Monday, 31 March 2008

When a Holiday is Worse than No Holiday

Of course holiday nightmares are a staple diet of early evening television in the UK. My experience last week which ended prematurely by four days is not as bad as many you might see recounted on the television, I am not in hospital writing this nor have I been kidnapped; I did not have my car stolen or any family members taken or murdered, so I guess in the scale of things I have come off lightly. However, the experience was bad enough that I am thinking seriously of ever trying again. It was supposed to be a break, a rest, but I have come back feeling more weary, angry and frustrated than when I left.

As I may have outlined before the plan was to go and visit my brother who has lived in Belgium since the early 2000s. You can get to Belgium from southern England in a day by a range of means. It is a country with flat countryside, but nicely rural, and interesting historic towns, plus some great beaches. In addition if you tire of Belgium itself you can easily go into France, the Netherlands, Germany or Luxembourg. I am not a person to lie on the beach, I burn easily and when I last tried it in Crete in 1985 came away with blisters all over my body and then skin shedding in large chunks. However, I enjoy warm weather but get bored of simply lying around so like to get out and visit places and have some good meals. I know that does not appeal to everyone. Thus, I try to accommodate the desires of the people I am travelling with. Maybe it is the nature of being on holiday, maybe it is just me, but I now recall in the past people complaining, for example when I was on Lanzarote, that me coming back from a trip somewhere disrupted their relaxed time on the beach. That angered me, because a) I sat quietly on my return, b) they had had hours of being there while I was a way so my irritation of them was only a small percentage of their whole day. Yet, it is clear that even the concept of someone around them having or seeking a different kind of holiday is mentally upsetting to many holiday makers.

On that basis, I guess I should have been better prepared for what happened last week. I suppose we all idealise our holidays and never really foresee any difficulties certainly not with the others in our party. The party was of three: myself, a woman of the same age and her 6-year old child. Regular readers will recognise my current domestic set-up. The other two favoured going by train rather than the take-your-own-car-on-the-ferry usual option. Not having been on the new Eurostar service from St. Pancras Station in London (in contrast to the old route from Waterloo Station) I accepted this as something interesting to do. A couple of warnings, we were sat there waiting to be told to check-in and then found out they only announce a handfull of the check-in times, so we almost missed our window to check-in with only 4 minutes to spare. St. Pancras International resembles an airport (in terms of shops, security, etc.) except in one essential regard it lacks the television screens showing when check-in is. You have to give up your seat in order to find one as they are set at right-angles to where most people sit waiting. They need to install as many as in the average airport and have them in the cafes and toilets too. Having checked in I found that the Eurostar carriages are much more cramped than they were when I last used them in 2003. They are more like aeroplane seats.

Anyway, so we reached the home of my relatives in Belgium without too much difficulty. It was the following day that the problems started. It is clear that most UK children are now so addicted to their electrical items, that even the thought of a couple of days away from them or even just with a reduced service (two of the BBC channels (BBC1 and BBC2) can be picked up in Belgium, but none of the specific children's channels broadcasting in English) leads them to behave like a drug addict denied their heroin. Despite the efforts to supply said 6-year old with colouring books or dot-to-dot and even going out and buying more playstation games, failed to quell his discomfort and when a child is unhappy the whole party suffers. In some ways it was good that we were in Belgium and not on Crete as had been discussed as there there would have been no British TV or playstation for two weeks. Children in the 2000s are so used to having their imaginations stimulated by electronic media that they need them like a coma patient needs a drip and to even reduce this supply causes problems. I just could not cope with the whining and constant physical battering and spitting I faced as a result. I accept that I do not have the patience to be a father even a pseudo one, but it is certainly not enjoyable to be around a human being who clearly feels deprived, bored and hence depressed and particularly when you are trying to relax yourself. Consequently I became even more tetchy and irritable and began constantly complaining myself, adding to the spiral we were being swept up in.

Now, one solution would have been to go out and visit places to tire the child out. After all, he can still enjoy the beach even when the weather is not good. However, this ran into the second stumbling block. If the holiday had just been me plus the woman or me plus the child then it would have been soluble, but the triangle of all three with conflicting demands made it impossible. The woman complained that I simply wanted to drag everyone miles around the country seeing things. I do like to visit places but am willing to compromise. I had planned a trip to Brussels, one to Bruges and one to the beach over an eight-day holiday, no more. You can drive right across Belgium in an afternoon so nowhere is too far away. Well it is for this lady who wants entertainment on the doorstep. Motorways get you places quickly but she insists on back roads and then complains that the journeys take so long. I was prepared for this conflict thinking to have one day out, one day in, to hopefully keep the two happy. I was not prepared for the utter hysteria when we got in a hire car. This went to the extent of jabbing at the controls, screaming and crying as I was trying to drive. Apparently she had assumed that we could rent a right-hand drive car (as used in the UK) and was upset when we got a left-hand drive car (as used all over continental Europe). Not being a driver she did not realise how challenging it can be when you get in a new car even of the same model and even in your own country, let alone a strange hire car (I usually drive a Renault Scenic and this was a Skoda Spacer a very different class of vehicle and far newer than my car which is 10 years old). We had to abandon the car after ten minutes of driving. Mother and child returned home on the tram while I drove around the city; I returned the car the next day when it became clear that the woman was never going to get in it ever again. Anyway, staying 1 hour's ride from the station and being short on cash the other option of travelling around by train. So we sat in the house the following day and argued. Apparently I had not communicated the challenges of Belgium clearly enough or that everything was not available on the doorstep. There was a trip across the street to the MacDonalds and a Do-It-Yourself homeware store and that was it. It was clear no-one was enjoying themselves so I decided to come home.

One point of embarrassment was that of course our hosts blamed themselves for what had happened. For some reason the woman thinks she has nothing in common with them, but in fact has far more in common than I do with my family members: she smokes like them, likes gardening, interior design and cooking, even making bread, like them; enjoys reading graphic novels like them; has emigrated from one country to another like them and so on. So I had to apologise to my family members and try to get home. Eurostar is totally not flexible with its tickets. The return ticket had costs £238 (€309; US$480) for all three passengers when bought in January but to alter it to return earlier even though by now the Easter period was over would have cost €460 (£354; US$715). Eurostar did say we could drive to Brussels and plead that we had a good case to return and they would have reduced the alteration cost to €75 (£58; US$117). Of course I would have had to do this alone. Instead we were lucky to get a lift to Calais in France where I got foot passenger ferry tickets for €40 (£31; US$63). Of course for the woman the speed driven to get us to the ferry terminal in Calais and then from Dover back to our car (despite having to beat the rush hour delays which are terrible on a Friday on the M20 and M25) were unacceptable and she had to sit on the street swigging brandy, looking like a tramp, in order to compensate.

In between the two car journeys (and drivers in Belgium seem a lot more considerate than in the UK, when in the hire car, they were very tolerant of my stalls and wrong turns, not a single hoot at me) there was a horrible ferry trip with winds of Force 7. I vomited up everything to the extent that even three days later my stomach still feels like it has been punched. The weather meant unavoidable delays, but that could not be helped. As foot passengers on a ferry your luggage is handled the way it is on an aeroplane. It was treated with as much care and when it finally turned up on the carousel after 30 minutes, it was soaking wet from clearly being left in a yard and of course the woman's suitcase was missing meaning yet more waiting until they found. At least with a ferry the worst they can do is send it back to France and not Bahrain.

Anyway, it is all over now. A very expensive trip that achieved little. I briefly saw my family members and their new house, so that was good. However, I have come back more exhausted and even poorer than before with nothing bar some biscuits to show for it. Clearly woman and child cannot be taken on a trip together as their demands are so conflicting. The woman will have to content herself with holidays in the back garden and the boy will have to wait for school trips abroad (though Heaven help the teachers having to wean the pupils away from their mobiles and gameboys to look at whatever they are supposed to be seeing). Maybe with all our electronic connectivity in fact we are moving to being more physically insular and immobile. Given the rapidly rising costs of all forms of transport in the UK maybe this is what the government wants.

For me, this is the last time I try to holiday with anyone. I accept that I might be to blame in seeking to get out and see things. I am caught between two stools not being adventurous enough to want to hike in the Atlas Mountains or content enough to holiday in the back garden. I think what I desire is either an extended city break or to return to cycling in France, both types of holiday that I have done successfully in the past, alone. For now though it is back to work more stressed, more weary, earlier and poorer than before I tried to go on holiday and failed so dismally.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

What If Colonialism Had Never Caught On?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘Down Other Tracks: Alternate Outcomes of the 19th Century’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon:

People Should Need a Licence to Have a Child

I have been reading today that schools are encountering ever greater problems with children who constantly throw tantrums because they cannot get what they want or are told they have to do something they are not keen on. This is very baby-like behaviour and by school age it is anticipated that children should have grown out of such approaches. Problems for the schools are exacerbated by parents treating their children like spoilt princes(-esses) and even getting violent with teachers if they dare criticise their darlings. Now we have a lot of things going on here that I have touched on before. One is the madly consumerist society that we live in the UK in which people equate happiness with the newest and most exciting consumption. This goes for adults as well as children, hence the massive debt so many Britons are in and children with more toys, clothes, food than they know what to do with and yet retaining a desire for yet more. The people who are parents of primary school now were predominantly born between 1968-88 so lived in a time of consumption but of less scale than now and certainly without the huge range of electrical items and all the tie-in products, twenty channels to watch and so on. All parents through history raise their own children the way they were raised, but in the past two decades society has advanced far more in terms of temptations and expectations than it ever did say 1948-68 or 1968-88. When I started school in 1972 we were still using books printed on rationed paper during the Second World War. Now children feel deprived if they lack an interactive whiteboard in their classroom.

The second thing is that in the UK there is a sense that one's business is no-one else's business even if it impinges on them. People get angry if you tell them to slow down when driving or to put their mobile phone away, or whatever. They believe in an ultimate right to do what they want to do without challenge even when it puts other people's lives at risk and certainly when it 'only' disrupts the learning of other children in the class. Of course not all the blame can be laid at parents. England in particular keeps examining its childern at age of 7, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18 and in common with the rest of the UK, since 1992 has had a very rigid curriculum. So, it is not surprising that children are bored and stressed by staggering from preparation for one exam to the next.

