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WI: National Government Mk II in 1951

Uhura's Mazda

lying on his back, urinating over his own belly
Published by SLP
Location
Tamaki Makaurau
#1
In 1951, when Winston Churchill returned to office with a small majority, he took the unusual step of inviting Liberal leader Clement Davies to take the Education brief in his new ministry. This was quite clearly a bear hug, designed to split the Liberal Party, and Davies rejected the offer on these grounds. But he was apparently sorely tempted and only made his mind up when his nerve was stiffened by more resolutely anti-Tory advisers. It's worth noting that Davies had obeyed the whip of the pre-War National Government as a member of the Liberal National Party.

So it's a bit of a handwave, but what if he'd had the wrong people around him on the day and gone for the job in '51?

There's clearly going to be yet another Liberal split. However, interestingly, the last of the definitively lefty/radical Liberals had just lost their seats, among them Megan Lloyd George, and five of the remaining six Lib MPs were unopposed by Tory candidates as a result of abortive Churchill-Davies talks around the possibility of an anti-Socialist electoral pact. I would suggest that if Davies joins a Tory-led Government, then some or all of Arthur Holt, Donald Wade, Rhys Hopkin Morris and Roderic Bowen would feel sufficiently beholden to the Conservatives to back their leader. Probably the least likely to follow suit is Grimond, who was elected against a Tory challenger and - despite being at this point in his career quite a dry economic liberal - sufficiently aware of the main chance to see that leading a new radical party might be a good career move. Others of the other four might go with him.

I suspect that the Daviesite Liberals would still be too fundamentally pissy at the National Liberals - and vice versa - to merge with them, so the latter group probably still continue in their drawn-out decline. They'd just be joined in that decline by most of the rest of the Liberals, assuming the Daviesites don't manage to break free at some opportune juncture - the Liberals IOTL usually voted with the Tories at this time and loved Eden at first because he had a reputation as a liberal internationalist, but Suez would be the obvious point at which they'd choose to go. However, butterflies might change the course of the crisis, and bear in mind that there'd have been an election in the meantime in which the Daviesites would have been in an electoral alliance with the Tories and National Liberals.

Reckons welcome, as are disagreements with my own. Not to be That Guy, though, but I think we can take it as read that the PoD isn't hugely likely in the first place.
 

Mumby

'I love the pun he will go far'
Published by SLP
#2
this is my jam

If 5 of the 6 Liberal MPs end up on the Conservative benches, if anyone is able to make a going concern of a new radical party it would be Jo, I think he would at least be safe up on his islands. Its whether he's able to turn that into something with any significant parliamentary presence beyond that.

I cautiously agree with your estimation of no Liberal reunification, if only because I get the sense the Daviesites do not yet want to have as formal an arrangement with the Conservatives as the National Liberals will have already adopted.

I think this has interesting consequences down the line, most obviously to me in the form of Jeremy Thorpe. Joining the Tories is a no brainer for him in this world, I know he wanted a challenge in joining the Liberals and leading them to triumph but its a bit of a steep task in this world.
 

moth

Mothleton
Location
Portsmoth
#3
and gone for the job in '51?
If I've misunderstood what you've written, do note, but the problem is not itself the MPs, who yes, were uniformly more prone to favour the Tories for one reason or another (and by 1951 the bloodletting had left only your more Liberal Right members when the Liberal Left had uniformly fucked off to greener pastures), but rather the National Executive, who voted 11-to-1 against Davies and the Liberals joining a Coalition with Churchill (only Violet Bonham Carter backed Coalition with Churchill). This is the most immediate hurdle you would have to face, and beyond the Executive being more to the left of the Parliamentary Party, I suppose that to sway it then would be more of a question of Parliamentary arithmetic and how much the Liberals need to be in a Coalition with Churchill's National Alliance. And Churchill had a Majority of 17, so it's a bit "yeah well they have their Majority so why should be join them?". If the Liberals performed far better in 1951, rather than losing a third of their already diminished Caucus, and were kingmakers and it was clear that the Tories needed the Liberals to be in Government with them, then I would say that they would jump to them without much thought of the matter. It's making joining a National Government necessary more than anything else, and make the potential pain of joining Churchill and the Tories and etc. a sacrifice over self harm.

Now there are ways that the WI can work without 1951 being so hung that the Tories need to ask the Liberals to join. But we need to consider a number of major hurdles that will have to take place immediately and in the years prior to the 1951 Election. The first would be Davies himself. Beyond the obvious issues of Davies being a former Nat Lib who drifted leftwards into the Radical Action group before settling in the mushy centre, Davies was dedicated to Liberal Independence, which is made starkly clear in the 1946 Party Review Coats Off for the Future!, which predicts rather bleakly an "eclipse of British Liberalism". This more than anything sets the mood, as it were, for Davies' Leadership as one concerned primarily with one thing and one thing only: survival. With this in mind, I think it's easy to see why, especially after 1951, the Executive disapproved of Coalition. Now, there are some ways you can go about changing this, and to his credit, before the disaster of 1951, Davies was pursing them.

