Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition 190

I argue urgently that we Lib Dems should not enter into any formal pact with anyone, but should remain in opposition to a minority Conservative and Unionist government.

I won’t pretend that last night was not horribly disappointing, as First Past The Post radically distorted our representation as usual. I went through this disappointment before, in February 1974 , in the election that first brought me in to political activity. Then, there was an even greater buzz about Jeremy Thorpe than there has been about Nick Clegg – and Thorpe was a spectacularly charismatic figure.

Third party politics really had seemed utterly dead in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Thorpe had inherited a parliamentary party that really could squeeze into a taxi, and Thorpe’s style, underpinned by Jo Grimond’s genuine radicalism, was an achievement more stunning than anything the Liberals or Lib Dems have managed since. It seemed to represent a re-ordering of the political system to accommodate the radical social changes of the 1960’s (and remember it was Liberal MP David Steel’s private member’s bill which liberalised abortion).

When Thorpe’s Liberal Party’s opinion polls rating during the first 1974 campaign hit the 23% level the Lib Dems gained yesterday, that was a quadrupling of support. When the actual percentage share at the ballot was 19.3% it was a huge letdown – and incredibly, 19.3% gave the Liberals just 14 seats – probably the most infamous result FTPT has ever delivered. 19.3% of the vote for 2.3% of the seats!!

That election morning was worse than this one. I had, age 15, worked almost every single non-school hour for 4 months leading up to the election, and had not slept for 96 hours, being out delivering leaflets. I shall never forget the burning sense of injustice.

The second election in October 1974 led to the Lib-Lab pact, which actually was highly succesful for three years in rescuing a near Greek economic situation. But the Liberals got no credit for it. The “Winter of Discontent” actually occurred after the Liberals withdrew from the Lib-Lab pact, but nonetheless the Liberals were swept backwards by Thatcherism in 1979.

That could easily repeat now. A Lib-Lab pact to claw back the dire economic situation would almost certainly be followed in time by a massive Tory backlash for keeping New Lab in power and losses of Lib Dems seats.

On the other hand, we have the scenario I blogged as tempting before yesterday’s vote:

a Cameron administration, with a tiny majority, propped up by some Northern Irish bigots, would inflict such pain on the majority of our society that, before falling after a few years, they would put the Tories out for a generation at least.

In so doing, they would greatly enhance the cause of Scottish and Welsh independence, and with the Lib Dems the second most popular party and the challenger in the large majority of Tory seats, the Tory demise would sweep in a radical change in more promising circumstances.

I rejected this scenario in favour of a good Lib Dem performance yesterday – but given the actual result, I believe the above is the best scenario we have. Let the Tories run a minority administration with unpleasant allies, restraining their excesses. In the next general election the Lib Dems will poised nationally to pick up a huge bonanza of Tory seats. Cameron will meantime be in the minority government position that killed Callaghan and Major electorally. But he will also face the problem that the electorate always punish anyone who inflicts an unnecessary election on them.

So play it long and cool. Resist the tempations of instant power and ministerial limousines, and especially resist blandishments of referenda on electoral reform in which the entire Murdoch and Tory media empires will again be deployed against us to devastating effect.

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190 thoughts on “Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition

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  • angrysoba

    “Are you still in Japan?”

    I am, sir!

    “Almost the Entire World Seems To Be in England”

    I was wondering where everyone had gone.

    “New Art Galleries Are Opening Up In All Our High Streets”

    Well there are about four or five on our street too. All by local artists too and you’re not having them!

  • tony_opmoc

    I’ve been wanting to reply to Glenn about his disaster scenario that he eloquently posted earlier today

    But they were all talking election bollocks and I thought I can’t intrude…

    All I was going to say is

    in a whisper – I should use a font with an exceedingly large – or is it small number

    the earth moves and has been doing for an exceedingly long period of time

    that oil has been deep down there at an incredible depth for a very long time

    But natural oil spills and volcanoes happen all the time (over recorded history)

    Sometimes the Volcanoes Make Life Tough on The Land

    But The Natural Underground Volcanoes and Oil Emissions which also happen almost all the time

    Only cause relatively minor destuction of the Earths Oceans and The Life That Lives There

    The Water in The Earth’s Ocean is Enormous

    It’s less than one drop of fairy liquid in an Olympic Sized Swimming Pool…

    If you don’t believe me, then travel the world and get you head down and dive amongst the Real Quality

    You Can Fly In The Air With Your Gliding Mates and VERY Occasionlly some Soaring Eagles…

    And You Can Dive In The Ocean with Your Mates – and find that you are much more easily accepted and that it is so much easier so long as you can conytol your breathing and do not panic

    My lad can do it freestyle

    We were snorkelling together and we had no diving gear except flippers…

    And I had my underwater video camera…

    And this

    Not Manta Ray – They are Easy

    No This Stingray Came Flying Through About 50 feet below

    I passed my lad my video camera and Gestured Go Fuck that fish right up its arse with the video camera

    And so he did.

