the politicians, pollsters, betting markets, political scientists and commentators have gotten it wrong.
Once considered one of the most politically stable countries in the world, regularly turning out majority governments, Britain is increasingly confusing and unpredictable, to both its allies and itself.
Far from settling the fierce divisions exposed by last year’s referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, the election on Thursday only made them worse.
In the early hours of Friday, flushed with his party’s surprising showing, Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, proclaimed: “Politics has changed! And politics is not going back into the box where it was before.”
But where British politics is going is less clear. Traditional party loyalties have broken down, and the country’s divisions are becoming clearer for all to see — between young and old, urban and rural, south and north, digital and industrial, cosmopolitan and nationalist.
As Britain struggles to find cohesion now on how it plans to leave the European Union, its politics is becoming more and more European. But Britain lacks the common European proportional voting system that allows smaller parties to thrive. This can also lead to coalition governments, requiring political compromise. In Britain, hung Parliaments are the new norm.
Prime Minister Theresa May, badly damaged by her gamble on an early election, said on Friday, “What the country needs more than ever is certainty,” even as her own cabinet members began circling, smelling wounded prey. Certainty seems very far away.
A year after the referendum to leave the European Union and a week before the scheduled start of negotiations with Brussels on how to do it, Britain has a weak government, a likely lame-duck prime minister and no negotiating position that could command a parliamentary majority, let alone national consensus.
European negotiators are ready, the clock is ticking, and a first set of meetings can be easily held around Britain’s divorce settlement. But they know, as Mrs. May must know, that she is unlikely to be the prime minister to see the meetings to fruition, and there is the unsettling prospect of another leadership fight and another British election before March 29, 2019, when Britain is out of the bloc, deal or not.
“Britain doesn’t feel stable anymore,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “We’re a European country, with voters becoming more volatile over time. People don’t have the same tribal loyalties that they used to. Voters are more consumerist, much more willing to switch depending on the offer.”
Voters must be wooed by programs and personalities, no longer content with the old, predictable divisions of class and regional identity. Robert Tombs, a historian at St. John’s College at Cambridge, described the breakdown in tribal loyalty this way: “The electorate is no longer an army. It’s a crowd.”
At the same time, Professor Bale said, “we don’t have the same flexibility in finding governing options as the Europeans do.” In most European parliaments, there are various smaller parties to the left and the right of the major ones, eager for coalition. “But here,” he added, “the Conservatives are limited to one” plausible option, the hard-line, predominantly Protestant, socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
Even as traditional party loyalties have fractured, this election showed a surge in support for the two major parties, which increased their share of the vote. The Conservatives, despite losing 13 seats and their majority, won 42.4 percent of the vote, 5.5 percent higher than in 2015, when David Cameron won a surprising majority.
Labour won 40 percent of the vote, having mobilized young people to make a resounding 9.5 percent improvement over 2015, but still remains 64 seats short of a majority.
Many governments have achieved stable majorities with much smaller voting percentages. In every election back to 1970, the Conservative vote share, 42.4 percent, would have guaranteed a clear majority. And so would have Labour’s 40.0 percent. In 2005, Tony Blair won a large majority for Labour in the House of Commons with 35 percent of the vote.
But each of Britain’s 650 voting constituencies has its own, winner-take-all election, so piling up votes in safe seats is comforting but inefficient. The outcome simply displayed the country’s increasing geographic and urban-suburban divisions.
While both parties together received nearly 82 percent of the votes, they are politically further apart now than at almost any time since 1983, when Labour was also more openly socialist. Britain has simply become much more fiercely divided ideologically, with the cross-party consensus of pro-European neo-liberalism in tatters, along with the now derided “third way” of Mr. Blair, the last Labour leader to win an election, let alone three in a row.
Mr. Corbyn has pulled the party back to the harder left, promising more state ownership and economic intervention. His passionate campaign consolidated his leadership and the dominance of the “Corbynistas,” although many Labour legislators fear that a hard-left party cannot win enough votes across the country to regain power.
But Mr. Corbyn’s manifesto was intended to respond to popular dissatisfaction with seven years of Conservative austerity and cuts to social welfare benefits. It made sweeping commitments to more spending on everything from the health service to the police, and promised young people free tuition, a higher minimum wage and another four holidays, while advocating renationalizing the railways and utilities.
It would all be paid for by increased borrowing and sharply higher taxes on corporations and those paid more than $104,000 a year. Taxation would have been the highest ever in peacetime Britain, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.
With the British economy already heading into the doldrums, in part because of looming Brexit costs, low productivity and a national debt approaching 90 percent of gross domestic product, the Labour platform frightened the middle class and businesspeople and was, to some degree, a fantasy, given that even Labour leaders did not expect to win the election.
Still, despite Labour’s better performance and its success in denying Mrs. May a majority, the party has lost its third general election in a row. With its strong showing among a newer generation, and normal voter fatigue with any party in power, Labour may eventually find its way back to Downing Street, more likely with a minority government. But as now, the party will have difficulty finding willing coalition partners with enough seats of their own to push it over the top.
Divisions over Brexit — the 2016 referendum vote was 52 percent to 48 percent — were only enhanced by this election. The Conservatives, promising a hard Brexit, with Britain out of the European single market and customs union, garnered votes and some seats in areas like the north and West Midlands, that voted heavily to quit the European Union and gave the U.K. Independence Party large votes in 2015. But that tough stance also put off some who had voted to remain.
Labour, which also committed to Brexit but in a vaguer, softer way that would try to preserve free trade with Europe, did well in big cities and the south, which voted predominantly to remain. And it also kept the votes of some former Labour voters who were more put off by Mrs. May’s austerity plans and poor campaign than by their cultural and political discomfort with Mr. Corbyn.
In the new media culture, said Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics, “people are switching loyalties, not tribally, but like consumers.”
In the 1950s, some 96 percent of voters chose one of the two main parties, which were class based. About 45 percent always voted Labour or Conservative, and only 6 percent moved back and forth, he said.
The two major parties’ vote share fell to about 65 percent in the previous two elections, with the rise (and now the fall) of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. But the resurgence this time, Mr. Travers argued, “is not just a resuscitation of the two-party system,” but also a sense among voters that they need to pick between them to have some hope of voting for a winner.
“People are not tribal, but switch loyalties depending on which of the two parties most represent what I want to achieve,” he said, whether the goal be a judgment on Brexit, or foreign policy, or tax or tuition. “That makes it very complicated for political parties, for pollsters and for political scientists — let alone Britain’s allies.”
But in the next election — which could, given the current chaos, come within the year — “the voters could churn again, back to another majority party or off to a minor party,” said Philip Cowley, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.
“Traditional politics are disrupted,” Professor Bale said. “Voters are no longer so easy to please. And we shouldn’t see this as an aberration. This is the new normal.”
Britain’s Labour Party Takes Hit in Local Elections
White working-class voters went Tory in this week’s local elections. Should Democrats in the U.S. be nervous?
Britain&rsquos remarkable political realignment continued in yesterday&rsquos 2021 local elections. In working-class regions where the joke for decades has been that &ldquoLabour votes are weighed, not counted,&rdquo the Conservative Party surged. The only Parliamentary seat up for grabs (the former shipbuilding center of Hartlepool) went Tory for the first time since the constituency was created in 1974. As of Friday morning, Conservatives had also gained more seats on northern local councils in economically struggling places like Northumberland, Oldham, and Sunderland, where an older electorate has switched parties after decades of voting Labour. These results indicate that the collapse of Labour&rsquos &ldquoRed Wall&rdquo of support in the 2017 and 2019 general elections was not a fluke. Why have once-loyal working-class voters fled the Labour Party in the U.K. and could the same thing happen to the Democratic Party in the United States?
Any proper analysis has to recognize that Britain&rsquos realignment is bringing Labour some new voters. Labour is expected to retain the mayoralty of London that Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson once held, reflecting the party&rsquos increased popularity with college-educated professionals, young urbanites, and most racial and ethnic minority groups. But even if Labour could pick up an art student or a management consultant for each dockyard worker or ditch digger it loses, the exchange feels wrong at an almost spiritual level given the party&rsquos origins and self-image. It&rsquos also not a great trade when it comes to winning. Combined with the fact that Scotland, Labour&rsquos other historic stronghold, has been lost to the Scottish National Party, hemorrhaging working-class voters for professionals in Notting Hill hurts. Doing well in English and Welsh cities and university towns simply isn&rsquot enough for Labour to break its 11-year losing streak.
