Tag Archives: history

Remembering Peterloo and the struggle for liberal democracy

Liberalism has a long and complex history. Sometimes that history has been bloody. This weekend there is a range of events happening in Manchester to mark the 200 year anniversary of one such episode in liberal history, the Peterloo massacre. This was when a large gathering of tens of thousands of people calling for political reform in St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819 was forcibly charged by soldiers on horseback. This resulted in 18 people being killed and hundreds being injured. The name of the massacre aimed to mock the British victory at Waterloo that had happened four years earlier.

Peterloo is an important reminder that we cannot take liberalism and democracy for granted. Our modern political rights and freedoms had to be fought for and even at times face authorities prepared to use lethal force in order to suppress democratic sentiments. 200 years on, liberal democracy is still a luxury that many countries and parts of the world do not have. From China to Syria, from Russia to Zimbabwe and from Saudi Arabia to North Korea, activists the world over are to this day struggling, fighting and even dying for the political rights and freedoms that we have in Britain in 2019.

Peterloo is important for liberals, but it is also important to socialists and progressives of all kinds. We liberals must be unafraid to defend our history. We must not abandon radical moments of British liberal history to socialists and extreme leftists. The political philosophy of the radical liberal thinker, Thomas Paine, helped to inspire the protesters at Peterloo. Peterloo was about liberty, freedom from oppression and people’s political rights. In short, it was about political reform. All of these things form the core tenets of liberalism. 

In 1819, only 2% of the population could vote (mostly the landed gentry) and working people in cities like Manchester lived in industrial levels of poverty and squalor. Both of these issues would be remedied by Liberals over the century that followed. The Great Reform Act of the Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey in 1832 swept away the Tory rotten boroughs. William Gladstone gave the vote to millions of agricultural workers in 1885 and under the government of David Lloyd George in 1918, universal male suffrage was achieved, as well as the first voting rights for women. In regard to the industrial poverty, Liberals helped to abolish the dreaded protectionist Corn Laws, advanced the rights of workers (including legalising trade unions and legitimising collective bargaining) and created the welfare state.

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From the Vault: The Thatcher years: My shame

It’s 40 years today since Margaret Thatcher walked into Downing Street as Prime Minister.

There was an 11 year old girl in Inverness who was really excited by this – especially by the notion that a woman could become Prime Minister was a very powerful one.

Ten years ago, for the 30th anniversary, I wrote this post describing my shame. I suppose, in my defence, I have spent most of my time since fighting the forces of small state, selfish conservatism.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but thirty years ago tonight, I, a fairly innocent 11 year old, went to bed and prayed for Mrs Thatcher to win the 1979 election.

I really didn’t understand much about politics then – the geekery and obsession didn’t take hold until about a year and a half later, when I had had enough time to rue my earlier enthusiasm. I did know that I wasn’t keen on Labour – there seemed to be nothing but strikes, and my dad hadn’t had a properly stable job for a good couple of years. My parents and Grandma were all enthusiastic Tories and it seemed that life would get better with a new Government.

I quite liked the Liberal Party. The MP for Inverness, Russell Johnston, seemed to me to be a good man and the fact that a primary school child like me knew who he was was quite positive. He was also in favour of home rule for Scotland, which I always thought was a good thing. However, my staunch Catholic grandfather had told me time and time again, from the moment David Steel became Liberal leader, that he didn’t want babies to be born, so he had the same appeal for me as the Daleks. I literally would watch him on tv from behind a cushion. When I grew up and understood the issues involved, he became a lot less scary, but I actually thought he would pass a law forbidding people to have babies. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but in my defence, I had heard that in China you were only allowed to have one child, and I was only 11.

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Change UK peacocking threatens to let jingoists and the far right run amok

As a lifelong active member of the Dutch party “Democrats 66” (D66), I know how difficult constitutional, structural and cultural improvements of state (and European) democracy can be. My party had both improving national democracy (example: direct election of the prime minister who would lead the formation of the post-election coalition government) and direct European elections in its 1966 founding manifesto,

As anybody consulting Wikipedia can read, D66 was founded by a coalition of both members of existing parties (including an orthodox Marxist one) and unaffiliated, new citizens who’d become concerned that Dutch politics was stagnating and becoming oligarchic. (From 1963 until 1967, there were three different coalition governments on the basis of the 1963 general election results).

