openDemocracyUK

Have we come full circle?

Guy Aitchison
24 April 2010

There's a wonderful historical essay by David Marquand in the Indy drawing parallels between the Labour party leap-frogging the Liberals in the 1920s and the potential eclipse of Brown's party by the Lib Dems today. This is why we need the Indy:

History doesn't repeat itself, but as the old adage says, it does rhyme. The rhyming is now clamorous and incessant. If the Liberal Democrat surge that followed Nick Clegg's victory in the first televised leaders' debate continues, we shall be in spitting distance of a hung Parliament. Of course, it may not continue. The Clegg boom may peter out; residual "Labservative" tribal loyalties may reassert themselves. But when all the caveats have been entered, there is no doubt that the two old parties, the ugly sisters of British politics, have had the fright of their lives. For old SDP-ers like me, it has been a moment to relish.

But it is also a moment for careful historical reconnaissance. There is no post-war parallel to the shock that seems likely to overwhelm the old parties when the votes are counted this May. There was a hung Parliament in 1974, but the circumstances then were so different from ours that it has no useful lessons for today. Yet there is a much older parallel: the election of 1923 and its sequel in 1924. In November 1923, Stanley Baldwin, the untried Conservative Prime Minister, suddenly called a general election to win a mandate for protective tariffs. Polling day came early in December, 1923. The Conservatives lost their overall majority, but they were still the largest party in the Commons. The rising Labour Party, led by the charismatic Ramsay MacDonald, came second. The recently reunited, but incorrigibly schismatic Liberal Party, led by the pre-First World War Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, came third.

Read on.

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