History

Dadabhai Naoroji, 1825-1917

When four black Labour MPs were elected to the House of Commons at the 1987 general election, much was made of the political breakthrough this represented for Britain’s ethnic minority communities. But the first non-white to win a Parliamentary seat had achieved his victory, as a Liberal, nearly a hundred years earlier.

Earl of Kimberley (John Wodehouse), 1826-1902

When Lord Kimberley died on 8 April 1902, he was commonly remembered as Gladstone’s loyal lieutenant: competent, hard-working, and high-minded. By praising these very civilian virtues in the context of war-charged, turn-of-the-century high politics, his twentieth-century eulogists were politely wondering exactly why Kimberley had mattered. After all, as one journalist wrote, he was as far […]

Earl Granville (Granville George Leveson Gower), 1815-1891

For more than thirty years, at the height of its strength in the country, Lord Granville led the Victorian Liberal Party in the House of Lords, where it was in a perpetual minority. His diplomatic skills contributed significantly to its legislative achievements and to preserving the unity of a party always threatening to splinter. Granville […]

Earl of Rosebery (Archibald Philip Primrose), 1847-1929

Rosebery is perhaps the least well-known of the Liberal Prime Ministers, having the misfortune to serve in the office for only a short period, immediately after the extended career of the charismatic Gladstone. He had a difficult relationship with the radicals of his parliamentary party, not because of his social policy attitudes (he was a […]

Marquess of Hartington (Duke of Devonshire), 1833-1908

The birth of the modern Liberal Party in 1859 brought together three disparate elements, Whigs, Peelites and Radicals. Hartington, as he was known for most of his political life, epitomised the Whig contribution to government – rich, aristocratic but driven by noblesse oblige to take public office. When he broke with Gladstone in the 1880s it […]

Herbert Henry Asquith (Earl of Oxford and Asquith), 1852-1928

H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister from April 1908 to December 1916, bore the chief part in some of the greatest Liberal achievements of the twentieth century. Herbert Henry Asquith was born at Morley, West Yorkshire, on 12 September 1852. His father died when he was eight, and in 1863, sent to London to live with […]

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, 1836-1908

There have been four Liberals at the head of clearly Liberal governments – Gladstone, Rosebery, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. Three of them are well-known names. Yet of the four, ‘CB’ was far and away the best party leader. Only Grimond, in very different circumstances, can compare with him. Had Campbell-Bannerman not become leader in […]

William Ewart Gladstone, 1809-1898

As Roy Jenkins concluded in his masterly biography, ‘Mr Gladstone was almost as much the epitome of the Victorian age as the great Queen herself’. He was the political giant of his lifetime and even at the end of the twentieth century the principles and aspirations he brought to public life are still inherent in the […]

Sir William Harcourt, 1827-1904

William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt was born at York on 14 October 1827, of a land-owning and clerical family which traced its ancestry to the Plantagenet kings. His elder brother, Edward Harcourt, was a staunch Conservative and for eight years an MP. William Harcourt’s views, however, began to take a Liberal turn in the […]

David Lloyd-George (Earl Lloyd-George and Viscount Gwynedd), 1863-1945

Lloyd George, according to Winston Churchill after his death, ‘was the greatest Welshman which that unconquerable race has produced since the age of the Tudors’. Yet he was born in England at 5 New York Place, Robert Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester on 17 January 1863. His parents, William George, a school teacher, and Elizabeth Lloyd, a […]

Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse, 1864-1929

Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse, born at Liskeard, Cornwall on 8 September 1864, came from a long line of Anglican clerics. His father, the Venerable Reginald Hobhouse, was Rector of St Ive, near Liskeard, a position he had obtained through his political connections with Sir Robert Peel. His mother was a Trelawney from the prominent West Country […]

John Atkinson Hobson, 1858-1940

John Atkinson Hobson, the economic writer and radical journalist most associated (along with L. T. Hobhouse) with Edwardian New Liberalism was born in Derby on 6 July 1858, the second son of William and Josephine (ne Atkinson) Hobson. William Hobson was the proprietor of the Derbyshire Advertiser, to which his son later contributed, and was […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Gladstonian Liberalism

Few statesmen left a deeper and more permanent mark on British Liberalism than William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898). What secured a unique place for him in the history of Liberalism was not simply the fact that he was Prime Minister four times (1868-74, 1880-85, 1886 and 1892-94), having previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of the years between 1853 and 1866. It was especially his ability to speak to the hearts and minds of successive generations of Liberals both men and women motivating them to political action as a matter of moral obligation.

Gladstone’’s Parliamentary Record 1868-1900

William Gladstone led the Liberal Party in four governments over a quarter of a century (1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94) bringing to fruition a wide range of reforms and almost coming to define Liberalism.

The Home Rule crisis

Shortly after Gladstone’s second government had seen the third reform act safely onto the statute book in 1885, it suffered a defeat on the budget and resigned. Lord Salisbury formed a minority Conservative government that called an election when the new enlarged electoral register was ready.

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.

Liberal Unionists

Gladstone’s decision to pursue a policy of Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 divided the Liberal Party to the core and prompted the departure of the Liberal Unionists, who subsequently formed a separate political party, under the leadership of the Marquess of Hartington.

Rainbow Circle

The Rainbow Circle was a dining club which comprised a group of progressive politicians who met between 1894-1920.

Lib-Labs

The first working class representatives within Parliament were known as "Lib-Lab" MPs. They accepted the Liberal whip while exercising the right to utilise their experience to speak freely on labour issues.

Journal articles

The language of elections

Review of Luke Blaxill, The War of Words: The Language of British Elections, 1880–1914 (Royal Historical Society, Boydell Press, 2020).

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CB

Review of Alexander S. Waugh, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: A Scottish Life and UK Politics 1836–1908 (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2019).

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Aristocratic Radical

Review of Roger Swift, Charles Pelham Villiers: Aristocratic Victorian Radical (Routledge, 2017).

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Press, politics and culture in Victorian Britain

A comparative review of W. Sydney Robinson, Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W. T. Stead – Britain’s first investigative journalist (Robson Press, 2012); P. Brighton, Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain (I.B. Tauris, 2016); and G. Cordery and J. S. Meisel (eds.), The Humours of Parliament: Harry Furniss’ View of Late Victorian Political Culture (Ohio State UP, 2014).

Events

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.

Speakers:

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, t.priest@staff.newman.ac.uk

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

Research in progress

Anarchism and Liberalism 1880-1980

Some anarchists were successfully influential in liberal networks, starting with many New Liberal networks around the beginning of the 20th Century. My thesis focuses on this earlier period but I am interested in anarchist influences on liberalism throughout the twentieth century. If any readers can help with informing me of their own personal experiences of […]