Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Charles Masterman's fate shows we should not be surprised the Democrats lost in Massachusetts

In August of last year I compared the difficulties President Obama was having introducing socialised medicine with the experience of the Liberal government that introduced Lloyd George's Health Insurance Act in Britain.

The junior minister who took that Act through the Commons was my hero Charles Masterman. His subsequent career shows why we should not have been too surprised that Obama has run into trouble.

As a reward for his remarkable work on health, in 1914 Masterman was appointed to the cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. As the law stood at the time, any MP accepting an "office of profit under the Crown" was required to resigned his seat and fight a by-election. (This requirement was abolished by the first Labour government a few years later.)

Masterman lost this by-election in his original seat of Bethnal Green South West and then lost a second by-election in Ipswich, which had been caused by the death of the Liberal MP Silvester Horne. So he was obliged to give up his parliamentary career and took responsibility for British propaganda in the war.

He did briefly return to parliament in 1923 as MP for Manchester Rusholme, defeating a Conservative called John Thorpe - father of the future Liberal leader - in the process, but he lost the seat the following year.

In the years before the First World War Masterman was seen as one of the great hopes of the Liberal Party and quite possibly a future leader. There is no doubt that it was becoming so closely identified with Lloyd George's health reforms that quashed these hopes.

The story of health in Britain was for years told by socialist historians who saw it as a matter of uncomplicated progress and believed that each wave of reform was massively popular with the masses. The fate of Charles Masterman suggests that the true picture is more complicated than that.

It also suggests we should not be too surprised that the Democrats lost in Massachusetts last night.


Tristan said...

A large factor might also be the disgusting behaviour of Coakley in keeping an innocent man behind bars for political reasons.

Personally I hope the medical industry bailout bill doesn't come to fruition, but this won't do much to stop it.

neil craig said...

He was dropped, it appears, because the people didn't like him. That is hardly nobility.

Had he been expelled from the party for opposing Nazism that would have been honourable.