Category Archives: Liberal History

Whodathunkit? Michael Portillo says David Lloyd George is a hero of his

Michael Portillo has bought a brand new red “pixelated” jacket for a new series of “British Railway Journies”, available on BBC iPlayer.

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My Grandad – A tribute to Liberal Party president Lord Evans of Claughton

Growing up, the subject of politics was often on the agenda at family gatherings. However, it was not until I was older that I realised how important and influential my Grandad was within the political arena.

Gruff Evans was brought up in a Welsh-speaking family who resided in Birkenhead on the Wirral. Despite being offered a place at Oxford University, he chose to study law at Liverpool University where he graduated in 1948. After completing National Service as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, he established a solicitor’s practice in Liverpool.

Both Gruff’s parents supported the Liberal Party, however they were notoriously divided as his mother was an ‘Asquithian’ Liberal, while his father was a supporter of Lloyd-George. Gruff upheld this Liberal tradition, and to the surprise of the local Tory party, he successfully gained a seat on Birkenhead County Council in 1957 which he subsequently held for twelve years. He then went on to win a seat on Wirral Borough Council in 1973 and led the Liberal Group from 1977 to 1981. Unfortunately, Gruff was less successful in national politics, failing to win at seat in the House of Commons (see here, pg. 22, for more information).

My Grandfather was prominent in the Liberal Party from the 1950s through to the early 1990s. He worked his way up the party ranks, from Chair of the National League of Young Liberals 1960-61, to Chairman of the party’s National Executive, Assembly Committee, and General Election Committee, to attaining the Presidency of the Liberal Party in 1977. During his time as President, Gruff had to confront the controversy surrounding the former leader Jeremy Thorpe which unintentionally brought him into the media spotlight and he subsequently found himself being a familiar figure in the national news during the week of the Liberal Party annual conference.

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Another glimpse of Liberal history

Martin Thomas and Jo Grimond, 1964

Once upon a time, just about when Vince was leaving school, the then Liberal prospective candidate for West Flint, Maldwyn Thomas, (later Sir Maldwyn), resigned to go into business only six weeks before the 1964 general election. So much had been spent in promoting “M Thomas”, that it seemed a good idea to the local executive to ask me to step into his shoes.

Last week, Rhys Lewis who had pushed out leaflets for me as a boy, contacted me out of the blue after 53 years, and caused me to turn up my mum’s scrapbook where she had pasted the cuttings of my adoption speech from the Rhyl Journal. It was the 4th September 1964. I was 27, married with a six week old daughter.

We had a hereditary peer as Prime Minister. My Tory opponent, Nigel Birch, told me how much he detested visiting old people’s homes: “I have a sensitive nose, you see”, he said. The telly was black and white and a third channel, BBC 2, had started up only months before. Homosexual conduct was a crime – all our hearts were young and gay. England had yet to win the World Cup.

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A bit of Lib Dem history

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The sad passing of Jim Davidson recently brings back memories, as I write this here in Aboyne in  the heart of his former constituency.

“We can’t have another Welshman as leader of the Liberal Party” said Jo Grimond. When Jo resigned as leader in 1967, there were two contestants to replace him: Emlyn Hooson and Jeremy Thorpe. The electorate was the Parliamentary Party of twelve Liberal MPs. Initially, Hooson had the support of  six of them which, if he voted for himself, would make him the clear winner.

Jo took aside Jim Davidson, the pleasant and talented recently elected Member for Aberdeenshire West, who was a Hooson supporter. Jo’s wife Laura had not forgiven the Welsh wizard, David Lloyd George, for supplanting her grandfather, Herbert Asquith, as Prime Minister in 1916 and splitting the Party.  Another Welshman as Leader was unthinkable. Jim succumbed to Jo’s pressure and with misgivings, as a memoir of Jo and Laura revealed in 2000, promised his vote for Thorpe.

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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.

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