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.

Red Guard versus Old Guard? The influence of the Young Liberal movement on the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s a witness seminar

In the 1960s and early 1970s the press coined the phrase the “Red Guard” to describe the radical politics of the youth wing of the Liberal Party. At the 1966 Party Conference in Brighton, the Red Guard sponsored an anti-NATO resolution. Over the next decade the YLs were active on a number of foreign policy areas. They were at the forefront of the opposition to apartheid and the Vietnam war and took a leading role in the Stop the Seventy Tour of South African cricket and rugby teams. The party leadership were disturbed by the activities of the youth wing, and Jeremy Thorpe set up a three-man commission which produced the Terrell Report. The report accused some of the Young Liberals of being communists.

Chair (Lord) Tony Greaves

Speaker Dr Matt Cole, Lecturer at the London School of Economics for the Hansard Society and author of Richard Wainwright, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats: Unfinished Business, shortly to be published by Manchester University Press

Witnesses who have agreed to attend are Gordon Lishman, William Wallace, Terry Lacey, Michael Steed and George Kiloh, and we welcome other testimony from audience members.

What’s left of Gladstonian Liberalism in the Liberal Democrats?

Since the publication of The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism edited by David Laws and Paul Marshall in 2004, there has been an ongoing discussion in the Liberal Democrats about whether the party needs to return to the nineteenth-century Gladstonian inheritance of non-interventionism in economic and social affairs, self-help and an emphasis on personal and political as opposed to social liberalism.

Now, in celebration of the bi-centenary of the birth of William Ewart Gladstone in 1809, the History Group is holding a meeting to find out what Gladstonian Liberalism was and how it came to dominate late Victorian politics and to discover just how much of the classical liberal inheritance the Grand Old Man has actually passed down to the current-day Liberal Democrats.

Speakers: Dr Eugenio Biagini, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and author of many works on 19th century history and ideas including Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform. Popular liberalism in the age of Gladstone, 1860-1880; Chris Huhne MP (Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary)

Meeting follows the History Group AGM which is at 6.30pm.

A celebration and exploration of aspects of the life, career and thought of John Stuart Mill

In 1859, the philosopher and leading liberal theorist of Victorian Britain, John Stuart Mill, published his most important and enduring work On Liberty. In this essay Mill set out the principle, still acknowledged as universal and valid today, that only the threat of harm to others could justify interfering with anyones liberty of action.

The Liberal Democrat History Group, the London School of Economics and the British Liberal Political Studies Group are holding a one-day symposium to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of On Liberty and to publicise the archive of papers left by Mill and his wife Harriet Taylor who, according to Mill, was as much responsible for On Liberty as he was himself.

The event will be held from 9.30am 5pm at the London School of Economics. Speakers who have agreed to give papers include:

David Howarth, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge: The importance of J S Mill and On Liberty to British thought and politics today

Dr Eugenio Biagini, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge: J S Mill and the Victorian Liberal Party

Dr Annabelle Lever, Institute of Science Ethics & Innovation, Manchester Law School: Mill and the Secret Ballot

Dr Georgios Varouxakis, Queen Mary, University of London: Mills Vision of International Relations

Sue Donnelly, Archivist at the LSE Library: The Mill-Taylor Archives at the LSE (with optional visit to see papers in the archive over the lunch break)

Dr Michael Levin, Emeritus Reader in Politics, Goldsmiths College, University of London: Mill and the Threat to Civilization

Dr Alan Butt Philip, University of Bath and J S Mill Institute: Mill as a politician

The cost of the conference will be £10 to include refreshments at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

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

A delicate balance

The long-term decline in popularity of Labour and the Conservatives, and the growth in the number of third-party MPs at Westminster including mostly notably those of the Liberal Democrats means that a Parliament with no single-party overall majority is now arithmetically much more likely.

Any third party holding the balance of power in Parliament finds itself facing both opportunities and threats. It may be able to influence events to ensure elements of its own programme are implemented, either through coalition government or other, less formal, arrangements. Or it may find itself relegated to impotence, prone to internal divisions and squeezed in the following election.

