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.

Liberalism, Peace and the First World War

The First World War sent a shockwave through the Liberal Party, permanently affecting its politics, its people and the way it viewed the world and its own place in it. This meeting, jointly organised by the Liberal Democrat History Group and Liberal International British Group and held a hundred years, almost to the day, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo will explore key aspects of this crisis of Liberal internationalism.

Speakers: Robert Falkner (Associate Professor of International Relations, LSE) on the Great War and its impact on liberal internationalism, and Louise Arimatsu (Associate Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House) on war, law and the liberal project.

Chair: Martin Horwood MP (Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on international affairs).

Decline and Fall: the Liberal Party and the general elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924

For the Liberal Party, the three general elections of 1922,1923 and 1924 represented a terrible journey from postwar disunity to reunion, and near return to government to dramatic and prolonged decline. Arguably, this was the key period which relegated the Liberals to the third-party status from which they have still never escaped.

The Liberal Democrat History Group winter meeting on 10 February 2014 will look in detail at these elections and what they meant for the Liberal Party and the changes they brought about in British politics.

Speakers: Michael Steed, Honorary Lecturer in Politics at the University of Kent and noted psephologist; Professor Pat Thane, Professor of Contemporary History at King’s College, London.

Chair: Dr Julie Smith, Cambridge University.

(The event will be preceded by the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6:30pm.)

Survival and success: the first 25 years of the Liberal Democrats

This year, 2013, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Liberal Democrats. From near-annihilation to entry into government, the years since 1988 have been a roller-coaster ride for the party.

Discuss which factors were important in the survival and success of the Liberal Democrats, and speculate about the future, with:

Duncan Brack (Editor, Journal of Liberal History): on leadership and policy

Mark Pack (Liberal Democrats online campaign manager, 2001 and 2005): on campaigns

John Curtice (Professor Politics, Strathclyde University): who votes for the Liberal Democrats?

Cllr Julie Smith (Vice Chair, Lib Dem Policy Committee): on the impact of coalition

Chair: Paddy Ashdown (Chair, 2015 general election campaign)

A Liberal Democrat History Group fringe meeting

(note this is outside the conference secure area no passes necessary)

Jo Grimond – the legacy

Jo Grimond, leader of the Liberal Party from 1956 to 1967, holds a particularly affectionate place in the collective memory of the Liberal Democrats. His charisma, charm, good looks, political courage, intellect and inherent liberalism inspired many to join the Liberal Party in the late 1950s and 1960s and gained him a national reputation as someone who could give politics a good name which has endured to the present day.

One hundred years after his birth in 1913, our next meeting will examine in more detail the legacy of Jo Grimond, not simply for the modern Liberal Democrats but, more widely, for British politics and political ideas.

Speakers: Dr Peter Sloman (New College, Oxford) on Grimond’s ideas, with a focus on his thinking around the role of the state and free market; Harry Cowie (former Liberal Party Director of Research and speechwriter to Grimond) on the development of policy under Grimond’s leadership; Michael Meadowcroft (Liberal MP for Leeds West 198387) on Grimond’s leadership of the Liberal Party, 1956 67, and its legacy. Chair: William Wallace, Lord Wallace of Saltaire (press assistant to Jo Grimond during the 1966 general election).

David Lloyd George: the legacy

One of the greatest Liberal prime ministers, David Lloyd George, was born 150 years ago.

Come and discuss his legacy, for the country and for Liberalism, with his biographer Kenneth O. Morgan and David Howarth.

Chair: Lady Celia Thomas.

A Liberal Democrat History Group / Lloyd George Society meeting.

The progressive coalition that never was lessons from the Ashdown-Blair ‘project’

Between 1994 and 1999, Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair led a process of collaboration between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, with the aim not merely of defeating the Conservatives but of establishing clear common ground between the progressive parties in British politics.

Some of the outcomes of this process – ‘the project’, in Ashdown’s phrase – were public, such as the programme of agreed constitutional reforms drawn up by Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan. Far more were secret: covert electoral collaboration in marginal seats during the 1997 election, attempts to agree a programme for government, talks about coalition – and hints of a more permanent alliance.

In the end, the size of Labour’s majority in 1997 destroyed the case for coalition, and the main outcome was a Joint Cabinet Committee between the two parties. What it achieved is not clear, and it was abandoned by Ashdown’s successor Charles Kennedy.

Now, in a period of cooperation between political parties very different from that envisaged by Ashdown and Blair, what can we learn from ‘the project’? What did it achieve? What could it have achieved under different circumstances? And what can it tell us about the desirability and achievability of collaboration between progressive forces?


Paddy Ashdown, Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE
Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988-99

Roger Liddle, Lord Liddle
Special Adviser to Bill Rodgers 1976-81; Member of the SDP and then Liberal Democrats 1981-94, member of the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee; Special Adviser to Tony Blair 1997-2004

Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP
Adviser to Donald Dewar 1988-93, to John Smith 1993-94 and to Tony Blair 1994-2005

Chair: Steve Richards, Chief Political Commentator, The Independent

Jointly organised by the Liberal Democrat History Group and the Labour History Group

The Liberal Party, Unionism and political culture in late 19th and early 20th century Britain

A one-day seminar organised by Newman University College and the Journal of Liberal History.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw great changes in British political culture. The gradual emergence of a mass electorate informed by a popular press, debates about the role of the state in social policy, Imperial upheavals and wars all had their impact on political culture. Political parties got more professional, labour more organised, regional identities sharpened. To accompany this turmoil a new political party, the Liberal Unionists, was formed to oppose Gladstones policy of Irish Home Rule policy, splitting the Liberal family and causing a re-appraisal of what it meant to be a Unionist. The seminar will examine some of the key changes in the political culture of this period against the background of the formation of the Liberal Unionists and the new party and political alignments this brought about.


Professor Robert Colls, University of Leicester – Political culture in Britain 1884-1914

Dr Ian Cawood, Newman UC, Birmingham – The impact of the Liberal Unionists, 1886-1912

Dr Matthew Roberts, Sheffield Hallam University – A terrific outburst of political meteorology: by-elections and the Unionist ascendancy in late Victorian England

Dr James Thompson, Bristol University -The Liberal Party, Liberalism and the visual culture of British politics c.1880-1914

Dr Kathryn Rix, History of Parliament Trust – Professionalisation and political culture: the party agents, 1880-1914

Dr James Owen, History of Parliament Trust – Labour and the caucus: working class radicalism and organised Liberalism in England

The cost of the seminar will be £20 (students and unwaged £10) to include morning refreshments and buffet lunch. Other refreshments will be available to purchase from the coffee bar after the conference closes.

To register please contact Tracy Priest, History Department at Newman University College, Birmingham B32 3NT, 0121 476 1181, t.priest@staff.newman.ac.uk