|Party Name:||Liberal Democrats|
|Party Articletitle:||Liberal Democrats|
|Foundation:||3 March 1988|
|European:||European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party|
|Europarl:||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
|Headquarters:||4 Cowley Street,|
London, SW1P 3NB
The Liberal Democrats, often shortened to Lib Dems or just Lib Dem, are a liberal political party in the United Kingdom, formed in 1988 by merging the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party; the two parties had been in alliance for seven years, from shortly after the formation of the SDP. The party's leader is Nick Clegg.
The Lib Dems are the third-largest party in the UK Parliament, behind Labour and the Conservatives. There are 63 Lib Dem Members of Parliament (MPs) - 62 were elected at the 2005 general election, and one in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, 2006. The Scottish Liberal Democrats formed a coalition Scottish Executive with Labour in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh party were in a coalition with Labour in the National Assembly for Wales from 2001 to 2003.
Promoting social liberalism, Lib Dems seek to minimise state intervention in personal affairs; criticising it as that of a 'nanny state'. Their president's book of office is John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, which defined the harm principle of law. Since social liberalism defines freedom as consisting of positive liberty, rather than negative liberty, it supports the welfare state. 
They support multilateral foreign policy; they opposed British participation in the War in Iraq and support withdrawal of troops from the country, and are the most pro-EU of the three main parties in the UK. The party has strong environmentalist values - favouring renewable energy and commitments to deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since their foundation, Lib Dems have advocated electoral reform to use proportional representation (a system which would increase their number of seats and those of other minority parties), replacing the House of Lords with an elected chamber, and cutting government departments.
The Liberal Democrats describe their ideology as giving "power to the people"; they are against the concentration of power in unaccountable bodies. They propose decentralisation of power out of Westminster, and electoral and parliamentary reform, to create a system of tiered government structures to make decisions at what they see as the right level, including regional assemblies, the European Union, and international organisations. Lib Dems want to protect civil liberties, and oppose state intervention in personal affairs.
The Lib Dems are a left-wing party , like its other predecessor party, the Social Democrats were a party of the centre-left, favouring the welfare state and progressive taxation, policies that the Liberal Democrats still hold. Former leader Charles Kennedy said that they were neither to the left nor the right, however his successor Menzies Campbell later stated that his party is of the centre-left. Using a two-dimensional scale, Political Compass defined the Lib Dems as social libertarians and economically liberal, and New Labour and the Conservatives as economically liberal and socially authoritarian.
The centrist shift of Labour accelerated after the election of Tony Blair; New Labour increased support by courting centrist Conservative voters. Thus the Lib Dems tried to accommodate the Labour left with social liberal policies. This was partly successful: for example, the Marxist Tariq Ali implored Londoners to vote for the party in the 2005 general election, over the Iraq war. At the 2005 conference, there was a discussion on whether social liberal policies had attracted as much support as possible, and whether the party should move to the right to attract Conservative voters. Menzies Campbell dropped proposals such as a 50% tax rate for those who earn over £100,000 as part of a tax policy review; such policies portrayed the party as left-wing, which risked losing the support of wealthier floating voters. However, in September 2008 the party conference passed a motion to cut 4p from the basic rate of income tax, which some have alleged is an attempt to win favour with voters who are swinging to the Conservative Party.
The Liberal Democrats' constitution speaks of:
"...a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full."
"That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
When Nick Clegg was Home Affairs spokesperson, he proposed a Freedom Bill to repeal what he described as "illiberal or irrelevant legislation"; part of the 3000 criminal offences that the Labour government had created, which took up more pages than "two hundred copies of War and Peace". Legislation that he wanted to repeal included: restrictions on protests in Parliament Square, DNA retention of those found innocent, and extradition to the United States without evidence.