So, I can sympathise with the pride of Chuka Umunna over assembling a similar British party (wanting to renew the existing party democracy, solidly pro-EU feeling; assembled from active party members and concerned unaffiliated citizens) in Change UK.

We entered the Dutch parliament in 1967 with a spectacular 7 seats (of 150) thanks to proportional voting, but struggled to be heard for years.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part two

Conservative Party logo
Part 2: from the 1940’s generational change to the growing hostility to Europe
Reading Alan Clark’s history of the Tories 1922-1997 (Phoenix/Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), and Alan Sked and Chris Cooks “Post-War Britain” (Penguin, London, 4th. ed., 1993), you see how in 1940-51, while party leader Churchill was concentrating on foreign affairs (winning a war until ’45, then uniting Europe in his “interlocking circles”: Europe, the Commonwealth, and NATO), the other parts of the Tory party reacted to more domestic modernising trends and proposals. (See about Churchill’s priorities: Clark, Tories, p. 321-22; Sked & Cook, Post-War, p. 77-78).

Alongside the “Post-War Problems Central Committee” (PWPCC) formed at Tory party HQ in 1941 under Education Secretary “Rab” Butler, there emerged a progressive “Tory Reform Group” (TRG) of “Young Turks”. Clark says Food minister Lord Woolton (Tory from 1945) was the only Cabinet minister caring about “Post-War Problems”.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part one

Conservative Party logoPart 1: From the 2019 Constituency Revolt to the 1846 Corn Law Split, and back

In its April 22th coverage of the Tory Constituency Party leaders’ revolt in demanding an “Extraordinary General Meeting” to shake May’s throne, the BBC inserted the link to its article from August 2018 about how, between the Chequers Cabinet Brexit Agreement and May’s disastrous Tory 2018 Autumn Conference, a Hard Brexit revolt started brewing in the Tory grassroots.

That 2018 article, by BBC researcher Georgia Roberts, referred to the Tory party Conference revolt of 1950, right after the general election that slashed Labours massive majority, when the Tory grassroots “educated the platform” by pushing through the “build 300.000 houses a year”-target for its 1951 election manifesto (whereas the Tory front bench had reacted to Attlee’s nationalization drive by retreating from state direction). That promise turned out to be extremely popular, election-winning (for Churchill, and later Macmillan), and long remembered. Previewing the 2018 Tory Autumn Conference, Roberts wonders if it will see a similar “educating” Brexiteer uprising; it halfway did.

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Parliamentary psychodrama, knife edge votes, dependent on Northern Irish Unionist votes…

Sound familiar.

I’m not describing the current tense parliamentary situation.

Forty years ago tonight, at 10pm, a vote of no confidence in Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government was called.

It was always going to be a knife edge.

This evening, BBC Parliament broadcast a programme, A Parliamentary Coup, describing the events surrounding that vote, the referendum which led to it (the Scottish devolution referendum) and the very human stories behind it.

One particular story brought to mind the dishonourable breaking of Jo Swinson’s pair by Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis. It was an opportunistic breaking of an agreement.

Compare and contrast with a conversation between the Labour and Conservative whips Walter Harrison and Bernard Wetherill, who would later become Commons Speaker.

They had a gentleman’s agreement that they would always pair sick MPs. On this occasion, Wetherill said that he couldn’t offer a pair for the gravely ill Labour MP Doc Broughton, but to honour the agreement, he wouldn’t vote himself. Harrison wouldn’t let him take that career-ending step.

I hope that the programme will appear on iPlayer soon. 

David Steel was the Liberal Leader at that time. You can read his whole speech in which he explained why he would be voting against the Government here.

In doing so he made the case for fixed term Parliaments, which were, of course, introduced the the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government.

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1906 General Election: The zenith of liberalism

As we approach Brexit day, whenever it finally occurs, it is important to remember the struggles and victories that have defined the political liberalism that is at the core of the modern movement in Britain. One such famous example is the landslide victory for the Liberal party in 1906. 

If 1951 was the nadir of our history, then 1906 was surely one of the many high points. The creed which we might call ‘Gladstonian Liberalism’ was at its intellectual apogee, but the new ideas of social liberalism and equality were also beginning to flourish and resonate with the populace, with the rise of the new trade unions and the Labour Party forwarding the cause of worker’s rights and the voice for the less well-off in society. These new ideals were often supported by the Liberal Party, with Henry Campbell-Bannerman saying in 1903 that ‘we are kindly in sympathy with the representatives of Labour.’ 