The first is a rapprochement between the National Liberals and Liberals. As you note, the National Liberals were in a drawn out decline, although I'm more keen on describing the post-war Nat Libs as a Party in 'disintegration'. After the bollocking in '45, we saw a lot of the local parties begin merging back into a single grouping, most notably the London Liberal Party (and likely why Edward Martell never saw the national stage, thinking about it). However national concerns remained a bugbear, with the merger of the Local Party's in London and elsewhere not being a merger of the Constituency Party's. Had the National Liberals continued in its independence and the Woolton-Teviot Agreement never been signed, I suspect that a more 'national' merger would have occurred, either immediately running up to 1950, or immediately after.

Davies again forms an issue with merger- he was viewed with great anxiety by his predecessor who believed that he would transform the Party along the Left of Labour lines (Davies was among the rare birds of pro-nationalisation and pro-Union liberals to not be in Labour), and even as he entered Leadership and moderated his stance, he still threw his support behind 'Socialist medicine' and the formation of the NHS, and various other nationalisation programmes. It was only in 1949 that Davies went against Labour's Nationalisation programme when he spoke against Steel Nationalisation, which led to "the Liberals drift right" takes. This is not to say Davies was a Fellow Traveller with whom a Coalition with Churchill was out of the question, or some great lost left-wing hope, and while I do think that Davies could have certainly led a Liberal/National Liberal unification if he had the chance, you'd need to have Davies come out against nationalisation earlier and to stake himself and the party as more than Labourlite during the 38th Parliament.

Now if the National Liberals retain Independence because there is no Woolton-Teviot and still make some gains at the GE, then unification after 1950 is, in my mind, inevitable, and will certainly give you the best chance at a National Government in 1951 or whenever the butterfly wings lands on the snappy. Now, this will still require a different outcome for the Liberals Vanilla in 1950, but does set the stage for an alternate 1951 in which Coalition becomes more more likely. The major issue that faced both Davies and the Liberals in the 39th Parliament was a lack of coherency. While a lack of funding leading up to the snappy because the massive loss of deposits in '50, and the Tories eating into the Liberal poll share prior was an issue, the intake of more Left-Liberal voices into the ranks of the Parliamentary Party created friction and incoherence as Davies tried to straddle both sides of his Party to no avail. I'm unsure if the Left-intake would have backed a full national merger, or if it would have mattered. Either way, had the intake been more Davisite or Right-Liberal in 1950, then the no-WT National Liberals would have merged.

This brings us to the last thing: as I've mentioned repeatedly, Davies was committed firmly to the Liberals being an Independent Third Force. This will not change even with a merger with the Nat Libs. I'm bringing this up as I think that this does need to be taken seriously and understood in the most clear terms, and any talk of an 'electoral pact' under Davies's Unified Liberals and the Tories will be built on one that respects the Independence of the Liberals a hell of a lot more than the Nat Libs, and will put any coalition more in line with what we saw in 2010 than 1931.

With this in mind, if there is a National Government due to a Unified Liberal Party and a hung Parliament, the Liberals will almost certainly survive it. Davies and his Caucus will sit on the Government benches, Churchill will offer Davies the post of Welsh Secretary or Education (he offered him the latter IoTL but was wavering either/or) and we will not see an electoral pact, rather we will see electoral reform seriously pursued; my money would be on AV, and we see the Liberals ultimately becoming analogous to the position of the Country Party in Australia's Liberal-Country Coalition.

If we simply do the handwave in '51, the Executive swings the other way, and, say, the Liberals have about a bakers dozen seats and the Tories are short by a couple, then Davies will certainly join Cabinet in Education and we will see electoral reform talked about, although if it comes to anything, AV might be the only way to go (and if it's purely that the Liberals have joined with the same results of OTL, then yeah it won't happen). The National Liberals themselves will be put into a difficult position, and may end up losing their 'Liberal' tag unless they run with Liberals. The Liberals won't survive this Coalition, regardless of if they held the balance or power or not- this is not to say they will be wiped out or anything, because Churchill will do everything to ensure they are well kept once he goes, but rather that they will ultimately end up the new National Liberals no matter how much Davies resists.
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I think this has interesting consequences down the line, most obviously to me in the form of Jeremy Thorpe. Joining the Tories is a no brainer for him in this world, I know he wanted a challenge in joining the Liberals and leading them to triumph but its a bit of a steep task in this world.
While in the past I've spoken many a time on how the Thorpe was only in the Liberals for glory, I've increasingly taken the view that him staying with them while the likes of Heseltine did not is indicative of something deeper. While he certainly wanted to provide fate a challenge, Thorpe was likely more committed to Liberalism than we give him credit for, even if he did often get drunk more on the the benefits of being the Liberal Leader. I suspect Thorpe would join the Tories under Eden for some of the reasons Mazda has outlined in regards to the pre-Suez Liberal support for him, but I'm also inclined to think that he might throw his lot in with Grimond. Really depends on how the latter and his splinter perform, I suppose.
 