Now a few years back I saw a programme which tried to provoke debate and one week they suggested that children should be considered a luxury item and rather than parents being given child support and other benefits they should actually be taxed for the additional burden they were putting on the state in terms of healthcare and education costs. In the last decade the pattern of childbirth has shifted in this direction with birthrate falling among working class people as it does become too expensive to have children and rising among middle class people as they seek a justification (however weak) for driving a 4 x 4 and they started getting lots more maternity and paternity leave. Children still make up the majority of people living below the poverty line, but the large poor family is steadily dying out.

The key problem seems to be now, not so much whether people have the money or not to raise a child. Estimates for the cost are somewhere between £50,000-£130,000 (€66,500-€72,990; US$101,000- US$262,200) spent on raising a child from ages 0-18. You can add on £13,000 if they do a 3-year course at university and children. In addition the cost of housing means the average child will be living with their parents into their mid-30s even if they go away for some time for study, they will be unable to earn sufficient to live away for many years. So children are expensive. The key problem, though, is that the bulk of people who have children have no experience or training in how to look after them. If you want to work as a childminder or as a foster carer you have to undergo loads of scrutiny about your background, about your health and habits (such as whether you smoke or are obese). If you want to adopt a child you again have to be thoroughly scrutinised (they will look at if your marriage is going to last) and go through a probationary period with the child before they become yours. Yet if you create a child yourself no-one checks up on whether you are competent to raise them.

We know a lot now about raising children in the heavily consumerist society we find ourselves in. There are books and programmes all over the place to teach you how, just no compulsion. Is it any surprise that parents get it wrong and society pays the price of the screwed up, ill-disciplined children they raise. The UK has taken some steps in the right direction, for example, the famous case of Patricia Amos, jailed in 2002 for 60 days for permitting her daughter to go truant from school. Now, I know British prisons are full but once some more have been built we need to start increasing the number of incompetent parents who are punished. Of course by the time their children are teenagers it is really too late, which is why the state has to monitor things right from shortly after conception. Now, before people say that this is an intrusion into the privacy of the family home, who is it who has to pay for all the damage and crime that unruly children commit? Not the family, but the rest of us who have no control over how the child is brought up.

How my scheme would work is that the moment a woman realised she was pregnant she would have to register the conception with the local authorities and alongside any pre-natal classes she would have to begin to attend parenting classes. If there is a father on the scene he would have to attend to. If he did not then he would be barred from living in the same house as the child when it was born. Bad fathers are an even worse problem than bad mothers especially when it comes to raising thuggish boys. This is not a class issue, spoilt upper and middle class men charging around drunk in 4x4s on their mobile phones are just as remiss as a chav petty criminal, though of course neither would see what they were doing as wrong. This comes back to the huge malaise for the UK, people unwilling to live up to their responsibilities.

The parents passing the parenting course would be granted a licence and at the birth of their child would be permitted to take it home with them. Parents who fail the course or do not attend will have the child removed from them at birth and handed to foster carers. They would have 1 year to complete the course if they wanted their child back otherwise if they failed to do so in that time the child would go for adoption. There is a huge demand for babies to adopt and of course the adopting parents would have to go through the same tests that natural parents would have to.

Relationships break up and parents then meet up with other partners. If this happened then the prospective step-mother/father would also have to be tested and receive a licence before being allowed to live in the same house and their step-children. This would stop random adults who fancy a single parent being thrust into being a parent themselves, something they may be totally incapable of doing. In addition a lot of bad experiences for children come from step-parents, so far more monitoring is needed.

Right, once everyone is licenced and has received the basic training in how to be a parent, then at anyone time they can have their licence revoked and lose the child, if they behave in an inappropriate or neglectful way. This would ease up the removal of children for difficult situations. The destination of the child could be to properly licenced grandparents or other relatives or into adoption. In addition, equivalent to, say, HGV driving licences, at the stage which the child reaches 11, the parents have to undergo teenager training as this phase is far harder than raising a child up until then and most parents have no clue how to cope with teenagers. If the parents pass then they keep the child, otherwise it spends 1 year in care and if they have not passed the test by then, it goes for adoption. You could argue that if a parent passes for one child they can retain the licence for subsequent children reaching 11, but I would advocate if there was more than a 3-year gap they be re-tested as so much develops in terms of drugs and sex and consumption in such a short period now that people need to have their skills refreshed. Of course both parents would have to pass or be barred access to the child. Too many fathers are neglectful of teenage children, especially boys and need to have their attention focused on the continued need to work with them for the sake of the family and society. In addition if teenage boys and girls see the pressure that parenting puts them under they may be dissuaded from creating children in their teens too. Of course the state can set an age limit for the licence so meaning that any child born to a pre-sixteen child would be unlicenced and go immediately into state care. Children born to girls of that age have very little future and the mothers themselves are put in an impossible position.

When my grandfather learned to drive in the 1920s you simply wrote to an office in London and applied for a driving licence which they sent to you. Nowadays the driving test is more thorough than for the bulk of the 20th century with both theory and practical tests. It is less rigorous than those of our continental neighbours and this may be why we are plagued with so many poor drivers. No-one would argue that anyone should be permitted to be allowed to drive a car without having undergone a thorough test and passed it fully. In addition, for certain vehicles like heavy goods vehicles (HGV) they have to be retested at regular intervals. Why then do we permit people to have children who can cost even more to society and do as much if not more damage without having to undergo any testing or licencing?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

An Atlas of Imaginary Worlds 8: What is Left in the Back of My Map Cupboard

When I was in my phase of searching out interesting maps of imaginary places, the hollow Earth and so on, I came across a number of maps which did not really fit into the categories that I set out so I thought it was a good opportunity to round-up the various maps left in the electronic cupboard and explore them a little. Their sources are very varied and cover literature, games and exploration.

The Land of Oz

This is the Land of Oz as featured in the 14 Oz novels written by the US author L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), 1900-1920: 'The Wonderful World of Oz' (1900), 'The Marvelous Land of Oz' (1904), 'Ozma of Oz' (1907), 'Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz' (1908), 'The Road to Oz' (1909), 'The Emerald City of Oz' (1910), 'The Patchwork Girl of Oz' (1913), 'Little Wizard Stories of Oz' (1914), 'Tik-Tok of Oz' (1914), 'The Scarecrow of Oz' (1915), 'Rinkitink in Oz' (1916), 'The Lost Princess of Oz' (1916), 'The Tin Woodman of Oz' (1918), 'The Magic of Oz' (1919) and 'Glinda of Oz' (1920) plus short stories. Another 26 authorised books followed after his death and many others have taken up or altered the setting. Most famous is the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939).

'Randland' - Lands of the Wheel of Time

This is a map of the lands featured in 'The Wheel of Time' series of novels by Robert Jordan about a fantasy world which has experienced battles between Dark and Light. Many have topped bestseller lists in the USA but do not seem to have penetrated the UK as successfully. The books in story order are (publishing date in brackets): 'New Spring' (2004), 'The Eye of the World' (1990), 'The Great Hunt' (1990), 'The Dragon Reborn' (1991), 'The Shadow Rising' (1992), 'The Fires of Heaven' (1993), 'Lord of Chaos' (1994), 'A Crown of Swords' (1996), 'The Path of Daggers' (1998), 'Winter's Heart' (2000), 'Crossroads of Twilight' (2003), 'Knife of Dreams' (2005), 'A Memory of Light' (2009). Jordan died in 2007 so the final book may never be published. The novels seem to draw on Buddhist and ying-yang themes through a wheel of time with seven ages and female/male aspects with 'channelers' able to draw on its power. The stories feature the repeated escape of 'Shai'tan' an evil creature known as 'the Dark One' and 'the Dragon' a champion of light. Again we have a lumpy westward facing continent, with a 'Dead Sea' and 'A Sea of Storms'. The lands are called by fans 'Randland'. The names reference Celtic and French culture, such as Tarabon which is a suburb of Montreal in Canada as well as a land here. However, the culture though again medieval in technology does not seem to seek to replicate identifiable ones in our world. There is a vast amount of material about this world online, even an encyclopedia, so if you are interested it is easy to follow up.

Peninsula of the Palm

This peninsuar features in the book by Guy Gavriel Kay called 'Tigana' (1990) which apparently is based on Renaissance Italy. The book was intended to be an 'adult' fantasy, not in the sense that it was pornographic but that it addressed deeper themes than many more 'childish' fantasy novels and in fact more personal themes too, for example one character was sent to assassinate a ruler and ended up becoming his consort and finds as the years pass that she is unable to kill him. The peninsula is invaded by two forces from the East and the West who divide the various provinces between them and the island province of Chiara (the name itself is reminisicent of Italian names) becomes a neutral province between them. The emphasis on small states rather than vast empires is also seen as a parallel to the Italian city states of the Renaissance. There are fantastical elements too as sorcerors on the peninsula can gain extra powers by cutting off their two middle fingers so their hand resembles the peninsula. After the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Kay's work has probably received the most academic attention. This website has links to a number of academic writings on the background to the setting and their relationship to our history: What I like about this landscape is that it is finite and so this allows attention to political detail that is hard in books with vast empires (which in reality probably would have fragmented quickly given the slow speed of most communication forms in fantasy novels) and so to bring the story to a human level.

Ridgewell Planet

Though it is easy to locate this map on the internet, it is far harder to find out what it relates to. It seems to be an online game set on planets colonised by humans sometime in the late 21st century following a kind of collapse of human society. Ridgewell is one of the planets colonised in the story. Different planets were taken over by different groups of humans and so have a range of societies. Ridgewell was settled by the Prudence Foundation a family-orientated group, whereas another colony, Nova was settled by a combined US-EU-China-India mission another Atlantis by a private company. Anyway we have a nice planet in Ridgewell with more land than sea (so they are all effectively inland seas) and a huge connected continent. The whole website seems to be hosted at some education institution so it may be used for educational scenarios rather than gaming, anyway see:

Lands of the Legion of Dreams

This is an unusual one as it is a map of a world used by a group of Live Action Role-Players (LARP) people who rather playing online or with figures actually dress up as their characters and charge around fighting and casting spells, etc. The Legion of Dreams was established in 1986 and has a wood for hire where they act out these adventures and build equipment for the characters. They do horror and science fiction ones too, but I imagine this is the fantasy background. They have the usual elves and dwarfs but also a couple of other species such as the Melanonians who are a pale-skinned mystical race predating the elves and the Fomorians a lizard-like race. For more information see: Anyway, it is nice to see a kind of peninsula off a peninsula with just a couple of hints of inland seas that are not fully enclosed and no sign of Atlantis!


