Keeping the British Liberal Party flag flying high

The POD for this TL is the British general election of 6 December 1923. That was called by Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in order to win a majority for imposing tariffs on imported goods. The Liberal and Labour Parties fought on a policy of maintaining free trade. In OTL the result was Conservative 258 seats (38.1% of the vote), Labour 191 seats (30.5%), Liberal 159 seats (29.6%), others 7 seats (1.8%).* Baldwin didn't resign but when Parliament met in January 1924, his government was defeated in the House of Commons in a vote of no confidence and Ramsay McDonald, the leader of the Labour Party, became Prime Minister of a minority Labour government on 22 January 1924.

It is likely that if the Liberals rather than Labour had come second to the Tories in 1923, the Liberal leader Herbert Asquith would have become Prime Minister. In this TL the Liberal vote is up by 3%, the Labour vote is down by 2% and the Conservative is down by 1%.

The book British parliamentary election results 1918-1949, lists the results in all constituencies. For the December 1923 general election I made the following changes compared to the actual results in each constituency contested by at least two of the three major parties: Three party contests Liberal + 3%, Conservative -1%, Labour -2%; Liberal/Conservative straight fights Liberal + 2%, Conservative -2%; Liberal/Labour straight fights Liberal + 2.5%, Labour -2.5%; Conservative/Labour straight fights Conservative +0.5%, Labour -0.5%.

This produces the following result:

Conservative 229 seats 37.1% of the total vote 5,397,501 votes
Liberal 207 seats 32.6% of the total vote 4,742, 818 votes
Labour 172 seats 28.5% of the total vote 4,146,328 votes
Others 7 seats 1.8% of the total vote 261,874 votes.

The Liberals did well against the Conservatives in agricultural seats in England. A major reason for this was the large decline in agricultural prices from 1920. The price of wheat per hundred weight in 1923 was down by 59%, while that of barley was 58% less.

To the relief of many Liberals, Winston Churchill standing as a Liberal was defeated in the Labour held seat of Leicester West.

Because the Conservatives were the largest party in the House of Commons Baldwin did not resign, but decided to wait until the new session of Parliament met in January 1924 to see if the Liberal and Labour Parties would unite to defeat him in a vote of no confidence. He hoped that rivalry between those two parties would mean that one of them would abstain on such a vote.

However before the vote on 16 January the two parties had agreed that if Baldwin's government were to be defeated, Asquith would become Prime Minister of a Liberal only government, but that a Liberal-Labour Parliamentary Liason Committee ( usually called the Liason Committee) of five leading Liberal parliamentarians and four prominent Labour members, with a Liberal chairman would be established. It would be consulted on all matters of major legislation and policy.

The government was defeated on the vote of no confidence on 16 January 1924 and Baldwin and his government resigned. The next day Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister of a Liberal government. Here is a partial list of his cabinet.

Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons: Herbert Asquith

Chancellor of the Exchequer: David Lloyd George

Foreign Secretary: Sir Francis Acland

Home Secretary: Sir John Simon

President of the Board of Trade: Thomas MacNamara

Colonial and Dominions Secretary: Charles Frederick George Masterman

War Secretary: James Ian MacPherson

India Secretary: Lord Sinha

Minister of Agriculture: George Lambert

Minister of Health: Sir Alfred Mond

President of the Board of Education: William Wedgwood Benn.

Lloyd George was unofficially Deputy Prime Minister, though he did not have that actual title. Lord Sinha was Indian and the first non-white person to be a member of a British cabinet.

The only woman in the government was Margaret Wintringham as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture.

* Some sources give the result as Liberal 158 seats and others 8 seats. That is because they count the Independent Liberal elected for Cardiganshire as an Independent. I have counted him as a Liberal.
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There was no urgent foreign policy crisis facing the new Liberal government when it took office. Its foreign policy was based on wholehearted support for the League of Nations in the tradition of Liberal internationalism. It wanted a prompt settlement of the German reparations question.

The Liberal Party had been anti-Turkish since the 1870s. In its manifesto for the 1923 general election (1) it declared:
It was not enough that we should abandon all for which we fought against Turkey in the war. By the shameless Treaty of Lausanne we have also surrendered all the securities for British commerce in Turkey which we enjoyed before the war.

I assume by "all for which we fought against Turkey in the war" is meant the partition of the Ottoman Empire.

There was much support and sympathy among Liberals for the restoration of an independent Armenia in Anatolia, to which Turkey had agreed by the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. This treaty was annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 which established the present day borders of Turkey in OTL.