Lib Dems want the United Kingdom to have a written constitution to "enshrine the rights of the British people and the responsibilities of Government", and a Bill of Rights to "provide a final guarantee of civil liberties". They are in favour of laws against all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, and sexuality in an 'Equality Act': in 2001 the party proposed to expand the Commission for Racial Equality to uphold such laws. 25 Lib Dem MPs including Nick Clegg signed EDM710, calling on the government to extend the protections for religious groups to lesbian women and gay men, in respect of discrimination in the provisions of goods, facilities and services. They first proposed civil partnerships in the UK, and want to end all differences in law and pensions between same- and mixed-sex marriages; they would make incitement of homophobic hatred an offence; and want to repeal acts in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which discriminate against lesbian couples wishing to start a family.
They oppose the more authoritarian of Labour's anti-terror laws, including 'detention without trial'. They strongly oppose the British national identity card, supporting the NO2ID campaign, and would only allow the use of biometrics in passports, but the database behind these passports would carry only the information on the passport and the biometric match. They would use phone-taps and other 'intercept communications' as evidence in court against terrorist suspects, making prosecution easier; and propose that judges should be able to give life sentences to those who should stay in prison forever, opposing mandatory life sentences for all serious crimes which may not mean life. The party has been popular among campaigners for the decriminalisation of recreational drugs; Lib Dems want scientific reform of drug classification - they think that it is "not in the public interest" to prosecute for possession or cultivation of cannabis for personal or medical use, but would introduce a new offence of 'dealing' for those who supply illegal drugs, especially in sensitive areas such as near schools or psychiatric facilities.
In January 2007 Clegg launched the 'We Can Cut Crime!' campaign, "proposing real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where we are in power locally." The proposed '5 steps to a safer Britain' were: using the £97,000 per day spent on national ID cards to pay for more police officers; compulsory work and training in prison; better compensation for victims (funded from prison work); close 'trouble-making' pubs and clubs and making criminal sentences "mean what they say". In 2005 the party announced that they wanted to fund 10,000 police officers on top of Labour’s plans, provide an extra 20,000 community support officers, and equip the police with new technology to cut time spent on paperwork.
Summary: The Lib Dems would lower taxes for poor and middle class people, and make up that government revenue deficit by taxing the rich a bit more, closing tax loopholes exploited by corporations, and by making government spending more efficient and effective.
Historically Lib Dems favoured raising progressive taxes to spend on public services, and 'small-state' policies such as the abolition of government departments. Under Nick Clegg's leadership they advocate cuts in the tax burden, particularly for lower and average earners, funded by reallocation and savings in government spending, further green taxation and raising taxes for the top 10% of earners. Their policy for most of the 1990s was to increase the basic rate of income tax by one percent to fund increase public funding (especially in education). This proposal was abandoned after Tony Blair's Labour government increased national insurance contributions by the same amount, which had a similar effect. Other previous policy included increasing the top rate of income tax by ten percentage points to 50% for those earning over £100,000 per year, but this was abandoned in 2006 after the party conference approved new tax policies which left the top rate at 40%.
Lib Dems support universal free education, and propose to abolish university top-up fees and set up a system of Government grants for students. For schools, they want the government to guarantee equal access, basic standards and entitlements, but then to allow for variation and innovation; they want to spend £2.5 billion to raise funding for the poorest 10% of pupils to the level of private schools, cut class sizes in primary schools, and to ensure all secondary schools are funded at specialist school levels. They would abolish exams for seven and fourteen year-olds, ban ministers from sending "directives and diktats" to schools and have a "radically slimmed down" curriculum to allow for innovation and testing of different forms of teaching.
In 2002 the party said they would use all National Insurance contributions to fund a decentralised National Health Service, and fund schools and local services from a 'local income tax', which would replace Council Tax. In 2008 Clegg said that he would allow people to 'top up' their NHS healthcare to buy non taxpayer-funded drugs, on the condition that the drugs were clinically approved, that there are no hidden costs to the NHS, and that the NHS couldn't use top-ups to cut services. The party also released a set of targets to cut poverty in the UK by 2020: to remove five million people from poverty, bring two million into employment, and build one million more affordable homes. The strategies that they propose to achieve these include a £1.5 billion 'Pupil Premium' to improve education for the poorest 1.5 million children, raising child benefit by up to £5 per week for each family, expanding sex education to cut teenage pregnancy and STDs, and to reform tax credits to save £3 billion per year by reducing overpayments and concentrating payments on low-income families.
