Tag Archives: journal of liberal history

Journal of Liberal History – a preview of the latest issue

The latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History, just published, is a special issue on the early-nineteenth-century roots of Liberalism – a somewhat neglected period in party history.

Historians generally treat 1859 as the date that the Liberal Party came into existence, when three parliamentary factions – Whigs, Peelites and Radicals – agreed to unite under Palmerston to oust a minority Conservative administration. Yet, in truth, the Liberal Party can trace its roots back to a much earlier period in the nineteenth century. The term ‘Liberal’ came into common use in the 1820s. As the authors in our special issue suggest, it was a cultural as well as a political label, indicating a philosophical and artistic outlook as much as a defined political position. It represented a tendency and a state of mind: a willingness to be open to change and a desire to challenge social and political orthodoxy – a radical departure from the repression and authoritarianism of the Tory governments of the Napoleonic Wars and after.

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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.

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New Journal of Liberal History just published – including Jo Swinson’s reflections on her time as leader

The autumn issue of the Journal of Liberal History has just been published in time for conference. Its contents include:

Jo Swinson as leader. Interview with Jo Swinson on her political beliefs, her career as a coalition minister, and her five months as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Read the interview to find out how she thinks the party could have handled the tuition fees issue better, why calling for an early election in 2019 was the right thing to do, why the revoke policy was adopted, and what she thinks is the most important characteristic of a Lib Dem leader (hint: it’s not what any of the other former leaders we’ve interviewed have said).

Liberal Democrat leadership performance. Comparative table covering Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell, Clegg, Farron, Cable, Swinson and the Davey / Brinton / Pack interim 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. 

The two Henry Redhead Yorkes, radical to liberal. Liberal Democrats are used to thinking of Dadabhai Naoroji as the first Liberal black or ethnic minority MP (in the 1892–95 parliament), but as Amanda Goodrich demonstrates in her fascinating article, he was not – he was preceded by Henry Galgacus Redhead Yorke, who was Whig / Liberal MP for York from 1841 to 1848. The article focuses on him and his father, Henry Redhead Yorke, who was previously seen as an English revolutionary radical from Derby but was in fact a West Indian creole of African/ British descent whose mother, Sarah Bullock, was a slave from Barbuda. Neither of these men were identified at the time as of BME origin. 

Another Madam Mayor. The career of the second woman ever to be mayor of an industrial town – Meriel Cowell-Stepney, Lady Howard, who served as mayor of Llanelli in 1916. This acts as a supplement to its author Jaime Reynolds’ article in an earlier issue on the first Liberal women mayors; his work in bringing to light this hitherto largely unknown aspect of Liberal history is the kind of topic the Journal of Liberal History was established to encourage. 

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Liberal history online

Like many other party organisations, the Liberal Democrat History Group is moving activities online during the lockdown. So this article brings news of two events you may be interested in, and a summary of the latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History.

General Election 2019: Disappointment for the Liberal Democrats

Our next discussion meeting will take place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 8th July. We’ll be taking a look at the Liberal Democrats’ 2019 election campaign and its outcome in historical perspective. 

The party entered the campaign buoyed by its best opinion poll ratings in a decade, a second place showing in the European Parliament elections, impressive local election results in England and high-profile defections from the other parties. The party had a dynamic, young new leader in Jo Swinson and a simple, clear message: stop Brexit. But the Liberal Democrat campaign gained little traction and the results were hugely disappointing.

Lib Dem Voice readers are welcome to discuss the election with one of the country’s leading psephologists, Professor Sir John Curtice (Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde), and James Gurling (former Chair, Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee). It will be chaired by Wendy Chamberlain MP.

The meeting will be hosted online on Zoom and also broadcast to the History Group’s Facebook page. You must register in advance to participate via Zoom (and be able to ask questions); to register, click here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Participation via Zoom is limited to the first 100 registering – and as I write, there aren’t that many spaces left!

Old heroes for a new leader

During every Liberal Democrat leadership election since 1999, we’ve asked the candidates to write a short article about their favourite historical figure or figures – those that they felt had influenced their own political beliefs most, and why they had proved important and relevant. We placed no restrictions on their choices: they could choose anyone they wanted, whether a Liberal or not.

We’re doing that again this year, and the articles will be published in the summer issue of the Journal of Liberal History, due out in late July. 

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Lloyd George and Spanish Flu: In Sickness and in Health

The most treasured possessions inherited from my grandfather are undoubtedly two blue volumes that have been with me for most of my life, The War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was my grandfather’s political hero, and so he became mine too. As a teenager, I read the Memoirs avidly, and they were probably the reason that I became a historian. They were, of course, very much a personal view and not necessarily to be relied upon as an accurate account of all events. But they were the words of Lloyd George.

