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Title: Defectors and the Liberal Party since December 1910
Authors: Wyburn-Powell, Alun
Supervisors: Ball, Stuart
Award date: 7-Jul-2010
Presented at: University of Leicester
Abstract: The Liberal Party was the dominant party of government from the 1850s to the Great War, but it was virtually wiped out by the 1950s. The causes and timing of the party’s decline are contested by historians, with Dangerfield, McKibbin and Pelling arguing for a root in Edwardian times; Wilson, Tanner and Bentley asserting that the Great War was the cause; and Hart arguing the case for the 1918 election being critical. This research is the first to investigate the role of defections of MPs and former MPs in the party’s decline. Each defection was a judgement on the state of the party at a specific date. They suggest that neither pre-War change, nor the War itself, was catastrophic for the party. Few defectors left because of the War and the party was still in a recoverable situation after the 1918 election. One sixth of the Liberal MPs, who sat after December 1910, defected from the party – nearly all between 1918 and 1956. The main damage was done by a mechanical, rather than ideological, failure of the Liberal Party. Lloyd George was the leader who presided over the most serious outflow of defectors. Three other figures, who have not previously been strongly associated with the Liberals’ decline, were critically involved - William Wedgwood Benn, Reginald McKenna and Freddie Guest. Negative aspects of the Liberal Party exerted much stronger influence on the defectors than did the positive attractions of any other party. MPs with a military background, high personal wealth and those from a minority religion were most likely to defect. Defectors went almost equally to the right and the left, but those going to the Conservative Party almost all remained satisfied with their new party, whereas over half of the defectors to Labour came to regret their move.
Type: Thesis
Level: Doctoral
Qualification: PhD
Rights: Copyright © the author, 2010
Appears in Collections:Theses, School of Historical Studies
Leicester Theses

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