Richard Holme on the merger negotiations

My recollections of the process which led to the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP are hazy since I am not a diary-keeper. Nor can I give anything but an outsider's view of the formal merger negotiations since, to my chagrin at the time, I was not elected to be a member of the negotiating team – any small ability I had as a negotiator being nullified in the eyes of the Party Assembly by my parti-pris commitment to the merger itself.

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.

The Liberal – SDP merger

The poor performance of the Liberal-SDP Alliance at the June 1987 election prompted the Liberal leader, David Steel to call for the unity of both wings, after only 22 seats were secured by both sides.

Joint Statement on the Lib-Lab Pact: Steel and Callaghan

Joint statement issued by Prime Minister James Callaghan and David Steel on the aims of the Lib-Lab pact issued 23rd March 1977.

Simon Hughes: Defence debate at Eastbourne, 1986

Simon Hughes in the debate on the Alliance defence commission report; Liberal Assembly, Eastbourne, 23 September 1986.

Michael Meadowcroft on the merger negotiations

It is difficult to realise that it is now sixteen years since the trauma and angst of the merger negotiations. As far as factual accuracy is concerned the book by Tony Greaves and Rachael Pitchford is an excellent record of the proceedings. There were only a few points of difference that I took up with them at the time.

Local history: Epsom & Ewell Social Democrats

David Gourley on joining the SDP in 1981 and working with the Liberals through the Alliance and merger.

Journal articles

Geoff Tordoff: an appreciation

A look back at the life and long political career in the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats of Geoff Tordoff

Tentative feelers: the Liberal Party’s response to the emergence of the Green Party

An examination of the early contacts between the Liberal Party and the emerging Green Party in the 1970s

A lifetime in Liberalism: where do we go now?

The fourth Viv Bingham Lecture, as delivered by Tony Greaves

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)

Europe: The Liberal Commitment

Autumn Conference fringe meeting, 16 September 2018, with Anthony Howe and Eugenio Biagini; chair: Julie Smith.

The long-lived Liberal Party of Canada

An examination of the history of the Canadian Liberal Party.

The governance of Europe

Review of Andrew Duff, On Governing Europe: A Federal Experiment (Spinelli Group, 2018)

Verhofstadt’s last chance

Review of Guy Verhofstadt, Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union (Basic Books, 2017)

Shirley Williams, the SDP and Europe

Interview with Shirley Williams

Liberal Parties in Europe

How the Liberal Party became committed to the European Union

The Liberal contribution to the Council of Europe

Liberals, free trade and Europe

From Cobden to the Common Market

Liberals in Local Government 1967–2017

Report of Liberal Democrat History Group fringe meeting, Bournemouth, 17 September 2017, with Kath Pinnock, Tony Greaves, Richard Kemp, Sarah Bedford, Matt Cole and Ruth Dombey; chair: Andrew Stunell

Lord Geraint of Ponterwyd

Biography of Geraint Howells

The changing face of election campaigning

An interview with Chris Rennard, former Director of Campaigns and Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, about election campaigning.

The straight line deviationist

Review of Dick Taverne, Against the Tide (Biteback Publishing, 2014).

The Pact

Review of Jonathan Kirkup, The Lib–Lab Pact – A Parliamentary Agreement, 1977–78 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Churchill Archives Centre

Liberal archives at the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge.

Ploughing his own furrow

Review of Norman Baker, Against the Grain (Biteback Publishing, 2015).

The legacy of Roy Jenkins

Evening meeting of the Liberal History Group, 27 June 2016, with John Campbell and David Steel. Chair: Dick Newby.

Richard Livsey and the politics of Brecon and Radnor

A review of the life and political career of Richard Livsey, Lord Livsey of Talgarth (1935–2010)

Jeremy’s story

Review of Michael Bloch, Jeremy Thorpe (Little, Brown, 2014).

Report: Community politics and the Liberal revival

Conference fringe meeting held jointly with the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, 13 March 2015.

Emlyn Hooson

An examination of the life and career of the Liberal MP for
Montgomeryshire, 1962–79

It’s Boy David

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

Too short a history

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

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.

It’s Boy David

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

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).

Elegant and concise

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

Liberal roots

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

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).

Simon and Southwark, Bermondsey

Analysis of how Simon Hughes came to be selected for the apparently unwinnable seat of Southwark, Bermondsey.

The watchword liberty

Review of, 50 Years On: A History of the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists, 1947-97 (Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists, 1997).

Merger most foul

Review of Rachael Pitchford and Tony Greaves, Merger: The Inside Story (Liberal Renewal, 1989).

Research notes: Issue 18

Chronology of key Alliance dates; bibliography: sources on Alliance history.

Merger hopes and fears: Were they realised?

Alliance into merger: how has it worked? The myths and the realities.

One man’s pride

The lost opportunities of the Alliance years. David Owen and his impact on the Alliance.

The Alliance and after: The travelling of a necessary road

Was it all worth it? A look back at the Alliance years.

The Merger Process: an SDP retrospect

A look back at the merger process from the perspective of the SDP negotiating team. Could it have been handled differently?

The Alliance: parties and leaders

How successful was the Alliance? Was merger the right road to follow? The case against.

The Alliance: two-party cooperation in practice

How did Liberals and Social Democrats cope with the mechanics of alliance?

Alliance days

Vignettes of the days of elation and experiment, frustration and failure.

The merger debate in the SDP 1981-87

The history of the SDP-Liberal relationship, from beginnings to alliance to merger.

The SDP’s ideological legacy

What was the ideological inheritance of the Social Democratic Party? And what did it bequeath to the Liberal Democrats?

Young Liberals; the ‘Red Guard’ era

The role of foreign policy issues in the growth of the Young Liberals in the 1960s and ’70s.

Report: from Beveridge to Blair

Report of LDHG meeting of September 1997 on the welfare state, with Frank Field MP and Nick Timmins.

A Party for what?

Review of Ivor Crewe and Anthony King, SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party (Oxford University Press, 1995).

The slow death of Liberal Wales 1906 – 1979

The story of Liberalism in Wales 1906 – 1979.

The flawed strategy of the SDP

Argues that the SDP ultimately failed because its strategy was fundamentally flawed.

One of nature’’s Liberals

Biography of Sir Clement Freud, Liberal MP 1973-87.

The growth of Liberal International

The development of global cooperation between Liberal parties.

The Liberal Party and general elections

Report of Liberal Democrat History Group meeting of February 2003, with David Butler and Neil Stockley.

The SDP: Beginnings, 1981-83

Original cartoons from the Social Democrat illustrate the birth and first two years of the party.

Rise … the SDP 1983-85

Original cartoons from the Social Democrat illustrate what was perhaps the party’s happiest years.

… and decline: the SDP 1985-87

Original cartoons from the Social Democrat illustrate the run-up to the 1987 election.

What might have been

Interview with John Pardoe, Liberal MP for North Cornwall, 1966-79.

Alliance, Liberals and the SDP

1971 – 1985: the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was born in the midst of the Troubles, in April 1970. This article looks back at the party’s history and its relationships with the Liberal Party and the SDP.

Report: the Limehouse declaration and the birth of the SDP

Report of Liberal Democrat History Group meeting of January 2001, with speakers including Lord Oakeshott and Sir Ian Wrigglesworth.

The Launch of the SDP

Review of The Launch of the SDP 1979-1981 – Report of witness seminar in Contemporary Record, Vol 7, autumn 1993, No. 2.

Liberals and local government in London since the 1970s

Report of meeting of 4 February 2008, with Cllr Sir David Williams and Mike Tuffrey GLA.

Working with others – the Lib-Lab Pact

Report of meeting of 14 July 2008, with David Steel, Tom McNally and Michael Steed.

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.

The role of women in merger

A personal view of women in Alliance politics.

Helen Suzman: An Appreciation

Personal recollection of the life of South Africa’s first anti-apartheid MP.

Liberal thought

Review of Kevin Hickson (ed.), The Political Thought of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1945 (Manchester University Press, 2009).

Consolation government?

Review of Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary Volume Two: With James Callaghan in Number 10 (Jonathan Cape, 2008).

Policy and ideology

Review of Tudor Jones, The Revival of British Liberalism – From Grimond to Clegg (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Labour’s right wing

Review of Stephen Meredith, Labours Old and New: The Parliamentary Right of the British Labour Party 1970-79 and the Roots of New Labour (Manchester University Press, 2008).


The Limehouse Declaration and the birth of the SDP

On 25 January 1981, four former Labour cabinet ministers – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, William Rodgers and Shirley Williams – published the Limehouse Declaration, publicly signalling their intention to quit the leftward path that the Labour Party had taken. The Declaration advocated a classless society and called for the realignment of British politics. After an […]

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 […]

Working with Others: the Lib-Lab Pact, 1977-78

From March 1977 to October 1978, the Liberal Party kept Jim Callaghan’s Labour government in power through the Lib-Lab Pact. Labour ministers consulted systematically with Liberal spokespeople across a wide range of policy areas. Arguably, the Pact restored a degree of political and economic stability to the country, but its achievements from a Liberal point […]

Research in progress

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 […]