Now this one is slightly different. It was created by a death metal band called Bal-Sagoth as a location for their songs which are rousing epics about battles in a fantasy world. The band was established in 1993 and takes its name from a short story by Robert Howard story (of Conan the Cimmerian fame, see previous postings) called 'The Gods of Bal-Sagoth'. The pomposity of the lyrics of the band means they can be found all over the internet. Their world owes a lot to Howard and you can see many of his locations such as Hyperborea, Lemuria and Atlantis; they also mention Thule in one of their songs (more on Thule below). Of course being an almost generic fantasy world we have an inland sea (three in fact) and icy northern wastes, plus a nice huge empire, the Imperium. They are apparently also influenced by H.P. Lovecraft (Cthullu), Clark Ashton Smith (Averoigne, Zothique, also worked with Lovecraft and Burroughs), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Pellucidar, Tarzan) and Jack Kirby (X-Men, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, et al).


This is a nice one of the continent of Faerun which apparently features in the 'Forgotten Realms' version of the classic role-playing game 'Dungeons and Dragons' and is on the planet of Toril. Apparently over a hundred novels and a number of computer games feature this sub-continent. It adheres to my model of large continents and of course has an inland sea. The peninsulas are a little more ragged than usual presumably so that it does not appear like so many other maps of this kind. It also features societies closely parallel to our own such as Kara-Tur like China/Japan, Zakhara which is an Arabic setting and Maztica which is like Aztec society. It would be nice if people could come up with something to our world's societies in different locations. Technology is like late middle ages so with some gunpowder.

The World of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'

The next maps are ones which mutate our own world for various reasons in order to create somewhere different. This shows the World as George Orwell envisaged it would appear by 1984 in his dysopian novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1949). His novel was very much informed by the development of the Cold War at the time and the globe is portrayed as being divided up by three superpowers: Oceania (effectively the West led by the USA), Eurasia (the bloc in our world represented by the Soviet Union and its satellites) and Eastasia (effectively China's sphere of influence). This was a critique of the harsh and cynical regimes developing in the light of the Cold War. Halfway through the novel Oceania switches its alliance from Eastasia to Eurasia, but his perception of the tripolar division of the Cold War world was ahead of its time and really only accepted by policymakers in the USA in the early 1970s.

The Island of Sodor

The Island of Sodor is the location for the so-called Railway Series of children's books. These were written between 1945-72 by Reverend Wilbert Awdry and then from 1983-96 and again in 2007 by his son, Christopher Awdry. There are currently 41 books in the series. They feature anthromophic steam trains, carriages, traction engines and even a helicopter. The most famous of the characters Thomas the Tank Engine, though many other train characters appear in the series. Sodor comes from the Diocese of Sodor and Man one of the seats of British bishops. Man is the Isle of Man which sits in the Irish Sea between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire. Effectively it is frozen in time somewhere in the 1950s. The culture is very British. As can be seen from the map, Awdrey located the large island between England and the Isle of Man which would clearly have altered the geography of the Irish Sea and made the smaller Isle of Man which was colonised by Vikings, much less isolated.

Costa Rico

This is a comic map from Toucan Tours of Costa Rica, see , that stems from all the enquiries they get from customers about the posibilities of travelling to the country of Costa Rico as opposed to Costa Rica or Puerto Rico. Here it is shown as a narrow peninsula country bordering Nicaragua and stretching into the Caribbean Sea. Presumably it would have experienced US intervention and a Communist uprising backed by Cuba but now in the post-Cold War world is experiencing a boom in tourism.

World of Conan

Now, I know I have stepped away from the maps that look like distortions of our world, but if you read on you will see there is a link through some of the countries mentioned on this map. This map looks different to the others featuring worlds in the stories of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard that I looked at in an earlier posting. Aestheically it appeals more to me. Looking at it does seem to feature many of the same lands and of course a whole pile of the imaginary countries we see time and time again such as Atlantis, Lemuria and Thule. I have shown many maps of Atlantis but also came across this one of Thule, which was supposed to be either North or North-West of Scotland and Ireland so maybe where Iceland or the Faroe Islands are or in northern Asia. This might be where we get all the references to the Thule Society (1918-1925) a secret society in Germany that had links with the early Nazi Party. Ultima Thule, they believed was the capital of Hyperborea (a name which also features in Howard's stories, which he began writing in 1932). mentioned by the Roman poet Virgil in his epic 'The Aeneid' and supposedly a lost landmass near Greenland, which the German society believed would have characteristics of a Nordic race which they were keen on promoting. People from Thule (and the name was used inter-changeably with Hyperborea) were supposed to have come to Greece and one Thulean studied under Pythagoras. Thule was supposed to have a period of the year when the sun never set, which clearly puts it into the Arctic Circle. It is quite possible that people from Norway or Iceland travelled to Greece in Ancient times provoking this fantastical legend. We also know that volcanic activity can lead to the appearance and disappearance of islands. The best known case is the island of Surtsey which appeared off Iceland between 1963-7. The outline of the island has been altering ever since as parts have sunk into the sea and new areas have emerged.

The Thule Society turns up in fantasy stories featuring the Nazis such as 'Hellboy'; the movie of which starts off on an island supposedly off the coast of Britain. Post-medieval references to Thule may stem from Viking settlements on Greenland which died out when the climate became colder in the 11th century. This is a nice historic map I found of Thule but I cannot find the full one on the internet to show the context:

This is a modern day speculation on the location of Ultima Thule which people seem to want to find in the same way as seeking the entrance to the Hollow Earth. Of course in a warmer climate Vikings may have got to islands around the Arctic like this one. However, no-one is going to find signs of a vast lost civilisation, instead they will find, if anything, outlines of houses like those left on Greenland which show settlers from Scandinavia caught out by climate change.

Hyperborea is also a name used by Howard and was also a place believed to really exist. Often it is associated with regions around the North Pole. However, from somewhere I got this map of it being associated with Antarctica. However, the continent shown on this historic map which I believe is supposed to be late 16th century is larger than our Antarctica and comes very closed to the tipe of Argentina which you can see on the right (the map has South at the top) and not that far from South Africa. In prehistoric times Antarctica was temperate and dinosaurs lived on it, but it gradually shifted farther South until it reached its current location at the South Pole. On this map it is also shown as Terra Australis, i.e. Southern Land, which of course ended up being given to Australia when it was discovered by Europeans in the 18th century.

The Antediluvian World

This one comes from another role-playing game called 'Atlantis: The Second Age' produced by Morrigan Press. It combines kind of ancient world characters such as bronze age Chinese and Egyptians with other more exotic ones such as Amazons and Goblins. I like how they have got all the lost worlds in as distortions of our own continents so there is Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu and a nice selection of almost inland seas. Russia seems to have come off worst, so separating out three major continental blocks. Funnily the British Isles seem untouched.

The Lands of Barsaive

This is another world associated with a role-playing game, one called 'Earthdawn' produced by FASA and first released in 1993. It features many of the standards of fantasy games like dwarfs (the dominant species in the game) and elves but also sees creatures from other dimensions termed Horrors crossing into the world. There are also other creatures such as T'skrang which are lizard-like humanoids, Windlings - bird-like ones and Obsidiman which are rock based creatures. The location of the lands is similar to the Ukraine in our world with the Death Sea being the Black Sea, the Red Sea being our Sea of Aziv and the Aras Sea being like the Caspian Sea. The landscape is often tropical jungle and the seas are of molten lava rather than water.

This is Novaria from the 'Crown of Stars' fantasy novels by Kate Elliott (the pseudonym of Alis Ramussen). These were: 'King's Dragon' (1997), 'Prince of Dogs' (1998), 'The Burning Stone' (1999), 'Child of Flame' (2000), 'The Gathering Storm' (2003), 'In the Ruins' (2005) and 'Crown of Stars' (2006). It is a medieval world where elves and humans fought almost three millenia previously. There has been a vast empire which allowed the humans to recover from the war which has now been replaced by successor states. The author acknowledged parallels to our world as follows: Alba = Britain, Salia = France, Varre = The Low Countries, Wendar = Germany, North Mark = Denmark, Eikaland = Norway & Sweden, Polenie = Poland, Salavii = Slavs, Ungria = Hungary, Karrone = Switzerland, Darre = Rome, Aosta = Italy, Arethousa = Byzantium, Quman = assorted steppe tribes (Tartars etc) or the Golden Horde, Hessi merchants = Jewish traders, Ashioi = Aztecs, Kartiako = Carthage, Jinna = Persia.
The fact that the Mediterranean is open at the eastern end rather than the western end is interesting and the Sinai desert has become an island. Ireland comes off worse having fragmented into a much smaller cluster of islands. With the contraction of Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea has become a vast gulf.

In some ways it reminds me of the 'Warhammer' world. 'Warhammer' was a fantasy battle game, first released in 1987, for armies of lead soldiers and used an altered version of Earth, again with late medieval technology with basically the same peoples in the same locations as in our world, note Cathay (old name for China), Nippon (Japanese name for Japan) and Ind for India. Amphibious aliens, however, were effectively the Aztec empire and there is an Atlantis-like Elf land, Ulharia, in the middle of the North Atlantic:

An older, simpler version of the same world, look at the size of Albion, i.e. Britain! Also the Galapagos Islands and the Falkland Islands have grown substantially.