Lib Dems are campaigning against the closure of 2500 post offices on top of the 4000 closed in the Labour government and 3500 closed in the last Conservative government. Their plan to keep post offices open includes allowing other mail delivery companies to run stores, and selling a 49% stake in Royal Mail to other companies to raise £2 billion to fund a wider range of services in each store. The party supported and predicted nationalisation of the Northern Rock bank from the start of its financial difficulty. In 2007 the party protested against Gordon Brown's budget, which was condemned when introduced in 2008 as it funded a 2% cut in the 22% income tax rate by abolishing the 10% rate. Former leader Ming Campbell said the Brown had "asked the poor to subsidise the rich", and that "the prime minister made the case, the chancellor signed the cheque and the Conservatives voted it through."
In 2008 Clegg launched a plan to reform the finance industry, entitled 'A New Deal for the City'; to "curb boom-bust excesses" of 'binge lending' followed by negative equity and repossessions. Their proposals include regulating excessive bonuses and salaries, taking house prices into account in the inflation index, and tougher rules on bank charges. They would tax capital gains as income - Clegg said that "no more will hedge fund managers be able to present their income as capital to secure themselves an 18% tax rate, while their cleaners pay 31%." Vince Cable proposed strategies to alleviate the 2008 credit crunch, including to allow councils and social housing companies to buy unsold homes for the homeless and those that cannot afford to buy or rent privately, by increasing the government's £200 million plan a hundred-fold. He also said that the government should tighten its fiscal targets, so that it reduces public sector debt by aiming for a surplus on its budget of £5-10 billion per year.
In 2007 the Lib Dems published their policies for reforming the taxation system. Their proposals included making the system: greener, with incentives for less use of resources; more centralised, to link it to local services; simpler, with less regulations and smaller tax returns; and fairer, with tax cuts for the poor and fewer loopholes exploited by the rich. They want to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £500,000, cut stamp duty on properties worth less than £500,000, and make non-UK residents eligible for capital gains tax. The party's proposal to replace Council Tax with a local income tax was approved at the 2003 conference. Ed Davey said that Council Tax was "the least fair major tax", as it took 5.1% of the income from the poorest taxpayers, and 1.2% from the richest; their replacement 'local income tax' would take 3% from higher tax brackets and less than 3% for poorer brackets. In 2008 Nick Clegg stated the party still advocated this, as part of devolving power to regional and local authorities, where they set their own tax levels. Clegg also launched, saying that he wants to use £20 billion of savings in government spending (a 3% cut), to cut the tax burden for 80 - 90% of taxpayers, particularly lower and average earners, including a cut in the lower rate of income tax to 16%.
Liberal Democrats support the use of international law and institutions, to deliver security, tackle crime, protect human rights, regulate the international economy and protect the environment. Like the Conservatives, they want to increase the UK's international aid spending from 0.35% to 0.7% of gross national income by 2011, to support fair trade and sustainable development schemes, and the UN Millennium Development Goals including eradicating extreme poverty, providing universal primary education and combating HIV/AIDS.
Lib Dems consider military intervention to "always be a last resort", and only condone its use upon UN Security Council agreement, after options such as economic sanctions, humanitarian assistance and diplomatic pressure fail to protect human rights. Clegg advocates strict rules for military interventions: that they are based on a just cause and have the right intention, are sanctioned by a legitimate authority, are proportional, and "must have a reasonable chance of success". He said that the UK should help develop the UN's Responsibility to protect doctrine, so it can intervene "when a state intentionally permits extreme and unnecessary suffering that it has the power to stop". With a few exceptions (including Paddy Ashdown), Lib Dem MPs opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but disagreed on whether troops should be withdrawn immediately or not once the war had begun. The party supported forces that had been ordered to fight until the initial military action was completed, when they renewed their political opposition. The party was a strong advocate of the Kosovo War and Bosnian War.
