The fall of the Lloyd George coalition

2022 marks the centenary of the departure from office of the last Liberal to hold the post of Prime Minister; on 19 October 1922 David Lloyd George resigned after six years as premier. His fall followed the decision of Conservative MPs, meeting in the Carlton Club earlier that day, to end the post-war coalition.

Discuss why the Lloyd George coalition fell with Dr Matthew Johnson (Associate Professor of Modern British History, University of Durham). Chair: Baroness Liz Barker.

Working with Labour: The Liberal Party and the Balance of Power 1923-31

The 1920s were a challenging decade for the Liberal Party. With the advance of Labour, the Liberals were now the third force in British politics. The Asquith and Lloyd George factions united to contest the 1923 general election as one party, but tensions remained.

The election resulted in a hung parliament, with the Liberals holding the balance of power. They opted to sustain Ramsay MacDonald’s minority Labour government, but the party remained divided over the decision. The Labour government fell the following year and the Conservative Party won a landslide victory in the ensuing general election, with the Liberals suffering heavy losses.

After the 1929 general election, MacDonald formed another minority Labour government, supported once more by the Liberal Party – which, yet again, led to division and dissent among Liberal factions.

Join Professor Philip Williamson (Durham University) and Michael Meadowcroft (former Liberal MP) to discuss the Liberal Party’s dilemmas and choices. Chair: Wendy Chamberlain MP.

This is a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ federal conference, which be held online, via the Hopin online conference platform. It will be open to anyone participating in the conference; to register, click here. You do not need to register separately for this meeting.

The 1992 General Election

The general election of 1992 was the first contested by the Liberal Democrats, who had been formed from the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP just four years before. The new party entered the contest buoyed by parliamentary by-election victories, impressive local election results in 1991, and the high popularity of their leader, Paddy Ashdown.

The party fought an effective campaign, but the election result was disappointing: the Liberal Democrats finished with fewer seats and a lower share of the vote than the Liberal-SDP Alliance had achieved in 1987, and the Conservatives unexpectedly won a fourth term in office. Compared to the dark days of the post-merger period, however, when the party had come a distant fourth in the Euro elections in 1989, perhaps the result was not so bad.

Thirty years on, join Alison Holmes (General Election campaign co-ordinator for the Liberal Democrats) and Dennis Kavanagh (Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool and co-author of The British General Election of 1992) to discuss the 1992 general election and its significance. Chair: Lord Don Foster (first elected as MP for Bath in the 1992 election).

The meeting will start at 7.00pm, following the AGM of the Liberal Democrat History Group at 6.30pm. The meeting will be held online via Zoom. Pre-registration is essential: register here.

We have an upper limit on the number of participants, and will close registration when we reach it; if you are unable to register, the video of the meeting will be available on our Facebook page and via our website shortly afterwards.

The two Davids: Steel versus Owen

In 1981 the alliance between the Liberal Party and the newly founded SDP was agreed; the two parties would fight elections together on a joint platform with join candidates. Between 1983 and 1987, however, the working relationship between the Liberal leader, David Steel, and his SDP counterpart, Dr David Owen, became increasingly marked by tension and distrust. Steel became steadily more frustrated at Owen’s resistance to joint selection of candidates, and any convergence on policy proposals. The Liberal Party and the SDP clashed over some issues, most notably nuclear weapons. In particular, Owen strongly opposed any long-term moves to merge the two parties.

The clash became painfully obvious during the 1987 general election campaign, when Steel ruled out supporting a minority Thatcher government while Owen was adamant that Labour was unfit to govern. The results of the election were disappointing for both parties. The leadership tensions ultimately wrecked the Alliance.

Discuss what went wrong with Sir Graham Watson (Steel’s former Head of Office) and Roger Carroll (former SDP Communications Director). Chair: Christine Jardine MP.

This is a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference; you must be registered for the conference to be able to participate (you can register here). You do not need to register separately for the meeting.

