History

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 […]

Clement Davies, 1884-1962

Edward Clement Davies was born on 19 February 1884 at Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, the youngest of the seven children of Moses Davies, an auctioneer, and Elizabeth Margaret Jones. He was educated at the local primary school, won a scholarship to Llanfyllin County School in 1897 and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became senior foundation […]

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 […]

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Viscount Thurso), 1890-1970

Archibald Sinclair was the Liberal leader from 1935 to 1945. He was a leading figure in British politics in that period, first as an outspoken critic of appeasement, and then as a minister during the war. For Liberals, his importance lay in his belief in the possibility of a Liberal revival, which was crucial in […]

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 […]

Elliot Dodds, 1889-1977

Elliott Dodds lived a life of rich variety and contrast. A southerner by birth, he became indelibly associated with the laissez-faire Liberalism of the northern counties. A journalist, whose political beliefs were breathed into every corner of the Huddersfield Examiner, he wrote extensively throughout his life on the changing relationship between individual liberty and the […]

John and Barbara Hammond, 1872-1949 and 1873-1961

John Lawrence Le Breton Hammond (known as Lawrence) was born in 1872, the son of the Vicar of Drighlington in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Lucy Barbara Bradby (known as Barbara) was born in 1873, the daughter of the headmaster of Haileybury College. Married in 1901, the Hammonds had no children. They became pioneer social […]

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 […]

John Maynard Keynes (Lord Keynes), 1883-1946

Maynard Keynes was an active Liberal as well as one of the most important liberal writers of the twentieth century. He revolutionised economics, creating the case for deficit spending to stimulate employment which became the basis of government economic policy throughout the Western world for almost four decades. He helped to found the international economic […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

The Easter Rising

The issue of Home Rule returned to haunt the Liberals following the rebellion of Irish republicans during the Easter of 1916, at a time when the Party was at its most fragile. As the head of the wartime government, Asquith had already faced criticism over a series of disasters on the battlefield and his complacent approach to warfare.

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.

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 Maurice debate, 9 May 1918

According to A J P Taylor, the historic Liberal Party committed suicide on 9 May 1918 in a parliamentary debate which saw the former Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith openly inferring that his former Liberal colleague and wartime Premier, David Lloyd George had misled the House of Commons about the number of British troops serving on the Western front during a German attack in March of that year.

Inter-war decline

The Liberals were a political casualty of the Great War – emerging from the conflict as a divided party, whose key ideological beliefs had been sacrificed to meet the needs of modern warfare.

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.

Fusion: Liberals and Conservatives

The concept of fusion between the Liberal and Conservative parties was considered in the immediate post-war years as the solution for a new political age, in which traditional party allegiances had outlived their usefulness.

The 1923 general election

The 1923 election was sparked in October of that year, when the Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin announced that his government would be seeking a mandate to introduce tariff protection, in order to tackle growing levels of unemployment.

The 1924 general election

In contrast to the contest of 1923, the General Election of 29 October 1924 was an unmitigated disaster for the Liberals and the Party's parliamentary strength was reduced to just 40 MPs. A number of leading Liberal figures failed to emerge victorious from the contest, including the Party's leader, Herbert Henry Asquith, who lost the Paisley seat that he had won in a by-election just four years earlier.

The 1929 general election

The election of May 1929 took place against a backdrop of economic depression, as the Conservative government struggled to stem a growing tide of unemployment in the aftermath of the First World War.

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

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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Events

Asquith versus Lloyd George

On 7 December 1916, H.H. Asquith was replaced as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George. The change followed mounting disquiet over the conduct of the First World War, and Lloyd George’s demands that a small committee, not including Asquith, should direct the war effort. Lloyd George forced the issue by resigning from the coalition government. Unionist ministers sided with Lloyd George and indicated their willingness to serve in a government led by him.

The Liberal Party remained divided until the end of the war and beyond. The party fought the next two general elections as two separate groups and the reunion that finally came, in 1923, was, in Asquith’s words, ‘a fiction if not a farce’.

Was the split between Asquith and Lloyd George caused by their contrasting personalities, or by substantive disagreements over management of the war? Or did their rivalry reflect deeper divisions between different Liberal traditions?

Join David Laws and Damian Collins MP to discuss the causes and consequences of the Asquith–Lloyd George rivalry. Both speakers contributed chapters to Iain Dale’s new book, The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History (Hodder & Stoughton, 2020), David Laws on Asquith and Damian Collins on Lloyd George. Chair: Wendy Chamberlain MP.

This online meeting will start at 7.00pm, following the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm. All welcome.

To register, please click here. (Zoom webinar, kindly hosted for the History Group by Liberal Democrat HQ.)

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 ‘coupon election’.

