A Vacuum Unfilled: The Other Parties
The political situation after 1966 offered a fertile climate for minor parties and fringe groups to flourish in. The government was in trouble; the party of change, the party of the left, the party of the working class was not delivering to its traditional supporters or to its new recruits what they expected — neither revolutionary measures nor rapid increases in material prosperity. At its nadir in 1968 polls found that Labour support had slumped from the 47% of 1966 to a mere 26% of the electorate. Where were these disillusioned voters to go? The Conservatives were led by a man who had a low rating in the polls and their policies were little known or understood: it is clear that the great bulk of Conservative gains in this period were due to repulsion from Labour rather than to their own attractions. Why did no one else step in to gather this harvest of discontent? While the failure of the Liberals to make any headway is plainly the central problem, the failure of more extreme or eccentric groups also demands explanation.
KeywordsLiberal Party Party Candidate National Front Eccentric Group Minor Party
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- Plaid Cymru, which had 300 branches and a nominal membership that reached 42,000, fielded candidates in each of the thirty-six Welsh constituencies. It had a strong backing among teachers and professionals and traditional religious groups. For the first time it effectively extended its appeal beyond the Welsh-speaking quarter of the population. But in a law-abiding community it suffered from the violent activities of the militant Welsh Language Society and from the still more violent activities of a few extremists who used explosives. The ambivalent or hostile attitude of Plaid Cymru towards Prince Charles during his successful studies in Aberystwyth and his Investiture at Caernarvon in the summer of 1969 also damaged the party’s standing. Moreover, the geographic, linguistic and other divisions of Wales made it even harder than in Scotland for a single nationalist party to move towards majority support. Even after its president Gwynfor Evans had won the Carmarthen by-election in July 1966, Plaid Cymru made little headway in local government elections. See Alan Butt Philip, New Society, January 9, 1969.Google Scholar
- see also E. Hudson Davies ‘Welsh Nationalism’, Political Quarterly, July/September 1968.Google Scholar
- W. P. Grant and R. J. C. Preece, ‘Welsh and Scottish Nationalism’, Parliamentary Affairs, Summer 1968.Google Scholar
- 1.The best source of material on the Liberal party is New Outlook (monthly up to 1968, bi-monthly in 1969 and 1970) which contains many articles on the role and tactics of the party. See e.g. John Pardoe, ‘ Should Liberal M.P.s opt out of Parliament?’, September 1966; the critique of Jeremy Thorpe’s leadership, September 1969.Google Scholar
- Pratap Chitnis, ‘The Ladywood by-election’, September 1969. Francis Boyd’s coverage of Liberal Assemblies in the Guardian are particularly helpful. See also his article on Liberal organisation, Guardian, October 24, 1969.Google Scholar