Liberal Party in Great Britain

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Liberal Party in Great Britain


a bourgeois party. Founded in the mid-19th century, it developed out of the Whig Party. The Liberal Party was also joined by proponents of free trade and by supporters of R. Peel, advocates of free trade who had broken away from the Tory Party.

The term “liberals” was first used in politics shortly before the parliamentary Reform of 1832. The first national liberal organization was founded in London in 1861. In 1877 the National Liberal Federation was established. Like the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, which represented the interests of the British commercial-industrial bourgeoisie during this period, was an integral part of the British two-party system. Under the leadership of Lord Palmerston (prime minister from 1855 to 1865, with a brief interruption) and W. E. Gladstone (prime minister 1868— 74, 1880–85, 1886, and 1892–94), the Liberal Party dominated British politics in the second half of the 19th century. Liberalism significantly influenced the petite bourgeoisie and the skilled trade union workers both ideologically and politically.

At the beginning of Great Britain’s imperialist period the Liberal Party was abandoned by many members of the bourgeoisie. Trying to protect itself from competition from the USA, Germany, and Japan, the bourgeoisie began to move toward protectionism. As early as 1886 a group of liberals headed by J. Chamberlain, who opposed home rule for Ireland, left the party. In the late 19th century a group headed by the Earl of Rosebery (prime minister from 1894 to 1895) and H. H. Asquith and demanding greater imperialist expansion gained strength. With the founding of the Labour Party (1900) and the growth of the workers’ movement, the Liberals, attempting to retain their influence among the workers, resorted to social demagoguery. The Liberal governments of H. Campbell-Bannerman (1905–08) and Asquith (1908–16) passed a number of limited political and social reforms, which were implemented primarily on the initiative of D. Lloyd George (president of the Board of Trade from 1905 to 1908 and chancellor of the exchequer from 1908 to 1915).

During World War I (in May 1915) the party leadership transformed the Liberal government into a coalition government of Liberals, Conservatives, and Labourites, in order to consolidate all the ruling-class forces. In 1916 contradictions between the supporters of Asquith and the followers of Lloyd George were sharply exacerbated. (Like the Conservatives, Lloyd George’s group demanded that the war be more decisively conducted.) In December 1916 a coalition government was formed under Lloyd George (prime minister from 1916 to 1919 and from 1919 to 1922), and a number of very important posts went to Conservatives, indicating the rise among broader circles of the British bourgeoisie of a trend toward supporting the Conservative Party.

In the parliamentary elections of 1919 a group of Liberals led by Lloyd George formed a coalition with the Conservatives. Other Liberals headed by Asquith ran independently in the elections. At the same time, workers and members of the petite bourgeoisie who had supported the Liberal Party began to switch to the Labour Party. Badly defeated in the parliamentary elections of the 1920’s, the Liberal Party ceased to be a major political force and lost its place in the two-party system to the Labour Party. After the death of Asquith in 1928 the Liberals were reunited under the leadership of Lloyd George. But in the early 1930’s the party was again weakened by a series of splits. (In 1931 a group of National Liberals headed by J. Simon and W. Runciman left the party, and in 1932, Samuel’s group withdrew.)

During World War II the Liberals joined Churchill’s coalition government (1940–45). However, the party’s influence continued to decline after the war. (In 1945 the Liberals held 11 seats in Parliament; in 1970 they had only six.) In February 1974 the Liberals won 14 seats in Parliament. The party’s rising influence is attributable less to its revival than to the voters’ growing discontent with the policies of the two leading parties.

Local organizations of the Liberal Party (election district associations) are united in regional federations. The party holds annual assemblies (conferences). The Council of the Liberal Party governs the party’s election campaign. The party leader, who is elected by members of the parliamentary faction, has considerable power. In addition, there is an advisory body, the Liberal Party Committee. In 1975 the Liberal Party had approximately 200,000 members.


Marx, K. “Partii i kliki.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 11.
Engels, F. “Pis’ma iz Londona.” Ibid., vol. 18.
Engels, F. “Angliiskie vybory.” Ibid., vol. 18.
Lenin, V. I. “O liberal’nom i marksistskom poniatii klassovoi bor’by.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Liberaly i zemel’nyi vopros v Anglii.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. “Angliiskie liberaly i Irlandiia.” Ibid.
Nekrich, A. M., and L. V. Pozdeeva. Gosudarstvennyi stroi i politicheskie partii Velikobritanii. Moscow, 1958.
Cruikshank, R. J. The Liberal Party. London, 1949.
Rasmussen, J. S. The Liberal Party. London, 1965.
Wilson, T. The Downfall of the Liberal Party. London, 1966.

L. A. ZAK [14–1183–2; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.