Well, that is my cupboard cleared out for now but I am sure I will encounter more imagined worlds and will update these periodically. If you find any others of interest let me know.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Attack of the (Card) Clones

I must confess that I have been rather blase about online banking crime, thinking that I had not enough funds to particularly interest people. In fact, as regular readers will know, I have been exasperated by how difficult it is now to buy anything online given all the checks and counter-checks you have to go through. Last week, though, I was robbed, not fully electronically but partially. My debit card was cloned and then my account was drained by people making cash withdrawals in Sri Lanka. Fortunately it was mid-month and there were not huge sums in the account and the level of the currency in Sri Lanka is so high that small amounts here look big there, for example just over £9 works out as LKR 2,000 there. So my bank picked it up very quickly. The main problem is now with me going on holiday next Tuesday (so expect a dearth of postings for a week and a bit) and the bank holiday this Friday and the following Monday I will not get my new card or my money restored before I go away. This is typical for me, such things always happens when it is the hardest for me and the authorities to deal with them. Fortunately I had filled up with petrol and groceries before they closed my account, because the problem for me now is for about 10 days not being able to get hold of my own money. Fortunately I have some cash in the house and ironically as a consequence of this incident I am likely to ensure I have more cash in the house. This might make me a greater risk from burglars but means that if something goes wrong with my debit card I am not stuck without food or petrol.

I reported the incident for the police, because though I have no evidence I have my suspicions as I only used my card twice in the 48 hours before the money was taken out. Once was at a Shell service station and last year Shell stopped chip & pin transactions for a number of months when it was found £1 million had been stolen by staff from its customers. The second time was in a convenience store and you can guarantee I will never shop there again and walk the distance to the bigger supermarket. I was suspicious of the shopkeeper's behaviour at the time and now regret being too embarrassed to simply walk out. Chip & pin in which signing for things was replaced by a PIN number was supposed to save us from all these things, but of course whereas getting a signature needs them to rifle through bins or video you signing, a PIN number can just be caught by a machine and then, as in my case, zapped to the other side of the world to be used.

One thing I was heartened by was that my bank treated me very well. A colleague of mine who lost over £1000 was questioned at length about her movements, I think because she is an American citizen of Asian background. They also challenged her whether her husband could have taken her card and abused it, he is of African extraction, so I do there was a degree of racism going on in her case. Banks must recognise such crime is so common and I cannot really see how me or my colleague could have headed it off. The businesses we dealt with seemed legitimate but clearly were staffed by criminals. These days we should be believed as it is hard enough suddenly having your life thrown into chaos by having all your money disappear, without also being seen as partially a suspect yourself.

Apparently my bank was sending me a new 'high security' system, which has arrived as I am writing this. It is a keypad into which I have to put the card to generate yet more numbers. I think ironically, despite more and more electronic security which is probably already subverted before I receive it, I see many of us going back to hard cash, trusting to our strength and concealment skills to keep that away from physical robbers rather than relying on electronic means that we seem to have no chance to really properly defend. So today's posting exits to the strains of 'Dirty Cash' by the Adventures of Stevie V:

I've no excuse,
I just want you to use me
Take me and abuse me
I got no taboos, I'll make a trade with you
Do anything you want me to

Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you,

Of course these days you can get that as a download ringtone for your mobile phone.

What if Proportional Representation Been Introduced in the UK in 1918?

In January 1917 the Speaker's Conference, which had sat since October 1916, proposed that Britain adopt the Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation for its electoral system.  This would have replaced the so called 'first past the post' system which was (and remains) in place in the UK. The first-past-the-post system means that even if a candidate wins by 1 vote they get the seat and the second (and subsequent candidates) get nothing.  This is despite the fact that they may have received almost as much support from the public. Thus the proportional representation system was seen as being 'fairer' to voters.  More than one candidate would be returned from each constituency.  It was also seen as allowing a wider spectrum of political opinion to be voiced at a time when there were only the Liberal and Conservative parties and the  small Labour Party. 

Proportional representation was adopted in Germany and Belgium following the First World War.  It is in common usage in different forms across Europe now.  In the UK it is used for European Parliament elections and for general elections in Northern Ireland as it better reflects the sectarian diversity of the constituencies there. The Prime Minister in 1917 was David Lloyd George, the Liberal leader.  He had opposed proportional representation as early as 1884.  With the Liberals in government, albeit in a coalition, he was in no hurry to alter the system.  The same happened in 1997 when the Labour Party gained a large majority it immediately abandoned its previously developed plans to introduce proportional representation.

The big fear about proportional representation for the British which continues in a misinformed way even now, is that it automatically leads to governments which cannot command a majority.  Thus it is felt that they would need to negotiate on every piece of legislation and this is seen as leading to weak rule. This view was increased by the difficulties in the Third Republic of France (1870-1940) and Weimar Germany (1918-33). However, it ignores the stability of states with proportional representation, notably West Germany (1949-91).

In this posting I am going to look at what would have happened if Lloyd George had not been so hostile to the approach or if he had been aware of how the Liberal Party was crumbling. It was never to hold office alone again after 1922 and was not even part of a coalition until 1931-45, though individual Liberals participated. Alternatively, as Nina Barzachka shows in an online article, it can be imagined that he would have had a more enlightened view like the Catholic Party of Belgium which adopted Proportional Representation at national level.  Belgium had had it locally since 1895.  They did this despite it leading to losses for them. Anyway, let us imagine if proportional representation, like votes for women, had been introduced in 1918, how would the political picture of Britain been different?

Now, one caveat, STV is a complex system and the UK's constituencies are very imbalanced, with Scotland and to a lesser extent Wales being over-represented, for their populations, in the Westminster Parliament. I have adopted a simplistic system of giving the parties the same percentage of the available seats as they got percentage of the overall vote. However, I think different anomalies would have cancelled each other out.  There would certainly have been an alteration to the size and number of constituencies to fewer, but larger, ones.  Representation for Scotland and Wales may have been balanced at that time. Of course, with the new system in place voter choice may have been very different and new parties which never materialised in our world are likely to have appeared as they did in other countries.  Most likely there would have been a left-wing Socialist and/or Communist party and a right-wing British nationalist party. As now, Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties may have also emerged, but sooner. There may have also been an Agrarian party and/or a small Business-focused party.  However, the Conservatives may have been able to retain these within their bounds.  Moving into the latter part of the 20th century, a women's party or a 'grey' party, i.e. one for the interests of the elderly may have appeared.

As the Irish Free State left the UK in 1922 and that was probably the first year that the new system could have been put into effect having been introduced in 1918, I will start at the 1922 election. The format is -

Year: Total number of seats available (Party that formed government in our world)

Party [party forming government shown in Bold]: (Percentage of the vote received); Seats under PR [Actual seats received in our world].

1922 Election: 615 seats (Conservative Party) 
Conservative: (38.5%); 237 seats [344]
Labour: (29.7%); 183 seats [142]
Liberal: (18.9%); 116 seats [62]
National Liberal (9.9%); 61 seats [53]
Irish Nationalist (0.4%): 3 seats [3]
Others (2.8%): 15 seats [15]

This would have led to a minority government in that Labour and the main Liberal Party could outvote the Conservatives (even if had National Liberal support) something they could not do in our world. If the Conservatives had been unable to form a government then a new coalition is likely to have been formed between the Liberals and Labour. This would have brought Labour into government two years earlier than actually happened and in a slightly dominant position as it had more seats than the Liberals. This is feasible given that the Liberals supported Labour's brief minority government in 1924.

Labour's relative inexperience would probably have meant senior Liberals playing a central role. Policies probably would have embraced some extension of the nascent welfare state began by the Liberals before the First World War, but there would have tensions arising over the impact of the Russian Revolution. If Labour and the Liberals had fallen out, say in 1924, then we might have indeed seen the jockeying for position between the three main parties.  This in itself would have been a first for Britain.  Then maybe there would have even been a resurrection of the wartime Liberal-Conservative coalition. However, even with proportional representation, the eclipse of the Liberals as a leading party, would seem to have been as apparent in this alternate world as in ours.

As in Germany, there may have been a split in the Labour Party with a Communist Party appearing and able under this system to gain some seats in a way that was impossible in Britain until 1945.  Their gains would have just weakened Labour, though probably not to the extent that they would have been smaller than the Liberals.  Establishing a Communist presence in parliament is likely to have had an impact when the economy began to go into depression in the late 1920s.

1923: 615 (Conservative Party; then Labour Party)
Conservative: (38%); 234 seats [258]
Labour: (30.7%); 188 seats [191]
Liberal: (29.7%); 183 seats [158]
Others: (2%); 10 seats [8]

In our December 1923 Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin, despite a reasonable majority decided to call an election just 13 months after the previous one.  This was because he wanted a mandate on his adoption of tariffs and abandonment of free trade. This election actually decreased his majority and he ran a minority government (so, who says first-past-the-post avoided this) until it collapsed in January 1924. Then a minority Labour government ruled until October 1924 when it fell.

The effective elimination in 1923 of the National Liberals through lost seats and defections to Labour and the Conservatives to some extent reinforced the main Liberal Party. In the proportional representation system this would have been even more apparent and a true three-party state would seem to be in position. Again, the opportunity for a true Labour-Liberal coalition would have appeared but the partners would have been on more equal terms now. The Liberals might have been reluctant to partner with an increasingly established Labour party but with their support of Free Trade would have been unlikely to go to the Conservatives unless they dropped this policy. It is clear that at this time, no matter what system was in place, British politics was unstable as Labour sought to replace the Liberals. With proportional representation that process may have taken far longer.

1924: 615 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (46.8%); 288 seats [412]
Labour: (33.3%); 205 seats [151]
Liberal: (17.8%); 109 seats [40]
Others: (2.2%); 13 [12]

This election is where we begin to see a real divergence. The slide of the Liberals is apparent even with proportional representation though slowed down.  The huge difference is that rather than a 209-seat majority, the Conservatives still have a minority government. Of course if the Labour-Liberal coalition had continued from 1922 onwards, even if it had faced an election at this stage it could have continued. However, increasing division between Labour and the Liberals would have made this difficult. In addition, Labour would by now increasingly have felt the Liberals were splitting the vote that could have given it access to power. 

