Liberal Party (UK)

Liberal Party (UK)

Liberal Party
Founded 6 June 1859
Dissolved 2 March 1988
Merger of Whigs
Radicals
Peelites
Merged into Liberal Democrats
Ideology Liberalism
Historical:
Classical liberalism
Modern:
Social liberalism[1]
National affiliation SDP–Liberal Alliance (1981–88)
International affiliation Liberal International (1947–88)
European affiliation Federation of European Liberal Democrats (1976–88)
Colours      Yellow
Politics of United Kingdom
Political parties
Elections

The Liberal Party was a liberal political party which was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom in the 19th and early 20th century.[2]

The party arose from an alliance of Conservative Party in World War I came to an end.

By the end of the 1920s, the Labour Party had replaced the Liberals as the Tories' main rival. The party went into decline and by the 1950s won no more than six seats at general elections. Apart from notable by-election victories, the party's fortunes did not improve significantly until it formed the SDP–Liberal Alliance with the newly formed Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. At the 1983 General Election, the Alliance won over a quarter of the vote, but only 23 of the 650 seats it contested. At the 1987 General Election, its vote fell below 23% and the Liberal and Social Democratic parties merged in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats. A small Liberal Party was formed in 1989 by party members opposed to the merger.

Prominent intellectuals associated with the Liberal Party include the philosopher John Stuart Mill, the economist John Maynard Keynes and social planner William Beveridge.

Contents

  • Ideology 1
  • Origins 2
  • The Gladstonian era 3
  • The rise of New Liberalism 4
  • The Liberal zenith 5
  • Liberal decline 6
  • The splits over the National Government 7
  • Near extinction 8
  • Liberal revival 9
  • Alliance and Liberal Democrats 10
  • Liberal leaders 1859–1988 11
    • Liberal Leaders in the House of Lords, 1859–1988 11.1
    • Leaders of the Liberal Party, 1916–1988 11.3
    • Deputy Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons 11.4
    • Deputy Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords 11.5
    • Liberal Party Front Bench Team Members 11.6
  • Electoral performance 12
  • See also 13
  • Notes 14
  • Further reading 15
  • External links 16

Ideology

During the 19th century, the Liberal Party was broadly in favour of what would today be called classical liberalism: supporting laissez-faire economic policies such as free trade and minimal government interference in the economy (this doctrine was usually termed 'Gladstonian Liberalism' after the Victorian era Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone). The Liberal Party favoured social reform, personal liberty, reducing the powers of the Crown and the Church of England (many of them were Nonconformists) and an extension of the electoral franchise. Sir William Harcourt, a prominent Liberal politician in the Victorian era, said this about liberalism in 1872:

A crowd waits outside Leeds Town Hall to see them elect a Liberal Party candidate during the 1880 general elections.
If there be any party which is more pledged than another to resist a policy of restrictive legislation, having for its object social coercion, that party is the Liberal party. (Cheers.) But liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right, (Hear, hear.) The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes; a Liberal Government tries, as far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do as he wishes. It has been the tradition of the Liberal party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the place where people can do more what they please than in any other country in the world...It is this practice of allowing one set of people to dictate to another set of people what they shall do, what they shall think, what they shall drink, when they shall go to bed, what they shall buy, and where they shall buy it, what wages they shall get and how they shall spend them, against which the Liberal party have always protested.[3]

The political terms of "modern", "progressive" or "new" Liberalism began to appear in the mid to late 1880s and became increasingly common to denote the tendency in the Liberal Party to favour an increased role for the state as more important than the classical liberal stress on self-help and freedom of choice.[4]

By the early 20th century the Liberals stance began to shift towards "New Liberalism", what would today be called Liberal reforms in the early 1900s created a basic welfare state.[6]

David Lloyd George adopted a programme at the 1929 general election entitled We Can Conquer Unemployment!, although by this stage the Liberals had declined to third-party status. The Liberals now (as expressed in the Liberal Yellow Book) regarded opposition to state intervention as being a characteristic of right-wing extremists.[7]