One of the remarkable things about the Memoirs is that, while dealing with grave matters and costly military campaigns, they are largely silent on Lloyd George’s brush with death. The recent illness of Boris Johnson has inevitably drawn comparisons with Lloyd George’s contraction of ‘Spanish flu’ in September 1918. Lloyd George was the same age as our current Prime Minister and, like Johnson, had taken over the premiership at a time of a national crisis. Lloyd George’s illness was particularly poignant. Just as the Liberal premier was on the verge of a great victory at the end of a brutal war, his own life was in serious danger. At the time, few knew how grave matters had become.

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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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New issue of Journal of Liberal History out

The autumn issue of the Journal of Liberal History has just been published in time for conference. Its contents include:

Vince Cable as leader. Interview with Vince Cable on his political beliefs, his career in the party, in particular his period as Business Secretary in the coalition government, and his two years as leader of the Liberal Democrats. When asked about what went wrong with the coalition, he responded: ‘I think the simple answer is that we trusted the Conservatives, and we shouldn’t have.’ Read the interview to find out more about the challenges he faced in coalition and as leader, and what he’s most proud of.

Liberal Democrat leadership performance. Comparative table covering Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell, Clegg, Farron and Cable. 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. 

E. D. Simon: Intellectual in politics; by David Dutton. Biography of E. D. Simon, 1st Baron Simon of Wythenshawe; a Liberal MP before the wars, a junior minister (for two weeks!) in the National Government in 1931 and later a Labour peer. Simon was also a long-standing Manchester councillor and a patron of the Liberal Summer School.

The Liberal Democrat performance in the 2019 European election. The well-known psephologist John Curtice analyses the Liberal Democrat vote in May 2019. Amongst which groups did we do best and worst?

Tentative feelers. Mitya Pearson examines the Liberal Party’s response to the emergence of the Green Party (then the Ecology Party) in the 1970s, including the distinctly odd occasion when Liberal MP and former leader Jeremy Thorpe attempted to join it.

Geoff Tordoff. Michael Meadowcroft remembers the life and long political career of Geoff Tordoff, a former Liberal Party chair and president and Chief Whip of the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats in the Lords.

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Europe: the history of the Liberal commitment

Opposition to Brexit has become of the defining characteristics of today’s Liberal Democrats. And probably everyone knows that our predecessors in the Liberal Party supported British entry to the European Community in the 1970s and before. But where does this commitment derive from? The latest Journal of Liberal History (issue 98, spring 2018) explores the historical origins of the Liberal commitment to Europe.

As Anthony Howe discusses in the first article, one of the foundations of Victorian Liberalism in the nineteenth century was support for free trade, the removal of tariffs (import and export duties) on trade in goods. Normally discussed today in terms of the economic benefits, Liberal support in fact drew much more strongly from a belief in free trade as an engine of peace, building links between nations and promoting a cooperative rather than a military interventionist approach to international problems.

Eugenio Biagini analyses the different approaches to Europe adopted by the Liberal leaders W. E. Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. Gladstone, a committed internationalist, was a fervent supporter of free trade and an opponent of jingoistic nationalism; he was not opposed to the principle of pan-national empires, as long as their rule rested on consent and the protection of basic liberties. Chamberlain, the radical who broke with the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule, followed a different, ‘social imperialist’ path, arguing for the need for states to be powerful, democratic and reformist in social policy – strong enough to survive in the brutal world of international relations while also fending off the rising threat of socialism. His proposals for tariffs against imports from outside the British Empire, with the aim of binding the colonies more closely together, helped heal the divisions in the Liberal Party and underlay the Liberal landslide election victory of 1906.

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Jo Swinson, the Liberal Party and Women’s Suffrage

As we celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave the parliamentary vote to (some) women, for the first time, readers may be interested in two meetings and one publication:

In Conversation at the Mile End Institute: Jo Swinson MP (19 February)

At 6.30pm on Monday 19 February, at the Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrats’ Deputy Leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary and the MP for East Dunbartonshire, will join Professor Philip Cowley in conversation.

This is part of the Mile End Institute’s regular series of political ‘conversations’, the most recent of which was with Jacob Rees-Mogg. Phil Cowley, co-author of the British General Election series of books (he’s currently working on the 2017 edition) is an excellent and engaging interviewer, and the event will be well worth attending.

It’s free and open to the public, but registration is required. To book your ticket, visit the Mile End Institute’s website or Eventbrite. For those unable to attend, the conversation will be live-streamed, and podcast and a video of the event will be available afterwards.

The Liberal Party and Women’s Suffrage (9 March)

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History marches at our back

As I write this, the party should be signing up its 100,000th member. Our new members are joining a party with a glorious history – not just the twenty-nine years since the Liberal Democrats were founded in 1988, but the records of its predecessors, the short-lived Social Democratic Party and the three centuries’ old Liberal Party.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Three hundred years ago our political ancestors the Whigs fought for freedom of conscience and thought and religion, for equality before the law. Two hundred years ago the Victorian Liberal Party extended the franchise, brought in free trade, led the assault on privilege: the great cause of Cobden and Bright, Russell and Gladstone.

