Category Archives: Liberal History

Professor John Curtice: Revoke policy did not hurt Lib Dem popularity in election campaign

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The latest excellent edition of the Journal of Liberal History deserves this extra plug.

Professor John Curtice’s nine page study of the Liberal Democrat performance in the 2019 general election is a must-read.

You can subscribe to the Journal of Liberal History here.

As one might expect, it is thoroughly based on comprehensive psephological data and the article has a long list of bibliographical references.

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Mr Jones – a film about a Liberal fighting for liberal values in 1930s Soviet Union


If you were told about a researcher for Lloyd George, who had links with George Orwell, who became a journalist and flew with Hitler and then discovered a famine in Ukraine, which Stalin wish to keep secret, you would have believed it was the plot for a film. It is, but it is also based on fact.

The film “Mr Jones” is on General Release from 7th February. It shows how a young Welshman (and a Liberal), Gareth Jones, who had worked for Lloyd George, in 1933 gained a visa to visit Moscow to seek to obtain an interview with Stalin for an explanation of his five-year plan. Whilst, as a journalist, he was officially confined to Moscow, he evaded Soviet security to travel to Hughesovka (Donetsk) and discovered the Holodomor; the deliberate starvation of between five and 10 million Ukrainians by the Soviet regime. On leaving the Soviet Union, he seeks to expose the truth in a story taken up by many newspapers, including the Guardian and the New York Evening Post.

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How a Liberal pamphlet from 1980 led to the collapse of the British political system

Original cover artwork from “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics”

Over on Medium.com, Councillor Nick Barlow has written a remarkably astute retrospective on the 1980 pamphlet “The Theory And Practice of Community Politics” written by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman and published by the Association of Liberal Councillors (now the ALDC).

Nick’s narrative takes us from the ideologically based idea of Community Politics in the 1970s and how it morphed into the quite different concept of Customer Service Politics, which dominates our civic arena today:

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New Journal of Liberal History just published

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The winter issue of the Journal of Liberal History has just been published. Its contents include:

‘Gambling on Brexit: the Liberal Democrat performance in the 2019 general election’ by Professor John Curtice, who has written election analyses for the Journal consistently since 2001. It won’t surprise readers of Lib Dem Voice that he concludes that the party’s decision to back an early general election was a gamble that failed spectacularly, and that the party’s campaign itself ‘proved ineffective at communicating to voters anything …

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Whatever happened to the class of 2015? (1)


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I suppose that it is very easy to get into the mindset that politics is everything in life. But it turns out that there is life outside of Westminster.

I read the other day that former Labour Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, is training to become a gym instructor.

That started me thinking about what had happened to our vast number of MPs from before the election in 2015.

Stephen Gilbert, former MP for St Austell and Newquay, for example. Whatever happened to him after he posted a “Gone Surfing” post-it note on his Twitter account in 2015? Well, it turns out he’s a teacher.

I then thought I’d better find about some of the others and, before I knew it, I was launching a vast spreadsheet and had started a huge task.

Anyway, here is the first part of my researches, starting in alphabetical order. If you spot any omissions or errors, please let me know in the comments below:

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The 2019 European Election and Liberal History

Everyone knows the 2019 European election result in the UK was remarkable – but do you realise quite how much? 

It was the best Euro election result for the Liberal Democrats or their predecessor parties ever. 

This is true in terms both of seats (16) and votes (20.3 per cent). The party’s previous best seat performance was 12 in 2004, though the UK then had 78 seats in the European Parliament, rather than its current 73. Our previous best vote performance was right back in 1984, when the Liberal-SDP Alliance scored 18.5 per cent. That was in the days before PR, when the country was divided up into giant Euro-constituencies fought on first past the post; the Alliance won none of them. Post-merger, the best Liberal Democrat performance was 16.1 per cent, in 1994.

The Liberal Democrat performance looks even better when compared to the other main parties, outpolling both Labour and the Conservatives by large margins. This has never happened before. 

The last time the Liberal Party won more votes than Labour in a nationwide election (i.e. a general or Euro election) was in 1918 (by 25.6 per cent to 20.8 per cent), though only if you combine the votes of the two factions the Liberal Party was then split into, led by Lloyd George and Asquith. And in that election the Labour Party fought only just over half the seats, and the two Liberal factions about two-thirds, making comparisons tricky. The Labour Party, on 14.1 per cent this year, has never scored even remotely this badly since it started contesting all UK seats; its previous low point was 27.6 per cent, in 1983.

The last time the Liberals beat the Conservatives in a nationwide election was 1906, the year of the great Liberal landslide: 48.9 per cent and 397 seats for the Liberals to 43.4 per cent and 156 seats for the Unionists (as Conservatives were known then). The Conservative performance this time, a mere 9.1 per cent, is staggeringly bad; the party’s previous low was three times as much, 29.2 per cent in 1832 (though throughout the nineteenth century many seats went uncontested, and MPs’ allegiances were often fluid, making calculations difficult), or, in the modern era, 30.7 per cent in 1997.

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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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