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.

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.

Paddy Ashdown: The Chard Speech

Paddy Ashdown on realignment; the Guildhall, Chard, Somerset, 9 May 1992.

Local history: Epsom & Ewell Social Democrats

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

‘Dead Parrot’ document

The 'Dead Parrot' became the nickname of the policy document due to be issued, alongside the new party's constitution, at the successful culmination of merger negotiations between the SDP and the Liberals. In fact it proved a disaster, nearly upsetting the whole merger process, after its controversial contents were disowned by Liberal MPs and activists on the very day it was due to be released.

The Liberal Democrats

The merger of the Liberals and the SDP was finally completed on 3 March 1988, when the new Social & Liberal Democrats (SLD) was formally launched following a majority vote by the memberships of both parties.

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

Liberal Democrat leadership performance

Comparative table of leadership performance updated to 2019

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.

Writing about Paddy

A look at how Paddy Ashdown’s life and career were remembered and celebrated in the media.

Paddy Ashdown – An Appreciation

A recollection of the career of Paddy Ashdown, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988–99.

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

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 leadership of Charles Kennedy

Evening meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group, 3 July 2017 with Greg Hurst and Lord Newby; chair: Baroness Lindsay Northover

The same but different: Lib Dem members in 1999 and 2015

The characteristics of Liberal Democrat members analysed

Letters to the Editor

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

Liberal Democrat leadership

Comparative table of leadership performance updated to 2017

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.

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)

What did the SDP bequeath to the Liberal Democrats?

An examination of the legacy of the Social Democratic Party.

It’s Boy David

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

Demise of the ‘project’

Review of Paddy Ashdown, The Ashdown Diaries: Volume Two 1997-1999 (Allen Lane, 2001).

Too short a history

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

It’s Boy David

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

Women and the Liberal Democrats

Review of Dr Elizabeth Evans, Gender and the Liberal Democrats – Representing Women? (Manchester University Press, 2011)

Going into Labour: the Welsh Liberal Democrat coalition experience 2000-2003

Examination of the record of the Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition in Wales, 2000-2003.

Liberal Democrats in coalition: the Scottish record

Examination of the record of the Liberal Democrat-Labour coalitions in Scotland, 1999-2007.

Who votes for the Liberal Democrats?

Examination of the sources of electoral support for the Liberal Democrats.

The Progressive Coalition that never was – lessons from the Ashdown-Blair ‘project’

Report of the joint meeting of the Liberal Democrat and Labour History Groups, 22 January 2013, with Paddy Ashdown, Roger Liddle and Pat McFadden MP; chair: Steve Richards.

Liberal Democrat leadership

A description of the key characteristics of Liberal Democrat leaders and analysis of the record of the four leaders to date.

The Liberal Democrats: the first 25 years

Introduction to this special issue of the Journal.

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).

Survival and success: twenty-five years of the Liberal Democrats

Report of a Liberal Democrat Conference fringe meeting, September 2013, with Paddy Ashdown, Duncan Brack, John Curtice, Mark Pack and Julie Smith.

Liberal Sutton

Review of A Flagship Borough: 25 years of a Liberal Democrat Sutton Council (Sutton Liberal Democrats, 2012).

‘Remains to be seen’

Review of Chris Bowers, Nick Clegg: The Biography (Biteback, 2011; paperback edition, 2012) and Jasper Gerard, The Clegg Coup (Gibson Square, 2011).

Audacious – but fundamentally flawed

Review of Paddy Ashdown, The Ashdown Diaries, Volume 1: 1988-1997 (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2000).

250 High Streets later…

Review of Mark D’Arcy & Rory Maclean, Nightmare! The Race to Become London’s Mayor (Politico’s Publishing, 2000).

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).

A progressive’s dilemma

In 1995, John Dickie, Liberal Democrat councillor in Camden and Federal Executive member, quit the party and joined Labour. Neil Stockley interviewed him on his defection.

