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The Liberal Party was among the two significant political parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party emerged from an alliance of Whigs and open market- supporting Peelites and the reformist Radicals in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four federal governments under William Gladstone.
Under prime ministers Henry Campbell-Bannerman (19051908) and H. H. Asquith (19081916), the Liberal Party passed the welfare reforms that created a standard British welfare state. Although Asquith was the party’s leader, its dominant figure was David Lloyd George. Asquith was overwhelmed by the wartime role of union prime minister and Lloyd George replaced him as prime minister in late 1916, but Asquith remained as Liberal Party leader.
In The Oxford Companion to British History, historian Martin Pugh argues: Lloyd George made a higher effect on British public life than any other 20th-century leader, thanks to his pre-war introduction of Britain’s social welfare system (particularly medical insurance, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions, mostly paid for by taxes on high incomes and on the land).
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The federal government of Lloyd George was controlled by the Conservative Party, which finally deposed him in 1922. By the end of the 1920s, the Labour Party had replaced the Liberals as the Conservatives’ main competitor. The Liberal Party went into decline after 1918 and by the 1950s won no more than six seats at general elections.
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 share of the vote fell below 23% and the Liberals and Social Democratic Party combined in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats.
Popular intellectuals connected with the Liberal Party include the theorist John Stuart Mill, the financial expert John Maynard Keynes and social coordinator William Beveridge. The Liberal Party grew out of the Whigs, who had their origins in an stylish faction in the reign of Charles II and the early 19th century Radicals.
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Although their intentions in this were initially to gain more power on their own, the more optimistic Whigs gradually concerned support an expansion of democracy for its own sake. The excellent 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 brought the First Reform Act in 1832.
The admission of the middle classes to the franchise and to the Home of Commons led eventually to the advancement of an organized middle class liberalism and completion of Whiggery, although for several 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 conventional Whig, and after that by Lord John Russell, the kid of a Duke but a crusading radical, and by Lord Palmerston, a renegade Irish Tory and basically a conservative, although efficient in radical gestures.
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The leading Radicals were John Bright and Richard Cobden, who represented the production towns which had gained representation under the Reform Act. They favoured social reform, personal liberty, lowering the powers of the Crown and the Church of England (numerous Liberals were Nonconformists), avoidance of war and foreign alliances (which were bad for service) and above all open market.
In 1841, the Liberals lost workplace to the Conservatives under Sir Robert Peel, but their duration in opposition was brief since the Conservatives split over the repeal of the Corn Laws, a complimentary trade issue; and a faction known as the Peelites (but not Peel himself, who died not long after) defected to the Liberal side.
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A leading Peelite was William Ewart Gladstone, who was a reforming Chancellor of the Exchequer in most of these federal governments. The official foundation of the Liberal Party is generally traced to 1859 and the development of Palmerston’s second federal government. Nevertheless, the Whig-Radical amalgam might not end up being a real modern-day political party while it was controlled by aristocrats and it was not up until the departure of the “Two Dreadful Old Male”, Russell and Palmerston, that Gladstone might end up being the first leader of the modern-day Liberal Party.
After a short Conservative federal government (during which the Second Reform Act was passed by arrangement between the parties), Gladstone won a substantial success at the 1868 election and formed the first Liberal federal government. The facility of the party as a nationwide subscription organisation came with the foundation of the National Liberal Federation in 1877.
For the next thirty years Gladstone and Liberalism were associated. William Ewart Gladstone functioned as prime minister four times (186874, 188085, 1886, and 189294). His monetary policies, based upon the concept of balanced budget plans, low taxes and, were fit to a developing capitalist society, but they might not respond effectively as financial and social conditions changed.
Deeply spiritual, Gladstone brought a new moral tone to politics, with his evangelical perceptiveness and his opposition to aristocracy. His moralism often outraged his upper-class challengers (consisting of Queen Victoria), and his heavy-handed control split the Liberal Party. In foreign policy, Gladstone was in general versus foreign entanglements, but he did not resist the realities of imperialism.
His objective was to develop a European order based upon co-operation rather than dispute and on shared trust instead of competition and suspicion; the guideline of law was to supplant the reign of force and self-interest. This Gladstonian principle of a harmonious Show of Europe was opposed to and ultimately beat by a Bismarckian system of controlled alliances and antagonisms.