The Lib Dems have traditionally been the most pro-European party in the UK - they want the UK to play a central role in the European Union. They want a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU, but had a three-line-whip to abstain (the first such ever) on the issue of a referendum for the Lisbon Treaty . They propose EU reform, including devolving powers, ensuring policies are focused on only those areas where EU action is necessary, maintaining vetoes in "areas of vital interest", reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and making EU institutions more transparent and accountable. Their 2005 constitutional policy included reviewing European Parliament elections so that candidate MEPs are chosen by voters, and increasing scrutiny of EU legislation and directives by the Commons and a reformed Lords. At the 2008 conference, Vince Cable announced that the party would campaign for a more decentralised, less bureaucratic EU, and had ditched their support for early entry into the eurozone, saying that "there are various things that we have learnt about euroland, and about the eurozone, which are clearly problems that need to be resolved".
In 2005 the party announced its policy to establish a 'National Border Agency', bringing together officers from immigration, the police and customs to combat international crime, illegal immigration, terrorism and fraud. They would cut illegal working by inspecting employers and bringing prosecutions against those who use such labour. They want to establish an 'Independent Asylum Agency' to judge asylum claims independent of political interference, and end the use of prisons to detain asylum seekers and their children. Clegg said in April 2008 that "immigration is good for this country", but that more resources were needed to cope with migrants, particularly to ensure that learning English is made compulsory. The party supports an amnesty for illegal migrants who have lived in the UK for at least ten years and do not have a criminal record, and oppose the "protectionist labour market restrictions" imposed by some European governments on legal migrants from new EU member states.
The Green Liberal Democrats association ensure that all of the party's policies are measured for their ecological impact; Lib Dems want the UK to take the lead in combating global warming by becoming a zero-carbon economy by 2050, and to ensure that G8 and EU countries commit to higher greenhouse gas emissions cuts per person per year. In February 2008 Nick Clegg and Steve Webb launched the 'Climate Change - 60% cut is not enough' campaign, which seeks "to show the Government the strength of support for an 80% CO2 target" so that such an amendment to the United Kingdom Climate Change Bill is passed.
The party has scored highly in reviews of their policies and action on the environment - the Friends of the Earth gave their manifesto in 2001 a score of 37.5 out of 50, compared to Labour's 23 and the Conservatives' 6.5. Nine environmental groups audited the three parties in the 2007 Green Standard Report 'How Green Are Our Parties?' - the Lib Dems scored highest with three green, two amber and one red test scores; ahead of Labour with one green score, and the Conservatives with none. On behalf of the groups, Stephen Hale said that "Liberal Democrats deserved praise for their approach to climate change but, like the other parties, they had neglected the countryside and wildlife agenda", and that all three parties still needed greater commitment to "policies and action on the scale required to meet the range and urgency of the environmental threats facing the world."
In 2007, the party published two strategies to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2 °C (3.6 °F) above the 1990 average: one to generate 100% of the United Kingdom's electricity using renewables by 2050, the other by increasing energy efficiency in the home. The 100% renewables strategy proposed that wind, tidal and solar power plants and international carbon trading schemes would be built to reduce emissions from power generation. The energy efficiency strategy proposed that Feed-in Tariffs should be used to encourage renewable energy use and micro-generation, and 'GreenHouse' building regulations from 2011 onwards would be used to cut fuel bills and reduce wasted heat to 5% of that of existing homes. These regulations would include the use of super-insulating building materials, draft exclusion, ventilation and passive solar gain technologies, and older housing stock would be brought up to the same standard with government and business subsidies. At the 2007 autumn conference, Lib Dems voted in favour of plans to reduce the five million tonnes of packaging and 17 billion plastic bags used in the UK each year. The proposals included requiring supermarkets to provide waste points for customers to deposit unwanted packaging, tightening packaging regulations, introducing checkout charging for plastic bags, and promoting voluntary bag-free zones.