A hundred years ago the New Liberalism of the twentieth century – the social liberalism of Asquith and Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge – laid the foundations of the British welfare state, aiming to create the conditions for freedom for all.

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What makes Vince Cable angry?

Journal of Liberal History cover Sept 2016I know when my Journal of Liberal History arrives that it will contain interesting, well researched, evidence based assessments and accounts of Liberal Democrat, Liberal and SDP activities.

The Conference issue of this quarterly publication has just arrived and it looks at the record of the Liberal Democrats in coalition. Unlike last year’s Conference issue, which looked at the coalition as a whole, this takes a detailed look at individual policy areas. Economic policy, social security, health and social care, education, constitutional reform, home affairs and climate and energy come under the microscope.

Each policy area has 3 or 4 articles. First an analytical piece giving an overview of each area is then reviewed by a former minister or minsters and a more critical party member.  Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone, Norman Lamb, Chris Huhne, Sir Vince Cable, Paul Burstow, David Laws, Jenny Willott, Ed Davey, William Wallace and Norman Baker all contribute.

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The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

The ideas that built the Liberal DemocratsPolitics rest on beliefs. Political parties that operate without a philosophical framework stand for little more than personality and populism. But equally, beliefs must rest on thought – they must be continually defined, tested and debated rather than simply inherited unquestioningly.

That’s part of what the Federal Policy Committee’s Agenda 2020 process is all about; I’ve written about the various elements of that already on Lib Dem Voice.

But of course the party doesn’t start from scratch in this respect. The political ideology of the Liberal Democrats draws on the philosophies of two reformist traditions, liberalism and social democracy. Liberalism possesses an immensely rich history, stretching back over more than three hundred years. Social democracy is a label that has meant very different things over the last hundred years and more, but between them these traditions possess a distinctive approach to concepts such as freedom, equality and social justice.

As a concise guide to the key strands of political thought and ideas underlying Liberal Democrat beliefs, the Liberal Democrat History Group has published a new booklet, Liberalism: The ideas that Built the Liberal Democrats

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Which former Lib Dem Cabinet Minister disagreed more often with Danny Alexander than George Osborne?

The Journal of Liberal History is a serious academic publication. When it arrives on my doorstep, I know I have an enjoyable couple of hours with a cup of tea learning about interesting events and people in the history of the Liberal Party, SDP or Liberal Democrats.

The issue of the publication which will be on sale at Conference is no less worthy and serious, but my reaction to it was unusual. Within a few minutes, I was hyperventilating and my eyes were out on stalks at what I was reading. Seriously, they should have sold serialisation rights to the press.

You see, this issue covers the Coalition and its aftermath. Adrian Slade spent May and June persuading many  former ministers, including all of the Cabinet ministers bar Carmichael – and by all, that includes Chris Huhne – to give their take on how the Coalition had worked, or not, as the case may be. Some of their interviews are more predictable than others, but all are candid. Some are almost painfully defensive, others offer a wince-inducing verbal hiding. Who was the former Minister who said:

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The Liberal Party and the First World War – event in London next month

War gravesIn this year, a hundred years since the coming of war in August 1914, the conflict is remembered chiefly for
 its impact on the millions of ordinary men, women and children who were to suffer and die and over the following four years. Lives were altered forever and society transformed. But the war had political consequences too: empires fell, new nations emerged and British political parties and the party system underwent profound change – a transformation which plunged the Liberal Party into civil war and caused it to plummet from a natural party of government to electoral insignificance within a few short years.

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The Liberal Democrats, the first 25 years

liberalhistoryOn 3 March 2013, the Liberal Democrats marked their twenty-fifth birthday. The story of the party since 1988 has been a dramatic one, from near-extinction, through a failed realignment of the left, a period of rapidly changing leaders, and then into government, for the first time for a third party for sixty years. The latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History (issue 83, summer 2014) is a special edition looking at the key factors contributing to the party’s survival and success, up until entry into coalition.

The party’s campaigning ability is obviously key. From 1997 onwards the Liberal Democrats have managed to win significantly greater numbers of seats than their predecessor parties, often on smaller proportions of the national vote – the outcome of a combination of intensive local campaigning and an increasing targeting of resources on winnable seats, together with a steadily more professional party organisation. In the first article in the issue, Mark Pack examines the evolution of the party’s campaigning techniques and structures.

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History doesn’t repeat itself: why the Lib Dems won’t split

“A healthy pedestrian mowed down by a runaway omnibus” – Trevor Wilson’s metaphor to describe the fall of the Liberal Party between 1916 and 1931 is quoted approvingly by Professor John Shepherd, co-director of the Labour Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University, in a fascinating article in the summer issue of the Journal of Liberal History.

One of the Coalition memes doing the rounds among some of the commentariat is that, by embarking on a partnership with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have sealed their own fate, that a split is inevitable. After all, the argument goes, Lloyd George’s …

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