Listen to Liberal Democrats make speeches and there are frequent references to historical figures, but drawn from a small cast. Just the quartet of John Stuart Mill, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, David Penhaligon corner almost all of the market. Some of the forgotten figures deserve their obscurity but others do not. Charles James Fox’s defence of civil liberties against a dominating government during wartime or Earl Grey’s leading of the party back into power and major constitutional reform are good examples of mostly forgotten figures who could just as well be a regular source of reference, quotation and inspiration as the traditional quartet. So in this occasional series, I highlight some of the other figures who have been unjustly forgotten.
As with Margaret Wintringham, Lady Louise Glen-Coats was a significant female Liberal in the first half of the twentieth century but, lacking a famous surname, has fallen into the cracks of history as the Bonham Carters and co. have taken the limelight. While Wintringham’s rightful claim to fame is as the first Liberal MP, that of Glen-Coats’s legacy was her key role in getting both William Beveridge and Jo Grimond to become Liberal MPs.
In Beveridge’s case, Glen-Coats was one of those (alongside Violet Bonham Carter) who worked successfully to persuade William Beveridge to stand for Parliament, which he did in a by-election in 1944. His time in Parliament was very brief, however, for though he won the by-election he was then defeated in the 1945 general election.
In the case of Jo Grimond, Lady Louise Glen-Coats’s role was to work up a seat and then recommend him for it. In 1938 she became the prospective Liberal candidate for Orkney & Shetland, which had been won by the Conservatives in 1935, but as the 1945 election approached the strain of travelling around the islands in small boats was too much for her. As Jo Grimond put it in his memoirs,
She very kindly suggested me as her successor. It is to her in the first place that I owe twenty-eight years as their Member. Had Lady Glen-Coats not recommended me to the Liberals there, I should never have been adopted – and probably would never have been an MP at all. I am profoundly grateful to her.
Another of the prominent figures who Louise Glen-Coat’s championed was John Junor, later editor of the Sunday Express, but prompted by her to contest Kindcardine & West Aberdeenshire for the Liberals in the 1939 by-election on a strong anti-appeasement platform (he lost) and again unsuccessfully in 1945. He also worked for her for a short while.
Her role in promoting such figures came from her active prominence in the Scottish Liberal Party. She was the daughter-in-law of Sir Thomas Glen-Coats, Liberal MP for West Renfrewshire 1906-1910, having married his son, also Thomas, in 1935. Her husband had won an Olympic Gold medal in sailing in 1908.
In 1945 she stood in Paisley, where her husband’s family were prominent local industrialists, coming third with just over 10%. Getting Jo Grimond into Parliament was however her vital legacy to the Liberal Party.
She died suddenly in Jersey on 19 September 1967.
Thank you to Graham Lippiatt for providing some of the information used in writing this post.
For the other posts in this series see my Forgotten Liberal Heroes page.