350 years of Liberal history in 32 pages

If you want to read a short summary of the last 350 years of Liberal politics in Britain, the Liberal Democrat History Group has just the thing for you – a new edition of our booklet Liberal History: A Concise History of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats.

This is designed as a comprehensive but relatively short (about 10,000 words) summary of Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat history for readers wanting more detail than they can find on the party website, but less than a full book. We produced the booklet originally in 2005, and we’ve revised it twice since; this edition is up to date as of summer 2016.

We’ve also extended it back to the earliest stirrings of Liberal thought, in the civil wars of the seventeenth century, and added more detail on the period before the formation of the Liberal Party in 1859 (we thought viewers of ITV’s Victoria might want to find out a little more about what Melbourne was doing when he wasn’t flirting with the Queen …). We’ve also added more on Liberal thought alongside election outcomes and records of legislation. And there are more pictures!

historySo if you want to know more about the Exclusion Crisis, the origins of the term ‘Whig’, the uses of bribery in the eighteenth century, the Anti-Corn Law League, who the Peelites were and why they mattered, ‘peace, retrenchment and reform’, On Liberty, the Newcastle Programme, the first pact with Labour (not the one in the 1970s), the ‘People’s Budget’, the way in which the other parties ganged up on the Liberals in the 1920s, the ‘Yellow Book’, the most intellectually distinguished manifesto ever put before British voters, how many times the Liberal Party split between the wars, the ‘temporary chair’ of the Liberal MPs who became the party’s leader, ‘Orpington Man’, the counter-culture, pavement politics, the Gang of Four, the Euro-bomb, the ‘Project’, the Orange Book and Reinventing the State, Cleggmania and the worst election defeat suffered by any British party ever, read on: it’s all here.

Liberal History can be bought for only £3 a copy (£2.50 for subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History) from our website. As a special introductory offer, postage and packing is free until the end of October. The booklet also makes an ideal gift for new party members, and we can offer discounted prices for bulk orders (40 or more copies) – a couple of local parties have already bought large numbers to give to their new members. If you’re interested in a bulk order, please contact me at [email protected].

* Duncan Brack is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and chaired the FPC’s working group that wrote Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe.

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This entry was posted in Liberal History.


  • paul barker 28th Sep '16 - 3:36pm

    I note that Howard Dean, a senior Democrat Politician has said ” There is an increasing possibility that Liberal Democrats could form the next UK Government”.
    Looking at our recent performance in Local Byelections I think he is right, we are seeing a situation like the early 1920s, when a small Labour Party replaced a much larger Liberal Party that had lost its way & was riven with splits. History may not repeat but it does “Rhyme.”

  • Sounds a good read, although am not sure why we would include the sdp in a history of liberalism. You might include them as a bit of a footnote in a history of British centrist politics, albeit in a postwar context, or as a fairly large chapter in a history of the right of the labour movement.
    Am not being mean here, I regard liberalism as an elegant, humane and hopeful philosophy, free from sectional interest. I don’t see social democracy in that context.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Sep '16 - 6:00pm


    Your comments are based on a view you should expand on ,and explain your reasons re: social democracy but your stance is misplaced,without you intending it, as many , not me, but others, come from the SDP but are Liberals , just as I realised I was a Liberal when I was a youth in Labour !

  • Duncan Brack 29th Sep '16 - 7:19pm

    Jean – I’m sorry about the problem you’ve been having. I’ve tried to replicate the issue, and I can’t – it works OK even with ‘password’ as a password! Are you pressing ‘return’ after you’ve entered your password? That should work. Email me (address at end of article) if you’re still experiencing problems.

    johnm – the SDP fought elections with the Liberal Party on a common platform and with common candidates, and then merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. Whatever you think of the relationship between social democracy (in the context of the SDP) and liberalism, a history of Liberal politics cannot possibly ignore the SDP, or relegate it to a footnote.

    The term ‘social democrat’ has meant a very wide range of different things over the last 150 years or so; in the early part of the 20th century, many people who thought of themselves as social democrats were also members or supporters of the Liberal Party. At the same time the organisation called the Social Democratic Federation were Marxists. For a longer discussion of this all, see our booklet ‘Liberalism: The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats’, available at http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/product/liberalism-the-ideas-that-built-the-liberal-democrats/.

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