Liberals and Whigs

4 May 2010

So, anyway I had a bit of an odd conversation about the upcoming General Election with someone at the wedding on Saturday. I was a bit frazzled after running around after the two boys so will have to paraphrase a bit, so I hope you will forgive me, secret person, if I get the details a bit wrong!

I was a bit surprised that we were having a conversation about politics at all to be honest, as I was brought up with the very British mindset of ‘You Must Never Talk About Money, Politics or Religion’ and up to now, it seemed like most other people I know felt the same way. We may well talk until late into the night about the issues that most passionately inflame and interest us, but it was always absolutely understood that direct questioning about political loyalties or, more to the point, the way that you intended to vote was absolutely taboo.

This upcoming election has been totally different to any that I have known before. Not only are people talking openly and at length about politics, but they are also candidly discussing who they plan to vote for and asking other people which way they intend to vote. This has a darker side, in that I have never been seen so much spite and nastiness directed from a vocal few towards those who don’t plan to vote the same way, but on the whole the unprecedented level of interest in the election and politics in general can only be a good thing.

It’s mostly down to the internet of course, the wider range of information that is available to us at all times and the fast moving virtual world of social networking sites, where total strangers can form close relationships without ever going to the inconvenience of meeting in person but at the same time feel free to say whatever they like, often forgetting that on the other side of the internet, there sits a real human being.

Anyway, back to the conversation with the person at the wedding. We were talking about the Lib Dems and he pointed out that he wasn’t sure about voting for them because the Liberals have never been in charge of the government before. This wouldn’t be so bad, but it wasn’t the first time that I had heard something similar to this.

Now, okay, the last time they were in charge was a rather long time ago and they haven’t been in power since the party became the Liberal Democrats, but it isn’t strictly true that they have never been in charge. In fact, there were ELEVEN Liberal governments between the party’s founding in 1859 and its dissolution in 1988.

Ever heard of Palmerston, Gladstone, Rosebery, Asquith, Campbell-Bannerman, Lloyd-George? All Liberals. And that’s not including the party’s predecessor, the Whigs, whose ranks included Walpole, Earl Grey and Queen Victoria’s beloved Lord Melbourne and whose supporters included Sheridan, Fox and Georgiana of Devonshire. Slavery was abolished in the UK under a Whig Prime Minister. They reformed the poor laws and contributed hugely to social reform with the Old Age Pension and National Insurance acts in 1908 and 1911.

Now, okay, it’s been a while since they were last in charge but it just isn’t right to say that they have never run a government in this country and it’s at times like this that the old chestnut ‘Those who don’t know history, are doomed to repeat it” is all too true.

Actually, I usually say ‘Those who don’t know history, are doomed to re-enact it’, but I’ll leave slagging off the Sealed Knot for another day!

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