The loss of all but one Labour seat in Scotland to the SNP appears to have sent shockwaves down the political establishment, as if Scotland were a much larger part of the United Kingdom – in terms of population and seats – than it actually is. It’s time for some perspective in terms of figures:
There are currently 650 seats in the whole of the United Kingdom. 18 of these are in Northern Ireland and are generally uncontested by the major parties in the mainland. This leaves 632 for England, Scotland and Wales. Of these, 533 are in England, 59 are in Scotland, 40-in Wales. England has nine times the number of seats of the next largest region.
In 2015, the breakdown of seats in the three constituent parts of the mainland were as follows:
Total: Conservatives 330, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
England: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
Scotland: SNP 56, Labour 1, Conservatives 1, Lib Dems 1
Wales: Labour 25, Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru 3, Lib Dems 1
Labour continue to have a clear commanding lead in Wales; there is not at present any sign of Plaid Cymru making major advances comparable to the SNP, though of course this situation may change. The Conservatives, however, have an overall majority in England of 107 seats. Were Labour to recapture 20 seats in Scotland (which would now be a significant gain), say, they would still be a long way from denting the Conservatives majority in England.
But Labour have achieved this before. Consider these results in England alone:
1945: Labour 331, Conservatives 159, Liberals 5, Labour Independent 1, Independent Conservative 1, Common Wealth 1, Communist 1, Independent 3
1950: Labour 251, Conservatives 242, Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 4, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and Natural Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 1, National Liberals 1,
1951: Conservatives 259, Labour 233, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1955: Conservatives 279, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1959: Conservatives 302, Labour 193, Liberals 3, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 6, Liberals and Conservatives 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 3
1964: Conservatives 255, Labour 245, Liberals 3, Conservatives and National Liberals 4, National Liberals and Conservatives 2, Speaker 1
1966: Labour 285, Conservatives 216, Liberals 6, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 1, Speaker 1
1970: Conservatives 292, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Speaker 1
February 1974: Conservatives 267, Labour 237, Liberals 9, Independent Labour 1, Social Democrat 1, Speaker 1
October 1974: Labour 255, Conservatives 252, Liberals 8, Speaker 1
1979: Conservatives 306, Labour 203, Liberals 7
1983: Conservatives 362, Labour 148, Liberals 10, SDP 3
1987: Conservatives 357, Labour 155, Liberals 7, SDP 3, Speaker 1
1992: Conservatives 319, Labour 195, Lib Dems 10
1997: Labour 329, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 34, Independent 1
2001: Labour 323, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 40, Independent 1
2005: Labour 286, Conservatives 194, Lib Dems 47, Respect 1, Independent 1
2010: Conservatives 297, Labour 191, Lib Dems 43, Green 1, Speaker 1
2015: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
In five of the eight elections since 1945 in which Labour won a majority nationwide, they also won an overall majority in England. The exceptions are 1950, when the Conservatives together with associated conservative parties had a total of 252 to Labour’s 251 in England, and Labour’s overall majority in the country was just 6 seats; 1964, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 5, excluding the Speaker; and October 1974, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 4. Attlee in 1945 and Blair in 1997 and 2001 won commanding three figure overall majorities in England alone; Wilson in 1966 had a respectable majority of 59, and Blair in 2005 also had a perfectly serviceable majority of 45.
Furthermore, in 1945, 1997 and 2001 Labour had an overall majority in the whole of the country on the basis of its English seats alone; in 1966 it would have scraped one from its seats in England and Wales (317 out of 630). 2005 was different, however; then the total of seats in England and Wales was 315, which would still have made it the largest party by a comfortable margin, but not able to command an overall majority in the UK if the SNP had performed like they did in 2015.
Labour can win, and win decisively in England; being able to do so is key to their winning a comfortable overall majority in the country again.
Former Liberal Party President Des Wilson has written a scathing piece about Cyril Smith and the Liberal/Liberal Democrat Party for today’s Mail. Wilson writes in disparaging terms of a self-serving parliamentary party out of touch with its own activists, of feeble MPs too afraid to stand up a sexual and political bully like Smith, the ineffectiveness of David Steel as leader, and so on. The following passage is especially interesting:
Oh, I remember them all.
There was the MP who virtually sustained the whisky industry on his own. If you lit a match too close to his breath you could have made Guy Fawkes Night look like a back-garden barbecue. Many a bar would have been bankrupted without his presence. (And this was before the days of Charles Kennedy.)
As for affairs, Paddy Ashdown was not the only parliamentary party member whose secretary was valued for more than her typing skills.
Then there was the local party leader from well to the north of Watford who had to be woken from his bed on many a Friday and Saturday night to attend a local police station and rescue his MP from trouble after he had been picked up in one dubious circumstance or another. This MP once asked me to travel for three hours to speak to his local party one Friday evening. When I arrived at his house he was just welcoming two attractive ‘boys’ who had also travelled from London on the same train. I was put in a taxi and sent to the meeting without even the offer of dinner while the MP headed to some dodgy backstreet club with his much younger friends.
