The flame of British Liberalism burns steady and brighter: A timeline from 1945

The Liberal leader, Mark Bonham-Carter, accepted Maudling's offer of a coalition. The two parties negotiating teams met in the morning of Saturday 22 April. The Conservative team was Robert Carr, Ian Gilmour, Peter Walker and William Whitelaw. The Liberal team was Emlyn Hooson, John Pardoe, Nancy Seear and Richard Wainwright.

Agreement was reached on the Liberal policies of raising the income tax threshold, industrial co-partnership, help for small businesses, and proportional representation
for elections to the European Parliament. As regards electoral reform, there would be legislation to provide for a referendum which would offer the choice between a system of proportional representation, and keeping FPTP. It was also agreed that the coalition would last for four years, when each party would be free to leave.
Shortly after 6 pm on 22 April, James Callaghan went to Buckingham Palace and resigned as Prime Minister. About an hour later, Reginald Maudling went to the Palace and accepted the Queen's invitation to form a government. Later that night Liberal MPs voted by 16 votes to 0 in favour of the coalition.
This looks interesting - how many cabinet seats would they get. Obviously Bonham-Carter for something but maybe a couple more at the Treasury and Employment.

It'll be interesting to see if the voting reform referendum goes down in flames like the AV one OTL. Speaking personally, I think it's probably easier to make the case for PR than AV because AV was kind of just a souped up FPTP that no reformers seriously preferred as an end-state.
Reginald Maudling appointed his cabinet on 23 and 24 April. Here is the list of ministers. All Conservative unless specified as Liberal:
Prime Minister: Reginald Maudling
Lord Chancellor: Viscount Hailsham
Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons: William Whitelaw
Lord Privy Seal: Lord Carrington
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Edward Heath
Foreign Secretary: Robert Carr
Home Secretary: Mark Bonham-Carter (Liberal)
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: Peter Walker
Defence Secretary: Francis Pym
Education and Science Secretary and Minister for the Arts: Norman St. John Stevas
Employment Secretary: James Prior
Energy Secretary: David Price
Enviroment Secretary: Margaret Thatcher
Health and Social Security Secretary: Sir Keith Joseph
Industry Secretary: John Nott
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Geoffrey Rippon
Northern Ireland Secretary: Ian Gilmour
Minister of Overseas Development: Nicholas Scott
Paymaster- General: Humphrey Atkins
Scottish Secretary: Alick Buchanan- Smith
Trade Secretary and President of the Board of Trade: John Pardoe (Liberal)
Welsh Secretary: Wyn Roberts.
There were twenty Conservative ministers and two Liberal ministers
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The two Liberal cabinet ministers out of 22 compared favourably to the five Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers out of 22 in the 2010 coalition. There were 16 Liberal MPs elected on the 1978 general election in this TL, compared to 57 Liberal Democrats elected in 2010 in OTL, which was 15.7% of the combined Conservative and Liberal Democrat total. But the Liberal Democrats had 22.7% of the cabinet ministers. In 1978 the Liberals had 4.9% of the combined Conservative and Liberal total, but 9.1% of the cabinet ministers.

There were five Liberal junior ministers. They were:
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Richard Wainwright
Minister of State Foreign Office: Baron Avebury (formerly Eric Lubbock)
Minister of State Scottish Office: Russell Johnston
Parliamentary Secretary Department of Health and Social Security: Nancy Seear
Solicitor-General: Sir Emlyn Hooson. He was given the customary knighthood awarded to Law Officers.

For the first time since 1945 there were Liberals in the government, and for the first time since 1932 in the cabinet. In the 2010 coalition there were 17 Liberal ministers outside the cabinet.

The Labour Party objected strongly to the abolition of the Department of Prices and
Consumer Protection.

