The Rise of the Liberal Party

  • G. R. Searle
Part of the British History in Perspective book series (BHP)


The Liberal Party came into existence in the nineteenth century because the country’s political system so obviously lagged behind its industrial development. True, following the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, rival middle-class groups vied for control in the major urban centres, but in the counties local government remained largely in the hands of the landed interest. At national level the predominance of the aristocracy was equally apparent. It had become customary to entrust offices like the Presidency of the Board of Trade to men of commercial backgrounds and experience, but the prestigious Secretaryships of State were, almost invariably, given to members of one of the great aristocratic families. In Parliament, too, the landed interest was predominant. The House of Lords could almost be seen as its institutional embodiment; only after 1885 did middle-class men become ennobled in any significant numbers and it would take decades before this significantly affected the composition of the Chamber as a whole. As for the Commons, here landowners and their dependents never comprised less than one half of the membership of the House. A traditional ‘ruling class’, it seemed, controlled political life, an elite all the stronger in that it was connected with other bastions of state power, like the diplomatic service, the court, the armed services, and the Church of England.1


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© G. R. Searle 1992

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  • G. R. Searle

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