Thursday, March 1, 2012

why I am (or am not) liberal . . .

We at Gladstone’s Library are re-working Andrew Reid’s classic Victorian publication, Why I am a Liberal (1885), a publication that asked a selection of the great and the good exactly that question for the benefit of the reading public.

Reid’s contributors included poets and writers (such as Robert Browning and Edmund Gosse), MPs and Prime Ministers (Joseph Chamberlain and W. E. Gladstone), journalists (George R. Sims), historians (Professor E. E. Beesly), travel writers (Lady Brassey), clergy (Rev. Newman Hall and John Clifford), political thinkers (Thomas Hare), secularists (George Jacob Holyoake), suffragettes (the artist Alice Westlake, as well as her husband John Westlake Q.C.) and what we would now recognise as human rights campaigners (Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Henry Ward Beecher). Fifty-five contributors – in Reid’s words, ‘the best minds of the Liberal Party’ – all told their readers why they were a Liberal.

While we want to follow Reid’s selection of contributors, and we think his question deserves a contemporary audience, we also want to strip the question of its capital L. ‘Liberal’ no longer means ‘a member of the Liberal Party’. As such, it seems more appropriate that we seek responses regarding Why I am (or am not) liberal. We think the small ‘l’ and the space for dissenting voices makes all the difference.

In order to answer this question, we are writing to leading British thinkers and writers to ask them to contribute between 5-500 words on this very question. Why are you liberal? Why are you not liberal?

We will also be asking the general public to contribute. This year’s Hay-on-Wye festival will see us distributing postcards asking the public to tell us why they are (or are not) liberal. It will also be a six month exploration at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden.

Contributions will be published in an online format and are likely to be collected for publication in book form. If you’d like to be part of our project, we ask that you confirm in writing to Louisa Yates ( by 1st June 2012. Please indicate which question you would like to answer: ‘Why I am liberal’ or ‘Why I am not liberal’.

Contributions should be submitted by 1st November 2012. Your contribution should be between 5-500 words and can be in whatever form you like: prose, poem, crossword puzzle...

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