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.

Who Rules? Parliament, the People or the Prime Minister?

Parliamentary supremacy, hard won in the seventeenth century, is being challenged by the government response to Brexit, placing under question whether Parliament or the executive – or the popular will, expressed through a referendum – should have the ultimate say.

Discuss the Liberal approach to who rules with English Civil Wars historian Professor Michael Braddick and Baroness Joan Walmsley. Chair: Baroness Lynne Featherstone.

8.15pm, Friday 17 March 2017

Meeting Room 4, Novotel Hotel, Fishergate, York YO10 4FD (no conference pass necessary)

‘Jeremy is Innocent’ : The Life and Times of Jeremy Thorpe and Marion Thorpe

Jeremy Thorpe led the Liberal Party over three general elections from 1967 to 1976. Immensely charismatic, under his leadership the Liberal vote at general elections more than doubled. Yet following a scandal, his career ended in a criminal court case. Why?

On the fiftieth anniversary of Thorpe’s rise to the party leadership, Ronald Porter (obituarist for The Independent and a regular speaker at National Liberal Club events) will present an illustrated talk covering the life of Jeremy Thorpe and his second wife, Marion, who was married to Jeremy from 1973 until her death in 2014. Chair: Michael Steed.

The event will start at 7.00pm after the Annual General Meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group at 6.30pm.

Coalition: Could Liberal Democrats have handled it better?

The 2015 election decisively ended the Liberal Democrats’ participation in government. Did what the party achieved in coalition between 2010 and 2015 justify the damage? Could the party have managed coalition better? The meeting marks the publication of the autumn Journal of Liberal History, a special issue on the policy record of the coalition.

Speakers: David Laws (Minister for Schools, 2012-15), Chris Huhne (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, 2010-12), Akash Paun (Institute for Government).

Chair: Jo Swinson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations, Consumer and Poster Affairs, 2012-15).

The legacy of Roy Jenkins


Roy Jenkins is best remembered in Liberal Democrat circles as one of the ‘Gang of Four’ who established the Social Democratic Party, the SDP’s first leader, and then a staunch supporter of merger with the Liberal Party. But even as a Labour politician he had a liberal record. In his first two years as Home Secretary (which started just over fifty years ago), he abolished theatre censorship, passed the first effective legislation to outlaw racial discrimination and delivered government support for private members’ bills on the legalisation of homosexuality and on abortion. In 1972 he led the major Labour rebellion that saved the Conservative government’s legislation to take Britain into the European Community.

John Campbell (author of Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life) and Lord David Steel (Leader of the Liberal Party 1976-88) discuss how much liberalism in Britain owes to Roy Jenkins. Chair: Dick Newby (Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, House of Lords, and the SDP’s National Secretary  1983-88).

Please print this web page and bring it with you; you may be asked to show it at the security check. 

The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

What do Liberal Democrats believe? And what stems from our historical legacy?

Against the background of the ‘Agenda 2020’ review of values and beliefs, discuss the party’s ideological inheritance with David Boyle, Teena Lashmore and Nick Thornsby at the History Group’s fringe meeting at the York Liberal Democrat conference. Chair: David Howarth.

Europe: The Liberal commitment

How and why did the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats all end up as the strongest supporters of Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community and its successor institutions? Has it helped or hindered the party’s political achievements? Have developments in Europe since the EEC’s founding Treaty of Rome in 1958 reflected the party’s European faith?

In this year of a possible referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, discuss the historic Liberal commitment and record with Sir Graham Watson (Liberal Democrat MEP 1994–2014) and Lord William Wallace (Liberal Democrat Foreign Office minister in the coalition government, 2010–15). Chair: Baroness Julie Smith.

Liberal leaders and leadership

Party leaders matter: they embody a party’s present, while also shaping its future. This is particularly important in the values-based Liberal tradition.

A total of twenty-five individuals led the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats between Earl Grey’s assumption of the leadership of the Whig opposition in 1828 and Nick Clegg’s resignation in 2015. What did it take to be a Liberal leader across these two centuries of tumultuous change? Who was a good leader and who was a bad one?