This new political environment was changing Britain from the Victorian era into the 20th Century, although later moves on the continent would of course lead to disaster. In 1906, Campbell-Bannerman had only been Prime Minister for a month and a half having replaced Arthur Balfour, and consolidated his position as a reformer, with his controversial stand on the Boer War at the turn of the century. 

Balfour had resigned in the hope of seeing the Liberals split as his party had done so, but no such divisions were seen, and the widespread unpopularity of the Conservatives was echoed in the election result. Campbell Bannerman started the campaign with the following speech at The Royal Albert Hall:

Depend upon it that in fighting for our open ports and for the cheap food and material upon which the welfare of the people and the prosperity of our commerce depend we are fighting against those powers, privileges, injustices, and monopolies which are unalterably opposed to the triumph of democratic principles.

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Caroline Pidgeon calls for Blue Plaque recognition for 100 women

You know these blue plaques you find on houses recognising former inhabitants of historical significance?

It will probably not surprise you to realise that only 14% of them in the country’s capital city remember women.

Lib Dem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has long campaigned to change that. She’s welcomed London Assembly members’ support and  call for people to nominate 100 women to be commemorated in this way.

As part of this centenary year, the London Assembly is seeking to submit 100 nominations of women worthy of a Blue Plaque.

Caroline Pidgeon has long supported ensuring more women are recognised for their record, and three years ago highlighted that incredibly the suffragette Emily Davison was not even recognised by a Blue Plaque.

It is great news that her fellow London Assembly Members are now backing an issue Caroline has long championed.

Caroline and the London Assembly thinks that the criteria being used by English Heritage when considering submission are totally unfit for a modern London.

English Heritage incredibly refuse to consider a Blue Plaque if the original house no longer exists.   Yet Emily Davison’s home no longer exist due to a V2 rocket demolishing the property she lived in. Many other properties across London were also destroyed during the Second World War.

English Heritage seem to think that remembering properties is far more important than people.

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So it looks like there might be a Tory leadership contest after all…..

The rumours have been circulating all evening, but if Kuenssberg and Peston are now saying it, there has to be some plausibility to the story:

Our Layla got a bit over-excited:

How very unlike the Conservative Party to embroil itself in its own self-indulgent civil war at a time of national crisis.

Of course, even if the ERG has managed to get itself sufficiently together to submit the letters and settle on a chosen candidate, maybe even one who has had a haircut recently, getting the letters in is only the first part of the job. They then have to persuade a majority of their Tory colleagues to back them to force a leadership contest. Apparently there was a huge amount of cheering coming from their meeting last night, and we can probably assume that it wasn’t because they were happy that Joe Sugg had got to the final of Strictly.

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The invisible women

Women have always played a significant role in the life of our villages, towns and cities. The shame is, that their role is largely forgotten and consigned to history.

As a Liverpool councillor, I had the opportunity to redress the balance a little and give ordinary women, who had made a real difference, both a face and a place in our lives.

In Liverpool, the Blitz Memorial Statue depicted a woman and a child. It was based on the true story of a survivor of the Durning Road shelter bombing in the Blitz. Women worked in munitions factories, as nurses, taking the place of men who were called up for service. They kept going when bombs dropped around them and often, as in the case of this survivor, when war robbed them of their children.

Kitty Wilkinson was a woman who landed as a child on the Liverpool shoreline. Her story was passed down from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. She was a working class women whose ideas changed her world, and ours.

Kitty believed that cleanliness was essential to being healthy. During the great cholera epidemic that killed thousands in the city, not one person in her street died. Kitty allowed them to use her copper to keep bedding and clothing clean.

Doctors thought she was mad, but then some realised what was happening. That she was right. Eventually they supported her and Liverpool Corporation, as it then was, built public launderies and provided clean water. Even Queen Victoria knew of her and sent her a silver tea service.

She saved thousands of lives and affected public health and medicine across the globe. But, as a lowly working class woman, didn’t deserve a piece of commemorative art.

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Peterloo: The Manchester Massacre

On 2nd November Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” goes on general release following its premiere today in Manchester – a first outside London. Maxine Peake, a Corbyn fan, describes it as an ensemble piece. There are no leads amongst more than 100 actors.

