Europe: the Liberal Commitment – special issue of the Journal of Liberal History

Opposition to Brexit has become of the defining characteristics of today’s Liberal Democrats. And probably everyone knows that the Liberal Democrats’ predecessors in the Liberal Party supported British entry to the European Community in the 1970s and before. But where does this commitment derive from? The latest Journal of Liberal History(issue 98, spring 2018) explores the historical origins of the Liberal commitment to Europe.

As Anthony Howe discusses in the first article, one of the foundations of Victorian Liberalism in the nineteenth century was support for free trade, the removal of tariffs (import and export duties) on trade in goods. Normally discussed today in terms of the economic benefits, Liberal support in fact drew much more strongly from a belief in free trade as an engine of peace, building links between nations and promoting a cooperative rather than a military interventionist approach to international problems.

Eugenio Biagini analyses the different approaches to Europe adopted by the Liberal leaders W. E. Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. Gladstone, a committed internationalist, was a fervent supporter of free trade and an opponent of jingoistic nationalism; he was not opposed to the principle of pan-national empires, as long as their rule rested on consent and the protection of basic liberties. Chamberlain, the radical who broke with the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule, followed a different, ‘social imperialist’ path, arguing for the need for states to be powerful, democratic and reformist in social policy – strong enough to survive in the brutal world of international relations while also fending off the rising threat of socialism. His proposals for tariffs against imports from outside the British Empire, with the aim of binding the colonies more closely together, helped heal the divisions in the Liberal Party and underlay the Liberal landslide election victory of 1906.

The First World War posed a major challenge to the belief in economic progress as an engine of peace, and led to growing support for some form of world government. David Grace tells the story of Philip Kerr, a government adviser during the war and the peace conference at its end and later a Liberal peer (as Lord Lothian) and junior minister in the National Government of the 1930s. Kerr argued first for a federal structure for the Empire and then for a world federal union of the democracies; he helped establish the Federal Union organisation, which still exists today.

Robert Ingham’s article looks at the Liberal contribution to the Council of Europe, the body set up in 1949 to help bring European nations closer together; its main achievement is the creation of the European Convention on, and Court of, Human Rights. William Wallace traces the history of the Liberal commitment to UK membership of the EU. Now an article of faith in the modern Liberal Democrats, Liberal support was not inevitable. Right up until the 1960s, a significant minority within the party saw European integration as incompatible with free trade, rather than a step towards economic and political cooperation. After the Liberal leader Jo Grimond committed the party firmly to British membership, some of these small-state economic liberals left to form the Institute of Economic Affairs, which later became instrumental in supporting the Thatcherite revolution within the Conservative Party.

The debates in Parliament over the Heath government’s application to join the European Community saw a major split within the Labour Party; in 1971 69 Labour MPs defied a three-line whip to vote with the government in support of membership. Ten years later many of those MPs joined the Social Democratic Party, which fought elections in alliance with the Liberal Party and ultimately merged with them to form today’s Liberal Democrats. Shirley Williams, interviewed specially for this issue, recalls her role in the rebellion, discusses the history of Labour’s long confusion over EU membership and reflects on the importance of the European issue to the SDP and the Liberal Democrats.

Julie Smith provides an overview of Liberal parties in Europe and the development of European Liberal organisations. Although support for EU membership is a common theme amongst Liberal parties, the European Liberal family sees a wide divergence of views on economic and social policy. Liberal parties can be broadly divided into economic liberal (in general small-state anti-interventionists) and social liberal (more comfortable with government action) camps; in some countries, including Denmark and the Netherlands, two liberal parties exist, one of each tendency. By 2018, leaders of Liberal parties were the second most numerous group within the European Council meeting of prime ministers, with eight compared to nine from the EPP (mainly Christian Democrats).

The issue concludes with reviews of books by Guy Verhofstadt and Andrew Duff. Subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History should already have received their issue; for others, it’s available for £10 here – or if you take out an annual subscription (£25, or £15 unwaged) you’ll receive this issue and three others. We hope the issue provides readers with an understanding of the roots – political and cultural as much as (if not more than) economic – of the long Liberal commitment to Europe.

