Liberal Unionist Party

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The Liberal Unionists were a British political party that split away from the Liberals in 1886. Led by Lord Hartington (later the Duke of Devonshire) and Joseph Chamberlain, the party formed a political alliance with the Conservatives in opposition to Irish Home Rule. The two parties formed a coalition government in 1895 but kept separate political funds and their own party organisations until a complete merger was agreed in May 1912.



The Liberal Unionists owe their origins to the conversion of William Ewart Gladstone to the cause of Irish Home Rule (i.e. limited self government for Ireland). The 1885 General Election had left Charles Stewart Parnell's Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power, and had convinced Gladstone that the Irish wanted and deserved Home Rule. Some Liberals believed that Gladstone's Home Rule bill would lead to independence for Ireland, and the dissolution of the United Kingdom, which they could not countenance. Seeing themselves as defenders of the Union, they called themselves 'Liberal Unionists' (or alternatively 'Liberal-Unionist') though at this stage most of them did not think it was going to be a permanent split from their former colleagues. Gladstone preferred to call them 'dissident Liberals' as if he believed they would eventually come back like the 'Adullamites' ,Liberals who had opposed the extension of the franchise in 1866 but had mostly come back to the main party after the Conservatives had passed their own electoral reform bill in 1867.

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