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Uhura's Mazda

lying on his back, urinating over his own belly
Published by SLP
Location
Tamaki Makaurau
#4
Just a few things, if I may.
If I've misunderstood what you've written, do note, but the problem is not itself the MPs, who yes, were uniformly more prone to favour the Tories for one reason or another (and by 1951 the bloodletting had left only your more Liberal Right members when the Liberal Left had uniformly fucked off to greener pastures), but rather the National Executive, who voted 11-to-1 against Davies and the Liberals joining a Coalition with Churchill (only Violet Bonham Carter backed Coalition with Churchill).
Well, yes - as above, I was handwaving this. The mechanism would probably be Labour winning another 18 seats or Davies simply defying the Executive out of desperation to actually have a Liberal impact on policy. I'm fully aware that the majority of the party would go with the 'Grimondites' - and the Daviesite split would in all probability be limited to the constituencies of the defectors, plus a few target seats, as far as membership is concerned.
Now if the National Liberals retain Independence because there is no Woolton-Teviot and still make some gains at the GE, then unification after 1950 is, in my mind, inevitable,
I think you're quite mistaken here. The personal antipathy between the two sides was far more bitter than between Nat Libs and Tories (obviously) and between Libs and Tories. Indeed, when Violet Bonham-Carter considered jumping over to Churchill's side, she dismissed his suggestion that she join the Nat Libs out of hand as a sheer insult, but was open to joining the Tories. That's the relationship we're dealing with here. Additionally, by 1950 or so, about half of the Nat Lib MPs had no Liberal history whatsoever and were just trad Tories wearing Liberal colours as a flag of convenience to get their selection approved by some old woman in the Association. Hard to see why they'd want to join the Liberals.

This is quite apart from the fact that Fusion had been discussed officially on two occasions in the last decade, with the result both times being "Yeah, there's pretty much no common ground here". Some kind of Woolton-Teviot or full merger in the 45-55 period is about as close to inevitable as you can really get in AH.
This brings us to the last thing: as I've mentioned repeatedly, Davies was committed firmly to the Liberals being an Independent Third Force. This will not change even with a merger with the Nat Libs. I'm bringing this up as I think that this does need to be taken seriously and understood in the most clear terms, and any talk of an 'electoral pact' under Davies's Unified Liberals and the Tories will be built on one that respects the Independence of the Liberals a hell of a lot more than the Nat Libs, and will put any coalition more in line with what we saw in 2010 than 1931.
Would suggest that you're confusing outcomes with intentions here, at least as far as conceptions of Liberal Independence go. The Nat Libs considered themselves to be Independent until W-T (if not later) because they had policy autonomy and their own Associations, and to be frank, there was a significant body of opinion within the mainstream Liberals which saw a long-term Tory pact as being conducive, rather than corrosive, to the principle of Independence - especially given that Survival was a precondition of Independence, but not exclusively with that logic. In terms of Davies himself, this is a guy who joined the Lib Nats, who was happy to engage in a local pact in Montgomeryshire, was happy for Liberals to engage in Progressive Alliances on a local level, was happy to lead a parliamentary party half of which wouldn't be in the House if it weren't for Tory pacts, and to cap it all, was involved in serious discussions with Churchill to engage in a national-level alliance - against the will of the left wing of his Party. On top of this, if we're countenancing some sort of Coalition in 1951, it seems fairly obvious that the funding situation won't improve out of sight by 1955, so there will be an additional impetus not to contest a huge tranche of constituencies where the Liberals have no organisation or support. It will be more a case of 'feel free to stand against us in these 40 safe seats, and we'll give you a free run in your 6, plus 5-15 marginals and a few safe Labour seats' (more generous if we're thinking of a Lib-Nat Lib merger). So more independent than the Nat Libs, for sure, but I don't think Full Independence is likely in this scenario.
 

moth

Mothleton
Location
Portsmoth
#5
Would suggest that you're confusing outcomes with intentions here, at least as far as conceptions of Liberal Independence go.
I broadly agree with the rest, but I do want to note that Davies' intention was explicitly to keep the Liberals as an Independent Force, with the continuation of the Liberal Shadow Cabinet, the use of his Privy Councillor status to ensure he was given equal space as Attlee and Churchill at ceremonial unctions, and the policy reviews and documents at the time supportive of this intention; the outcome merely happily aligned with this, while in a situation in which he feels like its his duty to enter a coalition in 1951, he could have very easily ended up seeing his Party swallowed into the broader Conservative National Alliance because of the various ways he tried to ensure that the Liberals could be kept propped up through progressive alliances and pacts and the such.
 

