Keeping the British Liberal Party flag flying high

Proposed constituency boundary changes 1988
In five constituencies there were huge amounts of opposition to their proposed abolition by the boundary commissioners. In alphabetical order they were Barnard Castle, Bodmin, Brixton, East Grinstead, and Tavistock. Local people objected to these constituencies which had existed since 1885, or even earlier, being abolished. They were places with their own historic and local indentities, and political histories. From 1903 to 1918, Barnard Castle was the constituency of one time Labour leader, Arthur Henderson. David Penhaligon, the leader of the Liberal Party and Foreign Secretary, was MP for Bodmin.

There were massive local campaigns in these constituencies against their abolition, which were covered extensively in the media. Penhaligon was active in the campaign in Bodmin. In November 1988, Parliament voted to keep these constituencies. So Bodmin, Brixton, East Grinstead, and Tavistock were not replaced by South East Cornwall, Lambeth Central, Wealden, and West Devon and Torridge respectively. Barnard Castle, which the boundary commissioners for England proposed to divide between Bishop Auckland and North West Durham, was saved. So the number of constituencies was now reduced from 641 to 633, up from 632 in the original proposals. Later that month, Parliament approved the other proposed constituency boundary changes.
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Hi Pip,
Excellent timeline that is now over 13 years in the making!! Extraordinary amount of detailed research.

Rosa Bancroft and Catriona McClead are great examples of people that history never heard of in OTL being given new opportunities due to changed circumstances. I realise its a challenge, but I feel that there would have been many more examples of this occurring. I also like the way that obscure and unknown MPs such as our current PM, Alfred Morris are projected into the spotlight, due to those same changed circumstances.

A few questions and observations , if I may.

Can I ask, where are some of the towering political figures we have in our TL, which I don’t think are mentioned. I'm thinking of David Owen, Norman Tebbit, John Major, Shirley Williams, Dennis Skinner. It may be that these people and others simply pursued alternative careers because of the multitude of butterflies.

What would be the effect of the hit comedy series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minster!

We are now up to 1988. Did the Falklands War happen?

The Tories have now been out of power since 1964. Maybe there would have been a natural brain drain of ambitious politicians from that movement towards the Liberals. You have Chris Patten as a Liberal but do you feel that some other ambitious people like Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke would have flipped to the Liberals, rather than stick with the Tories as per this TL? Same goes for Tony Blair. What’s the point in him or anyone who wants to get things done, being a Tory? Even when the Tories come first, the other 2 gang up and keep them out. (which is great btw!)

Labour and Liberals have deliberately and tactically kept the Tories out of power, with a largely shared policy platform. I think your assumption that this wouldn't inevitably lead to a 2 party system as voters adjust their voting patterns is spot on. This is because in OTL, Tories vote Liberal, tactically, to keep Labour out. This is hard to justify in this TL when in many ways the Liberals are just as radical (or scary to the Tories) as Labour. Tories may as well stick with what they believe, as there are no other options. Labour and Liberal voters tactically voting to keep the Tories out is the definite reality in this TL. We have a system here whereby Labour and Liberals have lots in common, but nothing in common with the Tories.

Therefore, wouldn't the Tories, recognising the Coalition nature of UK politics, moderate their manifesto to find common ground with the Liberals and thus try to break up the happy partnership between them and Labour?
Unless the Tories somehow reinvent themselves with some modern new agenda, alternative and popular, they look like being on the fringe for some time to come.

Conversely, I also think that with the 20th Century dominated by social left of centre reformers in Government, perhaps many right wing leaning liberals (in OTL) would have migrated to the Tories?

PR has not been pushed since the 30s. This does make sense however, as Liberal/Labour really have had no need to push this agenda, as coalition politics has in some ways made it redundant. However, is there still a campaign for this especially within the Liberal ranks?

Has the Green movement surged as it did in OTL in the late 80s?

I don’t think the UK is in the EU. This debate about joining or not will have continued since the 60s. The Liberal and part of the Labour and Tory movement will be pro joining the EU in this time line. Has this ever affected election outcomes? Has it even been an election issue?

My thoughts for now, and keep up the good work Pip!
British political parties
Hi Nick,
Thank you for your appreciation for this timeline. I'm glad you like it.