A special conference of the Liberal Party on Saturday 29 April 1978 debated Liberal
participation in the coalition. Bonham Carter defended the coalition. He said that it showed that the party was serious about taking on the responsibilities of government. Also it provided a real opportunity to change the electoral system to proportional representation. The conference voted overwhelmimgly in favour of the coalition, with only about 1.5% voting against.
On 7 September 1976, Shirley Williams, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, restored Special Category Status (SCS) for prisoners serving sentences for Troubles-related offences in Northern Ireland. (1) So there was no blanket protest. (2) The IRA ended their campaign of assassinations against prison officers.

On 19 October 1976, Williams ordered a public inquiry into Bloody Sunday in Derry/Londonderry on 30 January 1972, under the chairmanship of Lord Scarman.

(1) For SCS see

(2) For blanket protest see
Ian Gilmour, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Conservative/Liberal coalition, did not remove Special Category Status from prisoners.

In his first budget in May 1978, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Edward Heath, reduced the top rate of income tax from 83% to 68% and the standard rate from 33% to 30%. He also raised VAT from 8% to 15%. Part of British Petroleum was sold off and public expenditure was slashed by £1.25 billion. Government subsidies to nationalised industries were slashed, so they increased their prices. (1)

The Manchester Moss Side by-election caused by the death of Frank Hatton (Labour) was held on 13 July 1978. Dick Taverne, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who had lost his Putney seat in the general election, was on the Labour Party short list. But he was not selected. The Secretary of the constituency Labour Party told reporters that Taverne was not chosen because he had no connection to Manchester. Instead George Morton, a Greater Manchester councillor was selected.

Star dust was sprinkled on the by-election with Vanessa Redgrave standing as the candidate for the Workers Revolutionary Party. However the seat was held by Labour with a majority over Conservative of 23.8%, up from 16.2%. The Liberal vote fell from 15.6% to 11.3%. Redgrave received 1.3% of the vote.

The Penistone by-election, caused by the death of John Mendelson (Labour) also took place on 13 July. The Labour majority over Conservative rose from 19.5% to 33.8%. The Liberal vote fell from 25,7% to 19.2%.

John Mackintosh, the Labour MP for Berwick and East Lothian and a former Scottish Office Minister, died on 30 July 1978 at the tragically early age of 48. He was tipped as a future cabinet minister, The subsequent by-election on 26 October was won by Labour, with their majority up from 6.8% to 18.9% . The Liberal vote fell from 15.7% to 8.6%, below the SNP vote.

Also on 26 October, the Pontefract and Castleford by-election caused by the death of Joseph Harper (Labour) was easily won by Labour. Their majority rose from 46.8% to 56.0%l. The Liberal vote fell from 15.0% to 10.4%.

(1) This budget was similar to Geoffrey Howe's first budget in 1979 in OTL. See Fighting All The Way by Barbara Castle, London: Macmillan, 1993.
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When the House of Commons assembled on 2 May 1978, after the general election, MPs chose George Thomas, Labour MP for Cardiff West as Speaker. He was the Chairman of Ways and Means, or Deputy Speaker.

Labour MPs unanimously re-elected James Callaghan as Leader of the Party, and Denis Healey as Deputy Leader. Elections for the shadow cabinet were held on 18 May. The MPs elected in descending order of votes received were as follows:
1. Michael Foot
2. Peter Shore
3. Shirley Williams
4. John Silkin
5. Merlyn Rees
6. Eric Varley
7. Walter Johnson
8. Stan Orme
9. William Rogers
10. Gwyneth Dunwoody
11. John Smith
12. Roy Mason.

Among the appointments Callaghan made, were the following:
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons: Denis Healey
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer: Peter Shore
Shadow Foreign Secretary: Merlyn Rees
Shadow Home Secretary: Michael Foot
Shadow Enviroment Secretary: Shirley Williams
Shadow Industry Secretary: John Silkin.
The report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution was published on 21 September 1978. It made the following proposals as regards Scotland:
A unicameral assembly of 100 which would be elected by the single transferable vote
(STV) in multi member constituencies. It would have responsibility for the following areas:
1. Agriculture and fisheries
2. Education
3. The environment
4. Health
5. Home affairs
6. Legal matters
7. Social Services.
An executive would be formed from members of the assembly. The number of Scottish MPs elected to the House of Commons would be reduced from 71 to 53. The office of Secretary of State for Scotland would be abolished.