After nearly becoming extinct in the 1940s and 50s, the Liberal Party revived its fortunes somewhat under the leadership of Jo Grimond in the 1960s, by positioning itself as a radical centrist non-socialist alternative to the Conservative and Labour Party governments of the time.[8]

Origins

Viscount Palmerston

The Liberal Party grew out of the Whigs, who had their origins in an aristocratic faction in the reign of Charles II, and the early 19th century Radicals. The Whigs were in favour of reducing the power of the Crown and increasing the power of Parliament. Although their motives in this were originally to gain more power for themselves, the more idealistic Whigs gradually came to support an expansion of democracy for its own sake. The great figures of reformist Whiggery were Charles James Fox (died 1806) and his disciple and successor Earl Grey. After decades in opposition, the Whigs returned to power under Grey in 1830 and carried the First Reform Act in 1832.

The Reform Act was the climax of Whiggism, but it also brought about the Whigs' demise. The admission of the middle classes to the franchise and to the House of Commons led eventually to the development of a systematic middle class liberalism and the end of Whiggery, although for many years reforming aristocrats held senior positions in the party. In the years after Grey's retirement, the party was led first by Lord Melbourne, a fairly traditional Whig, and then by Lord John Russell, the son of a Duke but a crusading radical, and by Lord Palmerston, a renegade Irish Tory and essentially a conservative, although capable of radical gestures.

As early as 1839 Russell had adopted the name of "Liberals", but in reality his party was a loose coalition of Whigs in the House of Lords and Radicals in the Commons. The leading Radicals were John Bright and Richard Cobden, who represented the manufacturing towns which had gained representation under the Reform Act. They favoured social reform, personal liberty, reducing the powers of the Crown and the Church of England (many of them were Nonconformists), avoidance of war and foreign alliances (which were bad for business), and above all free trade. For a century, free trade remained the one cause which could unite all Liberals.

In 1841 the Liberals lost office to the Lord Aberdeen to hold office for most of the 1850s and 1860s. A leading Peelite was William Ewart Gladstone, who was a reforming Chancellor of the Exchequer in most of these governments. The formal foundation of the Liberal Party is traditionally traced to 1859 and the formation of Palmerston's second government.

The Whig-Radical amalgam could not become a true modern political party, however, while it was dominated by aristocrats, and it was not until the departure of the "Two Terrible Old Men", Russell and Palmerston, that Gladstone could become the first leader of the modern Liberal Party. This was brought about by Palmerston's death in 1865 and Russell's retirement in 1868. After a brief Conservative government (during which the National Liberal Federation in 1877.

John Stuart Mill was a Liberal MP from 1865 to 1868.

The Gladstonian era

William Gladstone

For the next thirty years Gladstone and Liberalism were synonymous. William Ewart Gladstone served as prime minister four times (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886, and 1892–94). His financial policies, based on the notion of balanced budgets, low taxes, and laissez-faire, were suited to a developing capitalist society, but they could not respond effectively as economic and social conditions changed. Called the "Grand Old Man" later in life, Gladstone was always a dynamic popular orator who appealed strongly to the working class and to the lower middle class. Deeply religious, Gladstone brought a new moral tone to politics, with his evangelical sensibility and his opposition to aristocracy.[9] His moralism often angered his upper-class opponents (including Queen Victoria), and his heavy-handed control split the Liberal Party.[10][11]

In foreign policy, Gladstone was in general against foreign entanglements, but he did not resist the realities of imperialism. For example, he approved of the occupation of Egypt by British forces in 1882. His goal was to create a European order based on co-operation rather than conflict and on mutual trust instead of rivalry and suspicion; the rule of law was to supplant the reign of force and self-interest. This Gladstonian concept of a harmonious Concert of Europe was opposed to and ultimately defeated by a Bismarckian system of manipulated alliances and antagonisms.[12]