The 1988 leadership campaign

Following this year’s leadership election for the Liberal Democrats, Harriet Smith looks back to the party’s first such election.

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).

Old heroes for a new leader

Liberal Democrat leadership candidates describe their historical inspirations.

Ending equidistance

Traces the story of the adoption and abandonment of the Liberal Democrat strategy of ‘equidistance’.

Report: from Beveridge to Blair

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

So how well did we do?

A critical look at the Liberal Democrats’ performance in the 1997 election.


The Labour Party’s performance in the 1997 general election took even its most optimistic supporters by surprise. How does the result look when compared with previous election landslides? And what might happen now?

Disappointment or bridgehead?

Liberal Democrat performance in the 2005 election.

Fourth party, fifth column?

The medium-term impact of the continuing SDP.

From Labour love-in to bona fide party of opposition

Liberal Democrat voting in the House of Commons 1992-2003.

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.

Merger and aftermath: 1987-89

Original cartoons from the Social Democrat illustrate the wrangles over merger and the eclipse of the Owenite Continuing SDP.

The 2001 election

Examination of the Liberal Democrat performance in the election of 7 June 2001, with lessons for the party’s future strategy.

The 2005 general election

Reviews of Andrew Geddes & Jonathan Tonge (eds.), Britain Decides The UK General Election 2005 (Palgrave, 2005), John Bartle & Anthony King (eds.), Britain at the Polls 2005 (CQ Press, 2005), Dennis Kavanagh & David Butler, The British General Election of 2005 (Palgrave, 2005), Pippa Norris & Christopher Wlezien (eds.), Britain Votes 2005 (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Ashdown as leader

In November 2000 Paddy Ashdown published the first volume of his diaries. This article comprises two interviews with him on his period as leader.

Elections 2007

Analysis of the outcomes of the local, Scottish and Welsh elections of May 2007. What do they mean for the Liberal Democrats?

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.

Salad Days – merger twenty years on

Report of meeting of 7 March 2008, with Lord Goodhart, Lord Clement-Jones and Dr David Dutton.

Campbell as Leader

Interview with Menzies Campbell, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2006-07, on his political career.

Report: Liberal Democrats in Europe – 21 years of success or failure?

Report of the Liberal Democrat History Group meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference, Harrogate, 6 March 2009, with William Wallace and Sarah Ludford MEP. Chair Tony Little.

Helen Suzman: An Appreciation

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

New Radicalism

… and the Liberal Democat Whig tendency.

Blair and Ashdown

Notes on a political relationship.

Liberal thought

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

Policy and ideology

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

Report: Election 2005 in historical perspective

with John Curtice, Andrew Russell and Chris Rennard


Survival and success: the first 25 years of the Liberal Democrats

This year, 2013, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Liberal Democrats. From near-annihilation to entry into government, the years since 1988 have been a roller-coaster ride for the party. Discuss which factors were important in the survival and success of the Liberal Democrats, and speculate about the future, with: Duncan Brack (Editor, Journal of Liberal […]

The progressive coalition that never was lessons from the Ashdown-Blair ‘project’

Between 1994 and 1999, Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair led a process of collaboration between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, with the aim not merely of defeating the Conservatives but of establishing clear common ground between the progressive parties in British politics. Some of the outcomes of this process – ‘the project’, in […]

Election 2005 in historical perspective

The 2005 election saw the Liberal Democrats win a higher number of seats than at any time since 1923, and, for the second election in a row, gain both votes and seats after a period of Labour government – a historically unprecedented achievement. Yet many had hoped for an even better result, and the election […]

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 […]

Liberal Democrats in Europe, 21 years of success or failure?

The Liberal Party and the SDP were the most pro-European of the British political parties. So how has their successor party fared in European politics since merger in 1988? How has the party adapted to the wide range of liberal thought represented by our sister parties in ALDE and ELDR? Speakers: Graham Watson MEP (Leader […]