Liberal Imperialists

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The Liberal Imperialists were a grouping within the British Liberal Party, the most prominent of whom were R. B. Haldane, H. H. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey and Lord Rosebery.[1]

The Liberal Imperialists believed that under the leadership of William Ewart Gladstone the Liberal Party had succumbed to "faddists", sectional interests and the "Celtic fringe" which prevented it from being a truly national party.[2] Furthermore, the Liberal Party should include people of all classes, along with promoting working-class MPs in the Liberal Party.[3] They also argued that the Liberals had lost the centre vote because the party had distanced itself from "the new Imperial spirit".[4] Instead, they argued for a "clean slate", that the Liberal Party must change if it is to succeed. The old, classical Liberalism must give way to the new ideas of "National Efficiency" and imperialism.[5]

The grouping came to prominence shortly after the failed Jameson Raid in 1895 and prior to the outbreak of the Boer war four years later, as tensions between Britain’s South African colonies and its neighbours increased. Its leaders were members of the parliamentary Liberal Party – then in opposition – who supported the imperialist aspects of Lord Salisbury's Conservative government’s foreign policy. This stood in contrast to the radical wing of the parliamentary Liberal Party, whose prominent members included former leader William Harcourt, John Morley and David Lloyd George. Party leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, himself sceptical of Government foreign policy and particularly critical of the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, tried to bridge the gap between the two factions.[6]


  1. ^ H. C. G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists. The Ideas and Politics of a Post-Gladstonian Élite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. viii.
  2. ^ Matthew, p. 127.
  3. ^ Matthew, pp. 128-129.
  4. ^ Matthew, p. 134.
  5. ^ Matthew, pp. 136-137.
  6. ^ Wilson, John (1973). CB - A life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. London: Constable and Company Limited. pp. 301–2. ISBN 009458950X. 


  • H. C. G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists. The Ideas and Politics of a Post-Gladstonian Élite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).

Further reading[edit]

  • Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Twenty Five Years. 1892-1916 (1925).
  • R. B. Haldane, An Autobiography (1929).
  • Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery (1963).
  • J. A. Spender and Cyril Asquith, Life of Herbert Henry, Lord Oxford and Asquith (1932).
  • Peter Stansky, Ambitions and Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964).