As prime minister 1868 to 1874, Gladstone headed a Liberal Party which was a coalition of Peelites like himself, Whigs, and Radicals; he was now a spokesman for "peace, economy and reform." One major achievement was the

  • Liberal Democrat History Group
  • Catalogue of the Liberal Party papers (mostly dating from after 1945) at LSE Archives

External links

  • Campbell, John Lloyd George, The Goat in the Wilderness, 1922-31 (1977)
  • Cook, Chris. A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900–2001 (6th edition). Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002. ISBN 0-333-91838-X.
  • Cregier, Don M. "The Murder of the British Liberal Party," The History Teacher Vol. 3, No. 4 (May, 1970), pp. 27–36 online edition, blames Asquith, Lloyd George and the voters
  • Dutton, David. A History of the Liberal Party in the 20th Century, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 0-333-74656-2.
  • Gilbert, Bentley Brinkerhoff. David Lloyd George: A Political Life: The Architect of Change 1863–1912 (1987); David Lloyd George: A Political Life: Organizer of Victory, 1912–1916 (1992)
  • Hammond, J. L. and M. R. D. Foot. Gladstone and Liberalism (1952) online
  • Hazlehurst, Cameron. "Asquith as Prime Minister, 1908–1916," The English Historical Review Vol. 85, No. 336 (Jul., 1970), pp. 502–531 in JSTOR
  • Jones; Thomas. Lloyd George (1951) online edition
  • Mowat, Charles Loch. Britain between the Wars, 1918–1940 (1955) 694 pp; online edition
  • Parry, Jonathan. The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain. Yale, 1993.ISBN 0-300-06718-6.
  • Partridge, Michael Gladstone (2002) online; 304pp
  • Wilson, Trevor. The Downfall of the Liberal Party: 1914-1935 (1966)

Further reading

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Times (31 December 1872), p. 5.
  4. ^ W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition. Volume II: The Ideological Heritage (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 143.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Liberal Industrial Inquiry, Britain's Industrial Future (London: Ernest Benn, 1928), p. 453.
  8. ^
  9. ^ J. P. Parry, Democracy and Religion: Gladstone and the Liberal Party, 1867–1875 (1989) p 174
  10. ^ H. C. G. Matthew, "Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–1898)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  11. ^ J. L. Hammond and M. R. D. Foot, Gladstone and Liberalism (1952)
  12. ^ Graham D. Goodlad, British foreign and imperial policy, 1865–1919 (2000) p. 21
  13. ^
  14. ^ Graham D. Goodlad, "The Liberal Party and Gladstone's Land Purchase Bill of 1886. Historical Journal 1989 32(3): 627–641 in JSTOR
  15. ^
  16. ^ Walter L. Arnstein, Britain Yesterday and Today: 1832 the Present (6th ed. 1992) p 125
  17. ^ http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/history/the-new-liberalism/
  18. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YgtH8GFcFSYC&pg=PA42&dq=New+Liberal+MPs+1906&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fFmiVbCGIImv7AbDvYDoCQ&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=New%20Liberal%20MPs%201906&f=false
  19. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=K0jw3zg5iOsC&pg=PA29&dq=majority+liberal+MPs+radicals+left-wing+1906&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0UmiVfS8IKKs7Aa0p7HQAQ&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=majority%20liberal%20MPs%20radicals%20left-wing%201906&f=false
  20. ^ http://wwwbiz.meijo-u.ac.jp/SEBM/ronso/no4_3/HANSEN.pdf
  21. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=VcEeBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA73&dq=New+Liberals+in+cabinet+1908&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QEmiVd6FCOXW7AaOiKKICA&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=New%20Liberals%20in%20cabinet%201908&f=false
  22. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=2XWGuS25msYC&pg=PA45&dq=genuine+New+Liberals+this+may+understate&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tUmiVcSuF4fR7QaGobbgCQ&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=genuine%20New%20Liberals%20this%20may%20understate&f=false
  23. ^ George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England: 1910-1914 (1935) excerpt and text search,
  24. ^ Trevor Wilson, The Downfall of the Liberal Party: 1914-1935 (1966)
  25. ^ Wilson, The Downfall of the Liberal Party: 1914-1935 (1966) pp 23-48
  26. ^ Table 2.01 "Summary Results of General Elections 1832–2005 (UK)", British electoral facts, 1832–2006, by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, 7th edition, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7546-2712-8, p. 59.
  27. ^
  28. ^ Charles Loch Mowat, Britain between the Wars, 1918–1940 (1955)
  29. ^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (1965).
  30. ^ Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party: 1900 - 2001, pp.268-269
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ Russell Deacon (2011) History of the Welsh Liberal party, Welsh Academic Press
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^

Notes

See also

Election Vote % Seats Outcome of election
1859 65.7
356 / 654
Liberal Victory
1865 59.5
369 / 658
Liberal Victory
1868 61.5
387 / 658
Liberal Victory
1874 52.0
242 / 652
Conservative Victory
1880 54.7
352 / 652
Liberal Victory
1885 47.4
319 / 670
Liberal Victory
1886 45.5
191 / 670
Conservative & Liberal Unionist Victory
1892 45.4
272 / 670
Conservative & Liberal Unionist Victory
1895 45.7
177 / 670
Conservative & Liberal Unionist Victory
1900 44.7
183 / 670
Conservative & Liberal Unionist Victory
1906 48.9
397 / 670
Liberal Victory
1910 (January) 43.1
274 / 670
Liberal Victory
1910 (December) 43.9
272 / 670
Liberal Victory
1918 13.3
36 / 707
'Coalition' Conservative Hung Parliament / 'Coalition' Liberal Victory
1922 18.9
62 / 615
Conservative Victory
1923 29.7
158 / 615
Conservative Hung Parliament
1924 17.8
40 / 615
Conservative Victory
1929 23.6
59 / 615
Labour Hung Parliament
1931 6.5
33 / 615
National Government (Conservative/Liberal/Liberal National) Victory
1935 6.7
21 / 615
National Government (Conservative/Liberal National) Victory
1945 9.0
12 / 640
Labour Victory
1950 9.1
9 / 625
Labour Victory
1951 2.5
6 / 625
Conservative Victory
1955 2.7
6 / 630
Conservative Victory
1959 5.9
6 / 630
Conservative Victory
1964 11.2
9 / 630
Labour Victory
1966 8.5
12 / 630
Labour Victory
1970 7.5
6 / 630
Conservative Victory
February 1974 19.3
14 / 635
Labour Hung Parliament
October 1974 18.3
13 / 635
Labour Victory
1979 13.8
11 / 635
Conservative Victory
1983 13.9
17 / 650
Conservative Victory
1987
17 / 650
Conservative Victory

Electoral performance

Liberal Party Front Bench Team Members

Deputy Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords

Deputy Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons

Leaders of the Liberal Party, 1916–1988

Liberal Leaders in the House of Commons, 1859–1916

Liberal Leaders in the House of Lords, 1859–1988

Liberal leaders 1859–1988

A group of Liberal opponents of the merger with the Social Democrats, including Liberal Party". Meadowcroft joined the Liberal Democrats in 2007.

In March 1988 the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party merged to create the Social and Liberal Democrats, renamed the Liberal Democrats in October 1989.[37] Over two-thirds of the members, and all the serving MPs, of the Liberal Party joined this party, led first jointly by Steel and the SDP leader Robert Maclennan.[38]

In the 1987 general election, the Alliance's share of the votes fell slightly and it now had 22 MPs. In the election's aftermath Steel proposed a merger of the two parties. Most SDP members voted in favour of the merger, but SDP leader David Owen objected and continued to lead a "rump" SDP.

