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,

The Day Parliament Burned Down

In the early evening of 16 October 1834, a huge ball of fire exploded through the roof of the Houses of Parliament, creating a blaze so enormous that it could be seen by the King and Queen at Windsor, and from stagecoaches on top of the South Downs. In front of hundreds of thousands of witnesses the great conflagration destroyed Parliament’s glorious old buildings and their contents. No one who witnessed the disaster would ever forget it.

In a joint meeting between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative History Groups, Dr Caroline Shenton, Clerk of the Records from the Parliamentary Archives, will give a talk on her new book about the 1834 fire, ‘The Day Parliament Burned Down’.

(Note: this meeting is advertised in the latest Journal as taking place on Tuesday 20th October. Our apologies for the error.)

Mothers of liberty: how modern liberalism was made by women

Thanks to their exclusion from the right to vote and to stand for Parliament before 1918, the role of women in Liberal history is often overlooked. Yet many women played crucial roles, from the earliest days of Liberal history, as organisers, campaigners and theorists. This meeting analysed and celebrated the importance of women to the growth and success of Liberal thought and politics.

The meeting also marked the launch of a new History Group booklet, a series of biographies of famous women liberals, which details the contribution of women to Liberal politics from the eighteenth century to the present day.

The speakers were:

Dr Helen McCabe, Oxford University, on women associated with the development of Liberal political thought in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Harriet Taylor Mill and Barbara Bodichon.

Baroness Jane Bonham-Carter, on the story of one of the most significant Liberal women of the 20th century, Violet Bonham Carter.

Jo Swinson MP (PPS to the Deputy Prime Minister) on the role of women in the modern Liberal Democrats.

Chair: Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities, Home Office.

You can ||||watch the meeting online here||.

Winston Churchill: Tory or Liberal?

“I am an English Liberal. I hate the Tory Party, their men, their words and their methods.” These were Winston Churchill’s own words in 1903.

As a Liberal, Churchill held high government office and, along with Lloyd George, was regarded as one of the driving forces of Asquith’s reforming administration. Was Liberalism his true political ideology?

Or should we judge his position from his re-ratting in 1924 and his long association and later leadership of the Conservatives?

Churchill’s party politics came under the spotlight at the History Group fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference. Delivering their verdicts were Professor Martin Pugh, formerly of Newcastle and Liverpool John Moores Universities and Sir Alan Beith, Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-on-Tweed since 1973.

You can ||||watch the meeting online here||.

Whatever happened to ‘Orpington Man’?

The Orpington by-election of March 1962 was a political landmark: a stunning victory for Jo Grimond’s Liberal Party, as Eric Lubbock turned a Conservative majority of 14,760 into a Liberal majority of 7,855. The term ‘Orpington Man’ was coined by the press to identify a new type of voter, young, white-collar, skilled, well-educated and upwardly mobile socially and economically a social group supposedly rejecting an old-fashioned and out-of-touch Tory party but not attracted to a cloth-cap, Clause IV Labour Party either.

The expectation was that this group would decide the next general election and would vote decisively for the Liberal Party. But this never happened. The Liberals did relatively well at the 1964 election, gaining almost 5 per cent of the vote and three more seats – but not in the areas where ‘Orpington Man’ was supposed to live.

So what happened to ‘Orpington Man’? Dennis Kavanagh, Emeritus Professor and Research Fellow in Politics and Communications at Liverpool University and author of many works on British electoral history, and Dr Mark Egan, who recently published the book Coming into Focus: The Transformation of the Liberal Party, 1945-64, will explore the phenomenon of ‘Orpington Man’ from the by-election to the 1964 general election.

Peace, Reform and Liberation: launch of new Liberal history book

Peace, Reform and Liberation is a comprehensive history of Liberal politics in Britain.

Drawing on the most recent scholarly research, the Liberal Democrat History Groups new book examines the roots of Liberal thinking in the revolutionary tumult of the seventeenth century, the history of Whig politics, how the Liberal Party was formed in the mid-nineteenth century, the reasons for the partys calamitous decline after the First World War, and the factors underlying the partys unexpected revival in the second half of the twentieth century, culminating in the formation of the Liberal Democrats and the partys entry into government in 2010.

Edited by Robert Ingham and Duncan Brack; chapter authors include Michael Freeden, Eugenio Biagini, Martin Pugh, David Dutton and Philip Cowley.

Join Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams and Julian Glover (The Guardian) for the launch of Peace, Reform and Liberation at the Liberal Democrat conference. Copies will be on sale at the meeting!

UPDATE: You can watch a recording of the meeting ||||on YouTube||.

Forgotten heroes for a governing party

Some forgotten figures of Liberal history may deserve their obscurity, but most remain an unmined source of reference, quotation and inspiration for the contemporary Liberal Democrat – especially now, when the party is participating in national government for the first time in more than a generation.

At this year’s Liberal Democrat History Group summer meeting, two senior party figures and two well-known academics will rescue their own forgotten heroes from the twilight of history and tell us how their champions’ public lives can influence today’s Liberal Democrats.

Speakers: Lady Floella Benjamin; Lord Navnit Dholakia; Dr Matt Cole; Dr Mark Pack.

The meeting will also mark the launch of Matt Cole’s new biography, Richard Wainwright, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats; copies will be available for sale.