Increases in green taxes would be used for "taxing pollution not people", by cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families. In June 2008, Clegg announced a plan to offer a rebate to businesses that make 'green improvements' such as insulation or micro-generation. He said that he will focus on "incentivis[ing] green behaviour" rather than "penalising pollution". Their transport policy, covering road, rail and air travel, plans to cut carbon emissions "while ensuring there is fair access to an improved transport system for all". The plans include to abolish vehicle excise duty and cut fuel duty, by switching to road pricing on motorways and trunk roads, which would include foreign hauliers, and cost around 8 pence per kilometre. They would also increase surcharges on domestic flights, except where the alternative train journey was longer than six hours, to pay for expanding the high-speed rail network and electrifying all lines. They want to reform aviation tax to include freight services, and to discourage half-capacity flights by basing the tax rate on the emissions of the flight, not the number of passengers. In February 2008, Nick Clegg said that Lib Dems oppose the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, as "people’s lives are more important than extra flights to a few extra places."
Liberal Democrats support the use of powers at what they see as the right level, including local and regional authorities, devolved parliaments, the Houses of Parliament and the European Union. They advocate making the United Kingdom a federal state of the constituent countries, with greater powers for the devolved parliaments, and are often categorised as unionist. The party has always favoured abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with a wholly or substantially elected second chamber.  The party's 2007 constitutional policy paper proposed that the Lords would use the single transferable vote to elect one-third of its members every four years, for a non-renewable term of twelve years.
Their constitutional policy also proposed to increase parliamentary oversight of the government, increasing the separation of powers and addressing devolution issues. The party wants to replace the sovereignty of Crown in Parliament with that of 'the people in Parliament', to disestablish the Church of England, and to change the Queen's Speech so that a new four-year fixed-term government would only be formed after approval of its programme by the House of Commons. At the 2008 party conference, Clegg announced a policy for reforming elections, parties and parliament in a 'constitutional convention' of parties, civil society, churches and others, which would be a condition of forming a government in a hung parliament.  This was welcomed by Charter88 as part of their campaign to introduce a Citizens’ Convention Bill to examine the governance of the UK. Reforms for increasing accountability included having more parliamentary oversight of the executive government, and having by-elections for those who break MP's rules. The changes would also cut expenditure and monetary influence in politics; by having 150 fewer MPs, having a £25,000 cap on donations to parties and a £10 million annual party spending limit, and including the option on ballot papers to donate £3 of funding to a party of the voter's choice.  Clegg also vowed to 'end two-party politics' with more protests against 'the establishment', such as Commons walk-outs and event boycotts. 
Unlike the other parties in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Lib Dems strongly advocate proportional representation by the single transferable vote for the House of Commons and the Lords.  Proportional representation has always been a cornerstone of the party's policies, and has been the main requirement of any Lib Dem involvement in a coalition government; deals were struck with Labour and Conservative leaders in the past, but the two parties found it more advantageous to stick with first-past-the-post. Electoral reform is part of their wider proposals to increase voter turnout and involvement in decision-making set out in their 2007 constitutional policy; which includes lowering the age for the right to vote and stand in elections to 16.
The Liberal Democrats were formed on 2nd March 1988 by merging the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberals descended from the British Whig Party, the Radicals and the Peelites, and the SDP were a Labour splinter group.
Having declined to third party status after the rise of the Labour Party in 1922, the Liberals were challenged for their place in the centre in the 1980s. When the Labour Party adopted hard-line socialist policies, a group of moderate Labour MPs broke away and established the Social Democratic Party (SDP), aiming to preserve previous Labour traditions. The SDP and the Liberals realised that there was no place for two centrist political parties, and entered into the SDP-Liberal Alliance so that they would not stand against each other in elections. The Alliance was led by David Steel (Liberal) and Roy Jenkins (SDP); Jenkins was replaced by David Owen. The two parties had their own policies and emphases, but produced a joint manifesto for the 1983 and 1987 general elections.
Following disappointing results in the 1987 election, Steel proposed to merge the two parties. Although opposed by Owen, it was supported by a majority of members of both parties, and they formally merged in 1988, with Steel and Robert Maclennan (who had become SDP leader in August 1987) as joint interim leaders. The new party was named Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD); after shortening this to The Democrats in October 1988, it changed to Liberal Democrats in October 1989, which is frequently shortened to Lib Dems. The minority of the SDP who rejected the merge remained under Owen's leadership; some disliked the direction the party after Paddy Ashdown's election as leader and created a new 'Liberal Party'.
