Amid expectations (among opponents) and fears (among supporters) that Gordon Brown is leading Labour to a calamitous defeat in next week’s general election, Lib Dems have been checking their electoral statistics and commentators dusting down George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England – a well-thumbed text when I studied history at Oxford too many decades ago to mention.
Dangerfield’s book, published during the 1930, provides the classic account of the pre-World War One upheavals that saw then then Liberal Party surrender its claim to be a party of government.
It offers a reminder – and perhaps an incentive – to Nick Clegg that it is precisely 100 years since his party won a larger share of the vote than Labour.
In the second of 1910′s elections, Asquith’s Liberals secured just under 44 per cent of the vote against the fledgling Labour party’s 7.1 per cent. By 1918, after the end of the Great War, Mr Clegg’s party was split between Liberals, with 12.1 per cent, and Coalition Liberals (13.5 per cent). Labour trebled its share to 22.2 per cent. Three years later Labour’s 29.5 per cent had nudged ahead of the combined vote of Liberals and Coalition Liberals (29.1) and Mr Clegg’s party was heading into the wildnerness.
So if he ends up ahead of Mr Brown, the Lib Dem leader will be able to claim his party’s best result for a century. Now, that’s something to aim for.