And, then, there was Cyril Smith who somehow survived more than 140 complaints to the police. How could that possibly happen?
So who in particular was this MP from north of Watford to whom Wilson refers, who may also have been guilty of criminal offences (depending upon the age of the ‘boys’)? Wilson was involved in the Liberal Party from 1973, becoming the President of the Party from 1986-87 (just before the merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988, producing the Liberal Democrats), then running the 1992 election campaign, after which time he stepped down.
I intend to look at Wilson’s other books presently to see if there are any other clues, but though for now I would list all Liberal or Liberal Democrat MPs for seats North of Watford during this period. It is unlikely to have been Steel, Smith, Kennedy or David Alton as they are all mentioned in other contexts in the article. I would also imagine the MP in question to have been in Parliament during the period of Wilson’s Presidency from 1986 to 1987, or possibly during the run-up to the 1992 election campaign.
Jo Grimond, Orkney and Shetland, 1950-1983 (Liberal) (deceased)
Emlyn Hooson, Montgomeryshire, 1962-79 (Liberal) (deceased)
Russell Johnston, Inverness, 1964-83; Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-97 (Liberal Democrat) (deceased)
David Steel, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, 1965-83; Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-97 (Liberal Democrat)
Richard Wainwright, Colne Valley, 1966-70, 1974-87 (Liberal) (deceased)
Michael Winstanley, Cheadle, 1966-70; Hazel Grove, 1974 (Liberal) (deceased)
Cyril Smith, Rochdale, 1972-88 (Liberal), 1988-92 (Liberal Democrat) (deceased)
David Austick, Ripton, 1973-74 (Liberal) (deceased)
Clement Freud, Isle of Ely, 1973-83; North East Cambridgeshire, 1983-87 (Liberal) (deceased)
Alan Beith, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1973-88 (Liberal), 1988-present (Liberal Democrat)
Geraint Howells, Cardigan, 1974-83; Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire North, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-92 (Liberal Democrat) (deceased)
David Alton, Liverpool Mossley Hill, 1979-88 (Liberal), 1988-97 (Liberal Democrat)
Michael Meadowcroft, Leeds West, 1983-87 (Liberal)
Malcolm Bruce, Gordon, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-present (Liberal Democrat)
Alex Carlile, Montgomeryshire, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-97 (Liberal Democrat)
Archy Kirkwood, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-2005 (Liberal Democrat)
James Robert Wallace, Orkney and Shetland, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-2001 (Liberal Democrat)
Richard Livsey, Brecon and Radnorshire, 1985-88 (Liberal), 1988-92, 1997-2001 (Liberal Democrat) (deceased)
Elizabeth Shields, Ryedale, 1986-87 (Liberal)
Menzies Campbell, North East Fife, 1987-88 (Liberal), 1988-present (Liberal Democrat)
Ronald Fearn, Southport, 1987-88 (Liberal), 1988-92, 1997-2001
Janet Ray Michie, Argyll and Bute, 1987-88 (Liberal), 1988-2001 (Liberal Democrat) (deceased)
Charles Kennedy, Ross, Cromarty and Skye, 1988-97, Ross, Skye and Inverness West, 1997-2005, Ross, Skey and Lochaber, 2005-present (Liberal Democrat)
Robert Maclennan, Caithness and Sutherland, 1988–97; Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, 1997–2001 (Liberal Democrat)
Michael Carr, Ribble Valley, 1991-92 (Liberal Democrat)
Nicol Stephen, Kincardine and Deeside, 1991-92 (Liberal Democrat)
Other MPs not North of Watford:
Jeremy Thorpe, North Devon, 1959-79 (Liberal)
John Pardoe, North Cornwall, 1966-79 (Liberal)
Graham Tope, Sutton and Cheam, 1972-74 (Liberal)
Christopher Mayhew, Woolwich East, 1974 (Liberal) (deceased)
Paul Tyler, Bodmin, 1974 (Liberal); North Cornwall, 1992-2005 (Liberal Democrat)
David Penhaligon, Truro, 1974-86 (Liberal) (deceased)
Stephen Ross, Isle of Wight, 1974-87 (Liberal) (deceased)
Bill Pitt, Croydon North West, 1981-83 (Liberal)
Simon Hughes, Bermondsey, 1983; Southwark and Bermondsey, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-97; North Southwark and Bermondsey, 1997-present (Liberal Democrat)
Paddy Ashdown, Yeovil, 1983-88 (Liberal), 1988-2002 (Liberal Democrat)
Matthew Taylor, Truro, 1987-88 (Liberal), 1988-97; Truro and St Austell, 1997-2010 (Liberal Democrat)
David Bellotti, Eastbourne, 1990-92 (Liberal Democrat)
All of the MPs listed above should also be asked what they knew about Cyril Smith.