What was the biggest misjudgement made by a Liberal Democrat* politician in the last century?

by Stephen Tall on October 25, 2007

Leading political blogger Paul Linford has published an interesting list of what he considers to be the top 10 political misjudgements made by British politicians, defining ‘misjudgements’ as events which “arguably changed the course of history, and certainly adversely affected the careers of those who made them.”

Top of Paul’s list was:

1. Jim Callaghan not calling an autumn election, 1978

What happened: Prime Minister Callaghan ducks out of an autumn 1978 election after private polls show it might result in a hung Parliament. The ensuing Winter of Discontent puts paid to Labour’s credibility as a governing party and leads to 18 years of Tory hegemony which ultimately removes all vestiges of democratic socialism from the British state.

What might have happened: Narrowly re-elected, Callaghan serves for a further three years as Prime Minister before handing over to Denis Healey, who, buoyed by North Sea oil revenues, goes on to establish Britain as a stable, continental-style social democracy. The defeated Margaret Thatcher is replaced by Francis Pym and relegated to a historical footnote as only the second Tory leader of the 20th century not to become Prime Minister.

All of which prompts the question: what was the biggest misjudgement made by a Liberal Democrat* politician in the last century? (Cue heated arguments about whether Lloyd George or Asquith bears greatest responsibility for the decline of the Liberal Party in the 1920s.)

* compulsory footnote: “or predecessor parties”.