The past and present of coalition government: the Liberal Unionists and Victorian political culture

Submitting Institution

Newman University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

Download original


Summary of the impact

Dr Ian Cawood's work on the political heritage of late Victorian and early Edwardian Britain has had an impact on society:

  • By preserving and interpreting the contribution of the Liberal Unionist party to the development of Conservative, Ulster Unionist and Liberal political traditions in UK.
  • By raising public and political awareness of the historical tradition of coalition governments.
  • By informing and influencing the secondary and higher education British political history curriculum.

The impact has been achieved by engagement with policy makers, especially politicians and political parties, through media coverage, engagement with the history groups of national political parties, the organisation of a series of national conferences and production of a major policy paper and opinion piece for a leading history-briefing organisation.

Underpinning research

Cawood's research is in the field of the political culture, regional identities and the history of institutions of late Victorian Britain. His work has identified, interpreted and preserved the political heritage of late Victorian and early Edwardian Britain. His journal articles and monograph have focused on the political ideologies of liberalism, locality, nationality and Empire; the development of political organisation and propaganda; and the influence of religion, gender and class on the party politics of the period.

No one had previously fully explained the ability of the Victorian Conservative Party to transform itself from a party of reaction to the natural party of government in the twentieth century. As a result of conversations with leading Conservative scholars such as Stuart Ball and Liberal scholars such as Jonathan Parry, it became clear that both saw the Liberal Unionists as playing a crucial role in this process, yet no history of the Party existed, largely due to the fragmented nature of the sources and the lack of a Party archive. Cawood was able to locate all the important archival and printed Party materials and produce the first complete study of the Party, which has reinvigorated interest in the topic among academics, politicians and the wider public. His research combines traditional `high' political research, analysis of the political organisation, culture and psephology of late 19th and early 20th century and the contextualising of party politics in the broader social and economic developments of the antebellum era of British history.

His research has been recognised both by his peers and by the political establishment. He has been invited to join the editorial board of the Journal of Liberal History, produced by the Liberal Democrat History Group and has organised 3 national conferences on the political culture of the late 19th and early 20th century in collaboration with that body. The latest of these, `The Liberal Party, Unionism and political culture in late 19th and early 20th century Britain' was held at Newman University, Birmingham in November 2012.

References to the research

Cawood, `"True to his principles"? John Bright and the Home Rule split, 1886-1889' Journal of Liberal History (forthcoming, 2014)

Cawood, The Liberal Unionist Party, 1886-1912: A History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012 (research monograph)


Cawood , `A Distinction without a Difference'? The Liberal — Conservative Alliance' Journal of Liberal History 72 (2011), pp.14-25

Cawood, `The 1892 General Election and the eclipse of the Liberal Unionists' Parliamentary History 29:3 (2010), pp. 331-57


Cawood, `Joseph Chamberlain, the Conservative Party and the Leamington Spa candidature dispute of 1895' Historical Research 79:206 (2006), pp. 554-77


Cawood, `The Unionist `compact' in West Midland Politics 1891-1895' Midland History, 30 (2005), pp. 92-111


Details of the impact

Cawood's research has raised awareness of the Liberal Unionist Party at Westminster. Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party, has used Cawood's work and quotes from it extensively in the article `'All in the Name' in the House Magazine (1 November 2012), the weekly magazine of the House of Commons. In April 2013, Lord Lexden, who is also editor-in-chief of the Conservative Research Department and archivist of the Carlton Club, contacted Cawood personally to attest that he regarded Cawood's recent monograph as the "authoritative account of a political party which was of immense significance between 1886 and 1912 but still awaited its historian." He added, "you have now filled a major gap in modern British political history. It certainly made me think more carefully and deeply than I had ever previously done about the liberal strand in Conservative Party history. It is book that will be welcomed by every Conservative historian. It has made its mark among Ulster Unionists too; David Trimble has been loud in its praise." (e-mail, 31/05/2013) Cawood's work has also been referred to by the official history journals of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

On publication of his book, The Liberal Unionist Party: A History in September 2012, Cawood was interviewed by Jon Walker, the chief political editor of the Birmingham Post and two illustrated, full page articles on his book and its significance for the current Conservative-Liberal coalition were published in the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail on 14 September 2012. It was reported in Birmingham Post: "Nobody seems to be celebrating but an important political anniversary took place this year — the centenary of the modern Conservative Party.