The Conservatives who adopted a very cautious policy in the light of economic turmoil would have probably had to address more policies towards the other parties' constituencies in order to remain in power. Of course, as opponents of proportional representation argue, the UK may simply have become like France of the 1920s and Italy before the advent of Fascism, in having governments only lasting a few months. In our world the 1924 election halted that for a while.  As in 1922 with the example of the rise of the Communists in Russia, in 1924, perhaps even earlier, the model of Fascism, though it did not gain complete power until 1925, may have led to the appearance of a Fascist Party in Britain.

1929: 615 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (38.1%) 234 seats [260]
Labour: (37.1%) 228 seats [287]
Liberal: (23.6%) 145 seats [59]
Others: (1.4%) 8 seats [12]

In 1929 in our world another minority Labour government was formed and by this stage the Liberals had really faded from the scene politically though in terms of individuals and their ideas they remained important. With proportional representation, the election in May 1929 may have been one of a pattern of the 1920s. The system would have offered another minority Conservative government or possibly yet another continuation of the Labour-Liberal coalition which might have dominated British politics throughout the 1920s. 

Those who might have seen the death of Liberalism in 1924 would have witnessed the party rallying and the persistence of British three-party politics. With the two class-based parties seemingly so close, the Liberals would have been the kingmakers right throughout this period and effectively would have almost become the 'true party of government' forming the core around which successive coalitions would have formed.

What is interesting is that Britain's political centre ground, while weaker than what it had been would have been far stronger than in Germany, which had adopted proportional representation in 1918. Of course, proportional representation may have led to the fracturing of parties and the one which could retain its cohesion may have been the one to keep winning, for example if the Conservatives could rein in their nationalist wing and Labour could hold on to radicals moving towards Communism.

It is more likely that Labour would have haemorrhaged to the left more that the Conservatives to the right, so the Conservatives would have been in power, though not coming close to having a majority whilst three-party politics continued. The Liberals probably would have clung together having witnessed the danger of fragmentation with the National Liberals in the past.  There is nothing to say that sustaining themselves as a reasonably large party in the 1920s they would not have received support from the left of the Conservatives. Remember Churchill only returned to the Conservatives in the 1920s because the Liberal Party, where he had been so important in the 1910s, had effectively dissolved. It is certainly not impossible to envisage a Liberal Party of the late 1920s led by Churchill with a combination of a patriotic approach but with social welfare policies.

1931: 615 (National Government)
Conservative: (55%); 338 seats [470]
National Labour (1.5%); 9 seats [13]
National Liberal (3.7%); 23 seats [35]
Labour: (30.8%); 189 seats [52]
Liberal: (6.5%); 40 seats [32]
Others: (2.7%); 17 seats [13]

In this alternate UK, 1931 would have really been the year three-party politics died. The Labour government fell over its inability to agree how to tackle the global financial crises. The Conservatives won a huge majority in our world and would have become the first post-1918 majority government in the UK. They barely needed the Liberals and Labour members who joined them in the National Government coalition but symbolically as a coalition of supposed national unity it was useful to suggest it was so broad.  It was Ramsay MacDonald, former leader of the Labour Party who, as head of National Labour continued to serve as Prime Minister 1931-5.  The picture shown here actually does not really reflect how fragmented the Liberals had become with a faction of 5 MPs around official Liberal leader David Lloyd George, here contained among the 'Others'.

People who say Britain had a more stable system without coalitions forget that 1931-45 the country was run by a coalition stretching across the political spectrum. The key beneficiaries of the proportional representation system would have been Labour who whilst shrinking would not have been almost wiped out in the way they were in our world. This would have meant more personalities to fill the front benches and possibly offer more alternative policies. 

Note that under proportional representation the number of 'Others' would be higher and 1931 saw the launch of the New Party, a Fascist party which contested 24 seats. With proportional representation they may have gained more ground and eaten into Conservative support.  Labour may not have done as well as shown here if a Communist Party was similarly taking away its support as people looked for a more radical solution to the crisis. The National Government effectively made up for the death of the centre in the UK as had happened in other European states by locating the whole system near the centre ground with cautious policies that could do little to oppose the Depression.

1935: 615 (National Government)
Conservative: (47.8%); 294 seats [387]
National Labour (1.5%); 9 seats [8]
National Liberal (3.7%); 23 seats [33]
Labour: (38%); 234 seats [154]
Liberal: (6.7%); 40 seats [21]
Others: (2.4%); 15 seats [13]

Now, in our world, the National Government continued with minimal challenge. MacDonald was replaced by Stanley Baldwin before the 1935 election as MacDonald retired on grounds of ill-health. Baldwin retired in 1937 and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain. He was effectively ousted in 1940 over the handling of the German invasion of Norway and was replaced by Winston Churchill. There was no general election 1935-45 but Churchill restructured the government and brought the non-National Labour Party into the wartime coalition with its leader, Clement Attlee, as his deputy prime minister.

In this alternate UK, in 1935 Labour would have bounced back reducing the coalition's majority to 37 compared to the 240 majority it had in our world. Certainly Labour could have claimed it represented a sizeable body of opinion possibly pressing for more imaginative policies to combat the economic crises and as critics of appeasement. The British Union of Fascists had almost crumbled by 1935 and so is unlikely to have made any showing in the elections, though having won a seat or two in 1931 may have retained some credibility and cohesion. However, even so, divisions over anti-Semitism and street fighting were likely to have caused fragmentation.

1945: 640 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (34.7%); 224 seats [178]

Labour: (47.9%); 308 seats [392]
Liberal: (9%); 58 seats [12]
Liberal National (3%); 19 seats [0]
Ulster Unionist (1.5%); 9 seats [9]
Independent (0.8%); 5 seats [0]
National (0.6%); 4 seats [2]
Common Wealth (0.4%); 3 seats [1]
Communist (0.4%); 3 seats [2]
Indpendent Conservative: (0.16%); 1 seat [0]
Labour Independent (0.2%); 1 seat [2]
Irish Nationalist (0.6%): 4 seats [0]
Scottish Nationalist (0.12%); 1 seat [0]

What we see in the alternate 1945 is still Labour winning, though effectively with a minority government rather than the majority of 150.  With a stronger rather than almost disappeared Liberal party they may have been able to revive the 1920s Labour-Liberal coalition to help them make up the 24 votes they need to pass legislation. What this would have meant probably is whilst the welfare state would have proceeded in the way it did, especially given it was based on the theories of William Beveridge a Liberal.  However, nationalisation which was much more of a purely Labour approach, though the Conservatives had done some on efficiency grounds between the wars, would have been restricted.  It certainly would not have reached the steel industry, though railways and coal would have come under state control. 

The other interesting thing, emphasised by the greater range of information that I have about the post-war elections, is the appearance of more minor parties.  They would have had 31 seats compared to numbers in the teens for the Others in the inter-war era. Particularly notable is the Liberal National Party which in this world would have been larger in parliament than the main Liberal party was in our world. 

The Communists would not have benefited a great deal, probably adding just one other MP. Of course, their credibility in the UK was at an all-time high in 1945 in the UK and with proportional representation they may have picked up more votes in Labour areas. This would have provided even more of a challenge for a minority Labour government, if they had, for example, reached double figures. The Scottish Nationalists may have disappeared at the next election or maybe, as they were to do later in the century, their single MP could have been the grounds for attracting support to the party.

1950: 625 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (38.9%); 247 seats [271]
Labour: (46.1%); 293 seats [315]
Liberal: (9.1%); 59 seats [9]
Conservative & National Liberal: (1.2%); 7 seats [4]
Liberal & Conservative: (0.2%); 0 seats [2]
National Liberal & Conservative: (1.3%); 7 seats [2]
National Liberal: (0.2%); 0 seats [2]
Communist: (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
Ulster Unionists: (1.2%) 9 seats [10]
Irish Nationalists: (0.2%) 1 seat [0]

There had been rationalisation of the constituencies since the last election, for example, removing university seats, which is why there were fewer seats contested than in 1945.

At the 1950 election in our world Labour's majority was cut to 6. In this alternate UK it would have been a minority government having to find an additional 15 seats compared to the previous parliament, in order to pass legislation. Again, with proportional representation the Liberals, though a shadow of their 1920s strength, would be useful allies.

It is interesting to see what would have happened to the plethora of small parties. In our world Others got 2 seats and the Communists disappeared at this election. There were a range of weird national government leftovers as can be seen here, some would have gone entirely until proportional representation and others would have been almost as strong as the Liberals were in our world at this time. It is still likely they would in time have been absorbed into either the stronger Liberal Party or, as tended to happen in reality, into the Conservatives. These various national liberals mixed in with other conservatives were simply counted as being part of the Conservative figure, as are the Ulster Unionists; I have disaggregated them here to show the impact of proportional representation on these very small parties.

Of course, like West Germany, established in 1949, the UK after 1945 may have barred parties not achieving at least 5% of the vote from getting seats. This would have disposed of the embarrassing Communists and tidied up this range of political parties, though the consequent gains are not likely to have helped Labour's search for a majority.

1951: 625 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (43.4%); 273 seats [293]
Labour: (48.8%); 306 seats [295]
Liberal: (2.6%); 17 seats [6]
Conservative & National Liberal: (1%); 6 seats [2]
Conservative & Liberal: (0.8%); 4 seats [2]
National Liberal & Conservative: (0.7%); 4 seats [7]
Liberal & Conservative: (1%); 6 seats [7]
National Liberal: (0.07%); 0 seats [1]
Ulster Unionists: (1%) 10 [9] [Though they would not be entitled to 10 under PR, the fragmentation of the Irish nationalist parties would have prevented them beating the Ulster Unionists for the seats which mainland British parties did not contest].

Our 1951 election was brought about by Labour having such a small majority so it is very likely to have occurred in the alternate UK where they would remain a minority government. In our version though Labour increased its vote it fell from being the largest party and the Conservatives got a majority of 17. Hardly an outstanding victory but this gentle swing back and forth between Labour and the Conservatives was characteristic of Britain 1945-79/83. 

In this alternative UK, Labour remains the largest party in 1951. In fact the size of its shortfall in votes in parliament declines to 13. This means that even with the Liberals having declined sharply since 1950 the old Labour-Liberal alliance may have worked.  The Liberal decline may not have been so great if they had had representation in the 50s in the 1940s as they would have seemed more credible.