In March 1924, Foreign Secretary Acland proposed to the League of Nations Council that a plebiscite be held in the area designated as independent Armenia by the Treaty of Sevres. He was not supported by any major power. France might have been been the most sympathetic and anti-Turkish, but that country was a signatory of the Treaty of Lausanne and Raymond Poincare who was Prime Minister of France then was still PM in February 1924.

The United States was not a member of the League of Nations and was not a signatory to the Treaty of Lausanne, though the United States had participated as an observer. The Wilson administration had backed the cause of Armenian independence, though Admiral Mark Bristol, the US High Commissioner in Constantinople from 1919 -1927, did everything in his power to combat the pro-Armenians in that administration. Charles Evans Hughes, Secretary of State from March 1921, had been a leading member of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA) but had resigned from that body in February 1921. His policy now was pragmatic accomodation with Turkey.

(1) The text of the manifesto is here: .
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The British government could not take military action to restore Armenian independence, but it did establish diplomatic relations with the Democratic Republic of Armenia in exile. Meanwhile C. F. G. Masterman, the Colonial and Dominions Secretary embarked on a tour of Canada, Australia and New Zealand where his speeches in support of Armenian independence were met with rapturous applause. In World War I he had played a crucial role in publicising reports of the Armenian genocide. The government's Armenian policy had the fervent support of the Friends of Armenia, a relief organisation founded in 1897.
The British government's Armenian policy was also strongly supported by the British Armenia Committee.

On April 24, 1924 in a speech to the British Armenia Committee, the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, said that the British people will never forget the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Turks between 1915 and 1916, and their attempted destruction of Armenian culture and the Armenian nation, truly a crime against humanity. (1) He affirmed that the British government will do all that is practicable to ensure justice and freedom for the Armenian people. Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian woman survivor of the massacres, and author of the book Ravished Armenia published in 1918, and a star of the film of the same name made in 1919, also spoke at the meeting.

Asquith's speech was vehemently denounced by the Turkish government of Mustafa Kemal, which denied that there the government of the Ottoman Empire had authorised any massacres of Armenians or the destruction of Armenian culture. Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Britain.

Because of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the British Empire - in India, Egypt, Mesopotamia and other countries, the British government stressed that its Armenian policy was not anti-Muslim. It also rejected any idea that it supported Greek claims to Turkish territory. However a House of Commons motion advocating that Constantinople be made into a free city under the protection of the League of Nations was signed by 71 Liberal MPs.

While the government's Armenian policy was supported by Liberals, Labour and some Conservatives, most Conservatives opposed it. They accused the government of being unnecessarily antagnostic towards Turkey, which was a bulwark against Communist Russia. Also Britain needed to maintain good relations with Turkey for the sake of its oil reserves.

(1) The term genocide had not yet been coined.

Interesting idea. I didn't realise how big an issue Armenia was in the party at the time but expect there would be a lot of other foreign affairs issues. Including how their responding to the continued tensions in the Rhineland.

Not to mention of course matter economic and colonial. Hopefully, while their still tied to free trade they might prove superior economically in other matters. Such as not going back on the gold standard or doing so at a more practical rate, which would have a big effect on economic conditions. Presumably Keynes will be fairly influential.

Also if there is a Liberal Party with Labour support which proves more stable than MacDonald's 1st government hopefully we can see substantial progress on matters like education and health compared to OTL.

Similarly would be likely to be more progress on matters such as self-government for India.

An added bonus for that might be a solution to the Churchill problem. He would tend to prefer staying with the Liberals while they stay Free Trade, as that's the issue he left the Tories on initally but he might jump ship on the question of India. That could remove a substantial orator but also a backward looking and argumentive figure who was growing more reactionary.

Originally posted by LordInsane
Britain is driving Turkey into the hands of the Soviet Union

There is no danger that Mustafa Kemal will make an alliance with the Soviet Union.

In reply to stevep.

I will write about other foreign policy issues in a later message.

There will be progress on education and health. Also progress on self-government for India though independence is still some time in the future.

In OTL Churchill left the Liberal Party because it supported Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government. He was a Constitutionalist for several months before becoming a member of the Conservative Party. If Baldwin hadn't called a general election on the issue of tariffs and the Parliament elected in November 1922 had continued for five years, he would probably have switched to the Conservatives by 1927. Perhaps after the General Strike of May 1926.
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In March 1924 the Asquith government established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, as promised in the Liberal manifesto for the 1923 general election. There was opposition from much of the Conservative Party, though those Tories who had experience in foreign policy accepted that such a recognition was inevitable sooner or later.

