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The Liberal Party was one of the 2 major 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 4 governments under William Gladstone.
Under prime ministers Henry Campbell-Bannerman (19051908) and H. H. Asquith (19081916), the Liberal Party passed the welfare reforms that produced a basic 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 coalition 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 greater impact on British public life than any other 20th-century leader, thanks to his pre-war introduction of Britain’s social welfare system (especially medical insurance coverage, unemployment insurance coverage, and old-age pensions, mainly spent for by taxes on high earnings and on the land).
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The government of Lloyd George was dominated by the Conservative Party, which lastly deposed him in 1922. By the end of the 1920s, the Labour Party had replaced the Liberals as the Conservatives’ main rival. The Liberal Party entered into decline after 1918 and by the 1950s won no greater than 6 seats at basic elections.
At the 1983 basic election, the Alliance won over a quarter of the vote, but just 23 of the 650 seats it contested. At the 1987 basic election, its share of the vote fell below 23% and the Liberals and Social Democratic Party merged in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats.
Prominent 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 aristocratic faction in the reign of Charles II and the early 19th century Radicals.
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Although their motives in this were initially to get more power for themselves, the more idealistic Whigs gradually came to support a growth of democracy for its own sake. The terrific 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 admission of the middle classes to the franchise and to the House of Commons led eventually to the development of an organized middle class liberalism and completion 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 initially by Lord Melbourne, a relatively standard Whig, and then by Lord John Russell, the boy of a Duke but a crusading radical, and by Lord Palmerston, a renegade Irish Tory and basically a conservative, although efficient in extreme gestures.
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The leading Radicals were John Bright and Richard Cobden, who represented the production towns which had acquired representation under the Reform Act. They favoured social reform, individual liberty, lowering the powers of the Crown and the Church of England (many Liberals were Nonconformists), avoidance of war and foreign alliances (which were bad for company) and above all open market.
In 1841, the Liberals lost office to the Conservatives under Sir Robert Peel, but their duration in opposition was brief because 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 the majority of these governments. The official foundation of the Liberal Party is typically traced to 1859 and the formation of Palmerston’s 2nd government. However, the Whig-Radical amalgam could not become a true modern political party while it was dominated by aristocrats and it was not up until the departure of the “Two Awful Old Guy”, Russell and Palmerston, that Gladstone could become the first leader of the modern Liberal Party.
After a brief Conservative government (during which the Second Reform Act was gone by contract between the parties), Gladstone won a big triumph at the 1868 election and formed the first Liberal government. The facility of the party as a national subscription organisation featured the foundation of the National Liberal Federation in 1877.
For the next thirty years Gladstone and Liberalism were associated. William Ewart Gladstone worked as prime minister 4 times (186874, 188085, 1886, and 189294). His financial policies, based upon the idea of balanced budget plans, low taxes and, were suited to an establishing capitalist society, but they could not react successfully as economic and social conditions altered.
Deeply religious, Gladstone brought a brand-new moral tone to politics, with his evangelical perceptiveness and his opposition to aristocracy. His moralism often outraged his upper-class challengers (including Queen Victoria), and his heavy-handed control split the Liberal Party. In foreign policy, Gladstone was in basic versus foreign entanglements, but he did not resist the truths of imperialism.
His goal was to produce a European order based upon co-operation instead of dispute 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 principle of an unified Performance of Europe was opposed to and eventually beat by a Bismarckian system of manipulated alliances and antagonisms.