Leader of the Liberal Party (UK)
Leadership selection 1859–1969
Before the adoption of the 1969 constitution of the party, the party was led by the prime minister or the most recent politically active prime minister from the party. In the absence of one of these, the leaders in the House of Lords and House of Commons were of equal status and jointly led the party.
When a new leader was required, with the party in government, the monarch selected him by appointing someone as Prime Minister. However, in 1916 David Lloyd George, with the support of a minority of the Liberal MPs, formed a coalition government. H. H. Asquith, the former Prime Minister, remained as Liberal Party leader. Asquith retained the leadership until his health failed in 1926, including periods when he was not in Parliament or was a peer. He was the last leader of the whole party under the original arrangements for leadership.
When no overall party leader was a member of a House and a new leader was required in opposition, a leader emerged and was approved by party members in that House. From 1919 the Chairman of the Liberal Parliamentary Party, elected by MPs, functioned as the leader in the House of Commons. This required all the leaders after Asquith to retain their seat, to continue as leader. After 1926 the leader in the House of Commons was clearly pre-eminent over the leader in the House of Lords.
In 1931 Lloyd George was leader in the House of Commons, but he was ill when negotiations led to the formation of the National Government. Sir Herbert Samuel, who had been the deputy leader, was effectively the leader of the mainstream party from the time when he entered the government. This was made formal after the 1931 election.
Leadership selection 1969–1988
Under the original provisions of the 1969 party constitution, the MPs elected one of their number to be Leader of the Liberal Party. This was the same system as that used for the last MP only contested leadership election in 1967, when Jeremy Thorpe became leader after a vote split between three candidates of 6-3-3.
As the number of Liberal MPs was very small (between 6 and 14 in the period the MPs retained the sole power of election) party members argued for a wider franchise. Before the leadership election of 1976, all members were given a vote in an electoral college based on allocating electoral votes to constituency associations (which were then divided proportionately to the votes of the members of the association). The candidates were required to be members of the House of Commons, nominated by a quarter of the MPs. The electoral college system was only used once, when David Steel was elected leader.
Lists of Liberal Party Leaders
Leaders of the Liberal Party
|Name||Portrait||Constituency/Title||Took Office||Left Office||Prime Minister|
|Henry John Temple,
3rd Viscount Palmerston
|Tiverton||12 June 1859||18 October 1865||himself|
1st Earl Russell
|1st Earl Russell||29 October 1865||3 December 1868||himself 1865–66|
|Earl of Derby 1866–68|
|Benjamin Disraeli 1868|
|William Ewart Gladstone||Greenwich||3 December 1868||3 February 1875||himself 1868–74|
|Benjamin Disraeli 1874–80|
Leader of Lords 2nd Earl Granville
Leader of Commons Marquess of Hartington
|3 February 1875||23 April 1880|
|William Ewart Gladstone||Midlothian||23 April 1880||2 March 1894||himself 1880–85|
|Marquess of Salisbury 1885–86|
|Marquess of Salisbury 1886–92|
5th Earl of Rosebery
|5th Earl of Rosebery||5 March 1894||6 October 1896||himself 1894–95|
|Marquess of Salisbury 1895–1902|
Leader of Lords 1st Earl of Kimberley 1897–1902; 5th Earl Spencer 1902–05
Leader of Commons William Vernon Harcourt 1896–98; Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman 1898–1905
|6 October 1896||3 December 1905|
|Arthur Balfour 1902–05|
|Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman||Stirling Burghs||5 December 1905||3 April 1908||himself|
|H. H. Asquith||East Fife||5 April 1908||25 November 1918||himself 1908–16|
|David Lloyd George 1916–22|
|Sir Donald Maclean
|Peebles and South Midlothian||3 February 1919||12 February 1920|
|H. H. Asquith||Paisley (1920–1924);
1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith (1925–1926)
|12 February 1920||15 October 1926|
|Bonar Law 1922–23|
|Stanley Baldwin 1923–24|
|Ramsay MacDonald 1924|
|Stanley Baldwin 1924–29|
|Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons|
|David Lloyd George||Caernarvon Boroughs||2 December 1924||7 October 1931|
|Ramsay MacDonald 1929–35|
|Sir Herbert Samuel||Darwen||4 November 1931||25 October 1935|
|Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt||Caithness and Sutherland||26 November 1935||15 June 1945||Stanley Baldwin 1935–37|
|Neville Chamberlain 1937–40|
|Winston Churchill 1940–45|
|Clement Davies||Montgomery||2 August 1945||5 November 1956||Clement Attlee 1945–51|