A major focus of the government's foreign policy was a settlement of German reparations and for the withdrawal of French and Belgian troops from the Ruhr valley in Germany. The Allied Reparations Commission asked Charles G. Dawes, an American banker and politician to find a solution to which all parties could agree. The committee under Dawes as chairman produced what was called the Dawes Plan. (1) This provided for the withdrawal of occupation troops from the Ruhr and a plan for the payment of German reparations.

(1) The Dawes Plan is the same in this TL as it was in OTL: .
Winston Churchill resigned from the Liberal Party on January 18, 1924, the day after Asquith became Prime Minister because his Liberal government had the support of the Labour Party. He called it a base surrender to socialism. He said that he would be an anti-socialist independent, and that he would try to return to the House of Commons when a suitable seat becomes vacant in a by-election.

The second reading of the Representation of the People Bill took place in the House of Commons on February 8, 1924. The Representation of the People Act 1918 had given the vote to women aged 30 or over, who were eligible to vote in local government elections because they were ratepayers (local taxpayers) or the wives of local ratepayers. The new bill gave the vote to all women aged 21 or over on the same terms as men at the next general election.

It was supported by Liberals and Labour. The Conservative leadership was officially neutral. They were in favour of equal suffrage at age 21 in principle, but they argued that the change was too soon after the last one in 1918 and that it should be after agreement among all parties.

However a sizeable number of Conservative MPs argued that women in their twenties were too young to be given the franchise. One called them flighty young ladies. Sir William Bull (Hammersmith South), who was a member of the Speakers Conference in 1917 which accepted the principle of female franchise, thirty was the compromise age which was agreed to by women's suffrage organisations. Although they denied this version of the Conference, it was supported by other Conservative MPs.

The Second Reading was passed by a substantial majority. But while 67 Conservatives voted against, 51 voted in favour including Nancy Astor (Plymouth: Sutton) who gave what was generally regarded as the most brilliant speech in favour of the bill. Of course, the Liberals stressed the fact that only a minority of Conservative MPs had voted for giving women the vote at age 21 or over.

In the Committee Stage two Conservatives tabled an amendment to equalise the voting age at 25 for both men and women. But they received little support even from their own party.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail was mounting a campaign against the bill and what it called the "flapper vote". It condemned the lack of principles of the Tory leaders.

After the bill had received its Third Reading in the House of Commons it went to the Conservative dominated House of Lords. It received its Second Reading there in early May 1924. Enough Conservative Lords abstained to give it a majority. By the middle of the month it had received the royal assent and had become law.
On February 3, 1924 Prime Minister Asquith appointed Frederick Edward Guest, generally known as Freddie (1), as British ambassador to the United States. Freddie Guest was Liberal MP for Stroud in Gloucestershire and Secretary for Air from 1921 to 1922 in the Lloyd George coalition government. In 1905, he married Amy Phipps (1873-1959), daughter of American industrialist Henry Phipps. Amy was prominent as a women's suffragist and owed valuable property on Long Island.

Some people said that Asquith appointed Freddie Guest to the Ambassadorship only because his wife was a rich American. Of course that was one important reason, but he was qualified for the job.

In accordance with precedent the new ambassador was knighted as Sir Frederick Edward Guest, though he was still widely known as Freddie. His wife became Lady Amy Guest, though she never used the title. He was a great success as British ambassador to the US. He and Amy were luminaries on the Washington D.C. and New York/Long Island social circuits. Amy's American informality was a much welcome breath of fresh air in the previously stuffy British embassy. They forged strong contacts with all the political, literary and financial movers and shakers in the US. In fact Amy became close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 1920.

(1) Here is the wikipedia entry for Freddie Guest: .
The prominent Labour politician Arthur Henderson had been defeated in the constituency of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne East by the Liberals in the December 1923 general election, and was waiting for a suitable by-election to return to the House of Commons.

Such an opportunity arose with the death of Dan Irving, the Labour MP for the Lancashire town of Burnley. However Burnley was a three-way marginal with only 5% separating the winning Labour candidate and the third-placed Conservative. The Labour Party put pressure on the Liberals not to contest the by-election and to allow Henderson a straight fight against the Conservatives. The Liberals refused as they did not want to be sucked into an electoral alliance with Labour. Also because Labour candidates had stood against Liberals in general elections and by-elections.

A safe Labour seat was found for Henderson , when the Labour MP for Leeds South-East sgreed to be given an hereditary peerage and thus become a member of the House of Lords. Henderson easily won the by-election on February 28, 1924. On the same day, the Liberals won the Burnley by-election with the Conservatives in third place (1).

