Dr Matt Cole

Photograph of Dr Matt Cole

Department of History
Research Fellow

Contact details

My research is in the history of the West Midlands region, most especially in the politics and society of the Modern era. I have published political biography and electoral analysis as well as studies on sport, business and the arts. I also broadcast regularly with the BBC on historical and political questions. I am currently writing the history of the University of Birmingham.




I studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate at the University of York, and gained my doctorate from the University of Birmingham in 2006. I have taught and researched with the Open University (1990-2001) and for the Hansard Society in association with the London School of Economics (2006-12) as well as teaching at the University of Birmingham since 2000. I have throughout this period worked in 16-19 education and for the BBC as a current affairs commentator.


  • Deputy Convenor of the MA in West Midlands History
  • Tutor, MA History by Distance Learning (Historical Methods)

Postgraduate supervision

  • British Liberal and Liberal Democrat Party history, liberal political thought and modern party politics and constitutional affairs more generally.
  • Regional social, economic, political and cultural history of the West Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Find out more - our PhD History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


As a Morrell Scholar at the University of York between 1984 and 1987 I examined the relationship between the work of John Stuart Mill and the arguments used to support campaigns to widen the franchise in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain.

I was awarded a Research Associateship of the Open University between 1998 and 2001 to examine the determinants of British parties’ attitudes to constitutional reform, and was awarded the PSA’s David Butler Prize in 1998 for research on policy towards electoral reform.

Between 2007 and 2011 the Scurrah Wainwright Trust funded my research into the history of the Liberal Party in the twentieth century, particularly to produce a biography of Richard Wainwright, former MP for the Colne Valley.

Between 2014 and 2016 I carried out a study supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust of the impact of participation in the coalition government on Liberal Democrat MPs’ campaigns in twelve constituencies. The findings were published as ‘Liberalism in Power: Watching the Titanic (Birmingham 2016; PDF - 1.55Mb)

Since 2019 I have been the Research Fellow in writing the history of the University of Birmingham, due for publication in 2021.

Other activities

  • Visiting Fellow, Hansard Society
  • Political Analyst, BBC Radio West Midlands
  • Editorial Board member, Journal of Liberal History
  • Regular contributor of papers at conferences of the Political Studies Association, its Elections, Public Opinion and Parties Specialist Group and the British Liberal Political Studies Group.



  • Political Parties in Britain (with Helen Deighan), Edinburgh University Press 2012
  • Richard Wainwright, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats, Manchester University Press 2011
  • Democracy in Britain, Edinburgh University Press 2006

Articles in Journals

  • ‘Can the Grand Old Duke of York March Back Up Again?: the importance of local government for Liberal Democrats’ Journal of Liberal History No 83 (Summer 2014) pp.16-23
  • ‘Discordant Echoes: How Chamberlain’s Exceptionalism became Birmingham’s Peculiarity’, History West Midlands No 5 (Summer 2014) pp.43-46
  • ‘Be careful what you wish for: Lessons of the Lib-Lab Pact for the Lib-Con Coalition’, Journal of Liberal History No 72 (Autumn 2011) pp.58-63
  • ‘The Political Starfish: Liberalism in West Yorkshire’, Contemporary British History (Taylor & Francis) Vol 25 No 1, March 2011, pp.175-88
  • ‘‘An Out-of-date word’: Grimond and the Left’, Journal of Liberal History No 67, Summer 2010, pp.50-56
  • ‘Growing without Pains? Explaining Liberal Democrat MPs’ Behaviour’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations Vol 11 No 2, May 2009 (Wiley-Blackwells) pp.259-79.
  • ‘The Yellow Glass Ceiling: the mystery of the disappearing Liberal women MPs’, Journal of Liberal History, No. 62, Spring 2009 pp.26-35.
  • ‘Liberalism, Social Justice and John Rawls: the Best of both Worlds’, Talking Politics Vol 18 No 1 (Politics Association Sept 2005) pp.28-31
  • ‘Fourth Party, Fifth Column?’, Journal of Liberal History Issue 43, (Summer 2004) pp.4-13
  • ‘Party Policy and Electoral Reform’, British Elections and Parties Review Vol 9 (Ed. Fisher et.al., Frank Cass, 1999) pp.72-86
  • ‘The Role of the Deposit in Parliamentary Elections’, Parliamentary Affairs Vol 45 No 1 (OUP, Jan 1992) pp.77-91
  • Repeated contributor to other journals including Modern History Review and Politics Review.

Contributions to edited books

  • ‘The Transformation of Post-War Birmingham’, chapter 11 of Birmingham: the Workshop of the World, Ed. Carl Chinn and Malcolm Dick (Liverpool University Press 2016) pp.282-95
  • ‘Breaking the Mould (1974-88)’, Chapter 9 of Peace, Reform and Liberation: A History of Liberal Politics in Britain 1679 to 2011, Ed. Robert Ingham and Duncan Brack, Biteback publishers (2011) pp.271-305.
  • ‘Constitutional Reform’, chapter in The Political Thought of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1945, edited by Kevin Hickson (Manchester University Press 2009) pp.67-83.
  • ‘Icarus Turns Back: Liberal Democrat Constitutional Policy’, British Party Politics and Ideology after Blair Ed. Simon Griffiths and Kevin Hickson (Palgrave 2009) pp.155-72.

Other publications

  • Five short booklets and a contribution to an edited work on local history topics: Leading the Field: the Story of Sport at the University of Birmingham (University of Birmingham 2016); At the Heart of the Game: a History of Edgbaston Priory Club (Edgbaston Priory 2013); A History of George Cadbury Hall (University of Birmingham 2006); ‘Blackburn at the Polls’ in Alan Duckworth (ed), Aspects of Blackburn (Wharncliffe Press 1999); Blackburn’s Shops (Landy publishing 1996); Blackburn’s West End (Landy publishing 1994).


Matt has worked for the BBC and commercial broadcasters since 1992 commenting on elections, party conferences and other political developments on local and national radio and TV. His specialism is in modern British party and electoral politics, and he has a particular interest in the politics of the West Midlands.


  • political commentary