History / Politics

‘Nobody’s poodles’: Liberals speak out

The Liberal Party emerged from the general election of 1906 with 397 MPs and a clear majority. Their successor party, the Liberal Democrats, currently have eight MPs. As they gather in Brighton for their annual conference, we trace the course of the intervening years in thirty quotes from and about Liberals, in the hope that we might find the spirit and philosophy of Liberalism.

‘The Labour Party and the Tory Party are both parties of a class, and therefore of a lower ethical standard than Liberals.’ – Walter Runciman, 1907

‘If there were no troubles and no disputes, we should all be living in a state of eternal bliss, than which nothing could be more unpleasant.’ – Herbert Samuel, 1912


David Lloyd George

‘There is no better way of discovering the quality of a man than by fighting him.’ – David Lloyd George, 1917

‘There are many prominent Liberals who want Liberalism to be killed.’ – Charles Masterman, 1919

‘I have been at the deathbed of the Liberal Party on many occasions.’ – H.H. Asquith, 1925

‘The world is too large and too varied to be able to manage itself as one state.’ – Herbert Samuel, 1928

‘In my early days I was a Conservative, but never in the deepest depths of ignorance or of degradation was I a Liberal.’ – James Maxton, 1934

‘There are in England thousands of Liberals living in occupied territory whom we have got to liberate.’ – Lady Violet Bonham Carter, 1958

‘Liberals must give up being so excessively respectable. We have got to have some bloody noses in the party.’ – Jo Grimond, 1958

‘As usual the Liberals offer a mixture of sound and original ideas. Unfortunately none of the sound ideas is original and none of the original ideas is sound.’ – Harold Macmillan, 1961

‘Quite a number of young Liberals address each other as “darling”.’ – Sir Lionel Heald, 1963

‘If Liberals are far from government, government is now far from the people.’ – Jo Grimond, 1968

‘The Liberal Party’s ideals are those of the French Revolution, uncorrupted by that later and lesser Russian Revolution.’ – John Pardoe, 1970

‘The current political situation is the most refreshingly uncertain period in the whole of the Liberal Party’s history.’ – Jeremy Thorpe, 1974

‘I am a showman – and I don’t mind admitting it.’ – Jeremy Thorpe, 1974

‘If there is any emergence of a fourth party in this country, it is the task of the Liberal Party to strangle it at birth.’ – Cyril Smith, 1981

‘I have the good fortune to be the first Liberal leader for over half a century who is able to say to you at the end of our annual assembly: go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!’ – David Steel, 1981

‘I’m never surprised by the Liberal Assembly.’ – David Steel, 1983

‘Disdain is the wrong word, but perhaps affection is too strong a word.’ – David Steel on his feelings for the Liberal Party, 1985

‘I didn’t trust the Liberal Party at all.’ – David Owen, 1987

‘Cuddling up to the Liberals is like leaning on candy floss.’ – John Major, 1992

‘To expect the Liberals to control Labour would be like asking Dad’s Army to restrain the Mongol hordes.’ – Douglas Hurd, 1992

‘Liberalism is not defined by a list of policies. Liberalism is an attitude of mind.’ – Russell Johnston, 1994

‘They are not fit to make their presence felt in this House. They should go back to their constituencies and prepare to adapt to reality.’ – Gordon Brown to Liberal Democrat MPs, 1997

‘Liberal Democrats are nobody’s poodles. But we are not Rottweilers either.’ – Charles Kennedy, 1999

‘Shafted by a shower of shits.’ – Mike Hancock on the removal of Menzies Campbell as Liberal Democrat leader, 2007

‘We do not need a third Conservative Party. We need Britain’s first radical party.’ – Chris Huhne, 2007

‘David Cameron hasn’t kidnapped me.’ – Nick Clegg reassures Liberal Democrats, 2011

‘For many millions of people, this was not just a vote about Europe. It was a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they felt they were out of touch and had let them down.’ – Tim Farron on the Brexit vote, 2016

‘My party is a little bit bigger than his.’ – Theresa May to Tim Farron, 2016


Tim Farron

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