Rosa Bancroft and Catrtiona Macleod are fictional characters. As regards the people you asked about, David Owen joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1960. After standing unsuccessfully for the party in Liberal constituencies in Plymouth and Devon in the 1964, 1969 and 1974 general elections, he decided to concentrate on his medical career, and became a top rank surgeon. He left the Labour Party when Barbara Castle was elected leader in 1976. In 1982 he was appointed an Independent Life Senator. He is a member of the Health Committee in the Senate.

Norman Tebitt is Conservative MP for Chingford and shadow Employment Secretary. John Major is Conservative MP for Huntingdonshire and shadow Trade and Industry Secretary. Shirley Caitlin (Shirley Williams in OTL) is a distinguished film, stage and television actress. She has won a few of British Academy Film and Television Awards though not an Oscar. She has played leading female Shakespearean parts. She joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1949, when she was an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford, and has been in politically committed films and plays. She featured in a Socialist Labour Party television broadcast in the 1964 general election She was elected Labour MP for Streatham in the 1986 general election. Her career was somewhat like Glenda Jackson and Maxine Peake in OTL. Dennis Skinner is Labour MP for Bolsover and has never held a ministerial post.

There was something like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister in this TL, which is more or less as popular as those programmes in OTL.

The Falklands War did not happen.

Politicians like Anthony (not Tony) Blair, Kenneth Clarke, and Michael Heseltine are in the Conservative Party because they believe in its values. Also they are hopeful that the party will win a general election and return to power. It will in the 1990s. Also the party controls a number of local councils. They are members of the liberal Tory Reform Party, which is a minority in the party, and would be prepared to see a Conservative/Liberal coalition. Blair has insisted that the party must return to the centre ground, and is a prominent moderniser in the party. Some right wing Liberals have crossed over to the Conservative Party, from the 1920s onwards. Chris Patten and John Patten are both Liberal MPs.

The Labour Party is formally a socialist party, and Clause Four is part its constitution. However because they are in coalition with the Liberals they can't implement socialist policies.

There is not a campaign for PR for elections to the House of Commons in the Liberal Party, though the Tory Reform Group advocates it.

The Green Party received an average of two and a half percent of the vote in the constituencies it contested in the 1986 general election. It does better in local elections and has 57 locally elected councillors. In OTL the party's breakthrough was in the 1989 elections to the European Parliament.

Britain is not a member of the European Economic Community (EEC). The Liberal Party is in favour of Britain joining the EEC, and their election manifestos have said that a Liberal government would negotiate to join. Though a minority of Liberals are against. The Conservative and Labour parties are against Britain joining. However there are minorities in favour of joining in these parties. It has been fairly low down on the list of election issues, and has never affected the outcome of a general election.

If you have any more questions about the timeline, I will be happy to answer them.
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When Ann Widdecombe narrowly lost to Owen by 422 in 1983 she was asked why he won and said obviously 422 people were concerned that if he lost he might revive his career in medicine
Soviet Union
In March 1985, Nikolai Ryzhkov became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, following the death of Konstantin Chernenko. (1) Mikhail Gorbachev became Chairman of the Council of Ministers (equivalent to prime minister). (2) Andrei Gromyko succeeded to the largely honorary post of President of the Soviet Union.

Ryzhkov and Gorbachev implemented their policies of glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (reconstruction. Perestroika comprised reform of the government and bureaucracy, liberalisation of the econmy with the introduction of limited private enterprise. Political dissidents were released from prison and restrictions on emigration lifted.

Meetings between Ryzhkov and US President Norma Jean Baker led to the signing of a major treaty on nuclear disarmament in September 1987, with substantial reductions in the nuclear arsenal of the USA and USSR.

The Chernobyl disaster happened in April 1986 as in OTL.

Estonia and Latvia had been part of the Soviet Union since June 1940, and Lithuania since November 1941. An independence movement in Lithuania in June 1956 was brutally crushed by the Soviet army.

