6th June 1859. What happened to the Liberals?
The Times newspaper reported on a meeting Today in Willis’ Rooms, St James’ Street, London in 1859, which was to result in the formation of the Liberal Party.
The meeting of ‘274 gentlemen’-Whigs, Free-Trade Peelites and Radicals-seeking to overthrow the Tory Government, was opened by the Whig Party leader, Palmerston, who said that the previous Government had not dissolved over Reform, but as to whether it had the confidence of the country.(1)
Thus was born the Party of Radicalism and laissez-faire, which by the end of the 19th century, had formed four governments under William Gladstone and by the end of 1918, had governed for 34 out of 57 years. This was despite the Liberal Party split after 1886 over Home-Rule (for Ireland), and the growing threat of a national Labour Party. (2)
The Liberal Party under Campbell-Bannerman, and Asquith (1908-1916) was the great party of reform from 1906 to the start of World War I, seeing the 1909 Insurance Acts and Lloyd-George’s People’s Budget which increased death duties and increments on land values, needed to pay for the new pensions and Dreadnought Battleships.
It was the golden age of Liberalism never to be emulated, as ominously the December 1910 election was the last when the Liberals won a majority of the votes.
At the 1918 election, Lloyd George, now Prime Minister, held an election which saw preferred candidates, to form a coalition of Conservatives, Liberals and a handful of the new Labour Party, being given a ‘coupon’ of endorsement, for supporting Lloyd-George and the war-effort.
However it effectively sounded the death knell of the Liberal Party, when the Tory Carlton Club Meeting in 1922 deposed Lloyd George, leaving a Rump with 36 seats under Asquith. The ‘Welsh Wizard’ wasn’t to hold office again. (3)
In 1931 the National Liberals broke away and merged with the Tories supporting MacDonald’s National Government. Post-war Liberal MP.s would hardly fill a taxi, despite a temporary revival in the 1980.s in the guise of Social Democrats.
(1) The Whig Prime Minister, Palmerston has a statue near the Houses of Parliament near a clutch of Tory leaders.
(2) The brewer, Michael Arthur Bass, Later Lord Burton, a friend of Edward VII, transferred to the Tories in 1894 as a result of Liberals support of temperance. The Burton Liberal Club became the Town Hall.
(3) It is ironic that Lloyd George so keen to demolish the power of the Lords should be the PM who sold peerages for cash in 1917.