By Andy Cooke.
The action is set here, in the seat of power.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Part 1 of this series can be found here.
From British Politics 1900-1950:
“The 1918 General Election was, as to be expected, somewhat chaotic. Liberal faced Liberal in some seats. Abortive discussions between Bonar Law and Lloyd-George to try to coordinate a Coalition candidate for each seat foundered in the face of the logic of AV and STV: both Coalition parties could put up a candidate and let the voters know that each other was their preferred second choice.
There was some friction between Lloyd-George and Bonar Law, which increased after the election when they learned that while they could make their preferences clear on how they would like voters to transfer their votes, the electorate could (and often would) disagree. The Unionists estimated that the new voting system cost them around twenty seats, thanks to voters preferring to transfer from Liberal to Labour and vice versa. This, though, was not the case in every seat.
The War Cabinet of the Great War. How many can you name? (Looking up is considered cheating).
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Nevertheless, the Coalition had easily enough seats to continue. A total of 324 Unionists were returned, along with approximately 126 Liberals who would take Lloyd-George’s whip (estimates vary from different sources), 8 members of the National Democratic Party (which had split from Labour during the War), 4 Coalition Labour members, and a “Coalition Independent” who had temporarily split from the Unionist Party. Even bearing in mind that not all Unionist MPs were fully inclined to support the Government, the Coalition had a huge majority over the Opposition – which didn’t include the effect of the abstention of the 73 Sinn Fein MPs. The latter Party had all but wiped out the Irish Parliamentary Party. The effect of this is covered later in this book.
Asquith surprisingly lost his seat in East Fife by several hundred votes; transfers from an “Independent Progressive” not being enough to save him. Labour, which had broken through to claim 83 seats, was the largest Party in Opposition, with the non-Coalition Liberals not far behind, totalling nearly 70 (depending on which source is used).
The first Cabinet meeting after the election was a little frosty, but the Coalition soon got past the electoral effects. The Liberal Party had definitely dodged a bullet – relations between Lloyd-George and Asquith being surprisingly positive, after Lloyd-George spoke with his predecessor to commiserate (and privately assure him of his full support in any by-election opportunity).
By the spring of 1921, the ailing Bonar Law stepped down as the leader of the Conservatives, succeeded by the Unionist Austen Chamberlain. Initially sceptical of Lloyd-George, Chamberlain rapidly warmed to the Prime Minister. However, an increasing number of Conservatives were unhappy with what they perceived as the overly-Liberal actions of the Government, and later that year, the Anglo-Irish Agreement which saw the official departure of the Irish Free State from the United Kingdom.
Andrew Bonar Law.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
It was a diplomatic crisis with Turkey in late 1922, which many Conservatives believed Lloyd-George had mishandled, that caused wider discontent within the Conservative Party. A delegation led by Stanley Baldwin, and joined by ex-leader Bonar Law, demanded that Chamberlain confirm that the Coalition would end at the next General Election. They had heard rumours (which turned out later to have been accurate) that Chamberlain and Lloyd-George had discussed a continuation for another Parliament, and forced Chamberlain into a public statement that this would not happen. Chamberlain remained as leader, at least initially, before stepping down in the New Year.
With eyes on the upcoming 1923 General Election, due by the end of the year, and convinced that a peer could not lead the Conservatives to an election victory, Lord Curzon (who had considered himself heir-apparent) was passed over as Bonar Law (who had briefly considered re-taking the leadership himself, before deciding his continuing ill-health could preclude that) pressed for Baldwin to replace Chamberlain.
The Coalition became ever-colder; Baldwin making no secret of his distrust of Lloyd-George. Things came to a head after Baldwin was appointed to Chancellor of the Exchequer. Clashing repeatedly with Lloyd-George over his calls for tariff reform to deal with a flood of free trade items damaging the Trade Balance and with increasing unemployment, after spring 1923, the Coalition continued in name only. Minimal legislation was passed and Lloyd-George decided to fully embrace reconciliation with Asquith, who had returned to Parliament in a by-election.
Shortly before Parliament dissolved at the end of the 1918-23 term, Lloyd-George shocked his Party by announcing that he not only accepted Asquith as Party Leader, but also, should the Party retain power, he would serve under Asquith as Prime Minister. It was commonly (and correctly) viewed as a political move to make reconciliation easier, and to cement himself as the heir apparent.
It was also widely believed that Lloyd-George intended to be the power behind the throne. Whilst the Liberals feared that the voters might see them as weak and divided, it transpired that, by and large, the view was that the Liberals had the best of both worlds: Asquith’s leadership deflecting unrest at some unpopular decisions by Lloyd-George as Prime Minister, whilst Lloyd-George’s support spiked criticism of Asquith as tired and overly pacifistic.
Voting shares in the 1923 election showed that the Conservatives won the most votes, but the reunited Liberal Party, benefiting considerably more than the Conservatives from vote transfers, took the most seats. Barely.
The epochal election was also Labour’s breakthrough. Despite finishing third, they were barely thirty seats behind the Liberals’ total of 219. Splitting the difference were Baldwin’s Conservatives, with 202 seats. There have been many books written over the fallout of the election, over Labour’s reluctance to enter Coalition with the Liberals, and the initial Lib-Lab Pact with its limitations, but for the sake of this book, the agreement to “finish the job” on electoral reform was the pivotal reform. A cynic might suggest that the two parties believed having cities and towns under STV, sharing representation more fairly, whilst the counties and rural areas were only under AV unfairly advantaged the Conservatives in comparison to themselves.
