The Liberals and the First World War

Understanding the history of the Liberal Party during the First World War has been made harder by hindsight. Later Liberal decline has called into question the efficacy of Liberal ideology in wartime.

Conscription and the Liberal Party

The issue of conscription rocked the Liberal Party to its very core during the first part of the Great War, as Liberal parliamentarians struggled to justify the needs of war and necessity of compulsion against the concepts of individualism and laissez faire which they held so dear.

The ‘Buckingham Palace plot’, 1916

Edwin Montagu, Minister of Munitions and confidant of both Asquith and Lloyd George lamented that the two great men of England were being slowly but surely pushed apart during the winter of 1916.

The 1918 ‘coupon’ general election

Just 24 hours after the Armistice had been signed with Germany, Lloyd George announced his decision to hold an election in alliance with his Coalition partners and Parliament was accordingly dissolved on 14 November 1918. The ensuing contest shattered the Liberal Party by formalising wartime divisions and providing a clear distinction between those Liberals who supported Lloyd George and those who continued to stand by Asquith.

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.

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

E. D. Simon: Intellectual in politics

Biography of E. D. Simon, 1st Baron Simon of Wythenshawe

Whig, Liberal or Tory?

Review of Simon Kerry, Lansdowne: the Last Great Whig (Unicorn, 2017)

Restoring Herbert Gladstone

Review of Kenneth D. Brown, The Unknown Gladstone: The Life of Herbert Gladstone, 1854–1930 (I.B.Tauris, 2018)

Lord Davies of Llandinam Papers

Description of the papers of Lord Davies of Llandinam held at the Welsh Political Archive at the National Library of Wales

Women in politics

Review of J. Gottlieb and R. Toye (eds.), The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender, and Politics in Britain, 1918–1945 (Macmillan, 2013)

The long march of British history

Review of Martin Pugh, State and Society. A Social and Political History of Britain since 1870 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)

The long-lived Liberal Party of Canada

An examination of the history of the Canadian Liberal Party.

The 1918 Coupon Election and its Consequences

Evening meeting, 2 July 2018, with Alistair Cooke and Kenneth O. Morgan; chair: Claire Tyler

Votes for Women (2)

Review of Diane Atkinson, Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes (Bloomsbury, 2018); Jane Robinson, Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote (Doubleday, 2018)

Votes for Women (1)

Conference fringe meeting, 9 March 2018, with Krista Cowman and Jo Swinson MP; chair: Elizabeth Jewkes

The 1924 Labour Government and the Failure of the Whips

The party whips, the collapse of the government and the decline of the Liberal Party

7 December 1916: Asquith, Lloyd George and the crisis of Liberalism

An analysis of the partnership between the Liberal leaders which finally split under the strains of war

A truly remarkable man – but not a universal man

Review of Richard Davenport-Hines, Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes (William Collins, 2015)

Asquith: friendship, love and betrayal

How did Liberal Prime Minister Asquith’s friendships and relationships affect his political decisions?

‘Pacifism is not enough; nor patriotism, either’

The life of Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian

Liberals, free trade and Europe

From Cobden to the Common Market

Radical Joe and Chocolate George

Review of Andrew Reekes, Two Titans, One City: Joseph Chamberlain and George Cadbury (History West Midlands, 2017)

Fascinating diary entries of a Liberal junior minister in the thick of events

Review of Andrew Thorpe and Richard Toye (eds.), Parliament and Politics in the Age of Asquith and Lloyd George: the Diaries of Cecil Harmsworth, MP, 1909–1922, Camden Fifth Series, Volume 50 (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Margot in wartime

Review of Anne de Courcy, Margot at War: Love and Betrayal in Downing Street, 1912–1916 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2015)

Letters to the Editor

The 1915 general election (Graem Peters, Peter Rowland); Chris Rennard
interview (Barry Standen, Roger Jenking)

The Nonconformist mind of Lloyd George

The roots of Lloyd George’s political beliefs

Asquith’s obsession

Stefan Buczacki, My Darling Mr Asquith: The extraordinary life and times of Venetia Stanley (Cato & Clarke 2016)

Liberal defectors and the First World War

An analysis of the impact of the Great War on defections from the party.

The Liberal Party and the general election of 1915

What could have happened in the general election due in 1915 but postponed because of the war.

Churchill’s attitude to Ireland

Review of Paul Bew, Churchill and Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Alternative to war

Review of Duncan Marlor, Fatal Fortnight: Arthur Ponsonby and the Fight for British Neutrality in 1914 (Frontline Books, 2014).