Liberalism in the United States

What is political liberalism in the United States?

The original concept was the protection of people from arbitrary power, support for the free market and advocacy of religious tolerance. But that started to change in the early twentieth century, when American liberals joined with progressives in advocating government intervention in the economy and social legislation. The presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945 confirmed that American liberalism would be based on using the market economy to deliver mass prosperity and active government to promote greater equality. FDR’s version of liberalism became America’s national creed and for three decades, the welfare state expanded massively.

But in 1981, the new President, Ronald Reagan declared, ‘Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem’. Most Americans seemed to agree and, despite some interruptions, a powerful surge from the right has dominated American politics ever since. The word ‘liberal’  is now a term of abuse in the country’s political discourse.

Join us to discuss the origins, development and challenges of American liberalism with Helena Rosenblatt (Professor of History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York and author of The Lost History of Liberalism) and James Traub (journalist and author of What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present and Promise of  a Noble Idea). Chair: Layla Moran MP (Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson)

This will be an online meeting, held over Zoom. You must register in advance to participate; register here.

Back from the dead: the Liberal Party in the 1950s

In 1951, the Liberal Party’s existence was in grave doubt. At the October general election, the party contested a mere 109 seats, and only six MPs were returned. The party was badly divided over basic questions of strategy, and membership and morale were low.

The late 1950s saw an upturn in the Liberals’ fortunes. In  March 1962, they won a sensational by-election victory at Orpington and, soon after, reached 25 per cent in the Gallup poll. The party’s performance at local elections was similarly impressive and it claimed a record 350,000 members.

Join Lord William Wallace of Saltaire and Mark Egan (Greffier of the States of Jersey) to discuss how the Liberal Party survived a near-death experience and revived. Chair: Baroness Liz Barker.

Asquith versus Lloyd George

On 7 December 1916, H.H. Asquith was replaced as Prime Minister by 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. Unionist ministers sided with Lloyd George and indicated their willingness to serve in a government led by him.

The Liberal Party remained divided until the end of the war and beyond. The party fought the next two general elections as two separate groups and the reunion that finally came, in 1923, was, in Asquith’s words, ‘a fiction if not a farce’.

Was the split between Asquith and Lloyd George caused by their contrasting personalities, or by substantive disagreements over management of the war? Or did their rivalry reflect deeper divisions between different Liberal traditions?

Join David Laws and Damian Collins MP to discuss the causes and consequences of the Asquith–Lloyd George rivalry. Both speakers contributed chapters to Iain Dale’s new book, The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History (Hodder & Stoughton, 2020), David Laws on Asquith and Damian Collins on Lloyd George. Chair: Wendy Chamberlain MP.

This online meeting will start at 7.00pm, following the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm. All welcome.

To register, please click here. (Zoom webinar, kindly hosted for the History Group by Liberal Democrat HQ.)

Liberals with a radical programme: The post-war welfare state, Beveridge and the Liberal Party 75 years on

2020 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1945 general election and the beginning of the creation of the post-war welfare state.

While the system of social security introduced after 1945 is often heralded as one of the greatest achievements of the Labour Party, its intellectual origins and design were primarily owed to Liberal thinkers and politicians stretching back over several decades.

Join us to discuss these issues with Professor Pat Thane (Birkbeck College) and Dr Peter Sloman (University of Cambridge). Chair: Baroness Tyler.

This fringe meeting will be held online as part of the the Liberal Democrat autumn conference, and will be open only to those who have registered for the conference.

General Election 2019: Disappointment for the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats entered the 2019 general election campaign buoyed by their best opinion poll ratings in a decade, a second place showing in the recent 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 party’s campaign gained little traction and the results were hugely disappointing.

Discuss the 2019 election with Professor Sir John Curtice (Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde) and James Gurling (former Chair, Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee). Chair: 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.