    I was extremely impressed, but he and his sister did start doing this diving thing before they were legally allowed to do it in some places in the world and got their Full Diving Certificates rather early


  • Ellie

    No, no, no, no, NO!

    I mean, yes, we should absolutely remember 1974, but the lessons you are taking from it are (IMO) completely the wrong ones.

    The Lib Dems will never achieve a strong position while we have first past the post. This is because the system breaks down when we get near 25% of the vote, making steady continuous growth of vote share from 25 – 40% impossible. The system resets and casts one of the three parties back down. Inevitably the Lib Dems, not because people don’t want to vote yellow, but because they know it’s more likely to be wasted if they do. To get anywhere with FPTP, we need to achieve an instant jump from 20% to 40% of the vote, leap frogging one of the other parties and avoiding the range where FPTP is broken. That is self-evidently never going to happen.

    The hung parliament followed by reset is what we saw in 1974. It had little or nothing to do with the choice of whether to join a coalition or not, and it has taken us 35 years to climb back from that reset to where we are today. If we do not drop everything right now to fight for electoral reform it is only a matter of time before we get shoved down again.

    This is not a choice between a safe slow steady growth and a risky Lib/Lab pact with a slim chance of reform. It is a choice between a slim chance of reform and certain destruction, the only question is when.

    This time, unlike 1974, serious reform is on the table. Voters want it, they wanted a hung parliament and they are angry enough to fight for it. They have shown they are mature enough to deal with the sort of politics PR would deliver and, if the Lib Dems let them down by not going after it with everything they have, they will never forgive the party.

  • Owen Lee Hugh-Mann

    “New Art Galleries Are Opening Up In All Our High Streets”

    The reason behind this is that there are schemes set up by councils offering the space to local artists for nothing in order to prevent high streets throughout Britain from becoming a wasteland of boarded up shops, further depressing business for the retailers that remain. Now the election period is over and the cuts are about to begin you can expect a LOT more of them.

  • Frazer should publish another book ‘The Blog Ramblings Of Tony And Other Bloggers I Have Known’…Tony mate, I think you are great..Keep the thoughts coming !

  • Anonymous

    Craig Murray

    If this were 1997 and somebody came on here and told you what was going to happen in the next thirteen years would you would have called them ‘daft’.

  • Tony

    Has anyone else noticed the similarities to a Harry Potter story?

    Cameron = Malfoy

    Brown = Hagrid

    Clegg = Harry Potter

  • derek

    Ellie @ 6:54

    Could Labour actually deliver on PR? It would only take a couple of rebels to scupper it.

  • Anonymous

    ‘How can the LDs get into bed with the likes of these people?’

    You don’t look at the fireplace when your stoking your bank account

  • ScouseBilly

    When we move away from the UK media and look in to our bubble through the eyes of the North West Ontario media what do we see?

    A parlour game.

    It seems Greece has got their attention.

    Anyone else see parallels with Venezuela?

    If so, who will be the Greek “Chavez”?

  • Clark

    Ellie at 6:54,

    I agree that electoral reform should be the prime objective of the Lib Dems now, and that the system they should insist upon is STV.

  • Frank Bowles

    Its a bit tight but Liberal Democrat Voice are running a consultation on what the party should do at which will be fed to the executive if you respond by 2pm.

    I’m sorry if its against the prevailing tide but any independent analysis of the voting system will show that it is broken – I don’t believe we need a referendum to tell us that. The Liberal Democrats should be asking for legislation on PR as the price for formal support. And we should be prepared to sup with any devil to achieve it — even though a pact with the Tories is pretty suicidal for activists like me in the West of Scotland. We change the system before we vote again. All else follows.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    The Americans will look after you Tony. As a treat they took me to Cher stadium to see the Beach Boys playing and one of them, I think is was Brian, was wrecked but still managed a ‘Sloop John B.’ I returned the treat by playing guitar and singing the ol’ Cockney favourites (Roll out the Barrel etc) at a garden party in the pristine neighbourhood of Hartford Conn.