The appointment of Freddie Guest as British Ambassador to the United States meant a by-election in the Liberal held constituency of Stroud. This took place on March 12, 1924. The successful Liberal candidate was Sir John Tudor Walters. He had been a Liberal MP from 1906-1922 and had unsuccesfully contested the Conservative held seat of Pudley and Otley in Yorkshire in the 1923 general election. He was an expert on housing and chairman of a government-appointed committee on housing which published its report in November 1918. He was Paymaster-General from 1920 to 1922. He was widely expected to be appointed to the cabinet at the next cabinet reshuffle.

At the by-election on March 19, 1924 in the gold-plated Conservative constituency of Westminster Abbey caused by the death of the Conservative MP, Winston Churchill stood as an Independent Anti-Socialist candidate. He lost to the Conservative candidate by only 861 votes with Liberal third and Labour fourth. In the general election the Conservative had been returned unopposed.

(1) In OTL Henderson was elected for Burnley in the by-election on February 28 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Liberals dd not contest the by-election though they had contested the constituency in the previous general election.

Neil Craig

The reason the 159 Liberal MPs didn't form a lasting power base is because they weren't united. Half were loyal to Asquith & half to LLoyd George. The real suicide of the party was when Asquith resigned during WW1 as a ploy to get rid of LLoyd George because EVERBODY could see the war was lost unless Asquith was replaced by LG. If Asquith had accepted defeat when LG was able to form a government the party would have remained united, would have swept the board in the post war election & would almost certainly have been in every government since, forming coalitions with the Conservative or Labour rumps as appropriate.
Originally posted by Neil Craig
The reason the 159 Liberal MPs didn't form a lasting power base is because they weren't united. Half were loyal to Asquith & half to Lloyd George.

After the November 1922 general election a significant number of Liberal MPs were not partisans of either Asquith or Lloyd George. In any event the majority wanted reunion. In March 1923 in OTL, 73 Liberal MPs (out of a total of 115 or so) signed a memorandum in favour of Liberal reunion. The idea of reunion was supported by local and regional associations and by the Liberal magazine.

Everybody could see the war would have been lost unless Asquith was replaced by LG. If Asquith had accepted defeat when LG was able to form a government the party would have remained united, would have swept the board in the post war election

I believe that is unlikely that Britain would have made peace with the Central Powers, or that the war was lost, if Lloyd George had not replaced Asquith as PM. A united Liberal Party would not necessarily have won the post war election in 1918. The Liberals would have been blamed for the war lasting four years and three months. The Conservatives lost heavily to Labour in the 1945 general election despite all the prestige of Churchill as war leader, which was greater than that of LG in 1918.

Assuming the Liberals under LG had won an overall majority in the December 1918 general election, a LG government would probably have followed the same policies as his government did in OTL, though perhaps more progressive because he was not dependent on the Tories. But the Liberals would have lost a 1923 general election because of the swing of the political pendulum.

There is a whole lot of controversy as to the effect of World War 1 and the Asquith/Lloyd George split on the decline and fall of the Liberal Party.

In the early 1920s in OTL, British children from orphanages, Poor Law institutions and from poor homes where their parents were deemed unable to look after them, were shipped to Australia, Canada or South Africa. Most of the children were not orphans.

At best these "children of the Empire", as they were called, were used as cheap labour on farms, the girls became unpaid domestic servants. At worst they were treated with cruelty and sexually abused. In the winter of 1923 there were suicides by three boys in Canada and five in Australia. The Social Services Council of Canada was adamantly opposed to child migration.

In March 1924, Asquith appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children Fund, to investigate the situation of these children in Canada. The committee spent eight weeks in Canada.

The Jebb Report published in November 1925, advocated the ending of emigration of children under the age of 16, unless with their parents or guardians, and of orphans under the age of 16. Emigration of children of 16 or over must be entirely voluntary. This report was accepted by the British government and legislation was enacted implementing its recommendations.
The second reading of the Electoral Reform Bill was debated towards the end of April 1924 in the House of Commons. This provided for the replacement of the first past the post (FPTP) system for elections to the House of Commons by the single transferable vote (STV), except in the eleven largest rural constituencies in Scotland and Wales where the alternative vote (AV) would be used (1). Introducing the bill, Sir John Simon, the Home Secretary, said that if it is given a second reading, members would have the opportunity to vote on an amendment substituting AV for STV.

In the debate the bill was opposed by most Conservative and Labour members, though Leo Amery speaking from the Conservative Front Bench in a personal capacity supported it. He said that PR would prevent permanent domination by one party.

The bill was defeated by 245 votes to 216 votes. The votes for were:

Liberal 163
Labour 37
Conservative 12
Others 4
Total 216

The votes against were:

Conservative 154
Labour 89
Liberal 2
Total 245

(1) The alternative vote is also known as Instant Runoff Voting.
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