Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Renaissance Birmingham

The recent Liberal Democrat local government conference provided an opportunity to visit Birmingham's Council House, one of the great municipal buildings in Britain.

Built in the 1870s in the classical style it resembles nothing more than an Italian renaissance palace. A Victorian extension to the building houses the city's museum and art gallery, which contains one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art in Britain.

It should remind us that despite the image of Victorian industrial Britain as being all Hard Times, Coketown and Grangrind, it was not all facts and philistinism. The point is best made by the inscription on the entrance to the art gallery, which includes the words 'By the gains of industry we promote art'. Perhaps it is also an illustration of how economic and social liberalism have often gone hand in hand.

For Liberals with an interest in party history the conference itself at the Birmingham ICC also had an air of homecoming about it. The venue stands on the site of Bingley Hall, where the National Liberal Federation, the party's first democratic representative body, was founded in 1877.

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