Over the last ninety years the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats have lived through both types of experience. This meeting is designed to discuss how the party handled the situations it found itself in, and whether, in retrospect, it could have done better (or worse).

Speakers: Professor Martin Pugh (hung parliaments in the 1920s); Lord Tom McNally (Lib-Lab Pact, 1970s) and David Laws MP (Scottish Parliament, 1999). Chair: Duncan Brack (Editor, Journal of Liberal History).

Supported by The Guardian.

The strange birth of Liberal England

One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 6 June 1859, at Willis Rooms in St James, Westminster, Radical, Peelite and Whig Members of Parliament met to formalise their Parliamentary coalition to oust the Conservative government and finally brought about the formation of the Liberal Party.

To commemorate the compact made at Willis Rooms in 1859 and the consequent founding of the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democrat History Group and the National Liberal Cub are organising a joint event at the Club on the evening of 20 July 2009. There will be a reception at 7.00pm, followed by dinner at 7.30. The evening will be chaired by Lord Wallace of Saltaire (William Wallace), the President of the Liberal Democrat History Group.

After dinner, Ros Scott, President of the Liberal Democrats, and Professor Anthony Howe of the University of East Anglia and author of the books, Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946 and Rethinking Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays, will give talks.

The National Liberal Club has invited the former leaders of the Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats and the pre-merger SDP and other guests to attend the evening. We are hoping that one or more of these distinguished guests may say a few words on the legacy of the Liberal tradition established in 1859 on the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats.

Admission to the event will include wine at the reception and dinner at a cost of £40. If you would like to celebrate 150 years of Liberalism with us, please contact: The Club Secretary, National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HE, 020 7930 9871, fax 020 7839 4768, email

UPDATE: A podcast of Anthony Howe’s speech is available at ||||Liberal Democrat Voice||.

Fighting Labour: the struggle for radical supremacy in Scotland 1885-1929

The Liberal Democrat History Group is holding its first meeting in Scotland as part of the fringe at the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ spring conference. The meeting will look back at the Liberal Party’s contribution to radical, progressive politics in Scotland and its struggle with Labour in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in the years following Asquith’s by-election win in Paisley in 1920.

Speakers: Professor Richard Finlay, Head of History Department, Strathclyde University; Dr Catriona MacDonald, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University; Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Jim Wallace), former Deputy First Minister of Scotland

Chair: Robert Brown MSP

Liberal Democrats in Europe, 21 years of success or failure?

The Liberal Party and the SDP were the most pro-European of the British political parties. So how has their successor party fared in European politics since merger in 1988? How has the party adapted to the wide range of liberal thought represented by our sister parties in ALDE and ELDR?

Speakers: Graham Watson MEP (Leader of ALDE) will look at the record of the Lib Dem group in the European Parliament; Florus Wijsenbeek (former Dutch Liberal MP and first secretary-general of ELDR) will examine where the party fits on the European liberal spectrum and whether there have been changes in ideological or political position by the Lib Dems over the past twenty one years.

Chair: Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP

‘Taxes that will bring forth fruit’ – The centenary of the People’s Budget of 1909

Following the introduction of Old Age Pensions by the Liberal government of H H Asquith in 1908 and the plans to legislate for limited unemployment and sickness benefit through National Insurance, Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George brought in the means to pay for these measures, as well as for naval rearmament, in his 1909 People’s Budget. It was a truly radical budget as, for the first time, an attempt was made to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

The budget led to a constitutional stand-off between the government and the House of Lords. Finally, after the two general elections of 1910, the House of Lords agreed to pass the Parliament Act of 1911, confirming the primacy of the elected over the hereditary chamber.

The meeting will examine the political context in which the budget was introduced and evaluate its importance to Liberalism 100 years ago and its resonance today.

Speakers: Professor Lord Kenneth O. Morgan (historian and biographer of Lloyd George) and Dr Vince Cable MP (Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Chancellor).

Chair: William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire).