Liberal Democrat History Group’s Sound Archive

Adrian Slade carried out all the interviews and here he explains their background: Since 2004 the Journal of Liberal History has been the guardian of what, although I say it myself, is now becoming a uniquely interesting party archive a set of CDs and audio-cassette tapes of in-depth interviews I have conducted with leading Liberal […]

National Sound Archive

The National Sound Archive at the British Library holds various recordings of key Liberal figures.

Richard Holme on the merger negotiations

My recollections of the process which led to the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP are hazy since I am not a diary-keeper. Nor can I give anything but an outsider's view of the formal merger negotiations since, to my chagrin at the time, I was not elected to be a member of the negotiating team – any small ability I had as a negotiator being nullified in the eyes of the Party Assembly by my parti-pris commitment to the merger itself.

The Liberals and Ireland since 1801

Underneath the surface of this [Irish question], and wrapped up in it, are nearly all the controversies of principle which will agitate the political atmosphere of our time. It is a microcosm of the whole imperial question.

The Newcastle Programme

The general election of 1885 was the first fought on the enlarged franchise of the third reform act and the first in which the parties competed for the votes of large numbers of agricultural workers. This stimulated both a new political debate and the development of campaigning techniques which would inform the next election.

Liberals and women

When the Victorian women's movement emerged in the 1850s and 1860s it attracted women from Liberal families such as Barbara Leigh Smith who had been associated with Liberal crusades for temperance, anti-slavery and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Feminist achievements later in the century owed much to Liberals, notably Josephine Butler's campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts, Eva MacLaren's work for the Women's Local Government Society, and Millicent Fawcett's leadership of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

Liberal Party funding between the wars

One of the major problems facing the Liberal Party in the inter-war period was the lack of funds that they had at their disposal. As the Party became increasingly defunct, so it became impossible to attract the wealthy donors, who formed the foundation of the Liberal finances.

Popular Radicalism

'Popular radicalism' embraced a range of causes and beliefs in nineteenth-century Britain. For most readers, it relates to agitation outside parliament to secure a democratic franchise on the basis of 'one-man, one vote'. Until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, very few people were arguing that women should get the vote on the same basis as men.

Extract from Gladstone’s 3rd Midlothian speech on foreign policy

Following his electoral defeat in 1874, Gladstone resigned the Liberal leadership and, in his sixties, hoped to spend the rest of his life in retirement. The Balkan Massacres of 1876 drew him back to politics in protest at what he saw as Disraeli’s (Lord Beaconsfield’s) cynical reaction and his own party’s supine response.

Women’s Liberal Federation

The Women's Liberal Federation was formed between 1886 and 1887 under the presidency of Gladstone's daughter, Catherine and by the turn of the century, the organisation had around 60,000 members and almost 500 local branches.

Liberal Nadir, 1935-56

The 1935 General Election was a catastrophic defeat for the Liberals. The number of MPs for the party was reduced to 19, 12 of whom had majorities of less than 2,000, seven less than 1,000. The party's leader, Herbert Samuel, former Cabinet Minister and Governor-General of Palestine, was defeated at Darwen in Lancashire; other leading Liberals such as Isaac Foot, Harcourt Johnstone and Walter Rea all shared the same fate.

‘Dead Parrot’ document

The 'Dead Parrot' became the nickname of the policy document due to be issued, alongside the new party's constitution, at the successful culmination of merger negotiations between the SDP and the Liberals. In fact it proved a disaster, nearly upsetting the whole merger process, after its controversial contents were disowned by Liberal MPs and activists on the very day it was due to be released.

Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Belief in free trade became an enduring characteristic of British liberalism in the 19th century but its roots were complex. In part it stemmed from popular Radical hostility to monopoly in all its forms, in part from the diffusion of Smithian and Ricardian political economy and in part from the administrative pragmatism, reinforced by evangelical religion, of the liberal Tories in the 1820s.

Remember The Rights of The Savage

Following his electoral defeat in 1874, Gladstone resigned the Liberal leadership and, in his sixties, hoped to spend the rest of his life in retirement. The Balkan Massacres of 1876 drew him back to politics in protest at what he saw as Disraeli’s (Lord Beaconsfield’s) cynical reaction and his own party’s supine response.

Grimond and the first post-war revival

The apogee of two-party politics in the UK was reached in the 1950s. At the 1955 election, the Conservative and Labour parties, and their allies, between them took 96.10 per cent of the vote and 98.73 per cent of the parliamentary seats in the UK.

The Liberal Democrats

The merger of the Liberals and the SDP was finally completed on 3 March 1988, when the new Social & Liberal Democrats (SLD) was formally launched following a majority vote by the memberships of both parties.

The Anti-Corn Law League

The second Corn Law of 1828 sparked a wave of radical protest amongst Britain’s urban classes by introducing a sliding scale of duties on foreign wheat, thus causing bread prices to fluctuate excessively during a period that was plagued by high unemployment and poor harvests. The Corn Laws were seen to safeguard the interests of Britain’s traditional country landowners, at the expense of her new and growing industrial class and urban dwellers soon took exception to the resulting rise in food prices.