Liberals divide!

On 7 December 1916, the Liberal H.H. Asquith was replaced as Prime Minister by the Liberal David Lloyd George. The change followed mounting disquiet over the conduct of the First World War, and Lloyd George’s demands that a small committee, not including Asquith, should direct the war effort. Lloyd George forced the issue by resigning from the coalition government. Conservative ministers sided with Lloyd George and indicated their willingness to serve in a government led by him.

The resulting split in the Liberal Party persisted until the end of the war and beyond. The party fought the next two general elections, in 1918 and 1922, as two separate groups, and the reunion that finally came, in 1923, was, in Asquith’s words, ‘a fiction, if not a farce’. The divisions were critical: they helped Labour supplant the Liberals as the main opposition to the Conservatives and relegated the Liberal Party to the third-party status it still possesses today.

Was the split between Asquith and Lloyd George caused by their contrasting personalities, or by substantive disagreements over the management of the war? Or did their rivalry reflect deeper divisions between different Liberal traditions? Was Lloyd George what we would today call a social liberal and Asquith an economic liberal?

The Liberal Democrat History Group’s next meeting, on Monday 1 February, will discuss the causes and consequences of the Asquith–Lloyd George rivalry, with speakers David Laws (on Asquith) and Damian Collins MP (on Lloyd George). David Laws will be well known to Liberal Democrat audiences as the party’s MP for Yeovil (2001–15) and a minister in the coalition government. Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone & Hythe and was chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 2016–20. Both speakers contributed chapters to Iain Dale’s new book, The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History (Hodder & Stoughton, 2020). The meeting will be chaired by Wendy Chamberlain, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife.

The meeting will take place at 7.00pm on Monday 1 February, via Zoom. All welcome, but you must register in advance here.

The meeting will follow the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm. All subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History have been sent the AGM papers and are welcome to join us – register via the same link as above, and remain online for the speaker meeting. 

Among other things, the AGM will elect the History Group’s committee for the year 2021–22. We would very much welcome new members, and you can devote as much or as little time to us as you can spare. If you’d like to find out more about what this involves, feel free to email me at [email protected].

And the latest Journal of Liberal History (issue 109, winter 2020–21) has just been published. Contents include:

  • What Honor did next: the pioneering broadcasting career of Liberal candidate and journalist Honor Balfour (1912–2001); by Helen Langley
  • William Ewart Gladstone: the journalist Simon Heffer’s chapter on Gladstone from Iain Dale’s new book, The Prime Ministers
  • Some cornerstones still in place: Tudor Jones looks at the political thought and strategy of the Liberal Party during one of the bleakest periods in its history, 1945–1955
  • What Tory ministers thought of the Liberal Democrat – Conservative coalition of 2010–15: reviews of Ken Clarke’s, David Cameron’s and Oliver Letwin’s autobiographies, by Duncan Brack. Read this to find out what George Osborne explicitly warned Nick Clegg not to do …

And more book reviews and shorter pieces – you can see the full contents at our website, All subscribers should have received their copy in the post last week; if anyone would like to purchase an individual copy, or take out a new subscription, go to


* 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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  • Helen Dudden 24th Jan '21 - 11:42am

    I must admit I’ve learnt something today.
    H. H. Asquith, as he liked to be known bringing in a pension for the over 70’s of good character.
    He was left a widower with 5 children, the serious illnesses that still took lives.
    The problems came with the management of the war effort.
    Who ever was right or wrong in those difficult times, things can’t continue, when agreement on what’s right or wrong, can’t be reached.

  • I look forward to this.

    My only regret is that David Laws, although not a bad match, is probably to the right of the peacetime H.H. Asquith (probably not so much post 1918), and that Damien Collins is even more to the right of the peacetime David Lloyd George.

    LLG would chuckle in his grave if he knew his protagonist was recently criticised for suggesting that, “jobless youths should work for less than the minimum wage and that they should busk to raise money for fares to find work”.

    It would have been interesting to have got that very able Welsh Lawyer, historian and MP Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds to have been LLG’s advocate.

  • John Marriott 25th Jan '21 - 9:02am

    Liberals may divide; but Tories take away!

  • Helen Dudden 25th Jan '21 - 9:12am

    John Marriott and take care of their own.

  • Sounds very interesting. One of many divisions of the Liberal Party – starting with the departure of the Liberal Unionists under Joseph Chamberlain in 1896 and perhaps ending with the continuation of the Liberal Party under Michael Meadowcroft when the rest of the party merged with the SDP as the Liberal Democrats.

  • Derek Anthony Farmer 29th Jan '21 - 10:06pm

    And there was little old me believing that the split in Liberal Party was actually about “the Irish Question”, and those within the party that were against giving Ireland Independence went off and joined the Tories to form the “Conservative Party” at the 1922 Committee. Am i wrong?? i think not.

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