The interesting challenge for Labour in this period with the beginning of removal of wartime restrictions, the last rationing ended in 1956, would be how they addressed the beginning of prosperity. Of course Britain may have been like the French Fourth Republic (1944-56) constantly plunged into chaos as governments came and went scrabbling around for a majority. Techniques such as barring parties below 5% or a premium of, say, 20 seats for the winning party, would have eliminated the problem and Labour would have had a small majority. With Labour in power, economic controls would have been retained longer and it is unlikely that Britain would have become involved in the Suez Crisis in 1956.  Conversely decolonisation may have proceeded far faster.

1955: 630 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (44.9%); 285 seats (316)
Labour: (46.2%); 294 seats [277]
Liberal: (2.7%); 19 seats [6]
Conservative & National Liberal: (0.9%); 6 seats [3]
Conservative &  Liberal: (0.6%); 3 seats [3]
National Liberal & Conservative: (0.6%); 5 seats [6]
National Liberal: (0.2%); 1 seat [2]
Liberal & Conservative (0.9%); 6 seats [5]
Ulster Unionists (1.7%); 10 seats [10]
Sinn Fein (0.5%); 3 seats [2]
Welsh Nationalist: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]

Rather than a second clear win in a row for the Conservatives and a majority of 59, the 1955 election under proportional representation would have seen a real contest with the Conservatives and their allies raising 319 seats versus Labour and Liberals on 313. Thus the Conservatives would have been in power but with a tiny minority of 2. What would this have led the Conservatives to have done: maybe to promote a slightly more independent identity for their shoal of allied parties in the hope of capturing some of those on the right of the Liberal Party. Some, notably the National Liberals, may have already gone, meaning a few additional seats to those other combinations remaining.

Of course, given the constant role of the Liberals as government makers their credibility would have been much higher and their support may have sustained something closer to the 1945 level. In our world, Labour survived with a majority of 6 after 1950 but for less than a year, so I imagine an election early in 1956 or later in 1955, this one occurred in May, would have been the result. Possibly the Conservatives would have done more to attract the Liberals to their side.  Yet again, even in their shrunken state, though three times larger than in our world, they would have been the kingmakers once again.

The Communists may have scraped a single seat as they got 0.12% of the vote, but more likely we would have seen the first Welsh Nationalist MP again beginning to give credibility to a small party. It is difficult, given the small size of Northern Ireland, to correctly map the shifts between the Unionists and Nationalists, by now represented by Sinn Fein, but the latter may have picked up a seat in areas outside Northern Ireland with a high Irish population, notably Liverpool or London.

1959: 630 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (45.3%); 287 seats [334]
Labour: (43.7%); 277 seats [258]
Liberal: (5.9%); 38 seats [6]
Conservative & National Liberal: (0.9%); 6 seats [6]
Conservative & Liberal: (0.5%); 3 seats [2]
National Liberal & Conservative: (0.5%); 3 seats [4]
National Liberal (0.03%); 0 seats [1]
Liberal & Conservative: (0.6%); 4 seats [6]
Ulster Unionists: (1.5%); 10 seats [11]
Sinn Fein (0.2%); 2 seats [1]
Plaid Cymru (0.3%); 2 seats [0]

The 1959 election would have been similar to the bulk of those we have looked at with subtle shifts back and forth between Labour and the Conservatives.  The Liberals would still be the brokers in the middle. In this case what I said about the Liberals gaining credibility proved actually to be the case in our world and this would have been turned into more actual seats in the alternate world we are looking at.

The Conservatives and their allies could raise 312 seats another minority as a Labour-Liberal alliance could provide 315 seats. Again the Conservatives would have win over the Liberals in order to remain in government, in sharp contrast to the 100 majority they won in our 1959. 

Plaid Cymru is what the Welsh Nationalists had evolved into and regionally with 2 MPs they may have been able to gain momentum. There is effectively a gap here for the Northern Ireland seats. Though the Ulster Unionists would not have been entitled to the additional seat (they should have got 9) there may have been no-one else strong enough to be awarded them, so I have assumed that Sinn Fein under this system could have picked up one more and the Ulster Unionists would be over-represented, though less than they were in reality.

1964: 630 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (40.7%); 257 seats [285]
Labour: (43.8%); 279 seats [317]
Liberal: (11.2%); 71 seats [9]
Conservative & National Liberal: (0.9%); 5 seats [4]
National Liberal & Conservative: (0.2%); 1 seat [2]
Ulster Unionist: (1.5%); 9 seats [12]
Republican: (0.4%); 2 seats [0]
Northern Ireland Labour: (0.4%); 2 seats [0]
Scottish Nationalist: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Plaid Cymru: (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
Communist: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]

Labour won the 1964 election in our world with a majority of 6. In the alternate UK they would still be in a minority, but the key thing is the upwards momentum of the Liberals whose seats in our world severely under-represented their level of support. The revival of the old Labour-Liberal coalition would be very feasible or the persistence of the Conservative-Liberal one of the 1950s would also be a possibility. The big difference would be in Northern Ireland. You will have noticed in the square brackets of how dominant the Ulster Unionists, allied to the Conservatives, were in the few constituencies of Northern Ireland.

The growing interest in politics can be seen at the 1964 election when 39 different parties put up candidates. Many of these were issue-focused for example, two Christian parties and others regarding the EEC and nuclear disarmament. This was the first time that the British National Party, Britain's current Fascist party first appeared. In this environment of issue politics the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru were to begin to really appear on the scene. Of course, in this alternate Britain this would have been part of a process that had been occurring since the 1950s rather than something seemingly new in the mid-1960s.

1966: 630 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (39.9%); 253 seats [242]
Labour: (47.6%); 303 seats [363]
Liberal: (8.6%); 55 seats [12]
Conservative & National Liberal (0.53%); 3 seats [0]
Ulster Unionist: (1.4%); 9 seats [11]
Northern Ireland Labour: (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
Republican: (0.2%); 1 seat [1]
Scottish Nationalist: (0.5%); 3 seats [0]
Plaid Cymru: (0.2%): 1 seat [0]
Communist (0.2%): 1 seat [0]

In our 1966 the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, returned to the electorate to try to boost his majority in order to carry out the tough economic policies that were necessary to cope with the weakening trade position. He was successful, lifting Labour's majority to 97 seats. In this alternate world he would have been far less successful. Whichever coalition had come about in 1964 probably would have been looking for a stronger position in 1966, though with over forty years of proportional representation by now this might not have been expected. In this world Labour would still be a minority government, needing the support of the Liberals yet again. However, it would have done sufficient, given the range of smaller parties, notably the nationalist ones liable to help Labour, to rule out another attempted Conservative-Liberal coalition.

Again, the situation in Northern Ireland would have been different as tensions were coming to a peak in the mid-late 1960s and British troops were sent in to protect the Catholic population. A few MPs in Westminster would not have altered this drastically but may have made Catholic voters feel less totally excluded from politics in the Province, especially if there was a better local reflection of the population make-up. If proportional representation is good for Northern Ireland today it is likely it would have also been the case in the past.

1970: 630 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (44.9%); 283 seats [322]
Labour: (42.6%); 268 seats [287]
Liberal: (7.5%); 47 seats [6]
Ulster Unionists: (1.5%); 9 seats [8]
Northern Ireland Labour: (0.4%); 2 seats [0]
Republican Labour: (0.1%); 1 seat [0]
National Unity: (0.3%); 1 seat [0]
National Democrat: (0.1%); 1 seat [0]
Scottish Nationalist: (1.1%); 7 seats [1]
Plaid Cymru: (0.6%): 4 seats [0]
Communist: (0.1%): 1 seat [0]

Rather than the Conservative majority of 31 we would have seen a very similar pattern to all the post-war elections. Of course the Liberals may have been even more powerful than this as in our world they were seen as a very minor concern lower in number by now than the Ulster Unionists, whereas under proportional representation they would be a second rank rather than third or fourth rank party in terms of size and influence.  As with many third parties their power would be greater than their weight. 

By now, one might envisage that the Liberals would have developed a policy for how they engaged with coalitions, given how common they would have been. Thus, 1970 may have seen the choice of a Labour-Liberal or Conservative-Liberal government. Given that Labour did not do too badly 1964-70 in our world and were expected to win the 1970 election until the last moment, their ongoing coalition would probably have continued. Whilst proportional representation may have stripped Labour of its 1945 landslide, it is likely that it would have been in government far more often than was the case in our 20th century when it faced 1900-24; 1924-9; 1931-45, 1951-64, 1970-4 and 1979-97, i.e. 78 years outside the government in the space of the century which can be seen as being dominated by the Conservatives.

Issue politics had not died but had shifted. In 1966, 35 parties had put up candidates, in 1970 it had risen to 45. Whilst things like Social Credit and Ratepayers persisted, the nuclear disarmers had gone and what is noticeable is the range of far right-wing parties, notably the National Front and others using Nazi titles like National Unity and National Socialist. Also there were more 'anti-' parties with a right-wing focus, e.g., Anti-Immigration Party, Anti-Labour Party as well as more left-wing radicals such as the Anti-Election Party, Anti-Party Party as you would expect lingering on after the cold shock of the death of hippyism as the new decade began. Also noticeable is the appearance of more parties in Northern Ireland, and in the wake of the appearance of the Scottish Nationalists in Parliament of regional parties like Independent Scottish Labour and Independent Scottish Nationalist; even Mebyon Kernow supporting an independent Cornwall.

Britain entered a turbulent political period due to industrial unrest leading to more states of emergency being declared than at any time in British history and the adoption of power shortages and the so-called 'Three-Day Week' through 1973 and into 1974.  This led to the 1974 elections as the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath tried to gain a mandate to tackle these problems in the way he saw fit.

February 1974: 635 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (37.8%); 242 seats [296]
Labour: (37.2%); 239 seats [301]
Liberal: (19.3%); 124 seats [14]
Ulster Unionists (3 parties) (1.4%); 9 seats [9]
SDLP (0.5%); 3 seats [1]
Scottish Nationalist: (2%); 13 seats [7]
Plaid Cymru: (0.6%); 4 seats [2]
National Front: (0.3%); 1 seat [0]

The elections of 1974 even with the first-past-the-post system demonstrated the challenges of coalition politics. This is where the two versions of the UK come closest as Labour was a minority government needing at least the agreement of the Liberals to get legislation passed. In the alternate world, with the Liberals back to the size of the 1920s any coalition they supported would not have needed to scrabble around for votes in parliament but could have continued without difficulty. 