However, the Alliance was overtaken in the polls by the Tories in the aftermath of the Falkland Islands War and at the 1983 general election the Conservatives were re-elected by a landslide, with Labour once again forming the opposition. While the SDP-Liberal Alliance came close to Labour in terms of votes (a share of more than 25%), it only had 23 MPs compared to Labour's 209.[36]

In 1981, defectors from a moderate faction of the Labour Party, led by former Cabinet ministers Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams, founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The new party and the Liberals quickly formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which for a while polled as high as 50% in the opinion polls and appeared capable of winning the next general election. Indeed, Steel was so confident of an Alliance victory that he told the 1981 Liberal conference, "Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government!"[35]

The Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 general election, placing the Labour Party back in opposition, which served to push the Liberals back into the margins.

Alliance and Liberal Democrats

Thorpe was subsequently forced to resign after allegations about his private life. The party's new leader, David Steel, negotiated the Lib-Lab pact with Wilson's successor as Prime Minister, James Callaghan. According to this pact, the Liberals would support the government in crucial votes in exchange for some influence over policy. The agreement lasted from 1977 to 1978, but proved mostly fruitless, for two reasons: the Liberals' key demand of proportional representation was rejected by most Labour MPs, whilst the contacts between Liberal spokespersons and Labour ministers often proved detrimental, such as between finance spokesperson John Pardoe and Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, who were mutually antagonistic.

In local elections Liverpool remained a Liberal stronghold, with the party taking the plurality of seats on the elections to the new Liverpool Metropolitan Borough Council in 1973. In the February 1974 general election the Conservative government of Edward Heath won a plurality of votes cast, but the Labour Party gained a plurality of seats due to the Ulster Unionist MPs refusing to support the Conservatives after the Northern Ireland Sunningdale Agreement. The Liberals now held the balance of power in the Commons. Conservatives offered Thorpe the Home Office if he would join a coalition government with Heath. Thorpe was personally in favour of it, but the party insisted on a clear government commitment to introducing proportional representation and a change of Prime Minister. The former was unacceptable to Heath's Cabinet and the latter to Heath personally, so the talks collapsed. Instead a minority Labour government was formed under Harold Wilson but with no formal support from Thorpe. In the October 1974 general election the Liberals slipped back slightly and the Labour government won a wafer-thin majority.

The new middle-class suburban generation began to find the Liberals' policies attractive again. Under Grimond (who retired in 1967) and his successor, Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberals regained the status of a serious third force in British politics, polling up to 20% of the vote but unable to break the duopoly of Labour and Conservative and win more than fourteen seats in the Commons. An additional problem was competition in the Liberal heartlands in Scotland and Wales from the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru who both grew as electoral forces from the 1960s onwards. Although Emlyn Hooson held on to the seat of Montgomeryshire, upon Clement Davies death in 1962, the party lost five Welsh seats between 1950 and 1966. In September 1966 the Welsh Liberal Party formed their own state party, moving the Liberal Party into a fully federal structure.[34]

The Liberals became the first of the major British political parties to advocate British membership of the European Economic Community. Grimond also sought an intellectual revival of the party, seeking to position it as a non-socialist radical alternative to the Conservative government of the day. In particular he canvassed the support of the young post-war university students and recent graduates, appealing to younger voters in a way that many of his recent predecessors had not, and asserting a new strand of Liberalism for the post-war world.

Through the 1950s and into the 1960s the Liberals survived only because a handful of constituencies in rural Scotland and Wales clung to their Liberal traditions, whilst in two English towns, Bolton and Huddersfield, local Liberals and Conservatives agreed to each contest only one of the town's two seats. Jo Grimond, for example, who became Liberal leader in 1956, was MP for the remote Orkney and Shetland islands. Under his leadership a Liberal revival began, marked by the Orpington by-election of March 1962 which was won by Eric Lubbock. There, the Liberals won a seat in the London suburbs for the first time since 1935.