(1) For Wikipedia entry for Ryzhkov see

(2) In OTL the posts held by Gorbachev and Ryzhkov were reversed.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
The Estonian National Independence Party was founded in August 1988. Its aim was the restoration of Estonia as a fully independent nation. The Estonian Sovereignity Declaration was issued in November 1988. In Latvia the Latvian National Independence Movement. It wanted independence for their country. (1)

The Reform Movement of Lithuania (Sajudis) was established in June 1988 to support Ryzhkov's programme of glasnost and perestroika. In October 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic declared the supremacy of Lithuanian over Soviet law, annulled the November 1941 decision which declared Lithuania to be part of the Soviet Union, and established a multi party system. It also voted for the restoration Lithuanian flag and national anthem. (2)

(1) This was as in OTL. See, and

(2) This was as in OTL, except that in OTL it was Gorbachev not Ryzhkov, and Lithuania was incorporated in the Soviet Union in 1940 not 1941. See
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Irish general election October 1988
A general election was held in Ireland on Thursday 20 October 1988. The number of seats in the Dail won by each party were as follows (March 1984 general election):
Fianna Fail: 74 [91]
Labour: 68 [58]
Fine Gael: 33 [28]
Green: 1 [0]
Independents: 3 [2]
Total: 179 [179]
Ruairi Quinn (Labour) became Taioseach at the head of a Labour/Fine Gael coalition government, with Gemma Hussey (Fine Gael) at Tanaiste. She was the first woman to hold that post.

The sale of contraceptives to married women has been legal in Ireland since February 1968. Abortion is illegal, except when there is danger to the life of the mother.
Northern Ireland general election March 1989. Ulster Canal
A general election for the Northern Ireland House of Commons was held on 16 March 1989. The number of seats won by each party were as follows (November 1984 general election):
Ulster Unionist: 21 (27)
Northern Ireland Labour (NILP): 16 (10)
Progressive: 15 (15)
Total: 52 (52)
Seamus Mallon became Prime Minister at the head of an NILP/Progressive coalition government.

In June 1989, the Irish and Northern Irish governments agreed that work would start on the restoration of the cross border Ulster Canal. (1) This went from County Armagh to County Monaghan and had fallen into disuse, and closed.

(1) See
Scottish general election October 1982, Welsh general election May 1983
In the Scottish Parliament election on 2 October 1982, the number of seats won by each party were as follows (October 1978 election):
Labour; 40 (38)
Conservative: 32 (35)
Liberal: 26 (29)
SNP: 23 (19)
Total: 121 (121)
The Labour/Liberal coalition governmemt continued in office with Jimmy Reid (Labour) as First Minister.

There was a general election for the Welsh Parliament or Senedd on 5 May 1983. The number of seats won by each party were as follows (May 1979 election):
Labour: 30 (29)
Liberal: 18 (14)
Conservative: 7 (11)
Plaid Cymru : 6 (7)
Total : 61 (61)
The Labour/Liberal coalition government stayed in office with Caerwyn Roderick as First Minister.
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Scottish general election October 1982, Welsh general election May 1983
The number of seats won by each party in the general election for the Scottish Parliament on 2 October 1986, were as follows (October 1982 general election):
Labour: 40 (40)
Conservative: 37 (32)
Liberal: 22 (26)
SNP: 22 (23)
Total: 121 (121)
The Labour/Liberal coalition government stayed in office with Jimmy Reid as First Minister.

The general election for the Welsh Parliament, or Senedd, was held on 7 May 1987. The number of seats won by each party were as follows:
Labour: 27 (30)
Liberal: 13 (18)
Plaid Cymru: 13 (6)
Conservative: 8 (7)
Total: 61
The Labour/Liberal coalition government continued in office with Caerwyn Roderick as First Minister.
US congressional elections November 1990
After the mid term elections in the United States on 6 November 1990, the number of seats held by each party in the House of Representatives and the Senate, were as follows (after November 1988 elections):
House of Representatives:
Republican: 194 (220)
Social Democrat: 158 (137)
Democratic: 83 (78)
Total: 435 (435)
Republican: 41 (43)
Social Democrat: 38 (35)
Democratic: 21 (22)
Total: 100 (100)
UK Senate elections March 1985 and March 1991
The genwral election for the UK Senate was held on 7 March 1985. The number of Senators elected for each party, and Independents were as follows (March 1979):
Conservative and Ulster Unionist: 131 (157)
Labour and NILP: 72 (61)
Liberal and Progressive: 67 (55)
SNP: 6 (5)
Plaid Cymru: 4 (3)
Independents: 4 (3)
(Irish Nationalist: 1)
Total: 285 (285)
There were also 175 non-elected Life Senators - 50 Conservative, 50 Labour, 50 Liberal and 50 Independents. With the Life Senators, the total number for each party and Independents were as follows:
Conservative etc: 181 (207)
Labour etc: 122 (111)
Liberal etc: 117 (105)
SNP: 6 (5)
Plaid Cymru: 4 (3i
Independents: 29 (28)
(Irish Nationalist: 1)
Total : 470 (470)