Like the Democrats in the United States, Labour tries to bridge a coalition of working-class and lower-income voters around the country with socially liberal college graduates. Brexit is widely cited, not without reason, as the signature event that ruptured Labour&rsquos coalition. But having lived in London as well as &ldquoUp North&rdquo I see Brexit as just one outgrowth of broader U.K. disagreements about what matters in life and how to achieve it. And having grown up in West Virginia, which in my lifetime went from reliably Democratic to perhaps the Trumpiest state in the union, many of these disagreements are familiar to me: Is patriotism a virtue or a sin? What makes a good family? Is the government our friend or our enemy? Is our society fair or unfair, and to whom?
The severe disagreements within Labour&rsquos traditional coalition should not be dismissed as culture war trivia overinflated by Murdoch-owned media (e.g., The Sun newspaper in the U.K. or Fox News in the United States). If your town&rsquos economy relies on a nearby military base and your family has proudly served, but urban peace activists demand deep cuts in the military budget, the stakes are objectively high for both sides and not just cultural, even though there is a cultural dimension to the disagreement. And in the era of social media, no one needs Murdoch-owned media to find out how other people in their putative political coalition perceive them. If Brexit supporters in Hartlepool want to be called racist or stupid, or, Remain supporters in London want to be called elitist or out of touch, all they have to do is log into Twitter or Facebook. The days are gone when silver-tongued politicians like Tony Blair (or Bill Clinton) could largely control their party&rsquos internal messaging and make their coalition think itself more cohesive than it really was.
Labour&rsquos schism in the party&rsquos heartlands is also present in parts of the United States, most notably Appalachia. In what Americans somewhat misleadingly call the &ldquoScots-Irish&rdquo culture, being respected is more important than being liked or sympathized with. That culture descends from the British regions where Labour is bleeding votes. In my experience, almost all college-educated Labour Party members in London sincerely feel sorry for people in the declining industrial areas of Britain. But the demand from those regions is not pity but respect, and that respect often won&rsquot come because most of those same Labour members deeply believe supporting Brexit was not a respectable decision to make. Hence the increasing divorce of the former partners in the left-wing coalition, which leaves Labour struggling to choose which parent to live with.
Published: 14:33 BST, 10 May 2021 | Updated: 00:51 BST, 12 May 2021
A few days ago, America's most famous trans woman Caitlyn Jenner was stopped in a Malibu parking lot by TMZ and asked what she thought of the debate over whether people like her should be allowed to compete against girls in school sport.
She thought carefully for a few seconds and then replied: 'This is a question of fairness, that's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair, and we have to protect girls' sports in our schools.'
Now, you might think Jenner is particularly well qualified to speak about this subject given that before she transitioned, she competed as a male decathlete back in the '70s and won an Olympic gold medal.
And you might also think, as I do, that she was just speaking common sense based on the irrefutable scientific reality that people born with male bodies have far superior physical advantages over people born with female bodies.
That, after all, is why sport divides men and women from competing against each other in anything where power, strength and speed is a factor: because it would self-evidently be unfair.
I imagine that the vast majority of Americans would agree with Caitlyn Jenner.
But they wouldn't include woke activists like Sarah Silverman.
In an extraordinary outburst, the gobby liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman launched a vicious attack on Jenner, who is running as California gubernatorial candidate, for her comments.
U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House in Washington last week
'Caitlyn,' she raged, 'you're a woman, right? A trans girl is a girl. She should have the same rights as cis girls. This is not worrying. This is not concern for girls' sports. It's transphobia, full stop. It's such a bummer when such a prominent trans woman is such a t***.'
Then she sneered: 'You know, it's like being Jewish right now and having the most recognizable Jewish names be Weinstein and Epstein.'
I read all this with mounting anger.
A non-trans woman was savagely berating a trans woman for being transphobic and comparing her to two of the world's notorious sex abusers, because the trans woman had the audacity to defend women's rights against demonstrable inequality presented by trans women athletes.
Yet I wasn't remotely shocked by Silverman's vile rant.
This is how the unhinged horribly intransigent woke brigade behaves to anyone who dares stand up to their extreme worldview, and facts never come into it.
But it's why liberal parties around the world have been losing their grip on power, because most people in the real world, away from the shrieking echo chambers of social media, increasingly loathe the woke and cancel culture mentality.