Liberal revival

In 1957 this total fell to five when one of the Liberal MPs died and the subsequent by-election was lost to the Labour Party, which selected the former Liberal Deputy Leader Lady Megan Lloyd George as its own candidate. The Liberal Party seemed close to extinction. During this low period, it was often joked that Liberal MPs could hold meetings in the back of one taxi.

In 1940 they joined Churchill's wartime coalition government, with Sinclair serving as Secretary of State for Air, the last British Liberal to hold Cabinet rank office for seventy years. However, it was a sign of the party's lack of importance that they were not included in the War Cabinet; some leading party members founded Radical Action, a group which called for liberal candidates to break the war-time electoral pact.[30] At the 1945 general election, Sinclair and many of his colleagues lost their seats to both Conservatives and Labour, and the party returned just 12 MPs to Westminster.[31] But this was just the beginning of the decline. In 1950, the general election saw the Liberals return just nine MPs.[32] Another general election was called in 1951, and the Liberals were left with just six MPs; all but one of them were aided by the fact that the Conservatives refrained from fielding candidates in those constituencies.[33]

Samuel had lost his seat in the 1935 election and the leadership of the party fell to Sir Archibald Sinclair. With many traditional domestic Liberal policies now regarded as irrelevant, he focused the party on opposition to both the rise of Fascism in Europe and the appeasement foreign policy of the British government, arguing that intervention was needed, in contrast to the Labour calls for pacifism. Despite the party's weaknesses, Sinclair gained a high profile as he sought to recall the Midlothian Campaign and once more revitalise the Liberals as the party of a strong foreign policy.

Near extinction

The official Liberals found themselves a tiny minority within a government committed to Clement Davies, who had deserted to the National Liberals in 1931 but now returned to the party during the Second World War and who would lead it after the war.

In 1931 MacDonald's government fell apart under the Sir John Simon then emerged, who were prepared to continue their support for the government and take the Liberal places in the Cabinet if there were resignations. The third group under Sir Herbert Samuel pressed for the parties in government to fight the election on separate platforms. In doing so the bulk of Liberals remained supporting the government, but two distinct Liberal groups had emerged within this bulk – the Liberal Nationals (officially the "National Liberals" after 1947) led by Simon, also known as "Simonites", and the "Samuelites" or "official Liberals", led by Samuel who remained as the official party. Both groups secured about 34 MPs but proceeded to diverge even further after the election, with the Liberal Nationals remaining supporters of the government throughout its life. There were to be a succession of discussions about them rejoining the Liberals, but these usually foundered on the issues of free trade and continued support for the National Government. The one significant reunification came in 1946 when the Liberal and Liberal National party organisations in London merged.

Herbert Samuel

The splits over the National Government

The last majority Liberal Government in Britain was elected in 1906. The years preceding the First World War were marked by worker strikes and civil unrest and saw many violent confrontations between civilians and the police and armed forces. Other issues of the period included women's suffrage and the Irish Home Rule movement. After the carnage of 1914–1918, the democratic reforms of the Representation of the People Act 1918 instantly tripled the number of people entitled to vote in Britain from seven to twenty-one million. The Labour Party benefited most from this huge change in the electorate, forming its first minority government in 1924.[29]

Asquith died in 1928 and the enigmatic figure of Lloyd George returned to the leadership and began a drive to produce coherent policies on many key issues of the day. In the alternative vote, but this support was to prove bitterly divisive as the Liberals increasingly divided between those seeking to gain what Liberal goals they could achieve, those who preferred a Conservative government to a Labour one and vice versa.[28]

Labour was determined to destroy the Liberals and become the sole party of the left. Ramsay MacDonald was forced into a snap election in 1924, and although his government was defeated, he achieved his objective of virtually wiping the Liberals out as many more radical voters now moved to Labour, whilst moderate middle-class Liberal voters concerned about socialism moved to the Conservatives. The Liberals were reduced to a mere forty seats in Parliament, only seven of which had been won against candidates from both parties; and none of these formed a coherent area of Liberal survival. The party seemed finished, and during this period some Liberals, such as Churchill, went over to the Conservatives, while others went over to Labour. (Several Labour ministers of later generations, such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn, were the sons of Liberal MPs.)