    Happy days Tony – Oh good luck with the guitar playing – if you want a few tips just ask.


  • Anonymous

    ‘the entire Murdoch and Tory media empires will again be deployed against us to devastating effect.’

    I speak to you for the first time as a very disgruntled voter in a solemn hour for the life of our country, and, above all, of the cause of freedom. A tremendous battle is raging in the UK. The Tories, by a remarkable combination of media bombing and heavily armored Murdoch tanks, have broken through our defenses and strong columns of their armored vehicles are ravaging the open country.

  • angrysoba

    May I offer my own little contribution to electoral reform?

    I think it is necessary but the idea that PR is the only solution seems wrong to me.

    I’d like a bicameral system in which the upper house is voted in by constituencies. This would actually make voting for independents easier. It would be locally based and allow those representatives to vote for personalities as they may choose to do with people who I respect (even if I disagree with) such as Mr. Murray.

    Then the lower house could be voted in by PR and on a different time-scale. This would allow for parties (which we should all be suspicious of) to get votes they otherwise wouldn’t.

  • mary

    There is a large (about 1,000 people) and vocifeous demo in Smith Square in London demanding to speak to Clegg and for a fairer voting system.

  • technicolour

    FWIW I disagree with an elected House of Lords. Either they’re ‘Lords’ and relics of an ancient system unshackled by political allegiances, or they’re not.

    Of course all political parties have been brilliantly trying to corrupt this for ages. Lord Mandelson! So far though, the House has remained fairly independent, and often the only brake on terrible laws. Elect them and it’ll be – yes, another House of Commons, just snobbier. DO we really want that?

    I think the Lib Dems should refuse to form a government too. The sight of Major arguing that ‘a couple of Lib Dems in the cabinet is a price worth paying’ rather showed how much their influence would be valued, I suggest.

    angrysoba: did you access link I gave on previous Alfred post yet?

  • angrysoba

    “about 1,000 people”

    Mary, that’s about the same number of people who did 9/11. Can’t trust numbers like that.

  • technicolour

    Asoba: you might want to take into account the fear that now surrounds the idea of demonstrating here & also exhaustion.

  • mary

    Interesting that young Master Will Straw is there.

    Reporter: So you’re here for the Labour party?

    Straw: No not at all. I have wanted a fairer system of voting for some time…

    Earlier Billy Bragg predicted that D Miliband will be PM next week!! Said that the Tories will never allow PR>

  • brian

    From the Telegraph:

    “The Lib Dem source said discussions between Mr Clegg and David Cameron, the Conservative leader, had been ‘convivial'”

    Of course they were convivial – I wouldn’t be surprised if they were second cousins.

  • angrysoba

    “angrysoba: did you access link I gave on previous Alfred post yet?”

    No, I didn’t technicolour. Can I say that I have found you to be one of the best commenters here (always being liberal/left in the ways I have always thought it should be – opposing racism)

  • angrysoba

    “Why don’t you tell us a little about the Japanese PM’s efforts to get the Yanks out of Okinawa and the resistance he is encountering?”

    I could do and would do but the nuances might be lost on you.

    There are plenty of people who want the US bases moved and the Japanese PM has promised it but he has never given a clear idea about where they should be moved to. Maybe you’d like to point out what they should do.

    On the other hand, it seems the Japanese PM is going to let the US stay because he is worried that leaving will allow the Chinese and the Russians to assume a position of strength in the area that they didn’t have before.

    My own wife actually wants the US bases to leave but other, older (and I think wiser) Japanese that I know want the US bases to stay. A friend of mine who is 77 years old tells me that the current Japanese prime minister is the worst that they have ever had because he is naiive and has absolutely no idea about how the Chinese and North Koreans will react to signs of weakness.

    The problem with people like you, Mary, is that you think that grovelling before people makes people respect you. It doesn’t. It makes them have contempt for you.

  • angrysoba

    “The problem with people like you, Mary, is that you think that grovelling before people makes people respect you. It doesn’t. It makes them have contempt for you.”

    What I meant was “grovelling before your enemies”…

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