Churchill Archives Centre

Liberal archives at the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge.

Churchill and Lloyd George: Liberal authors on the First World War?

An analysis of Winston Churchill’s and David Lloyd George’s volumes on the First World War.

Sir Walter Runciman and the Runciman papers at Elshieshields Tower

The life and political career of the Liberal MP Sir Walter Runciman (1847–1937) through the lens of his papers.

The Distributists and the Liberal Party

An analysis of the Distributists and their impact.

Lloyd George in cartoons

Review of Alan Mumford, David Lloyd George: A Biography in Cartoons (Matador, 2014).

Cambridge University Liberal Club, 1886–1916

A study in early university political organisation.

Liberalism’s Radical Lord Chancellor

The life and political career of Robert Threshie Reid, Lord Loreburn, 1846–1923.

Madam Mayor

The first wave of Liberal women in local government leadership 1918–1939.

Assessing Edward Grey

Review of Michael Waterhouse, Edwardian Requiem: A Life of Sir Edward Grey (Biteback, 2013)

The view from Downing Street

Review of Michael and Eleanor Brock (eds.), Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914–1916: The View from Downing Street (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Report: Among the Fallodonistas

Sir Edward Grey and the outbreak of the First World War: report on an FCO/LSE symposium, 7 November 2014

Lewis Harcourt’s political journal 1914–16

A new source for the Liberal Party and the First World War

Lloyd George and Churchill as war leaders

A comparison of the two great wartime leaders

Gilbert Murray v. E. D. Morel

Liberalism’s debilitating divide over foreign policy

John Morley’s resignation in August 1914

An examination of the arguments

The Liberal Party, the Labour Party and the First World War

An examination of why the Liberals suffered and Labour prospered

The long shadow of war

Sir Edward Grey and Liberal foreign policy before 1914

Did the Great War really kill the Liberal Party?

An analysis of the impact of the war on the Liberal Party

A history of by-elections

Review of T. G. Otte and Paul Readman (eds.), By-elections in British politics 1832–1914 (Boydell, 2013)

The Liberal–Tory coalition of 1915

Report of the History Group evening meeting, 26 January 2015, with Ian Packer and Nigel Keohane; chair: Raymond Asquith (Earl of Oxford and Asquith and great-grandson of Herbert Asquith)

A conspiracy of silence?

Lloyd George and Basil Zaharoff

Friends and allies

Review of Ian Hunter (ed.), Winston and Archie: The Letters of Sir Archibald Sinclair and Winston S. Churchill (Politico’s, 2005).

An inept and flawed peace

Review of Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (John Murray, 2003).

A Leader without a party

Review of John Grigg, Lloyd George: War Leader (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2002).

Too short a history

Review of Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party 1900-2001 (Palgrave, 2002).

The most complex character

Review of Antony Lentin, Lloyd George and the Lost Peace: From Versailles to Hitler, 1914-1940 (Palgrave, 2001).

Internationalism and interdependency

Review of Richard S. Grayson, Liberals, International Relations and Appeasement (Frank Cass, 2001).

The strange survival of Liberal Lancashire

An examination of the resilience of the Liberal Party in the Lancashire cotton districts between the 1920s and 1970s.

Report: Liberalism, peace and the First World War

Report of the joint Liberal Democrat History Group, Liberal International meeting held at the National Liberal Club, 30 June 2014, with Louise Arimatsu and Robert Falkner; chair: Martin Horwood.

Walter Runciman and the decline of the Liberal Party

Examination of the part played by Walter Runciman (1870-1949) in the disintegration of the Liberal Party.

Images of Lloyd George

How David Lloyd George was portrayed in cartoons throughout his long career.

Liberal defectors identified and explored

Review of Alun Wyburn-Powell, Defectors and the Liberal Party, 1910-2010: A Study of Inter-Party Relations (Manchester University Press, 2012).

You don’t have to be mad to work there, but …

Review of J. B. Williams, Worsted to Westminster: The Extraordinary Life of Rev. Dr Charles Leach MP (Darcy Press, 2009).

Son of Asquith?

Review of Bobbie Neate, Conspiracy of Secrets (John Blake, 2012).

Elegant and concise

Review of David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party Since 1900 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd edition, 2013).

Decline and fall: the Liberal Party and the elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924

Report of a Liberal Democrat History Group meeting, February 2014, with Michael Steed, Professor Pat Thane and Dr Julie Smith.

Morley and the Liberal Party

Review of Patrick Jackson, Morley of Blackburn (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012).

The myth of New Liberalism

Continuity and change in Liberal politics, 1889-1914.