Update following meeting: John Curtice’s presentation to the meeting is attached here: John Curtice 080720

The 1979 General Election

The 1979 general election inaugurated the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and an eighteen-year period of Conservative government. It took place after the ‘winter of discontent’, marked by public sector strikes which destroyed the Labour government’s social contract. The results signalled the end of the post-World War II political consensus, based on an enhanced role for the state in economic management, strong trade unions, a broad welfare state and the pursuit of full employment.

The election came at the end of a decade that had seen numerous political upheavals, including two hung parliaments and record levels of support for the Liberal Party. But the Liberals’ share of the vote fell sharply in 1979, and two-party politics seemed to be back.

Join Lord David Steel, Professor Sir John Curtice (University of Strathclyde) and Baroness Shirley Williams to discuss the 1979 general election and its significance.

The meeting will start at 7.00pm, after the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm.

The Peterloo Massacre and Nineteenth-Century Popular Radicalism

On 16 August 1819, 60,000 peaceful protesters gathered on St Peter’s Fields in Manchester to demand the right to elect their own MPs. The demonstration ended when local militia on horseback charged the protesters and cut them down with sabres, leaving at least eleven dead and hundreds injured. The episode became known as ‘The Peterloo Massacre’. Lord Liverpool’s ministry then cracked down on protests and dissent through the ‘Six Acts’, which stifled calls for reform.

Join Dr Robert Poole (University of Central Lancashire) and Dr Jacqueline Riding (Birkbeck, University of London) to discuss the importance and legacy of the Peterloo Massacre, particularly for the Whigs and their aspirations for parliamentary reform.

Liberalism in the north

Despite its decline after the First World War, the Liberal Party managed to hang on in Yorkshire and Lancashire, contributing to its eventual revival. Discuss why this was with William Wallace, Tony Greaves and Michael Meadowcroft. Chair: Baroness Kath Pinnock.

A fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat spring conference (no conference pass necessary).

Gladstone’s first government 1868–74

One hundred and fifty years ago, in December 1868, William Ewart Gladstone became Prime Minister for the first time. Over the following six years, from 1868 to 1874, his government produced a series of lasting reforms, including nationwide primary school education, the secret ballot, legalisation of some trade union activities and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. This record helped build his reputation as the greatest Liberal leader in history.

In this meeting Professor Jon Parry and Dr David Brooks discuss the importance and legacy of what might be considered the first Liberal government and the first modern administration. The meeting accompanies the publication of issue 101 of the Journal of Liberal History, a special issue on the same topic. Chair: Baroness Liz Barker.

Jon Parry is Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, specialising in the history of British politics and political ideas in the nineteenth century. His publications include Democracy and Religion: Gladstone and the Liberal Party, 1867–1875 and The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain. Dr Brooks is Emeritus Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University  London. He has written extensively on Gladstone and organises the annual ‘Gladstone Umbrella’ weekend conference at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden.

Europe: the Liberal commitment

Why have the Liberal Democrats, and their Liberal and SDP predecessors, always supported the European project and membership of the EU?

The historical origins of the Liberal commitment to Europe stretch back to the nineteenth century. The next Liberal Democrat History Group meeting will feature a discussion on the issues with Anthony Howe (Professor of Modern History, University of East Anglia; author of Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946 and editor of the collected letters of the leading British radical Richard Cobden) and Eugenio Biagini (Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Cambridge; author of works on Gladstonian liberalism, the Italian Risorgimento, and Ireland). Chair: Baroness Julie Smith (Director of the European Centre and Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Cambridge).

A fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in September (no conference pass necessary).

The 1918 coupon election and its consequences

In November 1918, just 24 hours after the Armistice had been signed with Germany, the Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, announced his decision to hold a general election.

Selected coalition candidates received a signed letter of endorsement from Lloyd George and the Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law. The 1918 election thus became known as the ‘coupon election’.

