Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 10. 1962.
U.K. Politics — Liberals Bounce Back to Power
Liberals Bounce Back to Power
First Orpington, then Stockton, now West Derbyshire. In all the by-elections in Britain there has been one outstanding feature—the Liberal Party is on the move again. In 1945, 16,000 people voted Labour at Orpington. What has happened to them since?.
Over the past few months declines in the votes accorded the Conservatives and Labour have been matched by an increase in the Liberal poll. In Orpington that party captured the seat, in Stockton it replaced the Tories in second slot, in West Derbyshire the Socialists. In the last case, it was the first time the Liberals had contested the seat since 1950. The amazing figures: Conservative 12.455, Liberal 11,235, Labour 9431. With the General Election just one year off, the Tory M.P. may have only a transitory hold on the seat.
To the entrenched politicians of the major parties, the Liberal spectre is frightening. Jo Grimond has intimated that the party will enter sufficient candidates at the General Election to form a government. This is a little optimistic. However, there is a possibility of them splitting the anti-Labour poll, so giving the victory to Transport House. The Tories are not the only ones that are worried. The Labour party, led by Hugh Gaitskell, Is concerned at being pushed to the bottom of the poll. This does not augur well for the General Election.
Opinions vary as to whether or not the resurgence is a "flash in the pan". During the 1950's the Liberals would show increases in by-election results, then fall again at General Election time when people are concerned with a government, not just one M.P. By-elections rarely affect the continuity of a government.
On the other hand, never has the Liberal increase matched the present upsurge. At recent local body elections the Liberals gained 305 seats with the loss of 15.
Jo Grimond, Liberal leader, sums up the situation as follows: "The Tory colossus, which has dominated the country for so long, has finally had its feet cut from under it.
"The Labour Humpty Dumpty clings terrified to the top of the fence, knowing full well that, if it made a move either on the Common Market or industrial relations, it would be shattered into pieces which could never be put together again.
"We must not forget the aim of victory in the excitement of fighting the battle. It was on the way to the summit of their ideals that the Labour Party got lost".
Apart from the Liberals, Gaitskell is having troubles with the Left Wing of his party. The rebels are worried at the rightward drift of the Labour leadership. Already six M.P's have been expelled. Another 41 voted against Gaitskell's instructions when the Commons voted on the Christmas Island tests.
The left has a point. According to Frank Alluan, M.P., the Liberals stood at Orpington on a more radical policy than Labour. Liberal candidate Lubbock backed: no independent nuclear deterrent, no more H-tests, no nuclear arms for . West Germany, no American bases in England. The Liberals stood themselves as "left of Labour".
A recent Gallup Poll discovered that 48 per cent of the British public wanted a neutral Britain. Only 34 per cent wanted the U.K. aligned with the U.S. So it would seem that as long as Gaitskell, Wilson and others press Labour to the right, the Liberals will continue to pick up the Socialist as well as the dissatisfied Tory votes. The Liberals have managed to retain a capitalist economic policy that is attractive to the right. Nobody quite knows what this policy is yet, but from speeches by Grimond it seems not far different from the Conservative Party.
A good example of Labour Party decline is Orpington, Kent. In 1945 16,000 people voted Labour, in 1955 (even after a Tory administration) it went down to 10,000. In March, 1962, it was 5,000. Party membership has shown a similar decline.
Orpington can be divided into two distinct areas. The middle class area where the Tories formerly held all the local body wards and the working class area, where, of course, the Socialists held sway.
In the 1960 election, there was a possibility that the Tories might be routed by a Lib-Lab opposition. The Labour party decided not to contest two staunch Tory seats but leave them to the Liberals, who had only two wards. They thought party funds could be spent fruit-fully fighting the Conservatives in Labour wards.
The Liberals captured the Conservative wards, plus some of Labour's wards. Today, the Tories are still in control, with the Liberals needing only four seats to take over. Labour has only two wards.
Trouble did not end there. Labour candidate Jinkinson followed the party line in his campaign and stood against unilateralism. He never once mentioned the word "socialism". Left-wing activists had long left to join the CND. Thousands of Tory voters turned to the Liberals to vent their displeasure of the Government Traditional Labour voters watched their own party fail to present any radical alternative to the Conservatives. Some of them considered Socialism dead, and they too voted Liberal.
The position today makes prediction of the General Election difficult. There are the Conservatives, who have a year to pull themselves out of the economic fire and stop the flow to the Liberals. There are the Labourites, who have little policy and have forced out their vibrant left-wing. There are the Liberals who are every by-election taking large blocs of votes away from the two major groups.
There seems little likelihood of the Labour Party winning the General Election. The only way it could do so is by standing candidates who follow Michael Foot rather than Hugh Gaitskell. The Conservatives will probably remain in power, but with a substantially reduced majority. The Liberals will increase their number of M.P's (at present: 7) and may even hold the balance of power.