Emily Hobhouse and the Controversy over the Destruction of Leuven in World War I

Emily Hobhouse’s role in attempting to reveal the facts behind the German destruction of the Belgian city of Leuven in 1914.

‘A Very English Gentleman’

The life of Captain the Hon. Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes, Liberal MP 1906, 1907-15.

The last of the Liberals

The career and political thought of Francis Wrigley Hirst (1873-1953).

Liberal roots

The Liberal Party in a West Yorkshire constituency, 1920s-1970s.

Scapegoat for Liberalism?

Review of Antony Lentin, Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer (Haus, 2013).

A forgotten Liberal-Conservative alliance

The Constitutionalists and the 1924 election – a new party or a worthless coupon?

C. E. Montague, Liberal war writers and the Great War

The war writings of a Liberal author.

‘We can conquer unemployment’

Lloyd George and Keynes.

Lloyd George and the appeasement of Germany

Lloyd George’s stance on Germany, 1922-1945.

Lloyd George and appeasement

Review of Stella Rudman, Lloyd George and the Appeasement of Germany 1919-1945 (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011).

‘If I had to go to Paris again …’

Lloyd George and the revision of the Treaty of Versailles.

Lloyd George’s war rhetoric, 1914-1918

Analysis of Lloyd George’s rhetorical skills at the height of his powers.

Lloyd George’s coalition proposal of 1910

and its impact on pre-war Liberalism.

A Liberal partition

Review of Thomas Hennessey, Dividing Ireland: World War I and Partition (Routledge, 1998).

The party leader who never was

Review of Mark Pottle (ed.), Champion Redoubtable: The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1914-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998).

More mirage than vision

Review of Garry Tregidga, The Liberal Party in South-West Britain since 1918: Political Decline, Dormancy and Rebirth (University of Exeter Press, 2000).

I blame Sir Edward Grey

Review of John Charmley, Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power 1874-1914 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1999).

Report: Dancing the Charleston again

Report of LDHG meeting of November 1999, on Liberal/Labour relations during the 1918-31 period.

A failure of leadership

Defections 1918-29. The post-First World War period saw many Liberals, including high-profile personalities such as Winston Churchill, decide that the time was right for them to change political parties.

‘There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities

Review of Alan O’Day, Irish Home Rule 1867-1921 (Manchester University Press, 1998).

Victory at Paisley

Asquith’s return to Parliament in 1920.

Who did it?

Review of George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (Serif, 1997).

Labour and the Liberal decline

Review of John Shepherd and Keith Laybourn, Britain’s First Labour Government (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

John Sutton Nettlefold, Liberalism and the early town planning movement

The contribution of the chair of Birmingham’s Housing Committee, 1901-11, to the debates on slum housing and town planning.

Honiton, Dumfriesshire and the Lloyd George Fund

The use of the Lloyd George Fund in two constituencies in the 1929 election.

The slow death of Liberal Wales 1906 – 1979

The story of Liberalism in Wales 1906 – 1979.

The fighting parson

Biography of Rev Roderick Kedward MP (1881-1937).

From left to right? The career of John Morley

Biography of John Morley (1838-1923), the leading Victorian and Edwardian Liberal who could be seen as both of the left and the right.

Left, right: December 1916 – The forward march of Liberals halted

Was the disastrous Liberal split of 1916 a matter of personalities or ideologies?

The heyday of Liberal internationalism

Despite the weakness of the Liberal Party in the inter-war period, Liberal ideals remained important.

How did the Empire strike back?

The impact of imperialism on democracy and liberalism in Britrain 1865-1920.

Through terror to triumph

Lloyd George’s Queen’s Hall speech of 19 September 1914.

The fall of the Lloyd George Coalition

Report of the joint Liberal Democrat History Group/Conservative History Group meeting of July 2003, with Margaret Macmillan, Andrew Thorpe, John Barnes and Stuart Ball.

Biography: Lewis Harcourt

The life and career of Lewis ‘Loulou’ Harcourt.

Hilaire Belloc and the Liberal revival

Distributism – an alternative Liberal tradition?

Campaigner against slavery

The life of Sir John Harris (1874-1940), campaigner against slavery and colonial exploitation in Africa and Liberal MP for North Hackney, 1923-24.

Every vote for Llewelyn Williams is a vote against Lloyd George

Examination of the February 1921 by-election in Cardiganshire, where Asquithian and Lloyd George Liberals engaged in bitter internecine warfare.

Hold on, hold out; we are coming

Violet Bonham Carter’s speech after the 1920 Paisley by-election.

