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The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties in the UK 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 actually 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 developed 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 Buddy to British History, historian Martin Pugh argues: Lloyd George made a higher influence 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, joblessness insurance coverage, and old-age pensions, largely spent for by taxes on high incomes 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 actually replaced the Liberals as the Conservatives’ main rival. The Liberal Party went into decline after 1918 and by the 1950s won no greater 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 objected to. 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 associated with the Liberal Party consist of the philosopher 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 originally to get more power for themselves, the more optimistic Whigs slowly pertained to support a growth of democracy for its own sake. The excellent figures of reformist Whiggery were Charles James Fox (died 1806) and his disciple and follower Earl Grey. After years 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 Home of Commons led ultimately to the advancement of a systematic 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 then by Lord John Russell, the boy of a Duke but a crusading radical, and by Lord Palmerston, a renegade Irish Tory and essentially a conservative, although efficient in radical gestures.
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The leading Radicals were John Bright and Richard Cobden, who represented the manufacturing towns which had actually gotten representation under the Reform Act. They favoured social reform, individual liberty, decreasing the powers of the Crown and the Church of England (lots of Liberals were Nonconformists), avoidance of war and foreign alliances (which were bad for organisation) and above all open market.
In 1841, the Liberals lost office to the Conservatives under Sir Robert Peel, but their period in opposition was brief because the Conservatives divided over the repeal of the Corn Laws, a complimentary trade problem; and a faction called the Peelites (but not Peel himself, who died right 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 federal governments. The formal structure of the Liberal Party is generally traced to 1859 and the development of Palmerston’s second government. Nevertheless, the Whig-Radical amalgam could not become a real contemporary political party while it was dominated by aristocrats and it was not till the departure of the “2 Awful Old Male”, Russell and Palmerston, that Gladstone could become the first leader of the contemporary Liberal Party.
After a brief Conservative government (throughout which the Second Reform Act was passed by agreement between the parties), Gladstone won a huge triumph at the 1868 election and formed the first Liberal government. The facility of the party as a national membership organisation featured the structure of the National Liberal Federation in 1877.
For the next thirty years Gladstone and Liberalism were associated. William Ewart Gladstone served as prime minister four times (186874, 188085, 1886, and 189294). His financial policies, based on the concept of balanced budgets, low taxes and, were suited to an establishing capitalist society, but they could not react successfully as financial and social conditions changed.
Deeply religious, Gladstone brought a new moral tone to politics, with his evangelical sensibility and his opposition to upper class. His moralism frequently outraged his upper-class challengers (including Queen Victoria), and his heavy-handed control divided the Liberal Party. In foreign policy, Gladstone was in general versus foreign entanglements, but he did not withstand the realities of imperialism.
His goal was to create a European order based on co-operation instead of dispute and on shared trust rather of competition and suspicion; the rule of law was to supplant the reign of force and self-interest. This Gladstonian concept of an unified Performance of Europe was opposed to and ultimately defeated by a Bismarckian system of manipulated alliances and antagonisms.