History

Nancy Seear (Lady Seear), 1913-1997

When Lady Violet Bonham Carter died in 1969, the Liberal Party lost its most powerful and indomitable female campaigner. The vacuum she left was filled by Beatrice Nancy Seear, always known by her middle name, a formidable politician possessed of a towering intellect. Seear was an active Liberal and latterly Liberal Democrat for over fifty […]

David Steel (Lord Steel), 1938-

With the exception of H. H. Asquith, David (now Lord) Steel has been the longest serving leader of the Liberal Party. During his twelve-year tenure of the leadership, the party enjoyed the highest share of the popular vote cast for a third party in half a century and won more seats in Parliament and in […]

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 […]

Jo Grimond (Lord Grimond), 1913-1993

Regarded by many contemporary Liberals as their spiritual leader and mentor, Jo Grimond was a figure of great magnetism and intellectual originality. He was once described as a politician on whom the gods smile, and inspired a rare degree of public affection. Within the Liberal Party, neither of his successors, Jeremy Thorpe nor David Steel enjoyed the […]

Jeremy Thorpe, 1929-2014

The infamy of Jeremy Thorpe’s downfall unfairly colours all else in his life. Thorpe was a stylish, progressive and popular politician. Under his leadership the Liberal Party won more votes than ever before or since at a general election and helped drive legislation taking Britain into the European Community through a divided Parliament. But the […]

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 […]

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. […]

Dingle Foot, 1905-1978

Throughout Britain, particular constituencies and cities have had a long connection with certain families – for instance, the Chamberlains in Birmingham and the Cecils in south Dorset. In Plymouth, politics has been dominated by the Foot family, principally Isaac Foot but also four of his five sons. These include Hugh (later Lord Caradon), John, and the […]

Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins), 1920-2003

Roy Jenkins played a significant role in developing and articulating a new progressive vision of social, political and constitutional change. His reforms at the Home Office helped to transform Britain into a more modern, more civilised society. He was a successful, if orthodox, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He played an important and consistent role 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, […]

Shirley Williams (Lady Williams), 1930-

As the byelection car cavalcade drove slowly through a council estate in Warrington, Shirley Williams, microphone in hand, was drumming up support for SDP candidate Roy Jenkins. Standing precariously on the front seat, her head and shoulders poking through the sun-roof, Williams was in her element. As she passed a broken-down car, its grease-stained owner […]

Sir Clement Freud, 1924-2009

Clement Freud was one of the best-known faces on TV, and best-known voices on radio, when he became Liberal candidate for the Isle of Ely in the 1973 by-election. ‘Freud has them rolling in the Isle’ ran one tabloid headline. Those who did not know him were surprised that, even during a promising run of […]

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.

Realignment of the left

The end of Jo Grimond's leadership in 1967 heralded a bleak period for the Liberal Party. His successor, Jeremy Thorpe, was never assured of the complete confidence of his parliamentary colleagues. Unlike Grimond, he displayed little interest in ideas, though he was an accomplished organiser, fund-raiser and speaker.

Journal articles

It’s Boy David

Review of David Torrance, David Steel: Rising Hope to Elder Statesman (Biteback Publishing, 2012)

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Events

Back from the dead: the Liberal Party in the 1950s

In 1951, the Liberal Party’s existence was in grave doubt. At the October general election, the party contested a mere 109 seats, and only six MPs were returned. The party was badly divided over basic questions of strategy, and membership and morale were low.

The late 1950s saw an upturn in the Liberals’ fortunes. In  March 1962, they won a sensational by-election victory at Orpington and, soon after, reached 25 per cent in the Gallup poll. The party’s performance at local elections was similarly impressive and it claimed a record 350,000 members.

Join Lord William Wallace of Saltaire and Mark Egan (Greffier of the States of Jersey) to discuss how the Liberal Party survived a near-death experience and revived. Chair: Baroness Liz Barker.

Community politics and the Liberal revival

The famous community politics resolution, adopted by the Liberal Party at its 1970 Assembly, helped to lay the foundations for revival after the party’s loss of half its seats in the 1970 election.

Discuss the community politics approach, what it meant and how it can help the Liberal Democrats in the future, with Gordon Lishman (co-author, ‘The Theory and Practice of Community Politics’) and Mike Storey (former leader of Liverpool council); Chair; Sarah Boad (ALDC Treasurer).