Regardless of the motive, the Liberals and Labour were almost unanimous in pressing for STV to extend to the rest of the constituencies and added in the equalisation of male and female suffrage – which made it harder for the Lords to reject the Bill.
Harder – but not impossible. In the end, it required the Parliament Act to force the change through. The ultimate effects and today’s political picture were beyond what any of the Parties had envisaged at the time.”
The first article in this three-part series set up the PoD itself. This one is intended to show how that could have developed. Much of the above is very close to OTL, but the passing of the Electoral Reform Bill in the way originally intended has significant changes:
There was no need for a “coupon” in the 1918 election. As it turned out ITTL, the Unionists and Lloyd-George-supporting Liberals still largely avoided running against each other, and there were not that many Liberal-vs-Liberal clashes, anyway. They weren’t non-existent, certainly, and in an ATL where FPTP was retained and there was no coupon, the effects of vote-splitting would have been more unpredictable.
The result differed from OTL by more than the Unionists estimate ITTL, but not because of vote-splitting (they weren’t actually that far off). The “coupon” had an extra effect in OTL that the Unionists ITTL haven’t realised: in Unionist-vs-Asquith Liberal battles, the Asquith Liberal was largely assumed to be unpatriotic. Otherwise, why would Lloyd-George, “the Man who Won the War”, be recommending the Unionist candidate over the one from his own Party? Quite a few had huge drops in their vote share in OTL. I’ve assumed that the lack of a public endorsement of the challenger to these Liberal MPs by the PM of their own Party will largely avoid that.
The relationship between Asquith and Lloyd-George, although hardly warm, is considerably less frosty than in OTL here. This is reinforced by the lack of a 1922 election (where Asquith reportedly celebrated the loss of so many of Lloyd-George’s keenest Coalition Liberal supporters and Lloyd-George learned of it, raising his own hackles).
Much of the way international and domestic events occurred in OTL unfolds the same way here. Accordingly, there is a Chanak Crisis and the Unionists are alarmed the same way they were in OTL. A Carlton Club meeting occurs where Austen Chamberlain wishes to continue the Coalition beyond the next election and his backbenchers do not. However, as there has not been a need for any coupon in the past and would not be a need in the future, all that is needed is for the Unionists to make clear to Lloyd-George that the Coalition will conclude with this Parliament when it expires. There would have been no expectation to run candidates together as in 1918 in OTL. I’ve therefore had the Government continue, but in a frostier manner.
The fictitious book rather downplays the relationships. Bonar Law was suspicious of Lloyd-George and kept him very much at arms-length. Austen Chamberlain fell under his spell and strongly admired him. Baldwin despised him.
The 1923 election here has vote shares partway between OTL’s 1922 and 1923 elections where possible. A lot of it is subjective, but I genuinely didn’t know who was going to win it when I went through seat by seat. There was a point where I thought it would be even closer to a three-way tie, and I was tempted to put a thumb on the scales to get them even closer, but I resisted the urge.
The outcome of pushing STV to all constituencies here is more baldly political than maybe I’d have liked. Labour especially see the imbalance of having PR in cities and boroughs and AV in rural areas as being slanted against them and the Liberals, despite losing their own urban strength, tend to agree.
The Unionists here are very resistant to the change – they’ve got the benefit they wanted from the STV rollout (reducing the risk of a Radical or Socialist landslide) whilst retaining their own rural core to a degree. Their ideal outcome would be to retain STV for the urban areas and to revert to FPTP for the country constituencies, but they couldn’t come up with a rationalisation for that, nor would they get support for it. However, their dominance of the Lords means that it does need to be forced through with the Parliament Act (and ITTL, unlike with the Bill to change all constituencies to AV in 1930 in OTL which passed the Commons, this Government lasted for long enough to get it past the Lords blocking it).
Beyond this point, it’s hard to follow OTL. The butterfly net is too porous. We can, however, expect the Great Depression, and the factors that led to WW2 will still unfold.
The butterfly net is too porous?
For goodness sake, why is the picture editor such a literalist?
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The final article in this mini-series will leap forward to our time. There should be plenty in it to cause argument. I hope...
Explanation of abbreviations used:
AV. Alternative Vote: This has one winning candidate. The voter ranks their choices in order of preference; candidates with the lowest number of votes are progressively eliminated and their votes reassigned to the next choice on the vote. This continues until one candidates has more than half of all the votes, and they are declared the winner.
FPTP. First Past the Post: As the saying has it, this has no post and the order of arrival doesn’t matter. Each voter votes for one – and only one – candidate, and whichever candidate has a plurality of votes (more than any single other candidate, although not necessarily more than all other candidates) wins.
PR. Proportional Representation: This is any system (such as STV) where the electoral representation of a party in Parliament is broadly proportional to the number of votes cast for them.
STV. Single Transferable Vote: This has multiple successful candidates. The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference, and their single vote is moved according to their stated preference as candidates either win or are last at any stage and eliminated).
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Andy Cooke is a very prolific author. His books range from political punditry to ending the world. These include the series The End and Afterwards and The Fourth Lectern , which predicted the rise of UKIP on the British political scene. He has also written the portal fantasy series for young adults, The Shadowlands Chronicles , and Skyborn , a post-apocalypse story with airships.