|Winston Churchill 1951–55|
|Anthony Eden 1955–57|
|Jo Grimond||Orkney and Shetland||5 November 1956||17 January 1967|
|Harold Macmillan 1957–63|
|Alec Douglas-Home 1963–64|
|Harold Wilson 1964–70|
|Jeremy Thorpe||North Devon||18 January 1967||1969|
|Leaders of the Liberal Party elected under the 1969 Constitution|
|Jeremy Thorpe||North Devon||1969||10 May 1976|
|Edward Heath 1970–74|
|Harold Wilson 1974–76|
|Orkney and Shetland||12 May 1976||7 July 1976||James Callaghan 1976–79|
|David Steel||Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (1967–1983);
Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (1983–1988)
|7 July 1976||3 March 1988|
|Margaret Thatcher 1979–90|
Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons
Leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords
|Name||Took Office||Left Office|
|The Earl Granville||1859||1865|
|The Earl Russell||1865||1868|
|The Earl Granville||1868||1891|
|The Earl of Kimberley||1891||1894|
|The Earl of Rosebery||1894||1896|
|The Earl of Kimberley||1897||1902|
|The Earl Spencer||1902||1905|
|The Marquess of Ripon||1905||1908|
|The Earl of Crewe
(The Marquess of Crewe from 1911)
|The Viscount Grey of Fallodon||1923||1924|
|The Earl Beauchamp||1924||1931|
|The Marquess of Reading||1931||1935|
|The Marquess of Crewe||1936||1944|
|The Viscount Samuel||1944||1955|
|The Lord Rea||1955||1967|
|The Lord Byers||1967||1984|
|The Baroness Seear||1984||1988|
- Palmerston was appointed Prime Minister a few days after the meeting at Willis's Rooms on 6 June 1859, which formally created the Liberal Party. He was an Irish peer and a member of the House of Commons. He died in office.
- Gladstone retired from the leadership in 1875, when the party was in opposition. The overall leadership of the party then became vacant until Gladstone was again appointed Prime Minister.
- Rosebery resigned the leadership when the party was in opposition. The overall leadership of the party became vacant until the formation of the next Liberal government in 1905.
- Maclean was elected Chairman of the Liberal Parliamentary Party. In the absence from Parliament of Asquith, who had lost his seat in the 1918 general election, he acted as leader of the Liberal MPs opposed to the Lloyd George coalition. Although this was a smaller group than the Parliamentary Labour Party, Maclean also performed the functions of Leader of the Opposition.
- Asquith resigned the leadership when the party was in opposition. The overall leadership of the party became vacant until the adoption of the 1969 party constitution.
- Lloyd George was elected Chairman of the Liberal Parliamentary Party. In the absence from Parliament of Asquith he acted as leader of the Liberal MPs. When Asquith became a peer in 1925, Lloyd George became leader in the House of Commons. When Asquith retired then from 14 October 1926, Lloyd George became the leading figure in the party.
- Samuel deputised for the ill Lloyd George during the summer of 1931 and took office in the National Government on 24 August 1931. Following Lloyd George's move to complete opposition to the National Government in October, Samuel effectively acted as party leader. However he did not receive the formal title until after the 1931 general election. He lost his seat in the 1935 general election.
- Sinclair lost his seat in the 1945 general election.
- Thorpe was the first Leader of the Liberal Party under the 1969 constitution.
- Grimond was appointed interim leader by the parliamentary party, between the resignation of Thorpe and the election of Steel.
- Steel was the last party leader. He became one of the joint interim leaders of the Liberal Democrats on the merger in 1988.
- Asquith became Prime Minister on 5 April although British Political Facts considers him to be leader from 30 April 1908. He lost his seat in the United Kingdom general election, 1918.
- Asquith was elected in a by-election and sat until he lost his seat in the United Kingdom general election, 1924.
- David Butler and Gareth Butler, Twentieth-Century British Political Facts 1900–2000 (8th edition). Macmillan, 2000. ISBN 0-333-77222-9.
- John Campbell, Lloyd George: The Goat in the Wilderness 1922–1931. Jonathan Cape, 1977. ISBN 0-224-01296-7.
- Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900–2001 (6th edition). Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002. ISBN 0-333-91838-X.
- Roy Douglas, History of the Liberal Party 1895–1970. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1971. ISBN 0-283-48477-2.
- Roy Jenkins, Asquith. Collins, (paperback edition) 1988. ISBN 0-00-217358-1.
- Roy Jenkins, Gladstone. Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 0-333-60216-1.
- Jonathan Parry, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain. Yale, 1993.ISBN 0-300-06718-6.