‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

How did the 2015 election compare with past records?

The number of seats won by each party at elections since 1945:

seats  date   leader


418   1997    Blair                
413   2001    Blair                
393   1945    Attlee              
364   1966    Wilson            
355   2005    Blair                
319   1974O Wilson            
317   1964    Wilson           
315   1950    Attlee               
301   1974F  Wilson            
295   1951    Attlee              
288   1970    Wilson            
277   1955    Attlee              
271   1992    Kinnock          
269   1979    Callaghan        
258   1959    Gaitskell          
258   2010    Brown 
232   2015    Miliband   
229   1987    Kinnock          
209   1983    Foot                


397   1983    Thatcher          
376   1987    Thatcher          
365   1959    Macmillan        
345   1955    Eden               
339   1979    Thatcher          
336   1992    Major 
331   2015    Cameron             
330   1970    Heath              
321   1951    Churchill          
306   2010    Cameron          
304   1964    Home              
298   1950    Churchill          
297   1974F  Heath              
277   1974O Heath               
253   1966    Heath               
210   1945    Churchill          
198   2005    Howard          
166   2001    Hague            
165   1997    Major               

Liberal/Lib Dem/SDP

62    2005    Kennedy          
57    2010    Clegg             
52    2001    Kennedy         
46    1997    Ashdown         
23    1983    Steel*              
22    1987    Steel*              
20    1992    Ashdown         
14    1974F  Thorpe          
13    1974O Thorpe            
12    1966    Grimond         
12    1945    Sinclair            
11    1979    Steel               
9      1950    Davies              
9      1964    Grimond 
8      2015    Clegg         
6      1970    Thorpe             
6      1951    Davies               
6      1955    Davies               
6      1959    Grimond            

* includes SDP

Sunday, 26 January 2014

8 of the most-commonly mis-remembered political facts

1 Lloyd George was born in Manchester. True, he was nicknamed the Welsh Wizard and he represented a seat in Wales, but he was indeed born in Manchester.

2 Before the First World War women’s suffrage groups campaigned against Liberal candidates who were in favour of votes for women. William Wedgwood Benn in 1910 was just one example.

3 William Beveridge was a Liberal MP. True, he wrote his famous report before he became an MP and he was only an MP from 1944 to 1945, but he was indeed a Liberal MP.

4 Over the last century, the decade which saw the greatest proportion of government intentions turn into reality was the 1940s. This included the period of Winston Churchill’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal wartime coalition and Clement Attlee’s first premiership.

5 Margaret Thatcher was prime minister when the Pound joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

6 John Major was the party leader who won the most ever votes for his party. It was in 1992 and the Conservative Party won over 14 million votes – no party before or since has ever won more votes. Major’s own majority in his seat in Huntingdon was over 36,000.

7 At the 1997 election the Liberal Democrats share of the vote fell, but the number of MPs doubled.

8 Ukip has no MPs, but the Green Party and Respect do.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Strange Return of Cecil L'Estrange Malone

Today is the anniversary of the 1928 Northampton by-election, which saw the return to Parliament of Cecil L'Estrange Malone.

Malone went from being elected in 1918 as a Coalition Liberal MP and a supporter of the fiercely anti-Communist Reconstruction Society, to being the UK’s first Communist MP. 

Although he later denied ever having been a Liberal, his 1918 election address described him as the ‘Liberal, Radical and Coalition Candidate’. 

By July 1919 he declared that ‘my inherent personal bias leads me more and more to the Left’. His changing political allegiance gave rise to what must have been one of the strangest exchanges of correspondence between a constituency chairman and an MP. The chairman wrote to Malone to say that he ‘found it very difficult to form any opinion as to what your political views really were and as to what party you, in fact, belong.’ 

Malone officially joined the Communist Party in July 1920. After a speech at the Albert Hall on 7 November 1920, Malone was charged with sedition. He had argued that during a revolution, it would be legitimate to execute leading members of the bourgeoisie. He was convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and he had his OBE withdrawn.    

Malone did not contest the 1922 election, but was elected as again as a Labour MP for Northampton at a by-election on this day in 1928, holding the seat until 1931.

Psychological Problems behind Balls/Clegg talks

Nick Clegg and Ed Balls had a friendly discussion. Why should this be newsworthy?

For historical reasons, relations are easier between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives than between the Lib Dems and Labour. Psychological theory can help to explain why. 

Transactional Analysis categorises each participant in a discussion as a Parent, Adult or Child. Most productive conversations or negotiations require both parties to operate on an Adult-to-Adult basis.

Political parties have to accept each other as equal Adults in order to develop productive relationships. In general, the Liberals/Lib Dems and the Conservatives have managed to do this most of the time. The Conservatives and the Liberals have a long history (over 150 years) of dealing with each other as worthy opponents.

However, the relationship between the Liberals and the Labour Party is more problematic. Between 1903 and the First World War, the Liberal Party essentially acted as a nurturing Parent to the Labour Party, through the Gladstone-MacDonald Pact which helped Labour achieve a foothold in Parliament. Very quickly after the First World War the Labour Party overtook the squabbling Liberals and assumed a dominant position in Parliament.

So, between 1914 and 1922, positions reversed from the Liberals as the Parent and Labour as the Child to the opposite dynamic. This is not an easy background from which to negotiate.  There have been brief interludes when the Liberals/Lib Dems and Labour have treated each other as equal Adults (the Grimond and Gaitskell era and Ashdown and Blair could be considered to be examples). 

In the aftermath of the 2010 election, Gordon Brown essentially took the position of a strict Parent treating Nick Clegg as a Child, while in many ways Nick Clegg attempted to do exactly the same to Gordon Brown, telling Brown that he would have to step aside as a pre-condition for any LibDem/Labour coalition. 

Labour and the Lib Dems need to move beyond this unproductive relationship, especially if the parties may need to work together in a future coalition. If this happens, then there will be enough day to day discussion for the parties to begin to forget about the past. But, in the meantime the parties have to get into the habbit of treating each other as Adults.

Viewed through the prism of Transactional Analysis, a friendly Adult discussion between Ed Balls and Nick Clegg could be seen as a significant breakthrough.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Wartime truce – a good time to launch a new party?

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Skipton by-election of 1944. The by-election was held under the terms of the wartime electoral truce. The three main parties had agreed not to stand against each other in by-elections. However, this did not prevent seats being lost, especially by the Conservative Party, mainly to independent candidates.

However, Skipton was the second of three wartime victories for Common Wealth, a left wing party founded in 1942. They had won Eddisbury in 1943 and went on to win Chelmsford in 1945. All three victories were at the expense of the Conservatives.

The successes of Common Wealth could be seen as an indication that the electorate had embraced more egalitarian policies during the war, as was eventually shown in the 1945 general election victory for the Labour Party.

The results also reflected the fact that the Conservatives had interpreted the wartime truce to include the abandonment of most policy-making and political activity such as conferences. The Labour Party stuck to the letter of the truce, but carried on most activities, including holding conferences. The Liberals took a stance in between the other two.

Only Chelmsford was held by Common Wealth at the 1945 general election and many of the party’s key figures eventually joined the Labour Party, including Hugh Lawson, the 1944 victor at Skipton.