New booklet on Liberal Thinkers

New from the Liberal Democrat History Group

Liberalism has been built on more than three centuries’ work of political thinkers and writers and the aspirations of countless human beings who have fought for freedom, democracy, the rule of law and open and tolerant societies.

Liberal Thinkers, the History Group’s new booklet, is an accessible guide to the key thinkers associated with British Liberalism, including John Locke, Adam Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Richard Cobden, John Stuart Mill, L. T. Hobhouse, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge and many more. This second edition updates some of the entries in the first (2014) edition, and adds one new entry in place of one of the previous ones.

See ordering details here.

New booklets from the Liberal Democrat History Group

Just published:

Mothers of Liberty: women who built British Liberalism. The new edition contains the stories of the women who shaped British Liberalism – including Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Taylor Mill, the suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first woman Liberal MP Margaret Wintringham, Violet Bonham Carter, Megan Lloyd George, Nancy Seear, Shirley Williams and many more. This second edition updates some of the earlier entries and adds two entirely new ones and a table of all Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat women elected as MPs. With a foreword by Jo Swinson MP.

Liberal History: A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats. Now revised and updated to include the 2015 and 2017 elections and their aftermath, including the election of Vince Cable as leader. Now up to date as of July 2017. The essential introduction to Liberal history.

Sale prices cuts on our two Liberal leaders booklets: Liberal Leaders of the Nineteenth Century and Liberal Leaders since 1900. 50% off each until stocks run out (not many left!).

Concise history booklet updated to spring 2017

Just out from the Liberal Democrat History Group: Liberal History: A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats – 350 years of party history in 32 pages.

Revised and updated to include the coalition and its impact and the 2015 election and its aftermath. The essential introduction to Liberal history, now updated to March 2017.

Special discounted price for Journal of Liberal History subscribers. To order, see here.

The booklet also makes an ideal gift for new party members; we can offer a 50 per cent discount for bulk orders of 40 or more copies. Contact the Editor.

Directory of election candidates 1945–2015 now available

The Liberal Democrat History Group’s website now features a major new resource for students of post-war Liberal history: a comprehensive directory of all election candidates at every Westminster election from 1945 to 2015.

This is the first comprehensive biographical index to appear of the individuals who have contested a UK parliamentary election under the designation Liberal, Liberal Democrat and Social Democrat, over the years 1945–2015. Separate files cover eleven English regions (Devon and Cornwall, East of England, East Midlands, Greater London, North East, North West, South Central, South East, South West, Yorkshire, West Midlands), and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (Westminster elections only, including Alliance Party of Northern Ireland candidates).

A typical entry includes details of birth and death, where known, education (school/college/university), career(s), elected local government offices held (though periods of service are often imprecise), party offices held, noteworthy distinctions/achievements, honours, publications etc, etc. Information on previous (or subsequent) activities with respect to other political parties is often included. Spouses and family often receive notice. Entries vary in length and presentation, reflecting the scale of the contribution which an individual made to the party and political life in the region or nationally, to parliament or his/her achievements in wider spheres of activity. Opinions expressed with regard to some of the more colourful personalities listed are those generally held.

The directory can be found here.

Liberal leaders booklets clearance sale

For a limited period, we are cutting the price of the two booklets below by 50 per cent – with a further 20 per cent reduction for subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History.

Liberal Leaders of the Nineteenth Century

This forty-page booklet contains concise biographies of every Liberal leader from the Great Reform Act to the end of the nineteenth century – the heyday of the Liberal Party. The total of eleven biographies stretches from Lord Grey to Sir William Harcourt, including such towering figures as Viscount Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord Palmerston and William Ewart Gladstone.

Normal price £4; special offer price £2 (plus postage). 20% discount for Journal of Liberal History subscribers.

Liberal Leaders since 1900

The sixty-page booklet contains concise biographies of every Liberal, Social Democrat and Liberal Democrat leader since 1900. The total of sixteen biographies stretches from Henry Campbell-Bannerman to Nick Clegg, including such figures as H. H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, Jo Grimond, David Steel, David Owen and Paddy Ashdown. (Up to date as of 2013.)

Normal price £6; special offer price £3 (plus postage). 20% discount for Journal of Liberal History subscribers.

