Sunday, 25 April 2010
They were once the leading left wing party of British politics, with a Prime Minister so popular that he could have been dictator for life if he's wanted to. But then came trouble. Firstly a war, which split the party and led to ministerial resignations, then there were the unfortunate compromises with the political right. Finally trouble in the Middle East and a cash-for-peerages scandal toppled the Prime Minister and then in the General Election that followed they finished a dismal third, with a hitherto minor party taking up the torch of progressive politics.
No, not my prediction for May 6th, but the result of the 1922 General Election.
There were a few differences between then and now. Lloyd George was a political genius and in the First World War he at least did all the right things. He also didn't just steal Tory policies, he governed in alliance with the party, and whilst he did sell peerages shamelessly, he did so because he considered such honours useless and any man willing to pay for them a fool who deserved to loose his money. The Middle East crisis was in Turkey and, although the country was terrified of getting entangled in another European war, everything worked out all right in the end.
However I suspect 1922 is a date that we could be hearing rather a lot about soon - the year the Labour Party overtook the Liberal Party as the progressive voice in British politics.
There were several reasons for this. The Liberals, formerly the aristocratic Whig Party, had been changing gradually over the last century as the franchise increased. When the rise of the Trade Unions and the formation of the Labour Party took the votes of the ordinary working class from them (the Independent Labour Party had the votes of the radical Middle Class) there was nowhere else left for them to recruit new supporters from
The First World War had also split the party, with Lloyd George, the ultimate political outsider, governing with the support of the Tories, non-conformist back-benchers and the popular support of the country as a whole. In opposition was virtually the whole of the pre-war Liberal government. Lloyd George was probably the best British politician of the Twentieth Century, but he was almost a man without a party which meant that when the chips were down he had no-one on his side.
And so the party that won the First World War, introduced National Insurance and laid the foundation of the Welfare State was ousted, and in it's place came the party that gave us the NHS, gave India its independence and introduced National Parks, state funded Care Homes and the greenbelt.
So is it the 1920s all over again? Should we look forward to a new Jazz Age of hedonism, fashion, music and fun? Art Deco, Dada, Cabaret, a General Strike and England winning the Ashes with some dodgy bowling? Possibly.
Or perhaps coalition government, Prohibition in the USA and the inevitable aftermath of economic (or maybe this time environmental) crash and the rise of fascism? Possibly rather more likely.
Endless articles in the press comparing then and now? Almost inevitable, but at least I got mine in first.