On This Day - 17th May 1915: Last Purely Liberal Government Ends

Note: This article seems particularly poignant now given the recent death of local man Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats 1999 - 2006. Many others have written beautiful tributes to him since his death and so I have decided, for now, to leave the article below unchanged however I remember him with great fondness. 

Charles Kennedy MP

Charles Kennedy
By catch21productions from UK (Charles Kennedy MP) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

100 year anniversary of the end of the last Liberal government. 

The Liberal Democrats may have been sounded punished in the media over the latter part of the recent coalition government and lost a good number of the seats in the election 10 days ago but they are still there. With the upheavals they have suffered in various forms in the last century this is quite a feat and given recent political news this seems as good a time as any to to explore their history remembering today the centenary of the end of the last purely Liberal Government. 

The current Lib Dems are the result of a marriage between the Liberal Party and the newly formed Social Democrats who split off from Labour in 1981. Realising that the UK’s political playground wasn’t big enough for the both of them they formed an alliance which eventually became a merger after they failed to win over voters in the 1987 election. They began life as the Social and Liberal Democrats or the SALADS as they were rather rudely known. Although it took them several more years to really get their foot in the door, they did grow and by their first general election in 1992 they won 20 seats which more than doubled in the 1997 election and continued to grow. 

The merger in the 1980’s was a long time in coming. The Liberals had been steadily losing ground since the 1920’s when they were soundly renegade to third party by the rapidly expanding Labour party. Even prior to that their dominance in British politics was severely under strain. The First World War split the party in two. Many felt that war with Germany was inevitable but there was a strong voice urging neutrality. When war was declared on 4th August 1914, however they tried to hide it, there were large cracks in the party’s unity and the opposition (the conservatives) made full use of it forcing them into a coalition in May 1915 for the countries own good. So ended the last Liberal Government and who knows when we may get another. 

The Liberals of the early 20th century stood up for social liberty, aimed to allow social mobility and encouraged a gentle levelling out of society in general. It was the Liberals who introduced welfare reform, paying for it by taxes on estates and those wealthy enough to power the new motor cars. The Lib Dems now are remarkably similar (once you have read between the lines of the rhetoric). They aim to build what they call “a fair, free and open society…in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”. The are the centralist alternative to the left and right wing split the country currently divides upon. Whether they will ever rise to the same standing they enjoyed over a century ago no-one will ever know but their ideology still breathes, however quietly. Perhaps one day they will be called upon once more. 

© Isla Robertson 2017