It was 100 years ago that the Conservative and Unionist Party was formed. The full title is now rarely used, but this is the party that David Cameron leads today. Modern Tories have good reason to look back fondly on events of 1912, but their Liberal Democrat partners might not feel the same way." In Birmingham Mail the book was described as "a chilling warning for today's coalition government."

Cawood's book was described by Professor Vernon Bogdanor of University College London in the Times Literary Supplement on 8 March 2013 as "acute and penetrating....based on massive of the most important works on the politics of the late Victorian era to have appeared in recent years." It was reviewed by Roland Quinault, senior research fellow of the Institute of Historical Research in February 2013's History Today as "clearly written, extensively researched from primary sources and excellently illustrated... it fills an important gap in the historiography of late Victorian excellent study."

Cawood's book was shortlisted for Total Politics Political History book of the Year, and featured on BBC1's Daily Politics Show on 4 February 2013.

The book was also placed on the essential reading list for the Cambridge University Part 1 history tripos (Section B: British political and constitutional history, paper 6: `British political and constitutional history since 1867') Matt Cole, head of history at a local sixth form has said in an email (23 July 2013) `Dr Cawood has maintained a constant relationship with King Edward VI Sixth Form College for many years, and through this his research has benefitted both students and staff of King Edward's. Dr Cawood has visited the college to address students on his research, has counseled students individually, and has enhanced the subject knowledge of teaching staff at King Edward's, most recently through the conference on Liberalism and Unionism on 10 November 2012, which I attended and from which I drew immediate insights and resources.'

Politicians and members of the public have attended Cawood's presentations at conferences both nationally and abroad. His paper at the March 2011 conference, `Riding the Tiger: the Liberal Experience of Coalition' was praised by the London School of Economics chief archivist, Sue Donnelly, as `liberally illustrated with wonderful cartoons from Punch and Fun magazines.'

A number of Birmingham City Councillors, members of the general public as well as Bill Cash, MP for Stone attended this event. The conference, `The Liberal Party, Unionism & political culture in late 19th and early 20th century Britain', held at Newman University in November 2012 was attended by Cash, Lord Lexden and Jon Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, as well as by academics, members of the public and local political party members and a number of teachers and students from local schools and colleges. Matt Cole, head of history at King Edward VI College, Stourbridge commented that `the conference was a triumph.' and a conference report was posted on the History of Parliament blog. Janet King of the Bromsgrove Liberal Democrat Association, who attended the conference emailed on 4 May 2013 to comment, "I personally think that your book should be required reading for all Liberal Democrats and particularly those who have aspirations to govern at either county council or government levels."

In September 2012, Cawood was invited to give a paper at a conference on `The Home Rule Crisis 1912-1914', the inaugural conference of the "Decade of Commemoration" held across the Republic of Ireland to mark the anniversary of the events of 1912-22 and is funded by the Reconciliation Fund of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Cawood was also commissioned to write a policy paper and opinion piece for the leading media and policy briefing organisation, History and Policy, and these were published on 6 May 2013, the anniversary of the forming of the current coalition government.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. J. Walker, `Political History holds a warning for Nick Clegg', Birmingham Post, 14 September 2012
  2. J. Walker, `Birmingham Political History has bad news for coalition, says academic' Birmingham Mail, 14 September 2012
  3. `Liberals in Coalition': Special Edition of Journal of Liberal History, 72 (Autumn 2011)
  4. B. Cash, `John Bright: a Conservative?'; A. Lexden, `The formation of the Conservative & Unionist Party 100 years ago', Conservative History Journal, 11 (Autumn 2012)
  5. Liberal History Group conferences: `Riding the Tiger: The Liberal Experience of Coalition' London School of Economics, 26 March 2011; `Celebrating John Bright', Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 19 November 2011; `The Liberal Party, Unionism & political culture in late 19th and early 20th century Britain', Newman University, 10 November 2012
  6. R. Quninault, Review of `The Liberal Unionist Party', History Today, 63:2 (February 2013), pp.57-8
  7. V. Bogdanor, Review of `The Liberal Unionist Party', Times Literary Supplement, March 2013, pp.?
  8. S. Donnelly, `Riding the Tiger', London School of Economics Archives blog, 29 March 2011, available at
  9. J. Owen & K. Rix, `Conference Report: The Liberal Party, Unionism and Political Culture' History of Parliament Trust blog, 16 November 2012, available at
  10. Lexden, `All in the Name', House Magazine, 1 November 2012, pp. 46-48