Liberal Democrat History Group Christmas / New Year sale

As a special offer over the holiday season (until 6 January 2017) we are making our two short booklets on Liberal leaders available for 50% off:

Liberal Leaders of the Nineteenth Century

This forty-page booklet contains concise biographies of every Liberal leader from the Great Reform Act to the end of the nineteenth century – the heyday of the Liberal Party. The total of eleven biographies stretches from Lord Grey to Sur William Harcourt, including such towering figures as Viscount Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord Palmerston and William Ewart Gladstone.

Normal price £4; special offer price £2 (plus postage). 20% discount for Journal of Liberal History subscribers.

Liberal Leaders since 1900

The sixty-page booklet contains concise biographies of every Liberal, Social Democrat and Liberal Democrat leader since 1900. The total of sixteen biographies stretches from Henry Campbell-Bannerman to Nick Clegg, including such figures as H. H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, Jo Grimond, David Steel, David Owen and Paddy Ashdown. (Up to date as of 2013.)

Normal price £6; special offer price £3 (plus postage). 20% discount for Journal of Liberal History subscribers.

Best wishes to all our readers for Christmas and the New Year.

New concise history booklet published

New from the Liberal Democrat History Group: Liberal History: A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats – 350 years of party history in 32 pages.

Revised and updated to include the coalition and its impact and the 2015 election and its aftermath. The essential introduction to Liberal history.

Special discounted price for Journal of Liberal History subscribers. For more details, see here.

New booklet from the History Group: Liberalism: the Ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

Hot on the heels of British Liberal Leaders, the Liberal Democrat History Group has produced a booklet looking at the ideas underlying the Liberal Democrats. This accessible guide includes entries on economic concepts, environmentalism, internationalism and community politics, together with contemporary and historic currents of thought, including social and economic liberalism, social democracy, Keynsianism, radicalism and more.

Essential reading for every thinking Liberal.

Liberalism: The Ideas that built the Liberal Democrats costs £6 (20% discount for Journal of Liberal History subscribers) and can be purchased from the History Group shop.

New book from the History Group: British Liberal Leaders

The latest book from the Liberal Democrat History Group aims to assess the qualities required for effective political leadership. Who is a good leader and who a bad?

British Liberal Leaders – published by Biteback alongside companion volumes on Conservative and Labour leaders –  contains chapters on every leader of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats from Earl Grey, who led the Whigs through the Great Reform Act of 1832, to Nick Clegg, the first Liberal leader to enter government for more than sixty years. Chapters cover such towering political figures as Palmerston, Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George; those, such as Sinclair, Clement Davies and Grimond, who led the party during its darkest hours; and those who led its revival, including David Steel, Roy Jenkins and Paddy Ashdown.

The book also contains interviews with Steel, Ashdown and Clegg on their experiences in leadership, and a range of analytical frameworks by which to judge the leaders on their records.

British Liberal Leaders is available now from our shop, and will be on sale at the History Group’s exhibition stand at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth, for £25 (£20 for subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History). Simon Hughes, Paul Tyler and Menzies Campbell will be launching the book at our fringe meeting on Sunday 20 September (1300–1400), in the Deauville Suite, Trouville Hotel. All welcome.

The 1955 general election

26th May this year sees the 50th anniversary on the 1955 general election – the first recorded election results programme by the BBC. Luckily it is still in the archives and on the 26th, BBC Parliament will be broadcasting the programme which was presented by Richard Dimbleby with expert summary by David Butler. Butler at 90 is still very much with us.

Elections past – 2005

A look at another general election as featured in our back issues. In the Journal from the Autumn of 2005, Prefessor John Curtice looked at the Liberal Democrat performance in the election of that year.

Elections past – 1910

Continuing our look at previous general elections we look at the elections of 1910. In Journal 68 Dr Mark Pack looked back at the 1910 campaigns from the perspective of techniques used in 2010.

Elections past – 1997

With the election now well underway we take a look at some previous elections as featured in previous editions of the Journal. We kick off with the 1997 election featured in an article from September 1997.

Website Upgrade

The website of the Liberal Democrat History Group is currently being upgraded. Some content may not be available. A normal service will be restored soon.