Share of the vote received by Conservatives (blue), Whigs/Liberals/Liberal Democrats (orange), Labour (red) and others (grey) in general elections since 1832.[26][27] Following success as the successor to the Whig party, the party's share of the popular vote plummeted after the First World War as it lost votes to the new Labour party and fractured into groups such as the National and Coalition Liberals.

At the 1922 and 1923 elections the Liberals won barely a third of the vote and only a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons, as many radical voters abandoned the divided Liberals and went over to Labour. In 1922 Labour became the official opposition. A reunion of the two warring factions took place in 1923 when the new Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin committed his party to protective tariffs, causing the Liberals to reunite in support of free trade. The party gained ground in the 1923 general election but ominously made most of its gains from Conservatives whilst losing ground to Labour – a sign of the party's direction for many years to come. The party remained the third largest in the House of Commons, but the Conservatives had lost their majority. There was much speculation and fear about the prospect of a Labour government, and comparatively little about a Liberal government, even though it could have plausibly presented an experienced team of ministers compared to Labour's almost complete lack of experience, as well as offering a middle ground that could obtain support from both Conservatives and Labour in crucial Commons divisions. But instead of trying to force the opportunity to form a Liberal government, Asquith decided instead to allow Labour the chance of office, in the belief that they would prove incompetent and this would set the stage for a revival of Liberal fortunes at Labour's expense. It was a fatal error.

In the Stanley Baldwin.

David Lloyd George

Wilson argues that Lloyd George abandoned many liberal principles in his single-minded crusade to win the war at all costs. That brought him and like-minded Liberals into a coalition with the Conservatives, largely on the ground long occupied by Conservatives: they were not oriented toward world peace or liberal treatment of Germany, nor discomfited by aggressive and authoritarian measures of state power. More deadly to the future of the Party, says Wilson, was its repudiation by ideological Liberals, who decided sadly that it no longer represented their principles. Finally the presence of the vigorous new Labour Party on the left gave a new home to voters disenchanted with the Liberal Party.[25]

[24] The war struck at the heart of everything British Liberals believed in. The party divided over the distinctly illiberal policies that were introduced under its auspices, including conscription and the

Liberal decline

However, most historians date the collapse to the crisis of the First World War. [23] As a result, Asquith was forced to introduce a new

The General Election of 1906 also represented a shift to the Left by the Liberal Party. According to Rosemary Rees, almost half of the Liberal MPs elected in 1906 were supportive of the 'New Liberalism' (which advocated government action to improve people's lives),[18]) while claims were made that “five-sixths of the Liberal party are left wing.”[19][20] Other historians, however, have questioned the extent to which the Liberal Party experienced a leftward shift; according to Robert C. Self however, only between 50 and 60 Liberal MPs out of the 400 in the parliamentary party after 1906 were Social Radicals, with a core of 20 to 30.[21] Nevertheless, important junior offices were held in the cabinet by what Duncan Tanner has termed "genuine New Liberals, Centrist reformers, and Fabian collectivists,"[22] and much legislation was pushed through by the Liberals in government. This included the regulation of working hours, National Insurance and welfare. It was at this time that a political battle over the so-called People's Budget resulted in the passage of an act ending the power of the House of Lords to block legislation. The cost was high, however, as the government was required by the king to call two general elections in 1910 to validate its position and ended up frittering away most of its large majority, being left once again dependent on the Irish Nationalists.

Although he presided over a large majority, Winston Churchill, a recent defector from the Conservatives.

The Liberals languished in opposition for a decade, while the coalition of Salisbury and Chamberlain held power. The 1890s were marred by infighting between the three principal successors to Gladstone, party leader the greatest election victory in their history. This would prove the last time the Liberals won a majority in their own right.

