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Landmark: George Dangerfield's The Strange Death of Liberal England

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 09 January 2014

As part of BBC Radio 3's Music on the Brink season Professor Roy Foster, the journalist and author Nick Cohen, Baroness Shirley Williams, Duncan Brack of the Liberal Democrat History Group and the author Bea Campbell join Philip Dodd to discuss a Landmark book which explores the collapse of Liberal values in Britain. And does ''The Strange Death of Liberal England' written by George Dangerfield in 1934 have a message for political debate and the wider culture now?

Dangerfield's first memory as a child was of being held up to a window in May 1910 to watch Halley's Comet falling across the sky and it is with this moment in time that he begins his book. The Right Honourable Herbert Henry Asquith is watching the comet from the deck of an Admiralty Yacht way out in the Bay of Biscay having just heard via wireless that Edward VII is dead. And as HMS Enchantress tacks for Plymouth, Asquith stands in the summer ocean twilight and wonders how the new George V will tackle the political crises that lie just ahead.

The rapid collapse of self-confidence from the apogee of Empire to industrial unrest, mutiny, civil war in Ireland, The Parliament Act of 1911, the Suffragette movement: this was the reality of the lead-up to World War I. It was a period which marked the end of English Liberalism, and this is Dangerfield's subject.

Dangerfield said of historical writing that it should be 'a combination of taste, imagination, science and scholarship; it reconciles incompatibles, it balances probabilities; and at last attains the reality of fiction.'

Philip Dodd and guests discuss the relevance of the book both to our understanding of the pre-war period, so often seen as a golden age of Edwardian splendour, and to today.

Producer Neil Trevithick.

  • Image

    Image credit: 1912, The Mildred: Gurnards Head. From the Gibson archive of Scilly. Courtesy of National Maritime Museum.


Philip Dodd
Interviewed Guest
Shirley Williams
Interviewed Guest
Roy Foster
Interviewed Guest
Nick Cohen
Interviewed Guest
Duncan Brack
Interviewed Guest
Bea Campbell
Neil Trevithick


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