1916 or 1936?
I am reading Andrew Roberts’ biography of Churchill. I wish it had been published in two volumes rather than one to save my arms but it is very good notwithstanding. I can’t help noting similarities with today’s politics at two points in time in particular.
In 1916, following the disasters of the Somme and Gallipoli, and constitutional arguments over Ireland’s independence and universal suffrage, the Liberal party led by Asquith split. David Lloyd George, also a Liberal, became Prime Minister of a Coalition Government comprising Conservatives and Liberals, and proceeded eventually to conduct the war successfully and win a huge majority at the khaki election of 1918. It was, incidentally, the first election in the UK held on a single day. Of course we now know that since splitting the Liberal Party has never regained power in its own right.
In 1936, the threat from Germany was clear, and the main argument was whether or not to re-arm, with India’s independence a second flashpoint. The issues were again seminal, the parliamentary debate short of thoughtfulness, the opposition, at least on the question of rearming, limited to Churchill and one or two others, the Prime Minister accused of putting party ahead of country, and voters fed up. There had just been an election in 1935 and in practice the National Government stumbled on until the crisis of 1940, and eventually the election of 1946, where the electorate roundly rejected it.
Today we have an ineffably weak leadership, ineffective opposition, a rancorous debate and a similarly unhappy electorate. Are the parallels with 1916 greater than those of 1936? I would certainly prefer to see a political realignment where one or both major parties split to more years of wrangling followed by a more existential crisis. Even if it means the Conservative party is out of power for 100 years.