Founding the welfare state

A hundred years ago, in 1908, H. H. Asquith’s government introduced the Old Age Pensions Bill. This was just the beginning of a comprehensive Liberal programme of social reform, including national insurance, minimum wages, labour exchanges and compulsory school meals, among much else. Did this programme really represent a decisive break with nineteenth-century notions of a minimal state, or was it simply an attempt to counter the challenge of the emerging Labour movement? Debate the issue in this centenary year of the Pensions Act.

Speakers: Dr Ian Packer, Lincoln University; author of ‘Liberal Government and Politics, 1905-15’, and Joe Harris, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention. Chair: Lady Jane Bonham Carter, Asquith’s great-granddaughter.

Working with Others: the Lib-Lab Pact, 1977-78

From March 1977 to October 1978, the Liberal Party kept Jim Callaghan’s Labour government in power through the Lib-Lab Pact. Labour ministers consulted systematically with Liberal spokespeople across a wide range of policy areas.

Arguably, the Pact restored a degree of political and economic stability to the country, but its achievements from a Liberal point of view were highly limited and it did not appear to be popular with the country at large.

Yet, in the longer term, the Pact can be seen to have paved the way for the concept of different political parties working together which led in the following decade to the LiberalSDP Alliance and may ultimately lead to coalition government at Westminster.

Twenty years on from the Pact, key participants from both sides discuss its history and impact.

Speakers: David Steel (Leader of the Liberal Party 1976-88); Tom McNally (Head of the Prime Ministers Political Office 1976-79); Michael Steed (President of the Liberal Party 1978-79, and academic psephologist). Chair: Geoff Tordoff (Chairman of the Liberal Party 1976-79).

Salad days: merger twenty years on

Twenty years ago a new political party was born from the merger of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties the Social & Liberal Democrats (or Salads, as the party was disparagingly nicknamed by its opponents).

This meeting will explore the political background to the merger and the byzantine process of negotiation through which it which it came about. Did it really deserve the description of merger most foul?

Speakers: Lord Clement-Jones, member of the Liberal merger negotiating team; Lord Goodhart, member of the SDP merger negotiating team; and Professor David Dutton, Liverpool University.

Torrington ’58: Liberal survival and revival, 1945-79

On 27 March 1958, Mark Bonham Carter, Asquith’s grandson, won the Parliamentary by-election in the Devon seat of Torrington by a margin of just 219 votes.

It was the first Liberal by-election gain since the 1920s. Although the seat was lost in the 1959 general election, it marked the beginning of the first major Liberal post-war revival, under the leadership of Jo Grimond.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Torrington by-election, the Archives of the London School of Economics, the Liberal Democrat History Group and the Richard Scurrah Wainwright Trust are holding a seminar to investigate the post-Second World War experience of the Liberal Party – from the defeats of the 1945 general election to the general election of 1979, when 13 Liberal MPs were elected.

The keynote address will be given by Lord Dholakia and Lord Wallace, on ‘Campaigning Liberals in the 1950s and 1960s’.

Other sessions during the day will include:

Liberal campaigning: elections and by-elections
Local government – grassroots survival
Leaders and leadership
Collaboration – pacts and other parties.

Speakers include Lord Kirkwood, Lord Greaves, Michael Meadowcroft and Martin Wainwright.

Cost: £10 (including refreshments)

David Lloyd George

Owen Lloyd George, the present and 3rd Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, the grandson of Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, will speak about his famous ancestor at the Kettner Lunch (organised jointly together with the Liberal Democrat History Group) to be held at the National Liberal Club on 15th April.

The lunch takes place at 1.00pm and costs £15 for two courses, followed by coffee and mints. You do not have to be a member of the National Liberal Club or the History Group to attend.

Liberals and local government in London since the 1970s

Winning local elections has been a keystone in Liberal (Democrat) success in the years since the adoption of the community politics strategy at the Eastbourne Assembly in 1970. There have been many spectacular advances across London, from the heartland of the south western boroughs to Southwark, Islington and more recently breakthroughs on Camden and Brent to share power there. But there are still black holes – ten London boroughs with no Lib Dem representation; and places like Harrow and Tower Hamlets where we controlled the council only to see a near wipe out follow.

In a meeting supported by the Lib Dem group on London Councils, the umbrella organisation representing all 32 London boroughs, the City of London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the History Group will look at the performance of Liberals in London local government since the 1970s with our speakers being two key players from the party. Cllr Stephen Knight of London Councils will chair the meeting and our speakers will be Cllr Sir David Williams, first elected for Ham and Petersham Ward in 1974 and a former leader of Richmond Council and London Assembly member Mike Tuffrey, who was also GLC/ILEA member for Vauxhall in the 1980s.

The search for the greatest Liberal

William Ewart Gladstone, John Maynard Keynes, David Lloyd George or John Stuart Mill: who was the greatest British Liberal?

Journal readers voted in the summer to whittle down a long-list of fifteen to these final four. Now, in the final stage, leading politicians and historians make the case for each one, and Journal readers and conference participants will be able to vote for the final choice of the greatest Liberal.

Paddy Ashdown speaks for Gladstone; Tom McNally for Keynes; Kenneth Morgan for Lloyd George; and Richard Reeves for John Stuart Mill. Chair: Martin Kettle, The Guardian.

Rufus Isaacs

The Marquess of Reading and David Howarth (Lib Dem MP for Cambridge) will talk on Rufus Isaacs, successively Liberal MP for Reading, 1904-13, Lord Chief Justice, Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary in the 1931 National government.

12.45 for 1.00pm start.

£15 for 2 course meal with coffee and mints.

