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.

This conference will examine some of the key issues and personalities of the period. The agenda is as follows:

0930 Registration

0950 Introduction | Lord Wallace of Saltaire, President of the Liberal Democrat History Group

1000 The Liberal Party and the First World War – an overview | Professor Pat Thane, King’s College

1030 Sir Edward Grey and the road to war | Professor Thomas Otte, University of East Anglia

1115 Coffee break

1145 Gilbert Murray v. E.D. Morel: Liberalism’s debilitating Great War divide | Professor Martin Ceadel, New College, Oxford

1230 Lunch break

1315 The papers of Asquith and Harcourt | Mike Webb, Bodleian Library

1400 Asquith as War Premier and Liberal Leader | Dr Roland Quinault, Institute of Historical Research

1445 Coffee break

1515 Comparing Lloyd George and Winston Churchill as war leaders | Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter

1600 Panel discussion on the impact of the war on the Liberal Party |
Michael Steed, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Roland Quinault, Pat Thane

1700 Close of conference

The cost of the conference will be £15 (students and unwaged £10) to include morning and afternoon refreshments. (Lunch is not provided but there are plenty of cafes and sandwich shops in the vicinity of the campus.)

To register please send your name and address to Graham Lippiatt, 114 Worcester Lane, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, B75 5NJ, or [email protected]. Payment can be taken on the day, but pre-registration is essential to allow access to the building.

EDITORIAL UPDATE: The date and location were deleted in the process of posting. They are as follows:

A one-day conference organised by the Journal of Liberal History and King’s College, London.
Saturday 1 November 2014, Room K2.40, Strand Campus of KCL

* 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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  • That war like most wars are a Prime example of Political Vanity lack of respect for life miss management waist greed all the human failing but mainly a waist of LIFE sacrificed in the name of our Political Masters

  • What’s the date of the conference and where is it being held?

  • Nick Collins 23rd Oct '14 - 7:18pm

    Is this event exclusively for Liberal Democrat members, or can anyone with an interest in that period of history attend?

  • Duncan Brack 23rd Oct '14 - 7:23pm

    Nick – thanks, I should have pointed that out. It’s open to anyone.

  • It’s a shame this wasn’t posted about earlier, would have liked to have gone but with only a week’s advanced booking the trains are far too expensive.

  • I cannot be there but would have loved to have gone and asked a question of the panel at —

    1600 Panel discussion on the impact of the war on the Liberal Party |
    Michael Steed, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Roland Quinault, Pat Thane

    A question along the lines of — “inone hundred years from now, if the Chilcot Report has been published by then, what do you think the long term impact was on the Liberal Democrats of opposing Blair’s war in Iraq? Or do you think such principled Liberalism just disappeared from the party after the Clegg Coup?”

  • SIMON BANKS 24th Oct '14 - 3:48pm

    Political vanity is hardly fair. While only one member of the cabinet saw action (Churchill), most had sons in the trenches. Lloyd George had two and Asquith lost one. To abolish all was is a right and necessary aim, but on the way to it, what about the cynical brushing aside of Belgium’s neutrality, invaded by Germany which had, along with Britain and France, guaranteed it? Grey had been less than honest in his secret diplomacy, but the cabinet agonised over the decision.

    I find it very easy to understand how reasonable and compassionate men took this decision. I find it much harder to justify all the powers continuing the war and not seeking a negotiated peace once the scale of the slaughter and the nature of the deadlock had become plain (neither were likely at the start because the war of attrition only developed after several near misses from a quick end). But this was really the first mass popular war and I suppose a politician who seriously sought peace by compromise would have been hounded from office. The only one to try was immune from that – the new (and last) Austro-Hungarian Emperor.

    The effect on the Liberal Party was disastrous for four reasons, I think. First, the party had always stood for peace (“Peace, retrenchment and reform”) and the belligerent, intolerant, pro-uniformity mood of a massive and desperate war undermined its message and morale. Secondly, the Asquith/Lloyd George split was disastrous. If Asquith had gone quietly after a long and distinguished period in office, Lloyd George could have led the Liberal Party, not a Tory-dominated alliance, into the 1918 election. Third, the prolonging of war led to the collapse of Home Rule and the Liberals’ Irish allies and again, bloodshed and intolerance. Fourth – and probably least appreciated – that as in 1939-45, the experience of successful war planning through a powerful central government led people to believe the same approach could work in peacetime, which played into Labour’s hands.

  • SIMON BANKS 24th Oct '14 - 3:49pm

    To abolish all WAR. Not “all was”!

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