You can see why the Liberals became supporters of proportional representation as they were getting almost a tenth of the seats their support from the electorate would have suggested. On this system the Scottish Nationalists did a great deal better than the Liberals but still would have gained more under proportional representation. The system would also have let in another Fascist to Parliament, this time representing the National Front. Given the range of tiny anti-immigration and pro-(Enoch) Powell candidates, the NF getting a seat may have drawn their supporters to it. The far left was terribly fragmented at this time and so the Communist MP disappears once again.

October 1974: 634 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (35.7%); 227 seats [276]
Labour: (39.2%); 249 seats [319]
Liberal: (18.3%); 116 seats [13]
Ulster Unionists (1.5%); 8 seats [11]
SDLP (0.53%); 3 seats [1]
Alliance (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Scottish Nationalist: (2.9%); 18 seats [11]
Plaid Cymru: (0.6%); 4 seats [3]
National Front: (0.4%); 2 seats [0]

Harold Wilson managed to secure a majority of 4 at the October 1974 election of our world and had to enter the so-called Lib-Lab Pact with the Liberal Party in order to function as a government and even then with a small majority. In the alternate UK if there had even been a need for an October 1974 election, the Labour-Liberal coalition would have been far stronger.

In our world there was a referendum in 1978 on whether Scotland and/or Wales should receive greater devolution. Partly due to poor turnout, these steps did not win. Would the outcome have been different with the SNP growing election by election in strength in Parliament to the extent that they were the fourth largest party? Would the slow, but seemingly steady growth of the NF have led to the introduction of the 5% rule now assuming it had not come in 1945? Would the seeming respectability of this Fascist party now with 2 MPs have led them to rein in their violence on the streets?

1979: 634 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (43.9%); 281 seats [339]
Labour: (36.9%); 236 seats [268]
Liberal: (13.8%); 88 seats [11]
Ulster Unionists (4 parties): (1.3%); 7 seats [5]
SDLP: (0.4%); 3 seats [1]
Alliance: (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
Scottish Nationalist: (1.6%); 10 seats [2]
Plaid Cymru: (0.4%); 3 seats [2]
National Front; (0.6%); 4 seats [0]

The 1979 election is a pivotal one in British 20th century history as it ushered in 18 years of rule by the Conservatives. They differed greatly from the party that had been in power under Heath in the early 1970s.  In the mid-1970s the Conservatives had embraced New Right, monetarist thinking. This was welcomed by many people who were tired of the industrial unrest and inflation of the 1970s.  Most never understood that it would mean the vast destruction of British industry and infrastructure plus unemployment of over 4 million that would follow when Margaret Thatcher came to power.

The fact that Thatcher was able to stay in power for so long, whilst receiving so little support from the electorate, led Lord Scarman at the end of the 1980s to refer to the 'elective dictatorship' of British politics,  Unsurprisingly, attention returned to the possibility of proportional representation. Thatcher left in 1991 but the Conservatives under John Major continued in power until 1997. 

Whereas in the 1940s there had been a consensus around what the Labour government, itself more founded on Liberalism than Socialism, had broadly tried to do, by the 1990s the consensus had shifted to the market-orientated focus of Thatcherism. New Labour, who came to power in 1997, can clearly be seen as a Thatcherite Conservative party rather than either a Liberal or Socialist one.

The Conservatives in our world got a majority of 44 in 1979 and the Liberals jogged along just in double figures. While under proportional representation the Liberals would have lost about a quarter of their seats they still would have been a significant force and clear of the other small parties. The SNP, also battered, would not have been pushed back to its standing of the early 1960s. 

The shift to the right is apparent and the NF would have continued its rise. There would be no majority for Thatcher and she would have been seeking at least 72 seats. Given the breakdown of the Lib-Lab Pact especially over the so-called Winter of Discontent of 1978/9 it is likely that the Liberals would have been willing to give the Conservatives a go in coalition. The tension would have soon developed as Thatcher began privatising utilities and also her brash policy that led to the Falklands Conflict in 1982. Dependent on Liberal support she may have either gone for another election quickly or chaffed at the restraint as her radical programme was slowed or diverted.

1983: 650 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (42.4%); 280 seats [397]
Labour: (27.6%); 181 seats [209]
Liberal-SDP Alliance: (25.4%) 167 seats [28] - consisting of Liberal: (13.9%); 91 seats [17] and Social Democratic Party: (11.5%); 76 seats [11]
Scottish Nationalist: (1.1%); 7 seats [2]
Plaid Cymru: (0.4%); 3 seats [2]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.4%); 9 seats [11]
Sinn Fein: (0.3%): 2 seats [1]
Alliance: (0.2%): 1 seat [0]
Ecology: (0.2%): 1 seat [0]

Following a wave of patriotism after the Falklands Conflict, Margaret Thatcher was able to extend her majority to 143 seats in our world and really push ahead with the dismantlement of manufacturing industry and the selling off of utilities. Of course, having had a minority government or a coalition in this alternate UK she may have not been able to declare war on Argentina in 1982 and a prolonged negotiated settlement over the Falkland Islands would not have gained her the right-wing kudos she benefited from.

The ructions in the Labour Party following the 1979 election had led some MPs to go off and form the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which for the 1983 election formed half of the electoral coalition with the Liberal Party: the Liberal-SDP Alliance. In our world they achieved more seats than the Liberals had done alone, but in this alternate UK they would have just had 14 fewer seats than Labour. This would have marked the return of the strong centre in British politics. 

Under proportional representation even with the 'Falklands Factor' in play, the Conservatives actually would have had to find an additional 15 seats compared to 1979 in order to hold power, being 90 short. The thing is with the divisions of the time the Alliance was unlikely to have worked either with Labour or the Conservatives. Ironically it may have been them who came into power with either the tacit support of one of the other two parties.

 Certainly the Thatcherite agenda, even there had been the war in the Falklands, would have been entirely derailed.  Either the Conservatives would have been kept out by a centrist government or dependent on their support for each policy.  This would have meant nothing extreme. In particular the year long miners' strike, 1984-5, engineered by Thatcher which led to the destruction of the coal industry and damage to civil liberties, would never have occurred. Notice that the NF have slid from.  However, reflecting the rise of the Green movement in the 1980s, there would have been 1 Ecology MP, probably representing somewhere like Oxford where Greens began appearing on the council.

1987: 650 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (42.2%); 276 seats [375]
Labour: (30.8%); 202 seats [229]
Liberal-SDP Alliance: (22.5%): 147 seats [22] - Liberal: (12.8%); 84 seats [17]; SDP: (9.7%); 63 [5]
Scottish Nationalist: (1.3%); 8 seats [3]
Plaid Cymru: (0.4%): 2 seats [3]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.1%) 7 seats [9]
Alliance: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Sinn Fein: (0.3%); 2 seats [1]
SDLP: (0.5%): 3 seats[3]
Green: (0.3%): 2 seats [0]

Rather than the 100 majority that Thatcher managed to attain in 1987, the Conservatives would have continued on the downward slide they had faced since 1979, by now needing to find 102 seats to make a government. Labour showed some improvement mainly at the expense of the SDP. We might have seen a similar result, if the Liberal-SDP Alliance had been in power. With the reduction of the Cold War which came after 1985 they would have come into their own in place of the cold warrior, Thatcher. 

The 1987 election would be characteristic of the three-party politics of 20th century Britain, though with a cowed Labour less able to play a leading role than before. Of course, by 1987 the tension between Labour which was purging its extremists and the centrist bloc may have declined sufficiently to allow them into coalition. Certainly the Conservative Party would be weaker than before and there would have been nothing like the unfair poll tax (so-called Community Charge) introduced in 1989-90. The Green Party would have gained another seat, and as we have seen with small parties before, it may have thus gained in credibility so would have won more seats at the next election than the pure statistics based on our world show.

1992: 651 (Conservative Party)
Conservative: (41.9%); 273 seats [336]
Labour: (34.4%); 224 seats [271]
Liberal Democrat: (17.9%); 116 seats [20]
Liberal: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Scottish Nationalist: (1.95%); 12 seats [3]
Plaid Cymru: (0.5%); 3 seats [4]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.1%); 7 seats [9]
Alliance: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
SDLP: (0.6%); 4 seats [4]
Sinn Fein: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Green: (0.5%); 3 seats [0]
Natural Law (0.2%); 1 seat [0]

The 1992 election was seen as the one which Labour, under Neil Kinnock, lost rather than the Conservatives, since 1991 under John Major, won. Major only achieved a majority of 20 and this deteriorated through the mid-1990s.

In our alternate UK, 1992 is most likely to have seen the return of the old Labour-Liberal alliance to form government. The Liberal Democrat Party had been effectively formed in 1988, though some Liberals and SDP members stayed out. The de facto disappearance of the SDP which had been a breakaway from Labour may have made working together easier. 

Major was a watered-down version of Thatcher still following privatisation of the railways. The weakening of Conservative support, which actually occurred in our world but was not reflected in seats, may have meant the party abandoned Thatcherism.  It may moved towards policies of the kind more common among right-wing parties in Europe. As before, proportional representation may have made bigger changes in Northern Ireland with larger representation of the Catholic voice. Note the Greens' slow increase and the appearance of the party based on transcendental meditation, Natural Law, who fielded 309 candidates at the election, compared to 253 Green and 632 Liberal Democrat candidates.

1997: 659 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (30.8%): 206 seats [165]
Labour (43.2%); 291 seats [418]
Liberal Democrat: (16.8%); 112 seats [46]
Scottish Nationalist: (2%); 13 seats [6]
Plaid Cymru: (0.5%); 3 seats [4]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.1%); 7 seats [10]
SDLP (0.6%); 4 seats [3]
Alliance (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Sinn Fein (0.4%); 2 seats [2]
Referendum Party (2.6%); 17 seats [0]
Green (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
Socialist Labour (0.2%); 1 seat [0]

Rather than the 1997 Labour landslide in which the Labour Party gained more seats than any party in British history and the Conservatives returned to the level they had not seen since 1906 and without any MPs in Scotland or Wales, we would see the continuation of the Labour-Liberal coalition.  The Conservatives would not be much worse off than they had been becoming in the 1980s.