The former Liberal MP Paddy Ashdown was elected leader in July 1988. The party had a difficult birth, struggling to assert an identity, especially after two name changes - at the 1989 European Elections they received only 6% of the vote, beaten into fourth place by the Green Party. By the early 1990s, the party recovered under Ashdown's leadership: they performed better at the 1990 local elections and in by-elections - including at Eastbourne in 1990 and Ribble Valley and Kincardine & Deeside in 1991. This local popularity continued to grow throughout the decade.
The Lib Dems did not repeat the 20%+ shares of national votes in the 1990s which the Alliance had achieved in the 1980s: at their first election in 1992 they won 17.8% of the vote and twenty seats. They more than doubled their representation at the 1997 general election, by gaining 46 seats - through tactical voting and concentrating resources in winnable seats.
Following the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994, Ashdown controversially pursued cooperation between the two parties - to form a coalition government. This Lib-Lab pact failed to form because of Labour's massive majority after the 1997 general election, some MPs' strong opposition to a coalition, and because Labour would not introduce proportional representation and other Lib Dem conditions.
Ashdown retired as leader in 1999 and Charles Kennedy was elected as his replacement. The party improved on their 1997 results at the 2001 general election, increasing their seats to 52 and their vote share to 18.3%. They won support from former Labour and Conservative voters due to the Lib Dems' position on issues that appeal to those on the left and the right: opposition to the war in Iraq and support for civil liberties, electoral reform, and open government. Charles Kennedy expressed his goal to replace the Conservatives as the official opposition; The Spectator awarded him the 'Parliamentarian of the Year' award in November 2004 for his position on the war. The party won seats from Labour in by-elections in Brent East in 2003 and Leicester South in 2004, and narrowly missed taking others in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Hartlepool.
At the 2005 general election, the Lib Dems gained their highest share of the vote since the SDP-Liberal Alliance (22.1%), receiving 62 seats. Many had anticipated that this election would be the Lib Dem's breakthrough at Westminster; party activists hoped to better the 25.4% support of the 1983 election, or to reach 100 MPs. 2005 could be considered a wasted opportunity for the party; but there was the problem with first-past-the-post elections: the party got almost a quarter of the total votes nationally but only one-tenth of the seats in the Commons.
One trend at the election was that Lib Dems replaced the Conservatives as Labour's main opponents in urban areas. Many gains came in previously Labour-held urban constituencies (e.g. Manchester Withington, Cardiff Central, Birmingham Yardley), and they had over 100 second-place finishes behind Labour candidates. The British electoral system makes it hard for the Conservatives to form a government without winning some city seats out of its rural heartlands, such as the Lib Dem Bristol West constituency, where the Conservatives came third in 2005 after holding the seat until 1997.
The Conservatives' choice of David Cameron as leader in late 2005 led senior Lib Dems to question whether Charles Kennedy was capable of dealing with future challenges facing the party. In a statement on 5 January 2006, Charles Kennedy admitted to a long battle with alcoholism, and announced a leadership election in which he intended to stand for re-election, while Sir Menzies Campbell took over as acting leader.
For several years there were rumours alleging that Kennedy had problems with alcohol - the BBC's Nick Robinson called it "Westminster's worst-kept secret". However, Kennedy had on previous occasions denied this: some suggested that he had deliberately misled the public and his party. His admission also attracted sympathy; he is a popular figure, and was thought to have enough support among Lib Dem members to win the leadership election.
Kennedy initially planned to stand as a candidate; he withdrew from the election citing a lack of support among Lib Dem MPs. Sir Menzies subsequently won the contest, defeating Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes, in a race that saw Mark Oaten withdraw due to a lack of support and revelations about his visits to rent boys, Simon Hughes come under attack regarding his sexuality and Chris Huhne accused live on The Daily Politics of attempting to rig polls.
There was negative press over Kennedy's departure, however the leaderless party shocked by winning the Dunfermline and West Fife seat from Labour in a by-election in February 2006. This was viewed as a particular blow for Gordon Brown, who lives in the constituency, represents the adjacent seat, and featured in Labour's campaign. The party came second place by 633 votes in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, pushing Labour into four place behind United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). In July 2007, Sir Menzies announced that the party wished to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 16p per pound - the lowest rate since 1916 - which would be funded using green taxes and taxing money made from UK properties by non-UK residents eligible for Capital Gains Tax.
Opinion poll trends during Campbell's leadership showed support for the Lib Dems decline to less than 20%. Campbell resigned on 15 October 2007, and Vince Cable became acting leader until a leadership election could be held. Cable received acclaim during his tenure, with praise for his performances at Prime Minister's Questions, during the Northern Rock crisis, HMRC's loss of child benefit data, and the 2007 Labour party donation scandal.
On 18 December 2007, Nick Clegg won the leadership election, becoming the party's fourth leader. Clegg won the leadership with a majority of 511 votes (1.2%) over his opponent Chris Huhne, in a poll of party members. Clegg is the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam, and was an MEP for the East Midlands from 1999 to 2004.
In his acceptance speech, Clegg declared that he was "a liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing" and that he believes "Britain [is] a place of tolerance and pluralism". His priorities are: defending civil liberties; devolving the running of public services to parents, pupils and patients; and protecting the environment, and that he wanted to forge a "liberal alternative to the discredited policies of big government". He also proposed a target to double the number of Lib Dem MPs within two elections, and before the 2008 local elections confirmed that he was pleased with their performance in the polls: "the polls yesterday were at 20%, that's considerably higher than 13% just a few years ago. It's far, far higher than we've ever been at this point in the political cycle two or three years after a general election."
Shortly after election, Clegg reshuffled the party's Frontbench Team, making Chris Huhne the replacement Home Affairs spokesperson, Ed Davey the Foreign Affairs spokesperson, and keeping Vincent Cable as Shadow Chancellor. His predecessors were also given roles: Campbell joined the all-party Commons foreign affairs select committee, and Kennedy is to campaign nationwide on European issues, as president of the UK's European Movement.
In United Kingdom general elections, the Lib Dems succeeded the Liberal-SDP Alliance as the third most popular party, behind Labour and the Conservatives. Their popularity initially declined from levels achieved by the Alliance, however their seat count has risen to its peak of 63 seats, despite not achieving the vote levels of the Alliance; this was credited to improved skill at targeting vulnerable seats. The vote percentage for the Alliance in 1987 and the Lib Dems in 2005 is similar, yet the Lib Dems won 62 seats to the Alliance's 22.
The first-past-the-post electoral system used in UK General Elections is not suited to parties whose vote is evenly divided across the country, resulting in those parties achieving a lower proportion of seats in the Commons than their proportion of the popular vote (see table and graph). The Lib Dems and their Liberal and SDP predecessors have suffered especially, particularly in 1983 and 1987 when their electoral support was greatest; the increase in their number of seats in 1997, 2001 and 2005 was attributed to the weakness of the Conservatives, and the success of their election strategist Lord Rennard. Lib Dems state that they want 'three-party politics' in the Commons; the most realistic chance of power with first past the post is for the party to be the kingmakers in a hung parliament. Party leaders often set out their terms for forming a coalition in such an event - in 2008 Nick Clegg stated that the policy for the next general election is to reform elections, parties and parliament in a 'constitutional convention'.
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The party has performed better in local elections; they are in control of 31 councils. In the 2008 local elections they gained 25% of the vote (ahead of Labour), increasing their control by 34 to more than 4200 council seats (21%). They have performed more poorly in elections to the European Parliament, particularly before the change to proportional representation in 1999. In 2004 local elections, their share of the vote was 29% (giving them second place, ahead of Labour) and 14.9% in the simultaneous European Parliament elections (putting them in fourth place behind United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)).
