At the beginning of 1956 both Clement Davies and Leonard Behrens, the party’s acting president, published optimistic New Year messages, claiming that Liberalism was on the march again. Though such optimism prompted a measure of ridicule in the press and among political opponents, there was nothing surprising in these Liberal pronouncements. At least since the 1920s, the party’s unrealistic and sometimes illogical pretensions had been an important factor in keeping it alive. Objectively, however, and despite the bottoming-out of the process of Liberal decline revealed in the recent General Election, there was little hard evidence to sustain such high hopes apart from an encouraging by-election result at Torquay, Devon, in December 1955, where the Liberal candidate took 23.8 per cent of the vote. Even when, the following February, with the Conservatives’ post-election honeymoon rapidly receding in the face of a worsening economic climate, the Liberals secured 36.4 per cent at Hereford and 21.4 per cent at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, any triumphal flag-waving was surely premature. Yet, with the hindsight of half a century, it is now clear that Davies and Behrens had at least an element of truth on their side. The Liberal tide had turned, and though there would be much ebbing as well as flowing in the years ahead, the process of revival had indeed begun.
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