Liberals, especially those in the north familiar with Labour’s authoritarian underbelly, should claim the Manchester Massacre of 1819 as part of our heritage, part of the slow march to universal suffrage. I spoke about it as I wound up a Lib Dem debate on Yorkshire Devolution in Bradford Council Chamber this week I said:

This year 2018 we have marked the centenary of votes for women.

Events from 200 and 100 years ago remind us that the extension of democracy , was achieved through persistent campaigning and a long, long struggle. It did not come through spontaneous generosity on the part of governments. People demanded it and kept on demanding, and some even died for the cause.

On the Lib Dem benches we do not see devolution as simply about moving money around, whether it be through combined authority, city region or, God help us, an elected regional mayor. Power to the people, power to Yorkshire, is about the extension and enhancement of our democracy. We should demand it, we should campaign for it and we see little virtue in a celebrity based substitute for the full monty of regional devolution.

On 16th August 1819 people converged on Manchester’s St Peter’s Field from various parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The military commander for “the Northern District,” who should have been in charge of crowd control, decided that he had a pressing engagement at York Races.

People practised marching in step as a way of maintaining discipline but this was reported by Government spies to the Home Secretary as a threat to public order. On the road to Manchester many Methodist favourite hymns were sung as well as campaign songs set to hymn tunes. Many were unfamiliar with public demonstrations and as ever the avoidance of violence was crucial to getting the message across.

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Review: Turning Point: Unscripted Reflections by Steve Richards – The formation of the SDP

Thanks to my friend Neil for drawing this one to my attention. Steve Richards has done a series of reflections on the big turning points in our politics over the last 40 years, from the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister to the 2017 election.

The second in the series concerns the formation of the SDP, when 4 former Labour Cabinet ministers left Labour over that party’s adoption of an anti European, pro nuclear disarmament platform along with internal reforms that gave more power to members and trade unions.

Richards makes the important point that if you are going to form a new party, you can’t just be against stuff. You have to have an agenda. He points out that the SDP had a definite left of centre vision that involved redistribution of wealth, high public spending  and definitely internationalist.

He observed that the party got masses of media coverage because they had credibility as well as novelty.

David Steel’s role in encouraging the formation of a new party rather than just having Labour people joining the Liberals was also highlighted as an early positive.

Richards says despite all of this, there were “impossible hurdles” for the party to overcome.

First of all, the Labour Party was never going to disappear. They were too well resourced.

Secondly, they didn’t attract those on the left of the Conservatives.

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New from the Liberal Democrat History Group

As well as publishing the quarterly Journal of Liberal History (which features one of the esteemed editors of Lib Dem Voice on its Editorial Board), the Liberal Democrat History Group also publishes a range of books and short booklets on aspects of Liberal history.

New out, just in time for Bournemouth conference, is the second edition of Mothers of Liberty: Women Who Built British Liberalism. This booklet contains the stories of the women who shaped British Liberalism – including Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Taylor Mill, the suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first woman Liberal MP Margaret Wintringham, Violet Bonham Carter, Megan Lloyd George, Nancy Seear, Shirley Williams and many more. This second edition updates some of the entries, adds two entirely new ones and a table of all Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat women elected as MPs, and includes a foreword by Jo Swinson MP.

We have also published a new edition of our popular Liberal History: A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats. This has been revised and updated to include the 2015 and 2017 elections and their aftermath, including the election of Vince Cable as leader.

Starting with the earliest stirrings of Liberal thought during the civil wars of the seventeenth century, the booklet takes the reader through the coming together of Whigs, radicals and free-trade Peelites in 1859 to form the Liberal Party; the ascendancy of the Victorian Liberals under Gladstone; the New Liberalism of Asquith and Lloyd George and the party’s landslide election victory in 1906; dissension and eclipse; the long decades of decline until nadir in the 1950s; successive waves of Liberal revival under Grimond, Thorpe and Steel; the alliance with the SDP and merger in 1988; and the roller-coaster ride of the Liberal Democrats, from near-obliteration in 1989 to entry into government in 2010 to electoral disaster in 2015 and, now, the path to recovery.

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A belter of a TV programme on the family history of Noel Clarke

Embed from Getty Images

Back in August, I waxed lyrically about the history which is reflected regularly in the BBC programme “Who do you think you are?”. I feel compelled to return to the subject, given the sheer awesomeness of the last episode in the current run of this BBC series.