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The Lib Dems were in a coalition government with Labour in the Scottish Parliament from its establishment in 1999 to 2007; the Lib Dems supplied the Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace, and his replacement, Nicol Stephen. There are 16 Lib Dem MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, and 13 Scottish Lib Dem MPs in the Commons. The party was also in a coalition with Labour in the National Assembly for Wales from 2001 to 2003.
The Liberal Democrats are a federal party of the parties of Wales, Scotland and England. Scotland and England are further split into regional parties. The parliamentary parties of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly form semi-autonomous units within the party. The leaders in the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament are the leaders of the federal party and the Scottish Party; the leaders in the other two chambers, and the officers of all parliamentary parties, are elected from their own number. The Lib Dems had around 73,000 members in 2004, and in the first quarter of 2008, the party received £1.1 million in donations and have total borrowings and unused credit facilities of £1.1 million (the "total debt" figure reported by the Electoral Commission includes, for example, unused overdraft facilities). This compares to Labour's £3.1 million in donations and £17.8 million of borrowing/credit facilities, and the Conservatives' £5.7 million in donations and £12.1 million of borrowing/credit facilities. In 2005, the party received a donation of £2.4 million from businessman Michael Brown, the largest single donation in its history.
Specified Associated Organisations (SAOs) review and input policies, representing groups including: ethnic minorities (EMLD]), women (WLD), the LGBT community (Delga), youth and students (Liberal Youth), engineers and scientists (ALDES), parliamentary candidates (PCA) and local councillors (ALDC). Others can become Associated Organisations (AOs) as pressure groups in the party, such as the Green Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats Online and the Liberal Democrat Disability Association.
Like the Conservatives, the Lib Dems organise in Northern Ireland, though they do not contest elections in the province: they work with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, de facto agreeing to support the Alliance in elections. There is a small separate local party of the Lib Dems in Northern Ireland. Several individuals, including Alliance Party leader David Ford, hold membership of both parties. Alliance members of the House of Lords take the Lib Dem whip on non-Northern Ireland issues, and the Alliance Party has a stall at Lib Dem party conferences.
The party is a member of Liberal International and the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, and their 12 MEPs sit in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament.
Liberal Democrats can be classified into two factions - social and market liberals - which are unrelated to membership of the party's predecessors - many social liberals (including Paddy Ashdown) were former Liberal MPs, and some market liberals (such as Vincent Cable) were from the SDP.
Social liberals have dominated the party since its formation. Drawing inspiration from David Lloyd George, William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes, this wing advocates the welfare state, higher taxation and public spending, government regulation to protect consumers, employees and the environment, and support civil liberties and human rights. Social liberals include Paul Holmes, Norman Baker and Simon Hughes.
The market liberal or libertarian wing shares with social liberals a belief in basic civil and political freedoms (negative freedoms). However, where social liberals argue that the state should provide social and economic rights to its citizens (positive freedoms), market liberals are non-interventionist and are critical of government's ability to increase freedom. This often manifests itself as support for greater economic freedom, causing tension between the two wings. Many MPs from this wing contributed to the Orange Book (2004), a collection of essays intended to spark debate on a greater role for free-market liberalism in policy. Some party donors, journalists and party officials back this wing of the party. Leading market liberals in the party include Vince Cable, David Laws and Nick Clegg.
|colspan=2||Entered office||Left office||Date of Birth|
|1.1||David Steel 1||7 July 1987||16 July 1988||31 March 1938|
|1.2||Robert Maclennan 2||6 August 1987||16 July 1988||26 June 1936|
|2||Paddy Ashdown||16 July 1988||9 August 1999||27 February 1941|
|3||Charles Kennedy||9 August 1999||7 January 2006||25 November 1959|
|4||Sir Menzies Campbell 3||2 March 2006||15 October 2007||22 May 1941|
|Vincent Cable 4||15 October 2007||18 December 2007||9 May 1943|
|5||Nick Clegg||18 December 2007||Incumbent||7 January 1967|
The Liberal Democrats did not have representation in the European Parliament prior to 1994.
The key positions on this team include: