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WI: Shirley Williams in Warrington

Uhura's Mazda

lying on his back, urinating over his own belly
Published by SLP
Location
Tamaki Makaurau
#1
I'm currently reading David Owen's memoirs, which came out in 1991 and therefore contains a delicious amount of Roy Jenkins Is Badd And Also Have I Mentioned The Thorpe Affair Yet In This Paragraph?

His central point on the SDP is that they went into the Alliance too fully and too early, and would have done better to take advantage of their strengths in funding, branding and popularity to smash the Liberals back on their heels in early electoral contests and hold them to a more favourable seat deal in the GE. He mentions that he wanted a Gladstone-MacDonald type pact in which the parties would stand aside for one another in 80-100 constituencies. The core reason for burying the strengths of the SDP into the Alliance within months, he claims, was that the Jenkinsites didn't buy into the idea of the SDP as a Social Democratic Party with a unique role to play, only seeing it as a stepping stone for a full merger.

The point at which this tone was properly set was at the Warrington by-election, when Shirley Williams (Owen's favoured candidate for the SDP leadership at that time) refused to stand because she was scared of becoming a two-time loser. Instead, Roy Jenkins stepped in and lost narrowly - and in the process, he became closer to the Liberals who had stood down and detached one of Williams' key advisers (John Lyttle) to his own camp. A poll of the constituency before the candidate was announced showed that Jenkins would lose narrowly while Williams would win 55% of the vote and could probably even afford to have the Liberals running.

And then Williams immediately regretted her decision, putting herself forward for the Croydon by-election but being over-ruled by the Liberals, who had first option on the next by-election after standing aside at Warrington. Even David Steel wanted to waive the deal and let her stand, but the tiny Croydon Liberal Party were controlled by Bill Pitt, who was really keen to run, so she had to stand in Crosby instead and basically she lost a lot of credibility and couldn't stand for leader.

So anyway, Owen's reckon is that Williams would have won Warrington and been the favourite to become SDP leader, and this would have established the SDP as a party distinctive from the Liberals (new, classless, experienced, non-sandally) and with a strong first outing with which to hold the Liberals to a more favourable seat deal. My take would be that a looser pact would still see more Liberals elected than Social Democrats, but Social Democrats would tend to beat Liberals in the non-target seats where they might oppose one another - they polled well ahead of the Liberals when both were included as separate parties at this stage. And then the merger would still come, But Different.

Thoughts?
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#2
It seems possible - certainly if the SDP win in their very first by-election run, and win with a former Labour minister who lost her seat with Labour against a Labour man, that's good for narrative. "Look how SDP can beat Labour!" And being the first winner gives Williams a lot of street cred, and if the SDP win Crosby as well then the first five pre-1983 Alliance wins are three to the SDP and two to the Liberals.

(Though as the Alliance was already on during Warrington, the POD would need to be holding off on that - can the SDP do what Owens wants and win those seats without Liberal support?)

After that, does Williams stand down in 1983 when the SDP-Liberal Alliance still comes in third (as it likely does) or does she stick around, considered a better campaigner than Jenkins was/gets a better result?
 

Uhura's Mazda

lying on his back, urinating over his own belly
Published by SLP
Location
Tamaki Makaurau
#3
It seems possible - certainly if the SDP win in their very first by-election run, and win with a former Labour minister who lost her seat with Labour against a Labour man, that's good for narrative. "Look how SDP can beat Labour!" And being the first winner gives Williams a lot of street cred, and if the SDP win Crosby as well then the first five pre-1983 Alliance wins are three to the SDP and two to the Liberals.

(Though as the Alliance was already on during Warrington, the POD would need to be holding off on that - can the SDP do what Owens wants and win those seats without Liberal support?)

After that, does Williams stand down in 1983 when the SDP-Liberal Alliance still comes in third (as it likely does) or does she stick around, considered a better campaigner than Jenkins was/gets a better result?
The Alliance was already agreed in principle, but the SDP were wary of going all-in with a seat deal or a combined identity until after Warrington. The Liberals standing aside in Warrington was an ad-hoc thing with a clause giving the Libs first dibs on the next by-election.

Would presume that she'd contest the GE in Warrington, as she did in Crosby IOTL. With local cred as a by-election victor, she'd probably get to second place, I'd have thought.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#4
With local cred as a by-election victor, she'd probably get to second place, I'd have thought.
There's some stats on the 1983 vote via here:

The 1983 British Election Study asked how people had voted in that year’s election, as well as in 1979. But the BES also asked people what their second choice of party would have been.

The relevant group here is the five million people who didn’t vote for the Liberals in 1979, but did vote for the Alliance in 1983. This group did back Labour more than the Conservatives in the previous election (though not exclusively).

How might these Alliance switchers have voted in the absence of the SDP or resurgent Liberals? The BES second preferences suggest that roughly as many of them would have voted Tory (50 per cent) in 1983 as Labour (45 per cent).
(And argued from there that Thatcher could have got over thirty more seats.)

So if Williams is coming with that credit, she's got that "new type of politics" look as Owen felt, and she can campaign better than Jenkins, I still don't know if the SDP-headed Alliance wins second place over Labour (FPTP seems too high a barrier at that point) but it sounds like it could make better gains, mostly at Thatcher's expense.

Checking its targets, they do go mostly Tory and the Tories lost their targets to Alliance. Let's say Williams' sees them do twice as well at their target seats and preventing Tory targets, manages to flip two Labour targets - double the boost of OTL to 35 seats. That's still not enough but it is a sign they could run on "hey look how we can flip the Tories and Labour couldn't" & "if you don't like Tories but Labour's too left, we're your home". So then if Williams still holds and can pull this:

- Penrith & Border, first by-election of new party, that's going Alliance with just a few more votes (Liberal)

- South-West Surrey is in reach (Liberal)

- West Derbyshire's REALLY in reach, that's in the damn bag (Liberal)

- Same with Newcastle-under-Lyme (Liberal)

(Portsmouth South (SDP), Brecon and Radnor (Liberal), Ryedale (Liberal), Greenwich (SDP), Truro (Liberal) stay same

Though in all of these, if the SDP has been presurring, it could potentially get more of its candidates into the by-elections that the Alliance wins. Or maybe not. I dunno!

Two interesting longer shots

- Stafford, where if the SDP can drain juuuust enough from both Tory and Labour, it's in

- Chesterfield, if enough Tory voters turn to the Liberal to save them from Tony Benn and enough Labour people think he's too lefty, maybe Max Payne juuuuuust scrapes it. But that's probably too far

That'd leave the Alliance going into 1987 with nine to ten extra seats, mostly at Tory expense. And if they're doing quite well, I'm assuming by this point the Alliance will decide on a unification before the election - capitalise on how they're Winning by Working Together - on terms more favourable to Williams' party.

Forty-five seats to start with, a high profile and new brand, and both Thatcher's issues and Kinnock turning Labour round, welcome to the SocLib-Lab government!

(Then presumably a bunch of those right-wingers who went to the Alliance go "BUMS" and vote Tory in 1992)