Liberals and local government in London since the 1970s

Winning local elections has been a keystone in Liberal (Democrat) success in the years since the adoption of the community politics strategy at the Eastbourne Assembly in 1970. There have been many spectacular advances across London, from the heartland of the south western boroughs to Southwark, Islington and more recently breakthroughs on Camden and Brent to share power there. But there are still black holes – ten London boroughs with no Lib Dem representation; and places like Harrow and Tower Hamlets where we controlled the council only to see a near wipe out follow.

In a meeting supported by the Lib Dem group on London Councils, the umbrella organisation representing all 32 London boroughs, the City of London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the History Group will look at the performance of Liberals in London local government since the 1970s with our speakers being two key players from the party. Cllr Stephen Knight of London Councils will chair the meeting and our speakers will be Cllr Sir David Williams, first elected for Ham and Petersham Ward in 1974 and a former leader of Richmond Council and London Assembly member Mike Tuffrey, who was also GLC/ILEA member for Vauxhall in the 1980s.

Torrington ’58: Liberal survival and revival, 1945-79

On 27 March 1958, Mark Bonham Carter, Asquith’s grandson, won the Parliamentary by-election in the Devon seat of Torrington by a margin of just 219 votes.

It was the first Liberal by-election gain since the 1920s. Although the seat was lost in the 1959 general election, it marked the beginning of the first major Liberal post-war revival, under the leadership of Jo Grimond.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Torrington by-election, the Archives of the London School of Economics, the Liberal Democrat History Group and the Richard Scurrah Wainwright Trust are holding a seminar to investigate the post-Second World War experience of the Liberal Party – from the defeats of the 1945 general election to the general election of 1979, when 13 Liberal MPs were elected.

The keynote address will be given by Lord Dholakia and Lord Wallace, on ‘Campaigning Liberals in the 1950s and 1960s’.

Other sessions during the day will include:

Liberal campaigning: elections and by-elections
Local government – grassroots survival
Leaders and leadership
Collaboration – pacts and other parties.

Speakers include Lord Kirkwood, Lord Greaves, Michael Meadowcroft and Martin Wainwright.

Cost: £10 (including refreshments)

Red Guard versus Old Guard? The influence of the Young Liberal movement on the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s a witness seminar

In the 1960s and early 1970s the press coined the phrase the “Red Guard” to describe the radical politics of the youth wing of the Liberal Party. At the 1966 Party Conference in Brighton, the Red Guard sponsored an anti-NATO resolution. Over the next decade the YLs were active on a number of foreign policy areas. They were at the forefront of the opposition to apartheid and the Vietnam war and took a leading role in the Stop the Seventy Tour of South African cricket and rugby teams. The party leadership were disturbed by the activities of the youth wing, and Jeremy Thorpe set up a three-man commission which produced the Terrell Report. The report accused some of the Young Liberals of being communists.

Chair (Lord) Tony Greaves

Speaker Dr Matt Cole, Lecturer at the London School of Economics for the Hansard Society and author of Richard Wainwright, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats: Unfinished Business, shortly to be published by Manchester University Press

Witnesses who have agreed to attend are Gordon Lishman, William Wallace, Terry Lacey, Michael Steed and George Kiloh, and we welcome other testimony from audience members.

Whatever happened to ‘Orpington Man’?

The Orpington by-election of March 1962 was a political landmark: a stunning victory for Jo Grimond’s Liberal Party, as Eric Lubbock turned a Conservative majority of 14,760 into a Liberal majority of 7,855. The term ‘Orpington Man’ was coined by the press to identify a new type of voter, young, white-collar, skilled, well-educated and upwardly mobile socially and economically a social group supposedly rejecting an old-fashioned and out-of-touch Tory party but not attracted to a cloth-cap, Clause IV Labour Party either.

The expectation was that this group would decide the next general election and would vote decisively for the Liberal Party. But this never happened. The Liberals did relatively well at the 1964 election, gaining almost 5 per cent of the vote and three more seats – but not in the areas where ‘Orpington Man’ was supposed to live.

So what happened to ‘Orpington Man’? Dennis Kavanagh, Emeritus Professor and Research Fellow in Politics and Communications at Liverpool University and author of many works on British electoral history, and Dr Mark Egan, who recently published the book Coming into Focus: The Transformation of the Liberal Party, 1945-64, will explore the phenomenon of ‘Orpington Man’ from the by-election to the 1964 general election.

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 […]

Russell Johnston, 1932-2008

Scottish Liberal politics was dominated for over thirty years (1965-95 and beyond) by two figures: David Steel and Russell Johnston. Of the former, much has been written; of the latter, surprisingly little. I am therefore researching with a view to writing a biography of Russell. If any readers can help – with records, other written […]