Caitlyn Jenner was stopped in a Malibu parking lot by TMZ and asked what she thought of the debate over whether people like her should be allowed to compete against girls in school sport. She said: 'This is a question of fairness, that's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair, and we have to protect girls' sports in our schools.' Jenner is pictured speaking to Sean Hannity on Wednesday night
And it's also why Joe Biden should be very, very careful which way he takes his Democrat party in the next three years if he wants to stand any chance of re-election in 2024.
To understand the danger, Biden need look no further than to what's happening to the equivalent of the Democratic Party in his closest ally, Britain.
The Labour Party, which dominated for a decade from 1997-2007 under three-term winner Tony Blair, is currently disintegrating to the point where many members fear it's making itself permanently unelectable.
The situation is so bad that Labour's current leader Sir Keir Starmer is already facing calls to quit after being in the job for just a year, following a disastrous performance in last week's UK local elections, the nearest equivalent to the US mid-terms.
Labour's capitulation was so bad it even lost control of the northern town of Hartlepool, a place it has held since it was formed in 1974.
Britain's Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer leaves his home in London today (left) and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is pictured right
This would be like the Democrats losing New York or the Republicans losing Utah.
How did this electoral earthquake happen?
Labour, like the Democrats, has allowed its agenda to be dictated by an army of woke warriors dripping in demented self-righteous virtue-signalling.
The rot set in back in 2015, when, in a moment of political insanity, Labour elected as its leader a man named Jeremy Corbyn who is so far left that he makes Biden look right of Mitch McConnell.
Corbyn – think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a beard - dragged the party down into an obsessive abyss of identity politics fuelled by race, gender and sexuality that decimated Labour's support.
By incessantly preaching woke ideology, and speaking in unintelligible woke language, Labour enraged its legendary 'Red Wall' of voters in the once committed northern heartlands like Hartlepool to the point that the wall collapsed - and Labour voters ran fleeing into the shameless arms of Conservative populist opportunist Boris Johnson.
Johnson, who became UK Prime Minister in December 2019, is Trump-light.
He's not as right wing, or as dangerous.
But like Trump, he's a big, blond bullsh*tting braggart with a penchant for lying and lurid personal conduct who knows how to cut through normal robotic political rhetoric to speak to the electorate in a way many of them understand and like - and is adept at exploiting woke culture wars to his own political benefit.
Fortunately for him, his opponents kept feeding those wars with ever more ludicrous woke campaigns, which is why Johnson's now riding high in the opinion polls despite his Government's horrendous Trump-like oversight of the covid crisis.
So, Biden and the Democrats should be under no illusion about what will happen to them in 2024 if they continue to allow wokery to consume the party in the way they have been doing.
In an NPR/PBS poll conducted after the 2018 US midterm elections, a clear majority of people (52%) said they were 'against the country becoming more politically correct and upset that there are too many things people can't say anymore.' Just 36% said that they were 'in favor of the United States becoming more politically correct and like when people are being more sensitive in their comments about others.'
Yet despite this, Democrats have persisted in swallowing the woke pills in a way that alarms some of their most high-profile strategic operatives like James Carville.
'Wokeness is a problem, and we all know it,' he told VOX two weeks ago.
James Carville, who's famous for the line 'It's the economy, stupid' during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, told VOX.com that 'Wokeness is a problem' for the Democratic party. He's pictured here speaking to MSNBC in February 2020
Carville pointed out that the Democrats only narrowly defeated 'world-historical buffoon' Trump by just 42,000 votes, and they lost congressional seats and failed to pick up state legislatures.
He's right to remind liberals of this uncomfortable fact as they currently bask in the comfort of a supine liberal-dominated media and successful vaccine roll-out.
If it hadn't been for the life-and-economy-crushing pandemic, and Trump's woeful handling of it, I think Biden would have been easily defeated by someone now widely considered to be the worst president in America's history.
As it was, ten million more Americans voted for Trump in 2020 than 2016, and Carville blames woke nonsense for this extraordinary state of affairs.
'You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people?' he said. 'They come up with a word like 'Latinx' that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like 'communities of color.' I don't know anyone who speaks like that. I don't know anyone who lives in a 'community of color.' I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in . neighborhoods. There's nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you're talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language. This 'too cool for school' sh*t doesn't work, and we have to stop it. There may be a group within the Democratic Party that likes this, but it ain't the majority.'
