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Liberal Party

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0097 LIBERAL PARTY
Held at: British Library of Political and Economic Science
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Full title: Liberal Party
Date(s): 1901-1998
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 363 boxes, 3 outsize boxes
Name of creator(s): Liberal Party


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Liberal Party, the successor to the Whig Party, was formed on 6 June 1859, when Whigs, Peelites and Radicals met at Willis's Rooms in St. James Street, London, to unite in opposition to the Conservatives. It became a major political force, holding power for a large proportion of the next sixty years. Following World War One, however, it was supplanted by the Labour Party and remained on the sidelines until the leadership of Jo Grimond (1956-1967), when the party generated a revived reputation as an intellectually credible left-of-centre group. From the early 1960s on, the party enjoyed spectacular by-election successes; fuelled by these performances, an increasing number of Liberal candidates was fielded. Under Jeremy Thorpe the party made substantial progress in the 1974 general election, returning almost 20 percent of the popular vote, and under Thorpe's successor as party leader, David Steel (1976-88), the Liberals retained their position as a significant national force in British politics. In return for supporting the minority Labour government of James Callaghan, Steel was able to extract a number of concessions, including an agreement to consult the Liberals on legislation prior to its presentation in Parliament. This "Lib-Lab" pact foundered in 1978, and the Liberals fared poorly in the general election of 1979, but their strategic importance was enhanced by the emergence of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. An Alliance (as their cooperation became known) was forged between the two parties in time for the 1983 general election, in which they won 25 percent of the popular vote. Following a disappointing result in the 1987 general election, a majority in both parties voted for a formal merger, and the Social and Liberal Democratic Party, known from 1989 as the Liberal Democratic Party, was formed. Those Liberals who opposed the merger re-launched the Liberal Party in 1989. The structure of the Liberal Party was decentralised; the local parties controlled the process of candidate selection, and also afforded their members a direct vote in the election of the party leader. The day-to-day business of the party was directed by the National Executive Committee.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Liberal Party, 1901-1988, notably minutes and working papers of the National Executive Committee, 1954-1987; papers of the Liberal Party Organisation, 1940-1988, including minutes, 1958-1979, bulletins, 1940-1943, correspondence, 1938-1987, working and administrative papers; papers of the Party Council, 1970-1987, including working papers, correspondence and publications; minutes, working papers and correspondence of the Standing Committee, later the Policy Committee, 1960-1987; material created by Central Committees, 1936-1987, including the Organising Committee, 1961-1965, the Constitutional Review Committee, 1936-1987, the Publicity Sub-Committee, 1980-1983, the Officer's Committee, 1975-1977, the Corporate Appeals Committee, 1977-1979, the Candidates Committee, 1973-1987, the Membership Committee, 1983-1987, and the Campaigns and Elections Committee, 1965-1987; Annual Reports and Accounts, 1934-1987; financial material, 1963-1987, including minutes and correspondence of the Finance and Administration Board, and papers relating to fundraising; papers relating to Liberal Assemblies, 1912-1987, notably agendas, organisational papers, resolutions, press releases and correspondence; material concerning General Elections (fought by the Liberal Party and the Alliance), 1945-1987, including leaflets and publicity, manifestos, press cuttings, lists of candidates, results and statistics, broadcast transcripts and electoral addresses; material concerning by-elections, 1957-1986, comprising press cuttings, leaflets, and speeches; papers relating to the Liberal Party and Europe, 1976-1987, notably copies of European International, minutes and papers of the Liberal European Action Group, material concerning the European Liberals and Democrats, and papers relating to European elections; transcripts of party political broadcasts from various British political parties, 1981-1988; press cuttings and releases of the party, 1924-1936 and 1960-1987, also relating to Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel and the Liberal/SDP Alliance; material relating to publications, 1901-1993, including Liberator, Liberal News and Hedben Royd Publications; various handbooks for Liberal candidates, speakers and election agents, 1929-1974; Liberal Party policy summaries, 1918-1985, on subjects including agriculture, animal welfare, civil liberties, crime, defence, education, electoral reform, employment, energy, Europe, finance, foreign affairs, health, housing, industry, the Labour Party, media, Northern Ireland, race relations, regional policy, trade, transport, and the welfare state; papers relating to the regional organisation of the Liberal Party, 1963-1987, including party regional reports, publicity, correspondence, constituency surveys, administrative records, manifestos, and area agents' reports and correspondence; papers of Liberal organisations, 1951-1987, notably the Alliance Action Group for Electoral Reform, the Association of Liberal Councillors, the Labour Unit, Liberal International, the Liberal Parliamentary Association, the National League of Young Liberals, the National Liberal Club, the Scottish Liberal Party, the Ulster Liberal Party, and the Women's Liberal Foundation; material relating to the Lib-Lab Pact, 1977-1978, including press releases and correspondence; papers concerning the Social Democratic Party (SDP), 1985-1987, comprising correspondence, publications, press releases and cuttings; material concerning the Liberal/SDP Alliance, 1969-1989, notably papers of the Joint Campaign Group, the Alliance Campaign Group and the Joint Priorities Group, papers relating to finance, funding, selection of candidates, and seat negotiations, as well as publications, press releases, campaign working papers and administrative material; videocassettes, [1970]-1987, mainly of party political broadcasts, Liberal Assemblies and media coverage of elections.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

There is a 20 year closure period. Apply to the Archivist for details.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright retained by the depositor. Most documents may be photocopied.

Finding aids:

Printed handlist available.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The Liberal Party papers were deposited in the Library in 1987. Further deposits were made by the Social and Liberal Democrats in 1989, 1991, 1994 and 1997, by Janet Russell in 1995, and by R Moncrieff in 1996. A series of Liberal Party bulletins for 1970 were transferred to the Library from Surrey Record Office in 1993. Two sets of publications were deposited by unknown donors in 1999.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The British Library of Political and Economic Science holds material relating to the Liberal Party in the papers of Michael Meadowcroft (Ref: Meadowcroft), Sir Andrew McFadyean (Ref: McFadyean), Jean Henderson (Ref: Henderson), Frances Josephy (Ref: Josephy), Leonard Henry Courtney (Ref: Courtney), Sir David Martin Scott Steel (Ref: Steel), Lt-Cdr Brian Ashmore (Ref: Ashmore), Paddy Ashdown (Ref: Ashdown), Sir William Henry Beveridge (Ref: Beveridge), Henry Broadhurst (Ref: Broadhurst), William John Braithwaite (Ref: Braithwaite), and Lady Juliet Rhys Williams (Ref: Rhys Williams J). The Library also holds the papers of the Liberal Movement (Ref: Liberal Movement), the Liberal/SDP Alliance, the Social Democratic Party (Ref: Social Democrats), the Rainbow Circle (Ref: Coll Misc 0575), and Liberalism in South-West Hertfordshire (Ref: Coll Misc 0886). Further election and political ephemera relating to the Liberal Party may be found in Coll Misc 28, 46, 246, 519, 712, 758, 780, 785, 789, 795, 797, 814, 816, 867, 883, 886, 937, 938, 967, and 976. Bristol University Library has the archives of the National Liberal Club, 1882-1973 (Ref: DM 668); the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, holds the records of the Scottish Liberal Party, 1874-1987; the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, holds the records of the Welsh Liberal Party, 1966-1988.

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Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission National Register of Archives. Compiled by Sarah Aitchison as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2001

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