Independent Liberals (UK, 1931)

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At the 1931 general election, a small group of official Liberal candidates led by former Liberal Party leader, David Lloyd George, and mostly related to him, stood on a platform of opposition to the National Government and were sometimes referred to as Independent Liberals.

Lloyd George's attitude[edit]

Although officially party leader, Lloyd George had been absent from the negotiations which led up to the formation of the National Government due to a prolonged illness, although he had been consulted daily.[1] Acting Liberal Party leader Sir Herbert Samuel had endorsed the government and accepted office as Home Secretary, while the 'Liberal National' group formed by Sir John Simon had joined even more enthusiastically (Simon became Foreign Secretary). The Liberal party grandee Marquess of Reading stated at public meetings that Lloyd George was "in full accord" with what the party had done.[2] On 20 September Lloyd George was well enough to issue a statement which declared that the nation would pull through, and that "a faction fight among ourselves at this juncture would be unpatriotic lunacy".[3]

Within a few days, events caused Lloyd George's attitude to shift dramatically. The immediate cause was the prospect of an early general election, to which Lloyd George was violently opposed: he believed that the Government would put forward the Conservative Party's policy of tariffs, countering the Liberal Party's firm commitment to free trade. The Liberal Party also opposed an early election when the prospect was raised at the end of September, but the Liberal 'shadow cabinet' under Samuel approved a memorandum which allowed an investigation of a special tariff.[4] Leading Liberals, and eventually Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, visited Lloyd George at his home at Churt to try to come to an agreement, but found that he became more confrontational: to MacDonald, Lloyd George said that if an election were held, he would fight as a supporter of free trade and demand a definite statement of the Government's policy on the issue. Faced with Lloyd George's intractability, the Cabinet decided to call an election anyway; there would be no specific statement on tariffs but the manifesto would appeal for a 'Doctor's mandate' to do whatever was necessary to repair the economy. Liberal ministers accepted this decision.[5]

1931 election[edit]

When the election was announced, Lloyd George did as he had indicated and issued a semi-official statement through the Press Association which denounced the Liberal ministers who had "commit[ted] themselves to the consideration of a tariff policy" as having engaged in "a gross betrayal alike of the interest of the country and of the party to which they profess allegiance". Ominously the statement concluded by encouraging all candidates who were elected in support of free trade to "provide... the nucleus of a new progressive party".[6] Lloyd George still controlled a political fund which he had set up while the party was divided between him and H. H. Asquith, and declined to release it to support Liberal candidates who endorsed the National Government. Two Liberal MPs allied to Lloyd George who opposed the calling of an election, his son Gwilym and Frank Owen, resigned from the Government.[7]

At the election, six Liberal candidates formally declared their opposition to the National Government.

Date of election Constituency Candidate Votes  % Notes
1931 general election Anglesey Megan Lloyd George 14,839 58.3 Sitting MP re-elected
Blackpool Edgar Wallace 19,524 26.9
Caernarvon Boroughs Rt Hon David Lloyd George 17,101 59.3 Sitting MP re-elected
Caernarvonshire Goronwy Owen 14,993 39.0 Sitting MP re-elected
Hereford Frank Owen 12,465 39.1 Sitting MP defeated
Pembrokeshire Gwilym Lloyd George 24,606 55.7 Sitting MP re-elected

In addition, in Halifax Frank Sykes stood as an unofficial, anti-National Government, Liberal candidate after the local Liberal Association decided not to nominate its own candidate; he lost his deposit with 2,578 votes (4.6%).

New Parliament[edit]

In the new Parliament, the group of Independent Liberal MPs rejected attempts to reunify all the Liberals under a single whip and consistently opposed the National Government. In the House of Commons Lloyd George sat on the opposition (i.e. Labour) Front Bench in the corner seat next to the gangway, rather than with the rest of the Liberal Party, and continued to occupy this seat until the end of his Commons career (in poor health, he was elevated to the House of Lords as Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor in early 1945 but died before taking his seat in the Upper House).

The mainstream Liberal Party meanwhile experienced difficulties with its relations with the National Government, which was dominated by Conservatives who supported tariffs. On 22 January 1932 the Cabinet announced an "agreement to differ", suspending Cabinet collective responsibility so that the four members of the Cabinet who supported free trade (Liberals Herbert Samuel, Donald Maclean and Sir Archibald Sinclair together with Viscount Snowden who was nominally National Labour) should be "at liberty to express their views by speech and vote".[8] When (in September 1932) the Cabinet endorsed the conclusion of the Ottawa Conference, favouring protective tariffs, all Liberal ministers together with Viscount Snowden resigned but the Liberals continued to support the National Government on all other policies.

In February 1932, Harry Nathan the Liberal MP for Bethnal Green North East crossed the floor from the Liberal government benches to sit with the Lloyd George Liberal group, in opposition to the National government. He resigned the Liberal Whip in February 1933 to formally sit as an Independent Liberal.

The East Fife by-election of February 1933 saw the local Conservatives support the Liberal National candidate and in consequence David Keir was nominated as an unofficial Liberal candidate in support of free trade and against the National Government; Keir lost his deposit. At a by-election in Ashford the following month, the official Liberal candidate Rev Roderick Kedward declared that he was fighting as an Independent Liberal and would oppose the National Government if elected (which he was not). Various Liberal Party meetings and conferences during 1933 pressed the party to go into opposition; on 14 November 1933, the majority of Liberal MPs voted to do so. When the new Parliamentary session opened on 21 November the Liberals were sitting on the opposition benches; however the Lloyd George group were still termed 'Independent Liberals' and did not formally reunify until after the 1935 UK General Election.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "New Cabinet At Work", The Times, 27 August 1931, p. 10.
  2. ^ "Economy", The Times, 29 August 1931, p. 10.
  3. ^ "Mr Lloyd George's message", The Times, 21 September 1931, p. 12.
  4. ^ "The Liberal Dilemma", The Times, 1 October 1931, p. 12.
  5. ^ "The Cabinet Decides", The Times, 6 October 1931, p. 12.
  6. ^ "Dissolution", The Times, 7 October 1931, p. 14.
  7. ^ "Parties And The Election", The Times, 9 October 1931, p. 12.
  8. ^ "Cabinet And Tariffs", The Times, 23 January 1932, p. 10.

See also[edit]