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 […]

Robert Maclennan (Lord Maclennan), 1936-2020

When Robert (Bob) Maclennan was first elected President of the Liberal Democrats in the summer of 1994, few realised just how much this seemingly self-effacing politician would come to represent so completely the ethos and values of the Liberal Democrats. Still fewer would realise quite how hard he fought for those values. It is characteristic […]

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 […]

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 […]

Bernard Greaves, 1942-

For thirty years, Bernard Greaves has influenced Liberal, Liberal Democrat and public policy on a range of issues. Generally, he has done so by a willingness to rigorously follow through original ideas based on firm and clear principles and a painstaking application to detail. He has greatly influenced a smaller number by the force of […]

Michael Meadowcroft, 1942-

Michael Meadowcroft was Liberal MP for Leeds West from 1983 to 1987, confounding sceptics to win a solidly inner-city seat by using the community politics approach which he had helped to develop over the preceding fifteen years. He was the main, indeed very nearly the only, philosopher of applied Liberalism within the old Liberal Party […]

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 […]

Bill Rodgers (Lord Rodgers), 1928-

Bill Rodgers – one of the Gang of Four who founded the SDP, and now (as Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank) the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords – was born in Liverpool on 28 October 1928 and named William Thomas Rodgers. His father was employed for forty years by the […]

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 […]

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.

‘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

It’s Boy David

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

Download available only for subscribers.

Women and the Liberal Democrats

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

Download available only for subscribers.

Landslide

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?

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).

Events

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 History): on leadership and policy

Mark Pack (Liberal Democrats online campaign manager, 2001 and 2005): on campaigns

John Curtice (Professor Politics, Strathclyde University): who votes for the Liberal Democrats?

Cllr Julie Smith (Vice Chair, Lib Dem Policy Committee): on the impact of coalition

Chair: Paddy Ashdown (Chair, 2015 general election campaign)

A Liberal Democrat History Group fringe meeting

(note this is outside the conference secure area no passes necessary)

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 Ashdown’s phrase – were public, such as the programme of agreed constitutional reforms drawn up by Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan. Far more were secret: covert electoral collaboration in marginal seats during the 1997 election, attempts to agree a programme for government, talks about coalition – and hints of a more permanent alliance.

In the end, the size of Labour’s majority in 1997 destroyed the case for coalition, and the main outcome was a Joint Cabinet Committee between the two parties. What it achieved is not clear, and it was abandoned by Ashdown’s successor Charles Kennedy.

Now, in a period of cooperation between political parties very different from that envisaged by Ashdown and Blair, what can we learn from ‘the project’? What did it achieve? What could it have achieved under different circumstances? And what can it tell us about the desirability and achievability of collaboration between progressive forces?

Speakers:

Paddy Ashdown, Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE
Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988-99

Roger Liddle, Lord Liddle
Special Adviser to Bill Rodgers 1976-81; Member of the SDP and then Liberal Democrats 1981-94, member of the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee; Special Adviser to Tony Blair 1997-2004

Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP
Adviser to Donald Dewar 1988-93, to John Smith 1993-94 and to Tony Blair 1994-2005

Chair: Steve Richards, Chief Political Commentator, The Independent

Jointly organised by the Liberal Democrat History Group and the Labour History Group

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 campaign itself saw relatively little movement in the Lib Dem standing in the opinion polls. Did 2005 represent steady progress, or a missed opportunity?

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.

Salad days: merger twenty years on

Twenty years ago a new political party was born from the merger of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties the Social & Liberal Democrats (or Salads, as the party was disparagingly nicknamed by its opponents).

This meeting will explore the political background to the merger and the byzantine process of negotiation through which it which it came about. Did it really deserve the description of merger most foul?

Speakers: Lord Clement-Jones, member of the Liberal merger negotiating team; Lord Goodhart, member of the SDP merger negotiating team; and Professor David Dutton, Liverpool University.

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 of ALDE) will look at the record of the Lib Dem group in the European Parliament; Florus Wijsenbeek (former Dutch Liberal MP and first secretary-general of ELDR) will examine where the party fits on the European liberal spectrum and whether there have been changes in ideological or political position by the Lib Dems over the past twenty one years.

Chair: Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP