Constitutionalist

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Constitutionalist was a label used by some British politicians standing for parliament in the 1920s, instead of the more traditional party labels. The label was used primarily by former supporters of the David Lloyd George led Coalition Government. However, there was no actual party called the Constitutionalist Party.

Origins[edit]

In 1922 when the Unionist Party voted to end the Coalition Government with the National Liberal Party there were still members of both parties who preferred to continue working together. At the 1922 General Election in a number of constituencies local Unionist Associations decided to continue supporting National Liberal candidates and vice-versa. However, by the 1923 General Election the National Liberals had formally re-joined the Liberal Party. In some constituencies there was still some electoral co-operation between Unionists and Liberals. In one particular constituency a former National Liberal MP, George Jarrett chose not to join the Liberal party and sought re-election as a 'Constitutionalist'.[1] He was supported by the local Unionist Association.

Meaning of Constitutionalist[edit]

The term had nothing to do with Constitutionalism in the philosophical sense. The term was meant to signify that the adherents believed in the principles of British Constitutional Government through electoral politics. It was used to highlight their belief that the Labour Party as a socialist party, did not fully support the existing British Constitution. In January 1924 the first Labour Government had taken office amongst fears of threats to the Constitution.

Winston Churchill[edit]

The former National Liberal Cabinet Minister, Winston Churchill was an adherent to this view of Constitutionalism. He was noted at the time for being particularly hostile to socialism. In March 1924 Churchill sought election at the Westminster Abbey by-election, 1924. He had unsuccessfully sought the backing of the local Unionist association which happened to be called the Westminster Abbey Constitutional Association. He adopted the term 'Constitutionalist' to describe himself during the by-election campaign.[2] After the by-election Churchill continued to use the term and talked about setting up a Constitutionalist Party.

1924 General Election[edit]

Any plans that Churchill may have had to create a Constitutionalist Party were shelved with the calling of another general election. While there were a number of Liberals and Unionists who sought electoral co-operation as in 1923, there were 12 who decided to use the label Constitutionalist rather than Liberal or Unionist.[3] These included Churchill but not Jarrett who had been the first to use the term in 1923. Those who used the label Constitutionalist were as follows, three former National Liberal MPs who were opposed by official Liberals;[4]

six sitting Liberal MPs who were only opposed by Labour candidates;[5]

and three other candidates only opposed by Labour;[6]

1924-29 parliament[edit]

After the election the seven Constitutionalist candidates who were elected did not act or vote as a group. The four sitting Liberal MP who had held their seats all re-took the Liberal whip while Churchill, Greenwood and Moreing took the Unionist whip. Churchill accepted the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's Unionist government. The description 'Constitutionalist' dropped out of use.

References[edit]

  1. ^ British parliamentary election results 1918-1949, Craig, F.W.S.
  2. ^ By-Elections in British Politics, Cook and Ramsden, p53-61
  3. ^ Chris Cook, Sources in British Political History, 1900-1951 (Volume 1); Macmillan Press, 1975 p73
  4. ^ British parliamentary election results 1918-1949, Craig, F.W.S.
  5. ^ British parliamentary election results 1918-1949, Craig, F.W.S.
  6. ^ British parliamentary election results 1918-1949, Craig, F.W.S.