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The Philosophy of Henry George

Liberal economic philosophy has its roots in land reform and economic justice. John Locke said that “God gave the world in common to all mankind….” Thomas Paine stated that “men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.”

John Stuart Mill wrote: “When the ‘sacredness’ of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.” Mill also wrote: “The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold title.”

In a free market capitalist economy markets allocate resources through the price mechanism. An increase in demand raises price and businesses produce more goods or services, but they cannot produce more land.  The quantity of products consumed by people depends on their income, but rising income translates to increased land rents when supply is static.

John Maynard Keynes challenged the idea that free markets would automatically provide full employment. He instead argued that aggregate demand determined the overall level of economic activity and that inadequate aggregate demand could lead to prolonged periods of high unemployment. Keynes advocated the use of fiscal and monetary policies to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions and depressions.

William Beveridge set out the framework for the modern welfare state to tackle poverty, health, housing, education and unemployment.  Following the principles of Keynes, the post-war government took control of key industries. Under this managed economy tax money could be used to keep an industry afloat, even if it faced economic difficulties and maintain full-employment.

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Our Liberal “Internationalism”, born in a period of party fragmentation, is now our uniting and unique selling point

When you consult books about Liberal and Liberal Democrat party history about the birth of our “Internationalism”, European “Federalism” and our thesis that stand-alone nationstates (and “narrow nationalism”) become more and more obsolete, you discover a surprising fact.

According to Michael Steed’s chapter “Liberal Tradition” in Don MacIver’s bundle “The Liberal Democrats” (from 1996), it was in the comprehensive policy survey “The Liberal Way” of 1934, that we stated that in future, “narrow nationalist” parties everywhere would face parties, the Liberals firmly among them, supporting the growing, factual interdependence as best policy basis. Philip Kerr, marquis of Lothian, said (1935): “the only final remedy for war is a federation of nations”. But personal guilt about having himself written the War Damages clause in the Versailles Treaty made Kerr become an  advocate of appeasement to Germany, a Liberal dissident, until the Munich Agreement.

Both Chris Cook’s history of the Liberals in 1900-’76, and Robert  Ingham & Duncan Brack’s authoritative bundle “Peace Reform & Liberation” (PRL; 2001) tell that this  “interdependence  makes collectivism better policy”-idea was formulated in a phase of disintegration of the Liberal party (the split about the 1931 National Government; desertions to the National Liberals and Labour; loss of seats).  

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History doesn’t always have to be written by the victors

On 5th March 1770 outside the customs house on King’s Street, Boston, Private Hugh White was talking to some off-duty comrades when a passing Bostonian made a crack about the British soldier’s commanding officer – prompting Pvt White to clock the civilian across the side of the head. The off-duty soldiers made themselves scarce, leaving the private to deal with the fast-growing ring of angry Bostonians that soon surrounded him. White backed up against the custom house door – gun raised out of fear of what might happen next. The growing crowd heckled him, daring him to shoot.

Up the street, Captain Preston, commander of the custom house garrison, watched events unfold. The Captain was hoping that the situation would resolve itself naturally but soon the church bells started tolling and more men, many armed with clubs, started showing up and Preston knew it was high-time that he went to get his man. He led a corporal and six privates through the crowd, now numbering 300-400 strong, towards Private White but rather than just pulling the soldier out from the situation he ordered his men to form a semi-circle around him while facing the crowd, guns unfortunately loaded.

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Political elites and why we think we need them

Scenes Frontispiece

The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men; and I should imagine that neither Luther nor John Bunyan, for example, would have satisfied the modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true, feels nothing but what is exalted, and does nothing but what is graceful. George Eliot

The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.  GK Chesterton

We have been told a lot lately that recent political upheavals represent a revolt against the “club” of “elites” dominating western politics. On reflection, I wonder if it actually meant the opposite: the realisation “elites” are not very elite at all, but in fact every bit as flawed and tangible as ourselves, just as they always were in the days before television. I was thinking this, recently, wandering around the National Portrait Gallery transfixed by the mesmeric eyes of inane bully Henry VIII – and wondering if we have traded these faintly Tory myths, for the more dangerous oil paints of the Spectator butterfly.

George Eliot’s words from the 1850s are a double-edged sword. Writing in “Scenes on clerical life” she pointed out the great secret of progress, and good politics: normal people like ourselves. This is not always easy. It was, I think, one of the great joys of Coalition for many Liberal Democrats, one which we were too slow at times to appreciate, that we were actually changing quite a lot. With hindsight, I wonder if it felt hard to believe the strength of policies like the Pupil Premium and Shared Parental Leave, not because the Tories did it, nor even that Nick Clegg did it, but because we did it.

