Along with “people under the age of 18, aliens, prisoners, and persons of unsound minds”, members of the House of Lords will be denied a vote in June’s general election. Frank Longford, who once led the House but never saw politics as a career, used to quip that peers had much in common with “lunatics and convicts”.
Conversations with Frank were never dull. He was born in 1905, on the eve of the 1906 Liberal landslide, when the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, along with all bar three of his Conservative cabinet colleagues, lost their seats – catapulting Asquith, Churchill and Lloyd George into Campbell-Bannerman’s government.
By 1945 it was Labour’s turn to enjoy a landslide and, having served in Atlee’s post-war cabinet, Frank personally knew many of the principal players. Talking to him was the political equivalent of talking to the pharaohs.
Not long before his death, in 2001, we talked about the elections of the 1920s and 1930s, and the rise and fall of political parties. He had campaigned for Sandy Lindsay, the unsuccessful anti-appeasement “Independent Progressive” candidate in the 1938 Oxford City by-election. Labour and Liberal had agreed to stand down in Lindsay’s favour, making common cause against the Conservative, Quintin Hogg.
In the previous decade Frank had seen the implosion of the Liberal Party and the disastrous first Labour Government of 1923. In May of that year the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, replaced the ailing Prime Minister Bonar Law, who enjoyed a parliamentary majority of 74 over all the other parties.
Although Baldwin could have governed for a further four years, by the end of 1923 he said he needed to consolidate his grip on the Conservative Party leadership and establish his own mandate. He called an election on the principal issue of tariff reform. His gamble backfired and he lost. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party formed a government with the tacit support of Asquith’s Liberals.
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