Uhura's Mazda

lying on his back, urinating over his own belly
Published by SLP
Location
Tamaki Makaurau
#6
I broadly agree with the rest, but I do want to note that Davies' intention was explicitly to keep the Liberals as an Independent Force, with the continuation of the Liberal Shadow Cabinet, the use of his Privy Councillor status to ensure he was given equal space as Attlee and Churchill at ceremonial unctions, and the policy reviews and documents at the time supportive of this intention; the outcome merely happily aligned with this, while in a situation in which he feels like its his duty to enter a coalition in 1951, he could have very easily ended up seeing his Party swallowed into the broader Conservative National Alliance because of the various ways he tried to ensure that the Liberals could be kept propped up through progressive alliances and pacts and the such.
Noted. And as you imply, it's quite easy for "These are the compromises we're making so as to fight for Independence tomorrow" to devolve into "This is what we meant by Independence all along please put down the chairs" in infertile soil.

If, for the sake of argument, we go with my hand-waved scenario of a Daviesite-Grimondite split in which Grimond (and perhaps Wade?) goes off and takes the majority of the membership with him (but loses a proportion of the Liberal Vote), what degree of success would you envisage for such? Can't imagine they'd be in contention for as many gains as OTL unless Thorpe does end up leading them, and as you say, that's somewhat dependent on whether they're successful enough to attract him. I guess there'd be potential in the rural Scottish seats with a Grimond Party, but even they weren't won until '64 IOTL, by which point it might be too late.

Meanwhile, I suspect the Daviesites remain a 5-seat party at maximum, with pressure to hand over to Tories upon retirement of the '51 party.
 

moth

Mothleton
Location
Portsmoth
#7
Noted. And as you imply, it's quite easy for "These are the compromises we're making so as to fight for Independence tomorrow" to devolve into "This is what we meant by Independence all along please put down the chairs" in infertile soil.

If, for the sake of argument, we go with my hand-waved scenario of a Daviesite-Grimondite split in which Grimond (and perhaps Wade?) goes off and takes the majority of the membership with him (but loses a proportion of the Liberal Vote), what degree of success would you envisage for such? Can't imagine they'd be in contention for as many gains as OTL unless Thorpe does end up leading them, and as you say, that's somewhat dependent on whether they're successful enough to attract him. I guess there'd be potential in the rural Scottish seats with a Grimond Party, but even they weren't won until '64 IOTL, by which point it might be too late.

Meanwhile, I suspect the Daviesites remain a 5-seat party at maximum, with pressure to hand over to Tories upon retirement of the '51 party.
To be honest, I don't see Grimond having success. He'll hold the Shetland & Orkney, but I can't see his splinter competing nationally, and while a 'North Scotland Party' may be viable as an alternative SNP, on a national level the Liberals would be dead beyond whatever long-term pact Davies' successor can wrangle. The Liberals, from 1954 onwards, was, I think, barring particular disaster in '55, going to live; however going into Coalition at that stage and splitting will be enough to see a quiet death.

With respect to Thorpe, if Grimond can somehow pull off a success and field a handful of winning candidates on the mainland (be it through pacts with Labour and what-not), Thorpe would be certainly be among them. By the time of this hypothetical split, Thorpe is enough of a Grimondite and has been settled enough in Devon to go for it as a Grimondite Liberal, and will be a figure whose success will make or break the party on the mainland. If he and Grimond fails, I can see him having gone to the Daviesites by 1960.
 

Mumby

'I love the pun he will go far'
Published by SLP
#9
I'm now imagining Thorpe somehow doing a Joh for Canberra style campaign.
If you somehow had really early devolution in the 1950s or something, and the Scottish Unionists maintain their distance from the rest of the Tories, and then have some aristocratic type get in there on a minority, possibly backed by the Radicals initially on promises of further local devolution which would benefit them Highlands Liberals, and then use malaportionment and AV in the cities to turn Scotland into a corruptly Tory heartland. Then he gets full of himself and thinks he can take his brand of fuckery nationwide...
 

RyanF

Abbot of Unreason
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Falkirk
#10
If you somehow had really early devolution in the 1950s or something, and the Scottish Unionists maintain their distance from the rest of the Tories, and then have some aristocratic type get in there on a minority, possibly backed by the Radicals initially on promises of further local devolution which would benefit them Highlands Liberals, and then use malaportionment and AV in the cities to turn Scotland into a corruptly Tory heartland. Then he gets full of himself and thinks he can take his brand of fuckery nationwide...
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