UK: A disunited kingdom

Jonathan Clark offers a historian’s perspective on what the recent general election might mean for Britain’s future political make up.

They were elected with a landslide majority in 1906, with an array of talented leaders, backed by broad social constituencies and claiming plausibly to embody the highest ideals of progress. Yet after 1922 they were sidelined, an irrelevance for the rest of the 20th century. The strange death of Liberal England has fascinated historians ever since the publication of George Dangerfield’s 1935 study of that name, dividing them between the adherents of determinism and those of contingency. Is this scenario now being replayed with Labour in the Liberals’ stead?

Something important but not yet fully understood may have happened with the 2010 general election. Historians will pronounce on its implications when hindsight makes it safe to do so. But we might now begin to ask some questions. Does the election herald a new politics? Widespread euphoria signals a sense that something momentous has happened. But what?

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