A Short History of the Liberal Party (1900-1988)

Another of my Hay purchases was Chris Cook’s A Short History of the Liberal Party 1900-1988.

This was the third edition of the book, the first being 1900-76, the second 1900-1983. Since 1988 there have been editions for 1900-2001 and oddly enough a new edition is due out later this year.

It is a well written book for the most part. If I was to be very critical I’d comment on three things:

  1. Often Cook mentions some important controversy without explaining the detail. Whilst this is fine for the Thorpe scandal (say), it is a bit more of an issue when talking about (say) the Taff Vale decision.
  2. The book does gloss a little over the scandals of Liberalism: we don’t get much on the Lloyd-George honours scandal, and the Thorpe conspiracy trial isn’t mentioned at all.
  3. The later sections aren’t as detailed as the early sections, becoming catalogues of by-elections.

The third one is probably inevitable. The sources for the details on the spats and controversies of the earlier chapters is presumably private papers that only become available over time. Except for the merger talks, where the fighting was so public, the details of these since the 1970s weren’t available in 1988.

I’m quite inclined to buy the new edition when it comes out, partly to see if the 1970s onwards bits have improved, however I’d imagine the bits about the Kennedy and Campbell era will be short of the important details about knife wielders…

I could summarise this book (or, to be fair, the subject matter) with three sentences. For each era pick one…

  • The performance of the Liberals at the general election of XXXX failed to live up to the promise of the by-elections or polls; or
  • Then the party split into two or more parts; or
  • Both of the above

The second one particularly happened when we had coalitions with the Tories. I’m just saying.

Overall it was an enjoyable quick guide, but just a starting point. Definitely worth the £2.50 I paid at Hay.

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Filed under books, Hay, liberal history, politics

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