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 much beyond the party’s stance on Brexit. The party’s domestic policy programme was not so much unpopular as largely unknown.’

It may raise a few more eyebrows to hear that he thinks that the party’s stance on stopping Brexit did not cost it too many votes: ‘When the election was called, 56 per cent of Remain voters said the Liberal Democrats’ stance of stopping Brexit without a referendum made it more likely that they would vote for the party, whereas just 14 per cent stated that it made them less likely to do so’. And he also concludes that while the party did well in attracting Conservative Remainers in the south of England’, ‘there is little sign that the Liberal Democrats derived much advantage from tactical voting’.

Liberal Democrat leadership performance. Our regular comparative table updated to include Jo Swinson’s short period of leadership. Data includes the leader’s personal ratings (highest and lowest), the party’s ratings (highest and lowest), best and worst election outcomes, and numbers of MPs, MEPs, councillors and party members at the beginning and the end of their term of office. Jo may not have held the post for long, but she did succeed in boosting the party’s membership to record levels.

The ‘Mangold’s Champion’. Stephen Ridgwell tells the story of Lloyd George, the Game Laws and the campaign for rural land reform in Edwardian England – a crucial part of building the Liberal appeal for the election scheduled to take place in 1915. The article opens with a speech at the Oxford Union in November 1913: ‘upon arrival at the union building, the car in which Lloyd George was travelling was pelted with mangold wurzels and a dead pheasant was thrown at his head’. This unconventional welcome was followed by the inclusion of Welsh Rarebit and Pheasants à la Mangel Wurzel on the pre-debate dinner menu.

Birmingham, the ‘Caucus’ and the 1868 general election. Ian Cawood examines one of the consequences of the Second Reform Act, the decision to limit voters in cities to fewer votes than the number of MPs elected across the city. For the 1868 election Birmingham (and several other cities) was allocated three MPs, to be elected in a single multi-member constituency. Voters were limited to two votes each in an effort to prevent the largest party in the city winning all three seats – but it occurred to Joseph Chamberlain and the Birmingham Liberals that if they distributed Liberal voters efficiently between their three candidates they could win all of them. Thus was formed the Liberal ‘caucus’ – which not only succeeded in winning all three seats but had a major impact on the development of party organisation in the nineteenth century.

The Journal also includes a report of our fringe meeting at the autumn conference, on the Liberal Party, health policy and the origins of the NHS, and several book reviews and other items. Subscribers should have already received their copy (or it’ll be arriving soon); anyone else can purchase it via our website ( And if you take out an annual subscription, either online or in person (£25, or £15 unwaged), you’ll get this issue and three further issues.

Finally, we’re also advertising our next speaker meeting, on the 1979 General Election. Lord David Steel, Baroness Shirley Williams and Professor Sir John Curtice will discuss the 1979 general election and its significance for British politics in general and the Liberal Party in particular. All are welcome, whether or not you subscribe to the Journal of Liberal History. It’s taking place at 7.00pm on Monday 3 February in National Liberal Club in London, following the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm. See here for more details.

* 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.


  • The LIberal History Group is something of a hidden gem within the Lib Dem

  • Doug Chisholm 26th Jan '20 - 9:52am

    Disagree profoundly with the assertion that revoke 50 only cost us a few votes. First of all our poll ratings went south after this policy was announced. Secondly it had a huge opportunity cost alienating all leave voters. Thirdly it became a huge distraction. Although I admire Curtis I would remind readers that his exact predictions of the Scottish result was way wrong, because his ample size was too small and their are say 10 seats that are outliers due to local factors and massive tactical voting.

  • Worth pointing out surely that pro-Brexit parties gained 48% of votes cast, so there is no mandate for Brexit, just as the 17m that votes to leave represented about 1/3 of eligible adults. To build on this, the remain/PV parties didn’t work together, as Farage and the Tories clearly did, and remain completely lost the narrative wars – poor Boris couldn’t get the ‘peoples’ Brexit through parliament’ – he did! The Beeb and the RW toadies finding endless interview fodder with northern folk voting Tory for the first time, remainers who now felt honour bound to get the referendum result done – there was actually no remain response to thos twaddle, and no media space for the truth anyway.

    Looking for some consolation today my neighbours and I can’t even find a social media group for those who want a ruthless and never ceasing critique of Brexit until we go back in. Anyone able to help?

  • Peter Martin 26th Jan '20 - 12:39pm

    “It may raise a few more eyebrows to hear that {Prof John Curtice} thinks that the party’s stance on stopping Brexit did not cost it too many votes…”

    He’s probably right. “Stopping Brexit” didn’t just mean the option of revoking Article 50. The alternative Labour policy of having another referendum with the choice of an unacceptable-to-leavers “Leave Deal” was also about “stopping Brexit”. The voters knew this. Remainers, therefore, didn’t much mind either way.

    John Curtice isn’t saying that your Brexit policy generally didn’t cost votes. Why would any Leaver want to vote Lib Dem? They might have done that previously – especially when the Lib Dems were offering the electorate a meaningful direct vote. However, you lost most of your leave support long before Jo Swinson became leader. She can’t be blamed for everything!

  • Peter Hirst 26th Jan '20 - 1:00pm

    Just because revoking did not win votes, does not necessarily mean it was a bad policy. It might have cemented our core vote. It was ridiculed at least by the part of the media that I watch. It is obviously tempting for them to ridicule us and we must factor this into future strategy/policy considerations.

  • Peter Watson 26th Jan '20 - 4:33pm

    @Johnmc “Worth pointing out surely that pro-Brexit parties gained 48% of votes cast, so there is no mandate for Brexit”
    Though before the election Lib Dems did state pretty unambiguously, “A vote for Labour is a vote for Brexit”. That was wrong, but it looks hypocritical to count them as votes for Remain now.
    Though before the election Lib Dems did state pretty unambiguously that winning a majority of seats, even with a minority of votes, would be a mandate to cancel Brexit, so it looks hypocritical to deny that Johnson has the same mandate for his Brexit.
    It’s not hindsight; this was all pointed out weeks before the election.

  • David Evans 26th Jan '20 - 6:09pm

    I’m curious how John Curtice can think that “the party’s stance on stopping Brexit did not cost it too many votes: ‘When the election was called, 56 per cent of Remain voters said the Liberal Democrats’ stance of stopping Brexit without a referendum made it more likely that they would vote for the party, whereas just 14 per cent stated that it made them less likely to do so’.

    Ignoring the detailed question “How many are too many?” but which to me is 150 votes if they were in East Dunbartonshire, real votes on a real election day is the only valid test. In May’s elections our vote was 3.4 million – 19.6%. In December it was just under 3.7 million up just 300k, but collapsed in percentage terms to only 11.6%

    In 2016 the Remain was 16.1 million. In 2019 we got just 22% of them at most. So where did the rest of Mr Curtice’s 56% go? Sadly not to us.

    Maybe the polls John Curtice relied on did make some Remain voters think they were more likely to vote for us for a short time, but it had all collapsed by 12th December.

    A more valid conclusion would have been “Based on polling at the start of the campaign, it appeared that the party’s stance on stopping Brexit would not cost it votes and probably gain it some vote share. By election day, any such hope had more than vanished.”

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