Liberal poster c.1905-10

The Liberal zenith

“used the natural discontent of the people with the poverty and precariousness of the means of subsistence as a motive power to win for them a better, more influential, and more honourable status in the citizenship of their native land. The new Liberalism, while pursuing this great political ideal with unflinching energy, devotes a part of its endeavour also to the removing of the immediate causes of discontent. It is true that man cannot live by bread alone. It is equally true that a man cannot live without bread.”[17]

The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of “New Liberalism” within the Liberal Party, which advocated state intervention as a means of guaranteeing freedom and removing obstacles to it such as poverty and unemployment. Contrasting Old Liberalism with New Liberalism, David Lloyd George noted in a 1908 speech that the old Liberals

The rise of New Liberalism

Notable as the Gladstonian reforms had been, they had almost all remained within the nineteenth-century Liberal tradition of gradually removing the religious, economic, and political barriers that prevented men of varied creeds and classes from exercising their individual talents in order to improve themselves and their society. As the third quarter of the century drew to a close, the essential bastions of Victorianism still held firm: respectability; a government of aristocrats and gentlemen now influenced not only by middle-class merchants and manufacturers but also by industrious working people; a prosperity that seemed to rest largely on the tenets of laissez-faire economics; and a Britannia that ruled the waves and many a dominion beyond.[16]

Historian Walter L. Arnstein, concludes:

A major long-term consequence of the Third Reform Act was the rise of Lib-Lab candidates, in the absence of any committed Labour Party. The Act split all county constituencies (which were represented by multiple MPs) into single-member constituencies, roughly corresponding to population patterns. In areas with working class majorities, in particular coal-mining areas, Lib-Lab candidates were popular, and they received sponsorship and endorsement from trade unions. In the first election after the Act was passed (1885), thirteen were elected, up from two in 1874. The Third Reform Act also facilitated the demise of the Whig old guard: in two-member constituencies, it was common to pair a Whig and a radical under the Liberal banner. After the Third Reform Act, fewer Whigs were selected as candidates.[15]

Gladstone finally retired in 1894, and his ineffectual successor, Lord Rosebery, led the party to another heavy defeat in the 1895 general election.

The result was a catastrophic split in the Liberal Party, and heavy defeat in the 1886 election at the hands of Lord Salisbury. There was a final weak Gladstone ministry in 1892, but it also was dependent on Irish support and failed to get Irish Home Rule through the House of Lords.

Among the consequences of the Third Reform Act (1884–85) was the giving of the vote to the Catholic peasants in Ireland, and the consequent creation of an Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stewart Parnell. In the 1885 general election this party won the balance of power in the House of Commons, and demanded Irish Home Rule as the price of support for a continued Gladstone ministry. Gladstone personally supported Home Rule, but a strong Liberal Unionist faction led by Joseph Chamberlain, along with the last of the Whigs, Hartington, opposed it. The Irish Home Rule bill gave all owners of Irish land a chance to sell to the state at a price equal to 20 years' purchase of the rents and allowing tenants to purchase the land. Irish nationalist reaction was mixed, Unionist opinion was hostile, and the election addresses during the 1886 election revealed English radicals to be against the bill also. Among the Liberal rank and file, several Gladstonian candidates disowned the bill, reflecting fears at the constituency level that the interests of the working people were being sacrificed to finance a rescue operation for the landed elite.[14]

In the 1874 general election Gladstone was defeated by the Conservatives under Disraeli during a sharp economic recession. He formally resigned as Liberal leader and was succeeded by the Marquess of Hartington, but he soon changed his mind and returned to active politics. He strongly disagreed with Disraeli's pro-Ottoman foreign policy and in 1880 he conducted the first outdoor mass-election campaign in Britain, known as the Midlothian campaign. The Liberals won a large majority in the 1880 election. Hartington ceded his place and Gladstone resumed office.

Regarding Ireland, the major Liberal achievements were land reform, where he ended centuries of landlord oppression, and the disestablishment of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland through the Irish Church Act 1869.

[13]