Join us to launch our new book, British Liberal Leaders, and discuss the challenges of leading the Liberals, with Sir Simon Hughes (MP for Bermondsey, 1982–2015) and Lord Paul Tyler (MP for North Cornwall, 1974, 1992–2005). Chair: Lynne Featherstone (MP for Hornsey & Wood Green, 2005–15).

Catastrophe: The 2015 Election Campaign and its Outcome


The venue of this meeting has changed from the National Liberal Club to the House of Lords (Committee Room 1), and the start time from 6.30pm to 6.45pm.

There are several votes in the Lords on Monday, and our chair and one of our speakers are both Liberal Democrat peers who need to be in Parliament at the time. Entry is via Parliament’s public entrance, opposite Westminster Abbey – tell the police officers you are going to a meeting hosted by Baroness Grender in Committee Room 1, and they will direct you. You should allow at least 20 minutes to go through the security check.

Please also note that the room is smaller than our original venue, and we cannot guarantee to be able to seat everyone; we suggest you turn up early. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

The 2015 election is the most catastrophic in the history of the Liberal Democrats and its predecessor parties; in no other previous election has the party lost such a high proportion of its votes and seats.

Entry into coalition with the Conservative Party in 2010 meant that the party always knew it would lose a good number of those who had voted for it in 2010, but Liberal Democrats hoped that they could replace at least some of them with new supporters who had not previously believed the party had a realistic chance of power. The party also assumed that the incumbency factor would save many of their MPs even though the national vote was falling. Neither of these things happened, despite a campaign that was generally recognised as well organised and well funded. Discuss why everything went wrong with Phil Cowley (Professor of Parliamentary Government, University of Nottingham and co-author of The British General Election of 2010) and Baroness Olly Grender, Paddy Ashdown’s second-in-command on the ‘Wheelhouse Group’ which ran the Liberal Democrat election campaign.

All welcome, whether or not you are a member of the Liberal Democrat History Group.

Community politics and the Liberal revival

The famous community politics resolution, adopted by the Liberal Party at its 1970 Assembly, helped to lay the foundations for revival after the party’s loss of half its seats in the 1970 election.

Discuss the community politics approach, what it meant and how it can help the Liberal Democrats in the future, with Gordon Lishman (co-author, ‘The Theory and Practice of Community Politics’) and Mike Storey (former leader of Liverpool council); Chair; Sarah Boad (ALDC Treasurer).

The Liberal-Tory Coalition of 1915

As we enter the final months of the present Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government it is an appropriate time to look back to a previous partnership between the two parties in the 100th anniversary of its formation.

In May 1915, following political and military setbacks, Liberal prime minister H H Asquith brought senior figures from the opposition parties into his government. The meeting will be held jointly with the Conservative History Group and will look in detail at the background to the formation of the coalition and go on to consider its performance in government before its dramatic fall in December 1916.

Speakers: Dr Ian Packer, Acting Head of the School of History and Heritage at Lincoln University, author of a number of books on Edwardian and Liberal politics, who will look at the coalition from the Liberal side and Dr Nigel Keohane who now works at the Social Market Foundation and is the author of the book The Conservative Party and the First World War, to consider the coalition from a Conservative perspective.

Chair: The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, (Raymond Asquith) the great-grandson of H H Asquith and currently the newest member of the Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords.

The Liberal Party and the First World War

A one-day conference organised by the Journal of Liberal History and Kings College, London.

In this year, 100 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.


09.30 Registration

09.50 Introduction: Lord Wallace of Saltaire, President of the Liberal Democrat History Group

10.00 The Liberal Party and the First World War an overview: Professor Pat Thane, Kings College

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

11.15 Coffee break

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

12.30 Lunch break

13.15 The papers of Asquith and Harcourt: Mike Webb, Bodleian Library

14.00 Asquith as War Premier and Liberal Leader: Dr Roland Quinault, Institute of Historical Research

14.45 Coffee break

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

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

17.00 Close of conference

Great Liberal thinkers: lessons for the future

To mark the launch of our publication, ‘Liberal Thinkers’, Baroness Liz Barker and MPs Alan Beith, David Laws and John Pugh draw lessons from past Liberal thinkers for the future direction of the Liberal Democrats.