The election saw 133 Coalition Liberals returned to the House of Commons, but the independent Liberals, whom Lloyd George had abandoned, were reduced to a tiny minority, overtaken by the new Labour Party, while the Coalition Liberals increasingly became the prisoner of their Conservative Coalition partners. The election was a key stage in the decline of the Liberal Party; it cemented the wartime split and ensured that the Liberals were eventually relegated to third-party status.

Speakers: Kenneth O. Morgan, Lord Morgan (author of Consensus and Disunity: The Lloyd George Coalition Government 1918-22 and several other books on Lloyd George) and Alistair Cooke, Lord Lexden (official historian to the Conservative Party and the Carlton Club). Chair: Claire Tyler (Baroness Tyler).

The report of this meeting was published in Journal of Liberal History 100 (autumn 2018) and is also available here.

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.

In May 1915, following political and military setbacks, Liberal prime minister H H Asquith brought senior figures from the opposition parties into his government. The meeting will be held jointly with the Conservative History Group and will look in detail at the background to the formation of the coalition and go on to consider its performance in government before its dramatic fall in December 1916.

Speakers: Dr Ian Packer, Acting Head of the School of History and Heritage at Lincoln University, author of a number of books on Edwardian and Liberal politics, who will look at the coalition from the Liberal side and Dr Nigel Keohane who now works at the Social Market Foundation and is the author of the book The Conservative Party and the First World War, to consider the coalition from a Conservative perspective.

Chair: The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, (Raymond Asquith) the great-grandson of H H Asquith and currently the newest member of the Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords.

The Liberal Party and the First World War

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

In this year, 100 years since the coming of war in August 1914, the conflict is remembered chiefly for its impact on the millions of ordinary men, women and children who were to suffer and die and over the following four years. Lives were altered forever and society transformed. But the war had political consequences too: empires fell, new nations emerged and British political parties and the party system underwent profound change, a transformation which plunged the Liberal Party into civil war and caused it to plummet from a natural party of government to electoral insignificance within a few short years. This conference will examine some of the key issues and personalities of the period.

Agenda:

09.30 Registration

09.50 Introduction: Lord Wallace of Saltaire, President of the Liberal Democrat History Group

10.00 The Liberal Party and the First World War an overview: Professor Pat Thane, Kings College

10.30 Sir Edward Grey and the road to war: Professor Thomas Otte, University of East Anglia

11.15 Coffee break

11.45 Gilbert Murray v. E.D. Morel: Liberalism’s debilitating Great War divide: Professor Martin Ceadel, New College, Oxford

12.30 Lunch break

13.15 The papers of Asquith and Harcourt: Mike Webb, Bodleian Library

14.00 Asquith as War Premier and Liberal Leader: Dr Roland Quinault, Institute of Historical Research

14.45 Coffee break

15.15 Comparing Lloyd George and Winston Churchill as war leaders: Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter

16.00 Panel discussion on the impact of the war on the Liberal Party:
Michael Steed, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Roland Quinault, Pat Thane

17.00 Close of conference

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 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo will explore key aspects of this crisis of Liberal internationalism.

Speakers: Robert Falkner (Associate Professor of International Relations, LSE) on the Great War and its impact on liberal internationalism, and Louise Arimatsu (Associate Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House) on war, law and the liberal project.

Chair: Martin Horwood MP (Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on international affairs).

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 History Group winter meeting on 10 February 2014 will look in detail at these elections and what they meant for the Liberal Party and the changes they brought about in British politics.

Speakers: Michael Steed, Honorary Lecturer in Politics at the University of Kent and noted psephologist; Professor Pat Thane, Professor of Contemporary History at King’s College, London.

Chair: Dr Julie Smith, Cambridge University.

(The event will be preceded by the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6:30pm.)

We Can Conquer Unemployment

The subject of the meeting was the influence of Keynes’s and Lloyd George’s Yellow Book on the problems of conquering unemployment in the 1920s and 1930s. With one of the major policy paper debates at Brighton that year being on Employment Policy, this provided us with a chance to trace the development of Liberal/Liberal Democrat thought on this important topic.

Lord Skidelsky was Professor of Political Economy at University of Warwick. His books include Politicians and the Slump and Oswald Mosley; he is perhaps best known for his biography of Keynes.

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 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

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 ideology?

Or should we judge his position from his re-ratting in 1924 and his long association and later leadership of the Conservatives?

Churchill’s party politics came under the spotlight at the History Group fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference. Delivering their verdicts were Professor Martin Pugh, formerly of Newcastle and Liverpool John Moores Universities and Sir Alan Beith, Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-on-Tweed since 1973.

You can ||http://bit.ly/ChurchillFringe||watch the meeting online here||.

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 […]