One Liberal’’s war

The First World War tore the Liberal Party apart. David Dutton looks at how one Liberal MP lived through the conflict.

The Young Scots Society

The story of the influence of Scottish young Liberals before and after the Great War.

The first woman Liberal MP

The life and political career of the first woman Liberal MP, Margaret Wintringham (1879-1955).

Lloyd George and the suffragettes at Llanystumdwy

A re-examination of the reopening by Lloyd George in September 1912 of the village institute at his native Llanystumdwy, when the proceedings were blighted by constant suffragette interruptions.

Asquith, the third home rule bill and the Easter Rising

1910 – 1916: the Liberal Government came close to granting Ireland Home Rule in 1914. This article examines why it failed and what happened after.

Lloyd George and the partition of Ireland

1916 – 1921: analysis of Lloyd George’s answer to the Irish Question after the Easter Rising.

Liberalism and Unionist Northern Ireland

1921 – 1971: despite all the obstacles, Liberalism survived in Northern Ireland after partitition.

Liberal unity frustrated

Why the Liberal Party failed to patch up effectively its first major post-war split, between the supporters of Asquith and those of Lloyd George.

The Liberal Party and the Great War

Introduction to this special issue of the Newsletter.

July-August 1914: Achieving the seemingly impossible

British entry into the war offered the first test of Liberal values and of the calibre of Prime Minister Asquith. Examination of the events surrounding the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.

Reviews: Issue 10

Reviews of Trevor Wilson, The Downfall of the Liberal Party 1914-1935 (Collins, 1966); Michael and Eleanor Brock (eds.), H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley (Oxford University Press, 1982).

Asquith and Lloyd George: common misunderstandings

The rivalry between Asquith and Lloyd George grew out of the Great War. This article argues that the points of similarity between the two were at least as important as their differences.

The Liberals and Ireland 1912-1916

Liberal ministers had to deal with more than the Great War during the period 1914-18. Examination of the Liberal record on the Irish Question during this critical period.

Labour, the Liberal Party and the Great War

The Great War laid many of the foundations for Labour’s supplanting of the Liberals in the subsequent decade. Analysis of the relationship between the two parties during the war.

The Liberal Party and peace-making: Versailles and the League of Nations

Liberalism’s final test stemming from the Great War was its attitude towards peace. Richard S. Grayson finds the party’s record wanting.

The First World War and Liberal values

Was the Liberal Party fatally wounded by the war because liberalism proved incapable of coping with the strains of a major modern conflict? Professor Chris Wrigley questions the accepted view.

‘He would not stoop, he did not conquer’

Review of Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery (Phoenix, 1995).

Report: ‘We can conquer unemployment’

Report of the Liberal Democrat History Group conference fringe meeting of September 1994, on the Liberal approach to unemployment in the 1920s and ’30s, with Lord Skidelsky.

The Liberal Party: Triumph and Disintegration 1886-1929

Review of G. R. Searle, The Liberal Party: Triumph and Disintegration 1886-1929 (Macmillan, 1992).

The Liberal Party and the constitution

Argues that the Liberals regarded the 1911 Parliament Act as a final settlement of the second-chamber question

Life with Lloyd George

A. J. Sylvester’s Life with Lloyd George remains a unique source of information. This article examines its preparation, publication and impact.

Edwardian Liberalism: ideology and political practice

Review of Ian Packer, Liberal Government and Politics, 1905-15 (Palgrave, 2006).

War memoirs

Report of Andrew Suttie, Rewriting the First World War: Lloyd George, Politics and Strategy 1914-18 (Palgrave, 2005).

A Radical Life

Review of Mervyn Jones, A Radical Life: The Biography of Megan Lloyd George (Hutchinson, 1991).

‘A dynamic force is a terrible thing’

Review of Martin Pugh, Lloyd George (Longmans, 1988).

A Liberal in power

Review of Roy Jenkins, Asquith (Collins, 1964).

Lloyd George’s Flintshire loyalist

The political achievement of John Herbert Lewis MP (1858-1933).

A fine and disinterested spirit

The life and activities of Aneurin Williams MP (1859-1924).

Politics and ponies

Review of Garry Tregidga (ed.), Killerton, Camborne and Westminster: The Political Correspondence of Sir Francis and Lady Acland 1910-29 (Devon and Cornwall Record Society, 2006).

Individualist thought and radicalism

Josiah C. Wedgwood’s battle against the collectivists, 1906 – 1914.

The two great wartime leaders

Review of Richard Toye, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (Macmillan, 2007).