Riding the tiger – the Liberal experience of coalition governments

A one day seminar organised by the Archives Division of the London School of Economics, the British Liberal Political Studies Group and the Journal of Liberal History.

The distinguished psephologist Dr David Butler has pointed out that coalitions between unequal partners can turn out to be like the relationship between the tiger and the young lady of Riga. But they can also last and achieve success, despite Disraelis classic pronouncement that England does not love them. The formation of the present government offers a tempting opportunity to re-examine the Liberal experience of coalitions in 19th and 20th century British history.

Speakers who have agreed to give papers at this event:

Professor Kenneth O Morgan Liberals in Coalition, 1916-1922

Sue Donnelly and Nick White, Archives Division, LSE Relevant papers in the Liberal Party archives at the British Library of Political & Economic Science

Dr Angus Hawkins, Oxford University – Whigs, Peelites and Liberals: Coalition politics before 1886

Dr Ian Cawood, Newman University College, Birmingham – The Liberal Unionists, 1886-1912

Dr Ian Packer, Lincoln University – The formation and fall of the wartime Coalition of H H Asquith, 1915-1916

Professor David Dutton, Liverpool University – The Liberal Party and the National Government, 1931-1940

Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell, Leicester University – Winston Churchill and Coalitions

Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford England does not love Coalitions (Disraeli): a summary of the Liberal experience of coalition politics

(Exact titles of contributions may alter slightly)

The cost of the seminar will be £15 to include refreshments at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Lunch is not provided but there are plenty of good value eateries near the venue.

To register please contact: Archives Division, Library, London School of Economics, 10 Portugal Street, London, WC2A 2HD, 020 7955 7221 or by email:

Please arrive between 0915 and 0945 on the day. Please be aware that the TUC are holding a demonstration in Westminster on this day and there will be disruption to travel across and into central London. Temple station is likely to be closed. Please allow plenty of time to get to the LSE and book train tickets as far in advance as you can if travelling into to London stations.

Lords Reform 1911-2011

The 1911 Parliament Act, introduced in the wake of the rejection by the House of Lords of Lloyd George’s People’s Budget and the two general elections of 1910, was the first successful reform of the powers of the upper house and gave constitutional supremacy to the elected House of Commons.

Now, one hundred years after the 1911 Parliament Act, the Liberal Democrat History Group’s fringe meeting will examine the development of Lords reform since and look forward to the Coalitions plans for the most far-reaching changes to the House of Lords since the Liberal governments reforms of 1911 ended the upper houses ability to block legislation.

Speakers: Lord Jonathan Marks, Lib Dem member of the House of Lords; Lord Norton, Professor of Government, University of Hull. Chair: Baroness Ros Scott.

The Great Reform Act of 1832: its legacy and influence on the Coalition’s reform agenda

Soon after becoming Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg promised “the most significant programmes of reform by a British government since the 19th century…. the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832.” But how do the Coalition governments constitutional changes actually compare to the changes brought in by the Great Reform Bill of 1832?

Dr Philip Salmon of the History of Parliament Trust will talk about the background to the passing of the Great Reform Bill and the impact of 1832 on British political history. Dr Mark Pack, co-editor of Lib Dem Voice and former Head of Innovations at Cowley Street, will draw comparisons between 1832 and the Coalition reform agenda.

Chair: William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire, government whip in the Lords).

Election 2010 in historical perspective

The 2010 election must rank as one of the strangest in the history of the Liberal Democrats or its predecessor parties. Britains first-ever television debates saw the party catapulted into the front rank of news coverage. Yet after successive opinion polls regularly showed the Lib Dems in at least second place, the result was a crashing disappointment; although the party gained almost a million votes, the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system meant that it lost a net five seats.

Yet in losing, the party won. The outcome of the election – a hung parliament – at last gave the Liberal Democrats a chance of power, and led to Britains first coalition government for sixty-five years.

Discuss the election campaign and its outcome with John Curtice (Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University), Dennis Kavanagh (author, ‘The British General Election of 2010’) and James Gurling (Chair, Liberal Democrat Campaigns & Communications Committee).

Thomas Paine and the radical liberal tradition

To coincide with the publication of the special issue of the Journal of Liberal History on Liberalism and the Left (summer 2010), we are delighted to welcome Prof Edward Royle and Dr Edward Vallance to the History Group for an evening focusing on the life, works and influence of Thomas Paine.

In the two centuries since Paine’s death, his works and reputation have been both vilified and appropriated by individuals and movements from across the political spectrum. His name has become a touchstone of left-wing and liberal thought, celebrated for the courage of his political vision, even as the specific context of his writings has too often been disregarded. We invite our speakers to consider the continued resonance of Paine’s thought and to assess his relevance for radical and liberal activists today.

Speakers: Edward Royle, Emeritus Professor, University of York and author of many works on 18th and 19th century history including Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections on the Threats of Revolution in Britain, 17891848 and Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium: A Study of the Harmony Community; Dr Edward Vallance, University of Roehampton and author of A Radical History of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries the Men and Women who fought for our Freedom and The Glorious Revolution: 1688 Britains Fight for Liberty. Chair: Dr Richard Grayson, Head of Politics, Goldsmiths College, guest editor of the Liberalism and the Left special issue of the Journal and co- editor of After the Crash: Reinventing the Left in Britain and Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century.