To compound the malaise, Carville said that many of his liberal friends agree wokery is a big problem but are too scared to admit it in public.
Margaret Thatcher's private life
She continued to be an active political figure, setting up the Margaret Thatcher Foundation to continue promoting her ideas, going on lecture tours, writing two memoirs and a book on international politics (Statecraft), and intervening in both domestic and international affairs. On June 30, 1992, she was elevated to the House of Lords to become Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
In March 2002, she retired from public speaking after several small strokes. Just over a year later, in June 2003, her husband of more than 50 years died, a devastating loss. Although she has retired from public speaking, the economic crisis in 2008 revived the debate over Thatcher's policies from the 1980s and their lasting impact on the British economy.
The Liberal Democrats and other parties
While almost all the focus was on the fight between Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) were becoming a formidable force in national politics, particularly since 1997. In that year they achieved a breakthrough, doubling their parliamentary representation to 46 seats. In 2001 they increased that to 52, and in 2005 they gained a further 10 seats to bring their total to 62. Many observers figured a Conservative revival in 2010 would wipe away many of the Lib Dems’ gains, but others also believed that the party might offset that by making some gains in Labour-held seats. Some political analysts rated the chance for a hung Parliament—in which no single party achieves a majority—as a potentially likely outcome, leading many to wonder who party leader Nick Clegg might throw his support to and what extractions he might be able to squeeze from the Conservatives or Labour.
Outside England, additional parties are key players because of their regional appeal. In Scotland Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party won 6 seats and nearly 18 percent of the vote in 2005 and wrested control of the Scottish Parliament from Labour in 2007. In Wales the Plaid Cymru won 3 of the 40 seats in Wales in 2005 and captured 12 percent of the vote there. In Northern Ireland politics are dominated by regional parties rather than the mainland British ones. The Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin enjoy support from the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland, while the Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party compete for the votes of the Protestant majority. In a hung Parliament, any of these parties could theoretically hold the balance of power and help one party form a government.
Boris Johnson’s ascension, the December 2019 snap election, and Brexit
After a series of votes by the parliamentary Conservative Party winnowed a list of 10 candidates to 2, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt stood in an election in which all of the party’s roughly 160,000 members were eligible to vote. Johnson took some 66 percent of that vote to assume the leadership. He officially replaced May as prime minister on July 24. Although he had promised to take the United Kingdom out of the EU without an exit agreement if the deal May had negotiated was not changed to his liking, Johnson faced widespread opposition (even within his own party) to his advocacy of no-deal Brexit. Political maneuvering by the new prime minister (including proroguing Parliament just weeks before October 31, the revised departure deadline) was met with forceful legislative countermeasures by those opposed to leaving the EU without an agreement in place. A vote of the House of Commons in early September forced Johnson to request a delay of the British withdrawal from the EU until January 31, 2020, even though on October 22 the House approved, in principle, the agreement that Johnson had negotiated, replacing the backstop with a plan to keep Northern Ireland aligned with the EU for at least four years from the end of the transition period.
Johnson repeatedly tried and failed to call a snap election that he hoped would secure a mandate for his vision of Brexit. Because the election would fall outside the five-year term stipulated by the Fixed Terms of Parliament Act, it required approval by two-thirds of the House of Commons to be held, meaning that it needed support from the opposition, which was denied. After no-deal Brexit was blocked, however, Corbyn was willing to let voters once again decide the fate of Brexit, and an election was scheduled for December 12. Preelection opinion polling indicated a likely win for the Conservatives, but when the results were in, Johnson’s party had recorded its most decisive victory since 1987, adding 48 seats to secure a solid Parliamentary majority of 365 seats. The stage was set for the realization of Johnson’s version of Brexit, which was to take place at 11:00 pm London time on January 31, when the United Kingdom formally would withdraw from the European Union.
In April 2020 Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary and a former director of public prosecutions, replaced Corbyn as Labour leader. At the end of October Corbyn was suspended from the party in response to his somewhat dismissive reaction to the release of the greatly anticipated report on anti-Semitism within the Labour Party by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. His suspension immediately disrupted the Labour Party, prompting denunciations of that action by Corbyn’s leftist supporters.