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The founding king of England encouraged an open, outward-looking country

Full marks to Tom Ash. Earlier this week he nailed an historic parallel for Brexit. That was Henry VIII and the reformation.

However, those who favour an open, outward-looking UK, can claim an older, greater precedent than the Brexit-like Henry VIII, who broke with Europe basically because he couldn’t perform in bed sufficiently to produce enough healthy sons. (OK, there’s a bit of historic licence there and I’m being a bit (a lot?) cheeky – apologies – and I also apologise to the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish that this is all about England).

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Wikipedia “edit-a-thon” on Liberal History

Wikipedia will be holding an “edit-a-thon” on Liberal History at the National Liberal Club on Wednesday 24th August. All are welcome.

This edit-a-thon is a collaboration between the Club and the Wikimedia Foundation (which runs Wikipedia), to get better, more in-depth coverage of liberal issues and liberal history in the online encyclopaedia, updating and expanding articles.

Wikipedia is the seventh-most-visited website and the world, and is the first port-of-call for many basic background facts, so the National Liberal Club thought it would be helpful to offer its backing to improve coverage of liberal issues. The NLC will be making its library — full of rare material around liberal history — available for the event.

The NLC is particularly proud to be doing this, as it has long been the spiritual home of Liberals and Liberal Democrats. Founded by Gladstone in 1882, the club provides a sumptuous “home from home” for those interested in liberal politics and the liberal arts: you can read more about it here, on the club’s own Wikipedia page.

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Deserving of more than a footnote: George Watson and The Unservile State

The Unservile StateThe announcement that the Cambridge academic George Watson had left the Liberal Democrats £950,000 in his will was one of the most surprising political stories of 2014.

George Watson was a distinguished literary scholar and a lifelong Liberal. After working for the European Commission as a translator and interpreter during the 1950s he became a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1961 and remained there until he retired in 1990. As a scholar, he was known for serious bibliographical work, spirited polemics, and a traditional approach to literary criticism. He also made two forays into electoral politics, contesting Cheltenham in 1959 and Leicester in the 1979 European Election.

Watson is perhaps best remembered by Liberal Democrats, however, as the editor of The Unservile State – a 1957 volume billed as ‘the first full-scale study of the attitudes and policies of contemporary British Liberalism since the famous Yellow Book’ of 1928.

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Michael Moore reselected for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Michael Moore MP with apprentices Cameron Collins and Mark Tully at Mainetti 30 08 1349 years ago today, the Liberal Party created a political earthquake in the Borders when David Steel won the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election as the Liberal Democrat History Group remembers:

In the winter of 1963-64 a vacancy arose for a Liberal candidate in the much more winnable Scottish Border seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, whose Conservative incumbent, C. E. M. Donaldson, was elderly and ailing. Steel jumped at the chance to move and in January 1964 was adopted as the Liberal candidate. He failed to win the seat from the Conservatives at the general election of that year, but nonetheless moved his home to the Borders and took a short-lived job in television with the BBC. The death of Donaldson in December 1964 gave him his opportunity. Steel won the byelection in March of the following year with a handsome majority. He held the constituency (subsequently re-drawn and re-named Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) at the eight general elections from 1966 to 1992 before bequeathing the seat in 1997 to Michael Moore (q.v.) after more than thirty years in Parliament.

Twenty years after the by-election, David Steel announced he was stepping down as MP and Michael Moore was selected to fight the seat which he won in 1997.

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Five stories from five years – March 24th

Time, I think, to revive that part of the old Friday Five where we looked at what we were writing about on this day in previous years. Here are five posts from March 24th.

First up, a little Boris related schadenfreude from 2013: Boris has a right Mair in live BBC interview.

For most of the 10 minutes — and perhaps for the first time ever — Boris looked as if he would rather be anywhere else than beneath the glare of the TV lights. This was his reckoning, and he looked winded, lumbering like a past-his-prime former heavyweight champion. Only

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Opinion: A letter to Michael Gove

Dear Michael,

I hope this finds you well.

A confession.

Unlike Paxman, I’m a fan.

You’re an unusual Tory with unusual origins. And your passion to change education is laudable.