Champion of Liberalism

Biography of the left-leaning Liberal MP for Leicester, 1910-13, Eliot Crawshay-Williams (1879-1962).

The rank and file and the Liberal government ‘crisis’ of 1912: a note

One activist’s reaction to the key issues facing the Liberal government in 1912.

Asquith and the Liberal legacy

Assessment of Asquith’s record – in a lecture given to mark the centenary of the formation of Aquith’s administration.

The Glyndwr manuscripts

The Glyndwr collection at the Denbighshire Record Office throws light on the fortunes of the local Liberal Party in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Liberal Party and womens suffrage, 1866-1918

Analysis of the relationship between the Liberal Party and the campaigns for womens suffrage.

The yellow glass ceiling: the mystery of the disappearing Liberal women MPs

Only six women ever sat as Liberal MPs, and most only for very short periods. This article examines why.

Report: Fighting Labour – the struggle for radical supremacy in Scotland 1885-1929

Report of the Liberal Democrat History Group meeting at the Scopttish Liberal Democrat Conference, 13 March 2009, with Professor Richard Finlay, Dr Catriona Macdonald and Jim Wallace. Chair: Robert Brown MSP.

Land and nation in England

Review of Paul Readman, Patriotism, National Identity, and the Politics of Land, 1880-1914 (Royal Historical Society, 2008).

Edwardian Liberalism

Review of H. V. Emy, Liberals, Radicals and Social Politics, 1892-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1973; reprinted 2008).

British intellectual life, 1918-39

Review of Richard Overy, The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars (Allen Lane, 2009).

The flight from the Liberal Party

Liberals who joined the Labour Party, 1914-31.

The 1910 and 2010 elections

Continuity and change in election campaigning.

The strange case of Edward Hemmerde

David Dutton traces the story of the three-times MP, playwright and judge Edward Hemmerde (1871-1948).

Strange death?

Review of Ross McKibbin, Parties and People 1914-1951 (Oxford University Press, 2010).

The coalition of 1915-1916

Prelude to disaster: an examination of the Asquith coalition of 1915-16, which brought to an end the last solely Liberal government.

Liberals in coalition, 1916-1922

An analysis of the history of the last Liberal-Conservative coalition government.

Coalition in the archives

The papers of Liberal activist Frances Josephy are used to examine the attitudes of ordinary Liberals to coalitions in the 1920s and 1930s.

The King of Showland

The unusual career of the entertainment entrepreneur and Liberal MP for Walsall, 1922-24, Pat Collins.

Secular intellectuals

Review of William C. Lubenow, Liberal Intellectuals and Public Culture in Modern Britain, 1815-1914: Making Words Flesh (Boydell Press, 2010).

To hold the old flag

Biography of Henry Haydn Jones (1863-1950), Liberal MP for Merionethshire 1910-45.


The 1918 coupon election and its consequences

In November 1918, just 24 hours after the Armistice had been signed with Germany, the Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, announced his decision to hold a general election. Selected coalition candidates received a signed letter of endorsement from Lloyd George and the Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law. The 1918 election thus became known as […]

The Liberal-Tory Coalition of 1915

As we enter the final months of the present Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government it is an appropriate time to look back to a previous partnership between the two parties in the 100th anniversary of its formation.

The Liberal Party and the First World War

A one-day conference organised by the Journal of Liberal History and Kings College, London.

Liberalism, Peace and the First World War

The First World War sent a shockwave through the Liberal Party, permanently affecting its politics, its people and the way it viewed the world and its own place in it. This meeting, jointly organised by the Liberal Democrat History Group and Liberal International British Group and held a hundred years, almost to the day, after […]

Decline and Fall: the Liberal Party and the general elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924

For the Liberal Party, the three general elections of 1922,1923 and 1924 represented a terrible journey from postwar disunity to reunion, and near return to government to dramatic and prolonged decline. Arguably, this was the key period which relegated the Liberals to the third-party status from which they have still never escaped. The Liberal Democrat […]

The Fall of the Lloyd George Coalition

The summer 2003 History Group meeting examined the events which brought an end to the last peacetime participation by the Liberal Party in UK government – when Lloyd George’s coalition was overthrown by a revolt of backbench Conservatives in 1922. The meeting was held jointly with the Conservative History Group.

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 […]

Winston Churchill: Tory or Liberal?

“I am an English Liberal. I hate the Tory Party, their men, their words and their methods.” These were Winston Churchill’s own words in 1903. As a Liberal, Churchill held high government office and, along with Lloyd George, was regarded as one of the driving forces of Asquith’s reforming administration. Was Liberalism his true political […]