Tag Archives: liberal history

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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The Swinging Sixties

My mother tells me that I watched England’s victory in 1966 but given that I was only two years old I don’t remember doing so. Ten years later the BBC screened a replay which I watched with my late father and enjoyed greatly. Over the weekend the same broadcaster revived its recording of the General Election night in 1964 and I was able to feed one of my other passions politics. The broadcast followed a similar one last week from 1959 and for amateur historians like me they are fascinating.

A lot changed in that five year period, MacMillan the victor …

Posted in Op-eds | 20 Comments

Labour claims credit for the NHS, but Liberals laid the foundations

One of the enduring myths of British politics is that the Labour Party was uniquely responsible for founding the National Health Service. “It was the Attlee government’s introduction of the National Health Service which will rightly go down as Labour’s greatest achievement,” says the party’s website. “Labour created the NHS,” maintains the party’s shadow health secretary.

But this partisan, somewhat sentimental version of history has been demolished over the years by historians of the welfare state. In 1995, Nicholas Timmins started his magisterial (and recently updated) study, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State, by highlighting the vital role …

Posted in Conference | Also tagged | 46 Comments

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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1951 – the nadir of Liberalism

The General Election of 1951 occurred only eighteen months into a parliament. It was called by a Labour government with a small parliamentary majority led by Clement Attle then at the head of what was a tired and ageing administration.

For the Liberals led by another Clement it proved to be a very difficult campaign for a party wracked by decades of division and desperately short of money. Liberalism was split with the breakaway National Liberals propped up by the Tories still enjoying parliamentary representation.

A situation that would exist until 1968.

Clement Davies, himself a former National Liberal, led the Liberal Party …

Posted in Op-eds | 33 Comments

Political breakaways are no easy option – a reminder of how the last one played out…

In 1981 and 1982 the Alliance between the two parties, under the leadership of Roy Jenkins and David Steel, was seen to be the perfect answer to Mrs Thatcher’s highly controversial first government, then two years old. Polls suggested that the Alliance could win power ‘if there was an election tomorrow’ as the polls liked to say, but, as many will remember, there wasn’t an election tomorrow. Instead there was the Falklands War, which Mrs Thatcher led us all into and won, thereby turning round many public perceptions of her. The Tories won the 1983 election comfortably, in the …

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Opinion: Rebuilding the party – lessons from history

I’ve already had journalists ring me up to ask when was the last time Liberals did so badly. The answer is 1970, when the Liberal Party won six seats on the back of 2.1 million votes, 7.5 per cent of those who voted. Last week’s result was similar: eight seats from 2.4 million votes, 7.9 per cent of those who voted.

There are other parallels. The opinion polls in 1970 had pointed consistently to a victory for Harold Wilson’s outgoing Labour government; Ted Heath’s win for the Conservatives came as a considerable surprise. On the other hand, then the polls underestimated …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 48 Comments
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