The 1960s Crosland reforms, implemented by your mentor Mrs Thatcher, were supposed to promote social mobility. The reality is mixed. Overall literacy and numeracy have improved. Higher education has become more accessible across class, gender and race.

But this has come at a cost. Some think general mediocrity is better than a few attaining excellence while the majority attain little. I think it’s still mediocrity. Employers lament school-leavers’ inadequate skills. Our performance in the Pisa education …

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Opinion: Politicians should keep out of history debates

Michael GoveMichael Gove’s intervention into the complex historical debate over the First World War was as bizarre as it was ignorant. Gove attacked ‘left wing historians’ for promoting the Blackadder (a satirical sitcom, not, unless I am mistaken, a documentary) viewpoint that thousands of young Brits were consigned to an early grave by an out of touch elite. The issue with Gove’s comments weren’t his interpretation of history, which is certainly arguable, but the idea that history and commemoration should be used to score political points.

It is the diversity of opinions and interpretations within historical scholarship which makes it such an interesting and enriching subject. One does not have to be a Marxist politically to appreciate the contribution Marxist historians have made to historical study, rather, these historians make up a small part of a multiplicity of opinions based on rigorous historical research.

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Opinion: Thanks to Simon Hughes and Liberal Democrat Voice for helping get Florence Nightingale back in history lessons

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has announced that Florence Nightingale will remain in the National Curriculum after all, reversing a decision earlier this year to boot her out.

I want to offer my hanks to Liberal Democrat Voice for letting me state my reasons why Nightingale should stay in earlier this year. Thanks also to Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, for his efforts in getting the decision re-examined. Liberal Democrats can take a particular pleasure in seeing a fellow Liberal re-instated. Florence Nightingale was a lifelong Liberal supporter, at a time when political allegiances were …

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Our politicians should be dull, worthy and never seen wearing a leopard print bra

Nelson TorsoWriting in today’s Daily Mail, Dominic Sandbrook rages against the cult of celebrity and declares that “the lines between politics and show business have become dangerously blurred.” Is he right?

Today is Trafalgar Day, a celebration of the victory of our nation’s greatest celebrities, Horatio Nelson. Many may be surprised to hear Nelson described as a celebrity rather than a hero, but a celebrity he was, and he so knew it.

When, on 14 September 1805, Nelson arrived at Portsmouth to board the Victory, he could not make his way to the ship due to the pressure of crowds who wanted to cheer off their national hero. Nelson did not misjudge his own fame. He was loved by the nation and he loved their adulation. He told Thomas Hardy as he left English soil for the last time:

I had their huzzas before, I have their hearts now.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

RIP Pratap Chitnis

In memory of Pratap Chitnis, we reproduce below Mark Pack’s tribute to an unjustly forgotten Liberal Hero. The Guardian’s obituary is here.

Pratap (later Lord) Chitnis was the post-war Liberal Party’s first grassroots campaigning mastermind, whose pioneering activities laid the groundwork for the later work of better known people such as Trevor Jones and Chris Rennard.

Born in 1936 to a family with a history of Liberal politics (his grandfather stood and lost in 1906), he was inspired by Jo Grimond to join the Liberal Party himself in 1958. Chitnis first worked in the National Liberal Club’s library and then …

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The 1983 election: highlights and hindsight

I spent more of my bank holiday than is healthy watching the rerun of the 1983 election on BBC Parliament.

When I lived through it, I was an innocent and idealistic 15 year old. I really believed people would be so outraged that the Alliance had polled 7 million votes, finishing marginally behind Labour but with about a ninth of their seats. As Shirley Williams said, it was “absolute rubbish.” Surely we would have PR within a decade?

Thirty years on, it depresses me that we are no further forward. Westminster remains the last bastion of first past the post, for Scots …

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What the Liberal Democrats believe

“Tell me more about what the Liberal Democrats believe”. Whether it’s a possible new member, a potential council candidate or a new office volunteer asking, I’ve always found over the years that one of the trickier questions to answer. Not because of the inherent question, but rather because of the paucity of materials available to conveniently answer it.

There’s always been a simple short 1 or 2 sentence answer to hand (such as the slogan of the day or an extract from the preamble to the party’s constitution) or a really long answer available, such as Conrad Russell’s superb An

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    For me, I would call myself a non-socialist conservative basher a.k.a a typical New England liberal NYT reader.
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