The report made the following proposals in respect of Wales:
A unicameral assembly of 50 members elected by STV in multi member constituencies. It was suggested that it be called the Senate or Senedd. It would have responsibility for the same areas as the Scottish assembly, but with less responsibility for legal matters because Scotland has its own legal system separate from England and Wales. There would be an executive formed from members of the assembly. The number of Welah MPs would be reduced from 36 to 32. The post of Secretary of State for Wales would be abolished.

For Northern Ireland the report proposed an increase in the number of MPs from 12 to 17.

These proposals were similar to those in the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution in OTL. See
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The SNP welcomed the proposal in the report of the Royal Commission for a Scottish assembly, as a step on the road to independence. The Liberal Party was in favour of Scottish devolution. The Conservative Party was divided, with the majority against and a minority in favour. It was known that the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alick Buchanan-Smith, was in favour of a Scottish assembly. However a majority of Conservative ministers and MP were opposed.
The SNP welcomed the proposal in the report of the Royal Commission for a Scottish assembly, as a step on the road to independence. The Liberal Party was in favour of Scottish devolution. The Conservative Party was divided, with the majority against and a minority in favour. It was known that the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alick Buchanan-Smith, was in favour of a Scottish assembly. However a majority of Conservative ministers and MP were opposed.
hmm an unusual chance for a junior partner in a coalition to create a strong stand that appeals to many voters in Scotland, and offset the negative effects of coalition (at least in Scotland, and to some degree welsh wales and Cornwall)
Edward Heath was another cabinet minister who was in favour of an elected Scottish assembly. However as long as a majority of cabinet ministers opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution, there would not be legislation to establish elected assemblies for these nations.

In this TL Reginald Maudling, the Prime Minister, did not become an alcoholic, so he did not die from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure, as he did in February 1979 in OTL.

There were two by-elections in Conservative held seats on 1 March 1979. Clitheroe caused by the death of David Walder, and Knutsford caused by the resignation of John Davies because of ill health. Both seats were held by the Tories but with substantially reduced majorities over Labour. The Liberal vote fell in both constituencies to an average of around 16%. The new Conservative MP for Knutsford was Jock Bruce-Gardyne who had lost South Angus to the SNP in the 1978 general election.

Arthur Irvine the Labour MP for Liverpool Edge Hill died on 15 December 1978. In the general election, the Liberal candidate, David Alton had come second. In the by-election the Liberals targetted the Tory vote as they claimed that they were the only party who could beat Labour. They hoped that they would receive tactical votes from the Tories,
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Labour won the Edge Hill by-election on 29 March 1979. Here are the percentage votes for each party (1978 general election):
Bob Wareing (Labour) : 48.1 (47.4)
David Alton (Liberal): 40.3 (28.7)
Conservative: 10.6 (23.9)
Others (3): 1.0 (n/a)
Labout majority: 7.8 (18.7)
There was a swing of 5.45% from Labour to Liberal.

In this TL Airey Neave was not murdered by the Irish National Liberatiom Army (INLA). Unlike in OTL, when he was critically wounded on 30 March 1979 as he drove out of the Palace of Westminster, by a bomb planted under his car by the INLA. He died in hospital later that night.
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The vote in the House of Commons for elections to the European Parliament to be by proportional representation, was won by 317 votes to 215 votes. Conservative MPs voted in favour by 145 to 128, and Labour voted 148 for to 87 against.

In the election to the European Parliament in June 1979, the 81 MEPs elected from the United Kingdom were Labour - 41, Conservative - 24, Liberal - 9, SNP - 3, Plaid Cymru - 1, DUP - 1, SDLP - 1, UUP - 1, Barbara Castle was elected leader of the Labour Group. As she was in OTL.
On 17 October 1979, James Callaghan announced his intention to resign as leader of the Labour Party when Labour MPs had elected a new leader. The first ballot was held on 6 November 1979. The number of votes for each candidate were as follows:
Denis Healey: 125
Michael Foot: 88
John Silkin: 38
Peter Shore: 32,

Because no candidate won more than half of the votes, there was a second ballot on
12 November with Healey and Foot as the only candidates. The result was:
Healey: 145.
Foot: 141.
So Denis Healey was elected leader of the Labour Party, and therefore became Leader of the Opposition. In the Deputy Leadership election on 15 November, Michael Foot was elected unopposed.
The coalition cabinet agreed that the additional member system (AMS) would be proposed as the alternative to FPTP in the referendum on the electoral system. There would be 425 MPs elected by FPTP in single member constituencies, and 210 MPs elected in 42 five member constituencies by party lists. Conservative ministers agreed to AMS rather than the alternative vote (AV), because they feared that under AV, the Labour and Liberal voters would give their second preferences to these parties.

The Liberal and nationalist parties were united in favour of AMS. The Conservatives and Labour were divided. The referendum was held on 3 May 1979, the same day as the local elections. The option for AMS was defeated by 52.6% to 47.4% on a turnout of 45.5%. The defeat was attributed to voters dislike of the larger constituencies which would be necessary under AMS, with MPs becoming more remote from their constituents. Opinion polls conducted after the referendum showed that a small majority of Conservatives voted in favour of AMS, while a majority of Labour voters were against AMS.
That’s a bummer, although not hugely surprising. I suppose electoral reform is killed off for the foreseeable future then…
The South-West Hertfordshire by-election on 13 December 1979, caused by the resignation of Geoffrey Dodsworth (Conservative) because of ill health, was won by the Tories. But their majority over Labour fell from 24.5% to 1.8%. The Southend East by-election, caused by the death of Stephen McAdden (Conservative), took place on 13 March 1980. The Conservative candidate was Teddy Taylor. He was in the Conservative Scottish Office team when they were in opposition from 1973 to 1978. He lost his Glasgow Cathcart seat to Labour in the general eiection. He was on the right wing of the Tory Party. The result of the by-election was a Labour gain from Conservative by a majority of 8.6%. (1) The Conservative majority in the general election was 24.5%. The Liberal vote held steady at around 20%. The coalition majority in the House of Commons was now reduced to 18 from 16.

In the weekend before the Labour Party conference in October 1979, the National Executive of the party set up a Committee of Enquiry to recommend constitutional changes in respect of the party. At its final meeting in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, on 15 June 1980, the Committee agreed by 7 votes to six to recommend an electoral college. It would be comprised of 60% Labour MPs, 20% trade unions, 15% constituency parties, and 5% affiliated bodies such as the Fabian Society, This college would elect the leader of the party, but not have the final say on the election manifesto. (2)

The Labour Party conference in October 1980 rejected mandatory reselection of Labour MPs. (3) But it agreed to the principle of an electoral college. However it rejected the two proposals for implementing it. Then David Basnett, the General Secretary of the General and Municipal Workers' Union, proposed that the party shpuld hold a Special Conference in January to decide how to implement the principle of an electoral college.

The Special Conference met at Wembley on 24 January 1981. David Basnett proposed the Bishop's Stortford formula for the electoral college. That is it would be made up of 60% Labour MPs, 20% trade unions, 15% constituency parties and 5% affiliated bodies. This proposal was carried by a large majority. (4)

(1) In OTL the Conservatives won the Southend East by- election, and Teddy Taylor returned to the House of Commons,

(2) In OTL the Committee recommended that the electoral college should be 50% Labour MPs, 25% trade unions, 20% constituency parties and 5% from affiliated bodies. Also that it should have the final say on the party manifesto.

(3) In OTL, the Conference voted in favour of mandatory reselection of Labour MPs.

(4) In OTL, the Special Conference voted for a motion which gave Labour MPs 30%., trade unions 40%, and constituency parties 30% in the electoral college. I have taken information about the Labour Party in OTL from the book The Time of My Life by Denis Healey, London: Penguin Group, 1989.