Think Liberal: The Dictionary of Liberal Thought

‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Locke, Bentham, Mill, Hobhouse, Keynes, Rawls … Liberalism has been built on more than three centuries work of political thinkers and writers, and the aspirations of countless human beings who have fought for freedom, democracy, the rule of law and open and tolerant societies.

Now, in the first-ever such publication, the History Group’s Dictionary of Liberal Thought provides an accessible guide to the key thinkers, groups and concepts associated with liberalism – not only British but also European and American. The essential reference book for every thinking Liberal.

This meeting will launch the new Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

Speakers: David Howarth MP and Michael Meadowcroft. Chair: Steve Webb MP, Liberal Democrat manifesto coordinator.

Liberalism and British national identity

When people are asked what makes up Britishness, they often give the notions of ‘fair play’ ‘tolerance’ or ‘personal liberty’ as part of the answer. Liberals regard these concepts as elemental to liberal philosophy but just how far has liberalism informed the construction of British national identity in the last 100 years and how liberal will new British identities emerging in the Britain of devolution, European Union enlargement, multi-culturalism and the ‘War on Terror’ be?

Speakers: Robert Colls, Professor of English History at Leicester University and Professor John Solomos, Head of Sociology at City University.

Chair: Nick Clegg MP.

(This meeting follows the History Group AGM at 6.30pm)

Yellow Book versus Orange Book: Is it time for a new New Liberalism?

A hundred years ago, the Liberal landslide victory in the 1906 election opened the way for a period of radical social reform based on the social-liberal ideology of the New Liberalism.

British Liberalism changed decisively from its nineteenth-century Gladstonian inheritance of non-interventionism in economic and social issues to accepting a much more activist role for the state, exemplified by the introduction of graduated income tax, old-age pensions and national insurance. With a few exceptions, the party adhered to this social liberalism throughout the remainder of the century.

In 2004, the authors of the Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism challenged this nanny-state liberalism and argued that the Liberal Democrats needed to return to their nineteenth-century heritage and reclaim economic liberalism.
Which way now for the Liberal Democrats? What can we draw from the lessons of history? Debate the question with Paul Marshall, co-editor of the Orange Book and its successor, and Ed Randall, co-editor of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

The Suez crisis

Fifty years ago, in July 1956, the Egyptian President, Colonel Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal, to the anger and frustration of the British and French governments, who were the majority shareholders.

Prime Minister Eden reached a secret agreement with France and Israel to provoke hostilities through an invasion of Sinai by Israeli forces, using this as a pretext for Anglo-French military intervention in Egypt. The decision to send British troops to occupy the canal zone led to the downfall of Eden and represented what one historian of the Liberal Party has called a watershed for Jo Grimond and his party. Fifty years on, a leading contemporary historian re-examines the impact of Suez on the opposition parties.

Speaker: Peter Barberis, Professor of Politics at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of Liberal Lion, a biography of Jo Grimond. Chair: Richard Grayson.

Defender of Liberties: Charles James Fox

2006 saw the bicentary of the death of the Whig leader Charles James Fox. A proponent of the supremacy of Parliament, the freedom of the press and the rights and civil liberties of the people, and a believer in reform, rationalism and progress, rather than repression, the ideas he defended particularly over the challenge of the state to the liberties of the individual in time of war are as relevant to our own times as to those of the Britain of 200 years ago.

Blissful Dawn? The 1906 Election

On 7 February 1906, the counting of votes was completed in the 1906 general election, and the Liberal Party had obtained a majority of 132 over all other parties. In addition, for the first time, 29 Labour MPs were elected and shortly afterwards the Parliamentary Labour Party was founded. To mark this anniversary, the Corporation of London is organising a lecture to which all Liberal Democrat History Group members are invited.

Speaker: Lord (Kenneth) Morgan, author of definitive biographies of Keir Hardie and Jim Callaghan, and one of the foremost historians of twentieth-century Britain.

Election 2005 in historical perspective

The 2005 election saw the Liberal Democrats win a higher number of seats than at any time since 1923, and, for the second election in a row, gain both votes and seats after a period of Labour government – a historically unprecedented achievement.

Yet many had hoped for an even better result, and the election campaign itself saw relatively little movement in the Lib Dem standing in the opinion polls. Did 2005 represent steady progress, or a missed opportunity?

Liberals and organised labour

The loss of the support of organised labour during the late Victorian and Edwardian period was a key factor in the decline of the Liberal Party as an electoral force.

Once this confidence in the party was gone, the Liberals never got it back and trade union and labour issues have never since had the highest priority in Liberal politics.

The speakers examined why and how organised labour broke away from supporting the Liberal Party, and its impact on the Liberal vote.

Civil liberties in war and peace

Law and order has long been a major issue in British politics.

The Blair Government brought in legislation to introduce national identity cards; ministers claimed that this measure will make UK citizens more secure from the threats of international terrorism and domestic crime.

Especially since 9/11, how to strike the correct balance between protecting the state and promoting the liberties of the citizen has been the subject of heated political debate.

This meeting examined how Liberals over the last 200 years have responded to repressive measures taken in the name of security.

Roy Jenkins: reformer, visionary, statesman

Reforming Home Secretary, successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, principled European, groundbreaking President of the European Commission and distinguished man of letters, Roy Jenkins had a deep impact on British politics and inspired generations of liberals.

This meeting marked the publication of Roy Jenkins: A Retrospective (Oxford University Press), a collection of essays by friends and associates from every stage of his life, edited by Andrew Adonis and Keith Thomas.

Liberals in Liverpool: Their Legacy

Liverpool has been a Liberal Democrat success. Why?

Trevor Jones and Mike Storey outline the pioneering campaigning that took the city from Labour and its continuing legacy.