The general election for the UK Senate took place on 7 March 1991. The number of Senators elected for each party. and Independents, were as follows:
Conservative etc: 164
Labour etc: 59
Liberal etc : 37
SNP: 10
Plaid Cymru: 6
Green: : 4
Ihdependents: 5
Total: 285
There was a redistribution of seats, but no change in the number of elected Senators. Election was by the Single Transferable Vote. With the 175 Life Senators, the number for each party, and Independents, were as follows:
Conservative etc: 214
Labour etc: 109
Liberal etc : 87
SNP: 10
Plaid Cymru: 6
Green : 4
Independents: 30
Total: 460
Do any minor parties seek quotas of Life Senators for themselves, or are such Independents permitted to sit as members of fourth parties?
I can imagine the SNP seeing a slow but consistent vote for themselves in the Senate along with the declining Liberal vote versus their unelected quotient, and wondering why the life senator numbers are fixed so against them when the three party system is declining. Similar perhaps to the situation in OTL 1991 or 2015 where there were far more unelected Liberals in the chamber than elected.
UK Senate
The Parliament Act 1936 provided for 100 Life Senators of which 75 would be nominated by the political parties in proportion to the number of their elected Senators, and 25 would be independents. If after a Senate general election, the number of elected Senators for a party increased, their number of Life Senators would increase proportionately. But if the number of elected Senators for a party decreased, the number of their Life Senators would stay the same. This meant that after each Senate general election, there was an increase in the number of Senators. Independent Life Senators would be chosen by an Appointments Commission, independent of political control. They must not be a member of a political party, or donated to one.

The Senate Reform Act 1966 fixed the number of Life Senators at 175, of which 50 would be chosen by the Conservative Party, 50 by the Liberal Party, and 50 by the Socialist Labour Party (now Labour Party) and there would be 25 Independents. The 150 Senators for the political parties include two each for their Northern Ireland allies. That is Ulster Unionists, Progressives, and NILP respectively. So no other parties are allowed to nominate Life Senators. They want to change the law, so that parties with elected Senators can choose Life Senators,
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UK Senate election March 1991, Green Party
In the March 1991 general election for the UK Senate, the four Green Party Senators were elected for the following constituencies: Bradford, Calderdale and Huddersfield; South Gloucestershire; Hackney and Islington; East Middlesex. They were the first Green Party representatives in the UK Parliament. They defeated Liberal Senators. Jean Lambert, elected for Hackney and Islington, was the leader of the Green Party in the Senate.
UK Senate, Green Party
Having Senators boosted the credibility of the Green Party as a serious political party. Their Senators could introduce private members bills. initiate and speak debates, and question government ministers. They would also be members of four Senate Select Committees. Proceedings in the House of Commons and House of Lords, including their Select Committees, were broadcast live on the Parliament Channel on BBT television.

On 7 May 1991, the Prime Minister, Alfred Morris, announced in a media conference outside 10 Downing Street, that a general election would be held on Thursday 6 June 1991. Parliament would be dissolved on 16 May and reassemble on 18 June, after the general election.
UK general election June 1991
The average percentage voting intention for the parties in opinion polls, when the general election was announced, was as follows:
Conservative: 37.8
Labour: 29.1
Liberal: 27.4
Others: 5.7
Total: 100.0
Because only 127 constituencies had no boundary changes, it was difficult to arrive at an accurate forecast of the number of seats for each party in the House of Commons, after the election. However the Conservatives would be the largest party, and predictions ranged from them having a small overall majority, to falling just short of one. Among the MPs retiring were Barbara Castle (Labour), Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins (both Liberal) and Margaret Thatcher and Peter Walker (both Conservative).

There was a widespread feeling that it was time for a Conservative government after 27 years of Labour and/or Liberal governments. The Conservative Party manifesto promised that a Conservative government would reduce the standard and higher rates of income tax, and corporation tax, privatise the telephone service, reduce government expenditure to end the financial deficit, give council tenants the right to buy their homes at greatly discounted prices, close unprofitable coal mines and railway lines.
UK general election June 1991
Unlike for the 1986 general election, there was nothing in the Conservative manifesto about banning the 'promotion of homosexuality' in state schools. In fact there were a few gay and lesbian Conservative candidates standing in the election. Though none in winnable seats. The manifesto also promised that a Conservative government would phase out rent control in privately rented housing.

The policy of Labour and Liberal governments was to close coal mines when they were exhausted, and to give incentives to industries to create good jobs to replace those lost in the mining industry. The Second Homes Limitation Act 1989 empowered local authorities to ban people buying second homes in areas of housing shortage. This meant that young people did not leave rural villages and seaside towns because they was no housing for them. The Conservative manifesto said that a Conservative government would repeal this Act. Also the government gave subsidies and tax relief to businesses and industries to invest in areas of social deprivation.

In the 1986 general election, there was a widespread belief that the Conservative Party was opposed to existence of the Scottish Parliament. Though they were not. However unlike then, the manifesto promised that a Conservative government would allow a referendum on Scottish independence if the Scottish Parliament voted for one, and a Scottish government asked for one.
UK general election June 1991
Best Start and the £10 payment to children under six years old featured prominently in the Labour Party general election campaign. (1) These policies were implemented by the Labour/Liberal government. The Conservative manifesto said they would restrict Better Start, and the £10 child payment, to the most deprived parents. The Labour manifesto promised to expand Best Start, and increase the child payment to £15 for children under 11 years old.

The Conservative lead over Labour in the opinion polls fluctuated, though it gradually narrowed. It was looking likely, that the probable outcome of the election would be that the Conservative Party would be the largest party in the House of Commons, but short of an overall majority, with the Liberals holding the balance of power. The campaign in the media concentrated on whether the Liberals would continue in coalition with Labour or put a Conservative government in power.

There were television debates featuring the three main party leaders on BBT and ITV on 27, 28 and 29 June 1991. In Scorland and Wales they also included the leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. David Penhaligon was asked if the Liberals would put the Conservatives in power. He said that too much importance was given to this matter, and he wanted to focus on policies. He said that if the election resulted in a hung parliament, Liberal MPs would decide whether to support a Conservative government or a Labour government. He was asked if he would ask Liberal MPs to vote for a Conservative government, if that
party was the largest in the House of Commons. He replied that that he would, if the Conservatives were clearly and definitely the largest party in seats and votes.

Publicly, the Tories were fighting to win at least 317 seats, the minimum for an overall majority. However privately they would be satisfied with a mininum of 250 seats and being the largest party in the House of Commons. Labour and Liberals were fighting defensive campaigns to hold as many of their seats as possible, and hopefully to even gain a few seats. There were more Liberal/ Conservative marginals than Labour/Conservative marginal seats. So with the same reduction in the Liberal and Labour votes in favour of the Tories, the Liberals would lose more seats than Labour.

(1) Best Start was like Sure Start in OTL.
UK general election June 1991 results
Election day was 7 June 1991, and polling stations were open from 7 am to 10 pm. The results were covered extensively on British Broadcasting Trust (BBT) television and radio, and on ITV, with live broadcasts from constituencies expected to declare early, selected marginal constituencies, Manchester Gorton for Alfred Morris, Bebington in Wirral South for Geoffrey Howe, and Bodmin for David Penhaligon. The BBT coverage was presented by David Dimbleby and Peter Snow, with John Cole, political correspondent, and David Butler as the psephological expert.

The forecast from the BBT exit poll, broadcast at 10 pm, showed a range from a Conservative lead over Labour of 24 seats to a Labour lead over Conservative, and the Liberals falling to third place with between 69 and 94 seats. The first result declared at 11.03 pm was from Sunderland North. The percentage votes were as follows (1986 election):
Labour: 55.7 (57.1)
Conservative: 23.5 (20.8)
Liberal: 20.8 (22,9)
Labour majority: 32.2 (34.2)
This was a swing from Labour to Conservative of only 2.05%.
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