The election saw 133 Coalition Liberals returned to the House of Commons, but the independent Liberals, whom Lloyd George had abandoned, were reduced to a tiny minority, overtaken by the new Labour Party, while the Coalition Liberals increasingly became the prisoner of their Conservative Coalition partners. The election was a key stage in the decline of the Liberal Party; it cemented the wartime split and ensured that the Liberals were eventually relegated to third-party status.

Speakers: Kenneth O. Morgan, Lord Morgan (author of Consensus and Disunity: The Lloyd George Coalition Government 1918-22 and several other books on Lloyd George) and Alistair Cooke, Lord Lexden (official historian to the Conservative Party and the Carlton Club). Chair: Claire Tyler (Baroness Tyler).

The report of this meeting was published in Journal of Liberal History 100 (autumn 2018) and is also available here.

The Liberal Party and Women’s Suffrage

2018 marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed under Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, beginning the enfranchisement of women. While the vast majority of Liberal MPs supported the change, this support was not unanimous, however: the party had been divided for many years over the issue, and the previous Asquith government had obstructed reform. Opponents argued both that politics was not the ‘proper sphere of women’ and that if enfranchised, women would be more likely to vote Conservative.

This fringe meeting at the Southport Liberal Democrat conference will discuss the divisions within the Liberal Party over votes for women, the stance taken by the Asquith government and the impacts on the party of the debates over women’s suffrage.

Speakers: Jo Swinson (Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for East Dunbartonshire) and Krista Cowman (Professor of History, University of Lincoln). Chair: Elizabeth Jewkes (Deputy Chair, Liberal Democrat Women).

Election 2017 – a missed opportunity?

The Liberal Democrats entered the 2017 general election campaign with high hopes: they were the only major UK-wide party unequivocally to oppose Brexit, and the campaign followed months of encouraging local government by-election results. But the outcome was a disappointment: a further fall in the vote from the catastrophic result in 2015, and four losses out of the eight seats that had been salvaged then – though this was offset by the recapture of eight seats which had been lost in 2015 or 2010.

What went wrong? Was it a failure of leadership, of positioning or of campaigning? Or was the party simply swept aside by the rising Labour tide?

Discuss the result and the implications for the Liberal Democrats with Professor Phil Cowley (co-author of The British General Election of 2017) and James Gurling (Chair, Liberal Democrats Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee). Chair: Baroness Grender (Paddy Ashdown’s second-in-command on the 2015 Liberal Democrat election campaign).

The AGM of the Liberal Democrat History Group will take place first, at 6.30pm, followed by the speaker meeting at 7.00pm.

Liberals in local government 1967 – 2017

The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) was founded, as the Association of Liberal Councillors, fifty years ago. At this meeting, organised in conjunction with ALDC, we celebrate its 50th anniversary and discuss the role of Liberals and Liberal Democrats in local government. What has the party achieved in local government? To what extent has it taken a distinctively liberal approach?

Speakers: Cllr Sara Bedford (Leader, Three Rivers District Council), Cllr Ruth Dombey (Leader, Sutton Council), Lord Tony Greaves (long-serving councillor, Pendle Borough Council), Cllr Richard Kemp (Leader, Liberal Democrats on Liverpool City Council), Baroness Kath Pinnock (Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, former Leader of Kirklees Council) and Matt Cole (University of Birmingham). Chair: Lord Andrew Stunell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Communities and Local Government, 2010–12).

This meeting is a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth; a conference pass will be required for access.

The Leadership of Charles Kennedy

Under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, from 1999 to 2006, the Liberal Democrats won a record number of seats in the Commons – but in January 2006 he was forced to resign by the party’s MPs. When he died, in August 2015, he was mourned deeply by the party he once led. This meeting will assess Kennedy’s achievements as Liberal Democrat leader and his strengths and weaknesses.

Speakers: Greg Hurst (author, Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw) and Lord Dick Newby (fomer Chief of Sta to Charles Kennedy). Chair: Baroness Lindsay Northover.