History

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 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 […]

Herbert Samuel (Viscount Samuel), 1870-1963

Herbert Samuel was a leading figure in the Liberal Party for over fifty years, from its zenith before the First World War to the nadir of its fortunes in the mid-1950s. With Sinclair , he was the last independent Liberal to serve in the Cabinet. A respected statesman, formidable mediator and administrator, and notable political […]

William Beveridge (Lord Beveridge), 1879-1963

William Henry Beveridge was born in Rangpur, an Indian station in Bengal, on 5 March 1879. He was the second child and first son of Henry Beveridge, a district sessions judge in the Indian Civil Service, by his second wife, Annette Susannah Ackroyd, who had travelled to India, originally in response to a call to […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Sir Alfred Mond (Lord Melchett), 1868-1930

Alfred Moritz Mond was born on 28 October 1868 at Parnworth, Lancashire, the younger son of Dr. Ludwig and Freda Mond. His father was a talented German Jew who had left Cassel in 1862 and who, together with John Tomlinson Brunner, set up the great chemical company which developed in 1881 into the public joint-stock […]

Edwin Montagu, 1879-1924

Few of the young men swept into Parliament by the Liberal landslide in 1906 endured as meteoric a rise and fall as Montagu. By the age of thirty-eight he was Secretary of State for India, introducing sweeping reforms to the government of the subcontinent. Yet he was forced to resign in 1922 after a bitter […]

Sir John Simon (Viscount Simon), 1873-1954

Though he never rose to the premiership, John Allsebrook Simon’s collection of the highest offices of state – the Home Office (twice), the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Woolsack – is unique in twentieth-century history. He played a major role in British politics over more than three decades, while also enjoying a distinguished legal […]

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.

Liberal Governments of 1905-15

The Liberal government which took office as a minority administration in December 1905, before securing an overwhelming popular endorsement at the General Election of January 1906, remained in power until May 1915.

1906 Election

In the General Election of January 1906 the Liberals swept to victory in a landslide result, which saw the party win 400 seats. Conservative strongholds such as Bath and Exeter were conquered as Liberal leader, Henry Campbell Bannerman capitalised on the unpopularity of the previous Tory administration, which had been replaced by his new Liberal government in December 1905.

1909 People’s Budget

The 1909 People's Budget was the Liberal Government's key weapon in instigating social reform and marked a final move away from the system of Gladstonian finance, which had seen the Liberals traditionally associated with retrenchment in government expenditure and an emphasis on self-help. With its radical plans to redistribute the burden of tax and finance social provisions, such as old age pensions, the Budget was swiftly rejected by the landed majority in the House of Lords, sparking the first constitutional crisis of the twentieth century.

Lloyd George on the People’s Budget

Lloyd George's 1909 People's Budget was devised to bring about social reform and featured increases in income tax and excise duties, new taxes on cars, petrol and land, and a new supertax for those with incomes above £5,000.

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.

The New Liberalism

The disaster of the 1895 election, when the Liberals lost almost a hundred seats, struck a mortal blow at Rosebery's leadership and pointed to the urgent need for a new direction. Although for some it was the party's abandonment of its historic principles of self-help, voluntaryism and constitutional reform that lay at fault, to others it was the failure of the party to embrace the new imperialism. A growing number also felt that Liberalism's failure to formulate an adequate response to the new social problems of industrialisation had undermined its appeal.

Journal articles

Bertha Bowness Fischer

‘One of the most effective and most welcome workers.’ An examination of the career of the first female Liberal political agent.

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Rosebery’s son

Review of Martin Gibson, A Primrose Path: The gilded life of Lord Rosebery’s favourite son (Arum Press, 2020)

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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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Whitley and the Whitley Councils

Review of John A. Hargreaves, Keith Laybourn and Richard Toye (eds.), Liberal Reform and Industrial Relations: J. H. Whitley (1866– 1935) – Halifax Radical and Speaker of the House of Commons (Routledge, 2018).

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Ireland and the Liberals

Review of James Doherty, Irish Liberty, British Democracy: The third Irish home rule crisis, 1909–14 (Cork University Press, 2019).

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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

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.

“Methods of Barbarism” – Liberalism and the Boer War

“When is a war not a war?” asked the Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman. “When it is carried on by methods of barbarism in South Africa.”

One hundred years after the Boer War began, Professor Denis Judd (University of North London), author of The Boer War and Empire, reviewed the response of Liberalism to the War. Dr Jacqueline Beaumont, Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University, discussed the attitudes of the Liberal press.

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.

‘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).

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 […]