Sir Donald Maclean, 1864-1932

Sir Donald Maclean had greatness thrust upon him. Until 1918, everything in his career suggested that he was living a useful public life which would one day merit an obituary notice in The Times, but would hardly bring him into the first rank of politics – yet he was to play a critical and unexpected […]

Megan Lloyd George, 1902-1966

Megan Lloyd George was born at Criccieth, Caernarfonshire, on 22 April 1902, the third daughter and fifth child of David Lloyd George and his wife Margaret. Until the age of four she could speak only Welsh. She was educated privately, in part by Frances Stevenson, who became her father’s mistress and in 1943 his second wife, […]

Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins), 1920-2003

Roy Jenkins played a significant role in developing and articulating a new progressive vision of social, political and constitutional change. His reforms at the Home Office helped to transform Britain into a more modern, more civilised society. He was a successful, if orthodox, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He played an important and consistent role in […]

Sir Edward Grey (Viscount Grey of Fallodon), 1862-1933

Sir Edward Grey, third Baronet and first Viscount Grey of Fallodon, was the longest serving Foreign Secretary of the twentieth century, guiding Britain’s foreign policy in 1905-16. In the 1920s, he was a prominent voice on foreign affairs, and a strong supporter of Asquithian Liberalism. Grey’s importance to British politics as Foreign Secretary lay in […]

Herbert Gladstone (Viscount Gladstone), 1854-1930

Herbert John, Viscount Gladstone, was the fourth and youngest son of William Ewart Gladstone and his wife Catherine. He was born on 7 January 1854 at 12, Downing Street (now No. 11), which his father then occupied as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was thus born at the heart of politics, and remained there for most […]

William Edward Forster, 1818-1886

W. E. Forster was a typical nineteenth century Radical: a successful self-made businessman of nonconformist origins who was driven by his conscience to work for the less well-off in the community. His great achievement was the successful creation of the framework for a state education system which is still recognisable today. His ill fortune was […]

Isaac Foot, 1880-1960

Isaac Foot was born in Plymouth, Devon on 23 February 1880, the fifth child of Isaac and Eliza, nee Ryder. His father was a carpenter and undertaker, who, as a young man, had migrated from Horrabridge, Devon, the family home for at least three centuries, to Plymouth, building his own home at 20, Notte Street. […]

Dingle Foot, 1905-1978

Throughout Britain, particular constituencies and cities have had a long connection with certain families – for instance, the Chamberlains in Birmingham and the Cecils in south Dorset. In Plymouth, politics has been dominated by the Foot family, principally Isaac Foot but also four of his five sons. These include Hugh (later Lord Caradon), John, and the […]

Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire on 30 November 1874, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jennie. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, and embarked on a military career which took him to India and Africa. He also began to make a name for himself as […]

Joseph Chamberlain, 1836-1914

In a picture postcard (Tuck & Sons Ltd, c. 1905) Radical Joseph was pictured wearing a coat of many colours. Each segment was labelled with different stages in his political career: socialist, extreme radical, Gladstonian, Liberal Unionist, Conservative and protectionist and food taxer. Inconsistent was one of the more favourable epithets used of Chamberlain. To […]

Charles Bradlaugh, 1833-1891

Charles Bradlaugh was born on 26 September 1833 in Hoxton, London, the eldest of the seven children of a poor solicitor’s clerk, and he received only an elementary education. Though brought up in the Church of England, he came to doubt the doctrines of Christianity. Pressure to conform drove him from home in 1850 and […]

Violet Bonham Carter (Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury), 1887-1969

Violet Bonham Carter was born in Hampstead on 15 April 1887 as Helen Violet Asquith, the daughter of Herbert Henry Asquith and his first wife Helen Melland. In 1891 Violet’s mother died of typhoid fever, and in 1894 Asquith married Margot Tennant. At the time of Violet’s birth, Asquith had just entered the House of Commons. […]

Christopher Addison (Lord Addison), 1869-1951

When in November 1918 Lloyd George promised to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in, it fell to Christopher Addison to formulate and carry out the policy through which homes would be provided for the men returning from the Great War. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, under which local authorities […]

Graham Wallas, 1858-1932

Graham Wallas was born in Sunderland on 31 May 1858, the son of an Evangelical clergyman of the Church of England who later became Rector of Shobrooke in Devon, where the young Wallas was brought up. He went to public school at Shrewsbury and thence to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he read Greats. Wallas […]

Adam Smith, 1723-1790

Adam Smith did for economic liberalism what John Locke had done for political liberalism, namely, to lay the philosophical foundations on which others would build a distinctive liberal tradition. Smith’s ideas, however, have permeated the western political tradition to the extent where not only liberals but also other contemporary schools of thought claim to be […]

David Ricardo, 1772-1823

Less well-known than Adam Smith, Ricardo is nevertheless his intellectual and philosophical equal. He is credited alongside Smith with founding the classical school of economics. Inspired by Smith and driven by his friend, James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), Ricardo provides an historical bridge between the economic and political liberals, although his own writings […]

Thomas Paine, 1737-1809

Thomas Paine was born on 29 January 1737 at Thetford in Norfolk and was educated at the local grammar school. His father was a stay-maker, and this was Paine’s first occupation. In 1759, he married Mary Lambert, the daughter of a customs officer, but she died within a few months. This may have determined him […]

Ramsay Muir, 1872-1941

Ramsay Muir was a leading figure in the Liberal Summer School movement and the National Liberal Federation in the 1920s and 1930s. He was briefly a Liberal MP, but, more importantly, he was one of the most prominent Liberal thinkers in inter-war Britain, and had a marked influence on party policy. After his death, Muir […]

John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873

John Stuart Mill, philosopher, economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, Liberal MP, is one of the most famous figures in the pantheon of Liberal theorists, and the greatest of the Victorian Liberal thinkers. Yet his relevance is not restricted to the nineteenth century; as L. T. Hobhouse wrote in 1911, in his single […]

Michael Meadowcroft, 1942-

Michael Meadowcroft was Liberal MP for Leeds West from 1983 to 1987, confounding sceptics to win a solidly inner-city seat by using the community politics approach which he had helped to develop over the preceding fifteen years. He was the main, indeed very nearly the only, philosopher of applied Liberalism within the old Liberal Party […]