A Short Analysis of the Political Life of an Old Liberal of the 1960's Richard Anthony Lamb
R. A. Lamb Esq. began his active political career by fighting the 1945 General Election as Liberal Candidate for Lichfield – a no hoper as the result showed. He then appears to have reverted to the Conservatives as candidate for Stockton-on-Tees in the 1950 campaign called by Clement Attlee. This had been Harold Macmillan’s seat who lost it in 1945 to Labour and he then fought Bromley successfully in 1950 and thereafter. Stockton was thought to be winnable by the Conservatives in 1950 perhaps not surprisingly Lamb lost in what had become an industrial area (Billingham Chemical Works). He did not attempt another parliamentary election until 1964 as a Liberal this time. (The Labour camp in 1950 Stockton had called him “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” – on the grounds presumably he was no proper Conservative. The blue party was respected in Stockton).
2. North Dorset (1964 and 1966 Campaigns)
R. A. Lamb Esq was adopted as Liberal Candidate for Dorset North in 1964 shortly before that Autumn General Election Campaign began called by Douglas-Home (Con). He had nursed this constituency since 1959. It had been a post-war Liberal stronghold (Frank Byers MP) but the seat had been lost to the Conservatives in 1950’s. In both the 1964 and 1966 campaigns which were hard fought following intensive groundwork and preparation by R. A. Lamb Esq and his spouse leading up to these election battles he lost by approximately 5,000 votes to Sir Richard Glynn (Con). Nothing remarkable in that result in British post war politics of the 1960’s. What was unusual was the mind of R. A. Lamb Esq. sparkling with political ideas, thought, acumen and above all principle. He was no timeserver – there can be no doubt about that. He was Liberal Party Spokesman on Agriculture and Monopolies at this time when that Party lacked resources, votes and heavyweight politicians pre-Lib. Dem era. Lamb himself was an intellectual big hitter but as he was never in Parliament he could never become a political heavyweight like Ken Clarke MP (Con) in post 2000 period or the charismatic Jo Grimond M.P. (Lib) in the 1960’s (Leader of Liberal Party). The great win was the extraordinary Orpington by-election result of 1962 – safe seat lost by the Conservatives to the Liberals – Eric Lubbock (Lib) was successful. That result sent ripples out across the mill pond and Liberal campaigners believed all sorts of seats could be won including Dorset North. The major parties were seriously concerned yet the Liberal tide ebbed.
3. The Elections: Make up of votes in the 1960’s.
In seats where the Liberals came second the crucial fact was the Labour vote (third) – would it hold up and was the Labour Candidate a good candidate. In the 1960’s there was no Lib-Lab electoral pact to enable Labour voters to vote Liberal and defeat the Conservatives (i.e. with no Labour candidate being fielded to take votes away from Liberal candidate). If this had happened in Dorset North R. A. Lamb Esq. would have been in parliament (namely Labour had stood down). In such seats there was always an anti-Tory majority (no overall majority to Conservatives) but the non-Tory vote was split between Liberal-Labour. It was sheer folly not to have a Lib-Lab electoral pact in seats like Dorset North and defeat the Conservatives. Grimond, his successor Jeremy Thorpe MP and R. A. Lamb argued strongly for such a pact. Wilson (Labour Leader) would not budge wishing to keep the Old Liberal Party down at any cost. He did not wish the Liberal Party to rise up and hold the balance of power even if he put in a Conservative Administration by refusing a pact e.g. Ted Heath 1970 election. Lamb, Grimond and Thorpe would rightly never consider an electoral pact with the Conservatives. Ted Heath P.M. (Cons) would not entertain Thorpe in the hung parliament of 1974 as an ally.
4. The Third Party
The intransigence of Harold Wilson the Labour Party Leader in the 1960’s supported by his entourage showed Wilson had little imagination as to how a strong Liberal Party would work in Parliament. In fact it would have stopped the economics of stop-go and the unhealthy domination of the two major parties. Lamb argued for a realignment of the political left. Politics would have been a brighter place and scene with a strengthened Liberal Party as in the pre- 2nd World War period playing its proper role. In the 1960’s the total votes cast for Liberal candidates in general elections (very considerable) did not result in the required number of MP’s for such a big vote. Liberals were disenfranchised in effect to a large extent and ended up with a handful of MPs.
Lamb argued very powerfully for a strong third party and ably supported Grimond in this endeavour. His arguments were deployed in his monthly periodical New Outlook (British) in the 1960’s. It kept the pot boiling for electoral reform (proportional representation and contributor: Enid Lakeman of Electoral Reform Society), Comprehensive schools (not Secondary Moderns nor Grammar Schools), Co-Partnership in industry (workers on Boards of big companies) and the Common Market, Free Trade and an end to Monopolies and restrictive practices. R. A. Lamb also urged the Whips power in the Commons be truncated and MPs be given back their freedom to vote on issues having made up their own minds. (An old 18th Century concept). The Whips Office subjugated their parties’ MP’s he argued. All along Lamb was publishing regularly reviews of historical works in New Outlook which chronicled the history of the pre-Great War Liberal Party (Lloyd George and Asquith) and the interwar years of that Liberal party (same two names appear). It was nostalgic yet inspiring as to what had been done and thus could still be done by the Liberals.
The 1960 Liberals were left not floundering but yes they were the “hidden jewel in the Crown” or the lost masterpiece which one day will be found and come to be appreciated.
The flame that Lamb, Grimond and Thorpe lit will never go out and can be read of in Lamb’s papers and the collection of New Outlook issues (monthly). What is the lesson? Lamb upheld the gospel of justice in politics and the freedom to represent in parliament according to fair electoral systems and voting and original policies. The Lib-Lab electoral pact would also have facilitated this fairness in parliament. Sadly the major parties simply trampled on this policy. However the principle of fairness and minority lead politics cannot be kept down forever. It will resurface we can be sure. Thank God.