In our world, Tony Blair had talked of the 'big tent' and working with the Liberal Democrats before the 1997 election, clearly fearful of a narrow victory like Major had had in 1992. He also promised proportional representation but all of this was forgotten with such a vast victory. Of course, in the alternate UK where the Labour-Liberal coalition had been the dominant political pattern of the 20th century it would have happened again. 

Interestingly whilst Thatcherism would have been blunted by the decreasing strength of the Conservatives in the 1980s, Blair might have actually been prompted to do more than he actually did when in office. There is little bar the Freedom of Information Act and the Minimum Wage which mark out Labour's period, in sharp contrast to our 1945-51. The Liberal Democrats actually had more of a radical agenda and a greater portion of this would have been passed, if not all of it, given that they would still be the junior partners.

Of course those tired of the Conservatives in this alternative UK may have turned to the Liberal Democrats rather than heading right over to New Labour given how much stronger the Liberal Democrats would be in this world than in ours. 

Note the appearance of the Referendum Party, a right-wing single issue party aimed to pressurise the government to have a referendum on the EU's Maastricht Treaty. In our world it was a failure, in this alternate one it would be the fourth largest party, ahead even of the far longer established Scottish Nationalists. Whilst it may have had minimal impact on the coalition government its presence may have provoked the Conservatives to being more strongly Eurosceptic than some of them were in our world.

2001: 659 (Labour Party)
Conservative: (31.7%); 210 seats [166]
Labour: (40.7%); 270 seats [413]
Liberal Democrats: (18.3%); 121 seats [52]
Scottish Nationalists: (1.8%); 12 seats [5]
Scottish Socialist Party (0.3%): 2 seats [0]
Plaid Cymru: (0.7%); 5 seats [4]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.5%) 9 seats [10]
Sinn Fein: (0.7%); 5 seats [4]
SDLP: (0.6%); 4 seats [3]
UK Independence Party: (1.5%); 10 seats [0]
British National Party: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Green: (0.6%); 4 seats [0]
Socialist Alliance: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Socialist Labour: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Independent: (0.4%); 3 seats [1]

In our world, the 2001 election was seen pretty much as 'no change' and that would predominantly have been the case in the alternate UK. The most notable feature was what the media termed the return to three-party politics with the Liberal Democrats achieving the strength of the Liberals in the 1920s.  Of course in the alternate UK, bar a period in the 1950s, the Liberals would have been far stronger throughout, possibly even coming into government in the mid-1980s. 

Note the appearance of the UK Independence Party in 2001; it had been founded in 1993. This is a more strongly anti-European Union party but if the Referendum Party had won seats in 1997 it may have grown or mutated by 2001. The RP had effectively been run by Sir James Goldsmith its leader and after his death following the 1997 election it may have encountered difficulties. Whether UKIP replaced it or not, we would still have an anti-European pepper group in Parliament especially needling the Conservatives. 

Note also the appearance of the BNP. Like the NF in the 1970s, seats may have given it credibility, but the British public seem uninspired to adopt Fascism to any large extent. Also interesting is the appearance of more left-wing parties in the wake of New Labour's move to the Thatcherite consensus ground. Of course, in our world, there have been tens of left-wing parties on the margins of British politics certainly from the 1960s onwards, but never achieving anything in parliament. This might have been the biggest change in 2001, hidden by first-past-the-post but shown by proportional representation that on the fringes on both ends of the political spectrum people were becoming more radical. The Greens would also double their seats from 1997.

2005: 646 (Labour Party)
Conservative (32.3%); 209 seats [198]
Labour: (35.3%); 228 seats [356]
Liberal Democrat: (22.1%); 143 seats [62]
Scottish Nationalists: (1.5%); 10 seats [6]
Scottish Socialist: (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Plaid Cymru: (0.6%); 4 seats [3]
Ulster Unionists (2 parties): (1.4%); 10 seats [10]
SDLP: (0.5%); 4 seats [3]
Sinn Fein (0.6%); 4 seats [5]
UK Independence Party: (2.2%); 14 seats [0]
BNP: (0.7%); 5 seats [0]
Green: (1%); 7 seats [0]
Respect: (0.3%); 2 seats [1]
Independent: (0.5%); 3 seats [1]

The Labour-Liberal coalition, if they were not heartily sick of each other, would be going still into the 21st century with the Liberals becoming stronger with each election. The coalition could argue legitimately that it represented a majority of voters receiving over 57% of the vote. 

The Conservatives, ironically, would have done far better with proportional representation than they did under our system, not fading away so drastically as they did post-1997 in our world. Hanging on their coat-tails though is the UKIP growing slowly in strength and shaping Conservative policy, no doubt. 

Note the steady advance too of the Greens and of the BNP, suggesting that the mainstream parties are not addressing concerns of a growing number of people on issues around the environment and immigration/a Fascist state. Of course, under proportional representation their growth may have been even faster, as, like with the Liberals, people who supported these parties would not feel they were 'wasting' their vote with no chance of getting an MP. To a lesser extent the dissatisfaction with Labour in particular is shown by the Scottish Socialists clinging on and the Respect Party headed by ex-Labour MP and maverick, George Galloway. His small party would have done a little better under proportional representation.

This posting has taken 3 days to assemble and in that time I have realised that my assumptions about proportional representation were partly wrong. If it had come in from 1918 then the UK is unlikely to have seen a majority government subsequently. However, at some times, notably in the 1920s and 1970s the political scene would have been little different to what the real UK faced. 

In contrast to what is usually argued, however, the British centre ground would have been far stronger with the Liberals, except in the 1950s, being a clear third party for much of the post-1918 period.  They would certainly have been key players in the formation of governments. It seems clear that Britain might have suffered the turbulence of politics, especially in the 1920s and later, that France faced. There in 1958 the political system was overhauled to promote stability and possibly by the 1960s the UK would have seen modification of its system as well. However, ironically, at times of severe crisis, as in the First World War (1914-18), the Depression (1931-40) and the Second World War (1939-45) the UK has been ruled by coalitions and has done not badly out of it. We probably would have seen a centre-left coalition for the bulk of the 20th century and into the 21st century.

If Lloyd George had opted for proportional representation then the Liberal Party would have declined as maybe it was fated to do in the century of class based politics. However, this decline would have been a great deal slower and its revival in the era of prosperity, rather than hot conflict, in the 1960s would have been far quicker. In addition, given the electorate's seemingly almost equally divided loyalty between Labour and the Conservatives the Liberals would have been an essential part of almost every government created in 20th century Britain. There would have been issues around which way they turned and there was no guarantee between the 1920s and the 1970s that they would have been natural allies of Labour. Given that anyway the difference between Labour and the Conservatives on policy was so narrow from the later 1940s right through to the mid-1970s it may have simply come down to personalities.

As for small parties, the key beneficiaries would have been the Scottish National Party who from the 1960s onwards would have had a standing similar to the Liberals in our world. Fascist parties, the BNP and NF would have gained some credibility with a handful of MPs, but it seems that British political culture is not supportive of Fascists. Also, there have been small anti-Fascist parties since the 1970s and these may have gained ground in a way they never did in our world because of seeing the Fascists get seats and also the 'not wasted vote' issue. Similarly, Britain may have seen a Green movement more akin to that of West Germany which may have had an impact on particular social, industrial and environmental policies.

Some of the multiplicity of extreme left-wing parties may have gained ground. The Communists certainly would have had some seats after 1950 and in the 2000s we would have seen radical socialists appearing. All mainstream parties did a solid job of opposing Communism, Labour no less than the Conservatives and the behaviour of the USSR and China in the 1960s and 1970s discredited domestic Communists. In addition the continued fragmentation of the far left would have made it difficult for them to organise sufficiently to gain ground. However, as occurred in West Germany 1966-1969 when the Socialist SPD and Christian Democrat (Conservative) CDU/CSU were in the Grand Coalition there was resentment that everything was all sewn up in the centre and people turned to radical politics and violence as they felt that in such a corporatist system their voices were not heard. Whether the regular Labour-Liberal coalitions and occasional Conservative-Liberal ones would have made people feel similarly is open to speculation.

The biggest difference would have been the shifts in government in 1979 and to a lesser extent in 1945. In 1945 the different sides were far closer together on policy so the appearance of a strong Labour government did not mean huge differences compared to if the Conservatives had returned, especially in terms of the welfare state and foreign policy. In contrast the failure of Thatcher to achieve a strong majority in 1979 and the steady decline of support for the Conservatives through the 1980s would have prevented the extreme economic policies and the harsh social consequences that the UK faced. Consequently the Labour Party that would have evolved without the prick of Thatcherism probably would not have become New Labour, but rather have had more of a Kinnockite flavour.

The position in Northern Ireland would have been different with more Catholic representation at an earlier stage. However, it is doubtful whether this would have reduced the tensions and subsequent violence that occurred from the mid-1960s onwards, right through to the 1990s.

Your overall view of the proportional representation UK probably depends on how you view the big political shifts. Certainly Thatcherite Conservatives feel she did necessary things to the UK, despite the pain, and that the alternative was sustained crisis. The Labourites would mourn the loss of the sweeping changes of Attlee's governments, though I imagine many aspects like the National Health Service would have been created anyway. There would have been no need for New Labour which, as regular readers know, I feel owes little to Labour and more to an authoritarian mindset.

What is certain is that with proportional representation the fact that in general the British public is in three main groupings of similar sizes would have been apparent throughout, rather than seemingly making huge swings in one direction or the other. Looking at the percentages the changes have not been great and have arisen simply because of the distortion of the political system, it is usually a party with a minority of the votes who comes to power because they achieve far more seats. The British electorate is surprisingly stable, but this is not shown by the system we use. Well, I have learnt a lot from this exercise and my views on proportional representation have shifted as a result.