Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats

Infobox British Political Party
party_name = Liberal Democrats
party_articletitle = Liberal Democrats
leader = Nick Clegg
chairman = Simon Hughes
foundation = 3 March 1988
ideology = Liberalism,
Social Liberalism
position = Centre-left, [ Menzies campbell:"I'm a politician in the centre-left, I joined a centre-left party, I'm leading a centre-left party.] Centristcite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Left vs Right|publisher =YouGov|accessdate =2008-03-21]
international = Liberal International
european = European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
europarl = Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
colours = Gold
headquarters = 4 Cowley Street,
London, SW1P 3NBcite web|year =2004|url =|title =Reports and Financial Statements |publisher =Electoral Commission (United Kingdom)|accessdate =2008-09-22]
website = []

The Liberal Democrats, often shortened to Lib Dems, 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. The party was not founded on a doctrine of economic liberalism, instead favouring social justice and the welfare state.

The party wants to cut the level of taxation for people on low and middle incomes, including cutting the basic rate of income tax by 4%, replacing council tax with a local income tax, scrapping vehicle excise duty, and cutting fuel duty in favour of green taxes. 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-European 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, 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 and its predecessor the Liberal party have been the centrist party of United Kingdom politics.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Left vs Right|publisher =YouGov|accessdate =2008-03-21] however 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 to so placing Lib Dems in the left-right political model may not accurately represent their ideology. Former leader Charles Kennedy said that they were neither to the left nor the rightcite web|year = 2001|url =|title =Quiet battle rages for Lib Dem soul|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-24] .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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =UK Election 2005 – a different way of seeing it|publisher =Political Compass|accessdate =2008-01-28]

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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =For one day only, I'm a Lib Dem|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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.cite web|year =2006|url =|title =Campbell's green light for tax on cheap flights|publisher =The Daily Telegraph|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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 were used to portray the party as left-wing, which risked losing the support of wealthier swing voters.


Party policies can be found on their website: [ [ Policy portal] ] [ [ Pocket Guide to Policy] ]

Human rights and law

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."cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Party|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-07-29]

The party's presidential book of office, "On Liberty", defines the harm principle:

"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."cite web |url= |author=John Stuart Mill|title=On Liberty|publisher=Longman, Roberts & Green|published=1869|accessdate=2008-07-29]

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".cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Why we need a Freedom Bill|publisher =Policy Dialogue International|accessdate =2008-03-27] 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".cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Protecting Civil Liberties|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-16] 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.cite web|year = 2001|url =|title =Lib Dems propose new equality agency|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Freedom from Prejudice|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-27]

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,cite web|year = 20078|url =|title =Our Supporters|publisher =NO2ID|accessdate =2008-04-06] 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.cite web|year = 2005|title=ID cards|publisher=Lynne Featherstone|accessdate=2007-09-08|url=] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Scrap mandatory life terms for serious crimes, say Lib Dems|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-16] The party has been popular among campaigners for the decriminalisation of recreational drugs;cite web|year = 2001|url =|title =Analysis of political opinions among drug users (UK 1998–2000)|publisher =Independent Drug Monitoring Unit|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Honesty, Realism, Responsibility: Drug Law Reform|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-27]

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."cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =We Can Cut Crime!|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-27] 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); letting communities close trouble-making pubs and clubs; and making criminal sentences "mean what they say".cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =5 steps to a safer Britain|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-27] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Lib Dems plan to cut crime fears|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-16]

pending and taxation

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).cite web|year = 2002|url =|title =Lib Dems declare war on council tax|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =The key to life-long learning|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-16] For schools, they want the government to guarantee equal access, basic standards and entitlements, but then to allow for variation and innovation;cite web|year = 2008|url =|title = Lib Dems would replace some tests|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-06-16] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =We must invest in schools|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-06-05] 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.cite web|year = 2002|url =|title =Lib Dems press for NHS tax|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-25] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Patients should be allowed top-up healthcare, says Lib Dem leader|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-09-09] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =;show|title =Freedom From Poverty, Opportunity For All|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-09-22] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =;show|title =Save our Post Offices|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-05-09] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Nationalise Northern Rock, say Lib Dems|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-16] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dems slam Budget tax changes|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-05-09] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =A New Deal for the City|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-06-08] 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%."cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Nick Clegg: Speech on the Liberal Democrat approach to taxation|publisher =Policy Exchange|accessdate =2008-05-20] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Allow social landlords to buy unsellable homes, says Cable|publisher =The Institute for Fiscal Studies|accessdate =2008-07-09] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Reducing the Burden|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-09-22] 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.cite web|year = 2003|url =|title =Lib Dems vote to axe council tax|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-16] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title = Nick Clegg interview transcript|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-02-18] Clegg also launched [ [ Make it Happen] - "Liberal Democrats" July 2008] , 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%.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Lib Dems pledge to cut taxes and slash spending to ease recession pain|publisher =Daily Mail|accessdate =2008-09-11]

International affairs

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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Britain's Global Responsibilities: the international rule of law|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-15] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =A World Free from Poverty|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-28]

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 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".cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Clegg puts case for intervention|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-06-23] 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),cite web|year = 2006|url =|title = How to win a war and lose the peace|publisher =The Daily Telegraph|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Lib Dem leadership contenders at odds in final appeal for votes|publisher =The Independent|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =A real vote on Europe|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-06] 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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Making Europe work for us|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-27] 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".cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Liberals ditch promise to join the euro|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-09-14]

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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Asylum Policy Briefing|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-09-22] 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,cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dems want amnesty for illegal immigrants|publisher =Daily Telegraph|accessdate =2008-03-16] and oppose the "protectionist labour market restrictions" imposed by some European governments on legal migrants from new EU member states.cite web|year = 2006|url =$448280$448127.htm|title = Lib Dems: Immigration hysteria achieves nothing|publisher|accessdate =2008-01-28]

The environment

The Green Liberal Democrats association ensure that all of the party's policies are measured for their ecological impact;cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =The Liberal Democrats' Record on the Environment|publisher =Green Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-27] 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 capita than developing countries.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dems see zero-carbon Britain setting the global green agenda|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-17] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Climate Change – 60% cut is not enough|publisher =Facebook|accessdate =2008-04-24]

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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =The Green Standard: Tests for Environmental Leadership|publisher =The Green Standard|accessdate =2008-04-27] 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."cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dems come top in 'green' audit – but all three parties told to do more|publisher =The Independent|accessdate =2008-04-27]

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,cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Political climate is changing faster than our prime minister|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-20] the other by increasing energy efficiency in the home.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Climate Change Starts at Home|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-03-20] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =;show|title =Cut Excess Packaging|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-30] 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".cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Lib Dems plan green firms' rebate |publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-06-19] 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".cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Lib Dems unveil 'radical alternative vision' for transport|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-06-03] 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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Summation Speech from Tax Debate|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-14] 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."cite web|year = 2008|url =;show|title =Clegg: No third runway at Heathrow|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-05-25]

Government reform

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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Constitutional Reform|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-09-18] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Straw faces Lords reform battle|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-25] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =For the People, By the People|publisher =Liberal Democrats|accessdate =2008-04-15]

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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Clegg urges new political system|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-13] cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Clegg's terms for deal in hung parliament|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-15] This was welcomed by Charter88 as part of their campaign to introduce a Citizens’ Convention Bill to examine the governance of the UK.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Unlock Democracy welcomes Clegg support for a "citizens’ convention"|publisher =Charter88|accessdate =2008-04-06] 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,cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Clegg wants to see 150 fewer MPs|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-13] 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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title = Expect more protests, says Clegg|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-13]

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;cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dem belief in PR 'absolute'|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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 3 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats|publisher =Liberal Democrat History Group|accessdate =2008-01-28]

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'.

Post-1988 history

Ashdown (1988-99)

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.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Statistics 1990s|publisher =Electoral Reform Society|accessdate =2008-04-13] 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.cite web|year =2009|url =|title =Blair considered coalition after 1997|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23] 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.

Kennedy (1999-2006)

Ashdown retired as leader in 1999cite web|year = 1999|url =|title =Paddy Ashdown's letter of resignation|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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%.cite web|year = 2001|url =|title =Results & Constituencies|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-29] 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;cite web|year =2002|url =|title =Kennedy sounds election battle cry|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23] "The Spectator" awarded him the 'Parliamentarian of the Year' award in November 2004 for his position on the war.cite web|year = 2004|url =|title =Kennedy wins top politician title|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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.cite web|year = 2004|url =|title =Tories admit by-election 'blow'|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-01-28]

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.cite web|year = 2005|url =|title =Kennedy can still exploit this perfect political storm|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-21] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Seats to Watch|publisher =UK Polling Report|accessdate =2008-03-23]

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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Kennedy calls for Lib Dem contest|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23]

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".cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Westminster's worst kept secret?|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23] 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.

Campbell (2006-2007)

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, Simon Hughes come under attack regarding his sexuality and Chris Huhne accused live on The Daily Politics of attempting to rig polls.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Timeline: Lib Dem election|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23]

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.cite web|year = 2006|url =|title =Lib Dems deliver blow to Labour|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-23] 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).cite web|year = 2006|url =,9338,-769,00.html|title =Bromley and Chislehurst|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-23] 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 making money made from UK properties by non-UK residents eligible for Capital Gains Tax.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Lib Dems plan 4p cut in tax rate|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-01-28]

Opinion poll trends during Campbell's leadership showed support for the Lib Dems decline to less than 20%.cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Voting Intention since 2005|publisher =UK Polling Report|accessdate =2008-01-28] Campbell resigned on 15 October 2007, and Vince Cable became acting leader until a leadership election could be held.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Campbell quits as Lib Dem leader|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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 Donorgate funding scandal.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =Vince Cable: Acting like a leader|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-02-17]

Clegg (2007-present)

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.cite web|year =2007|url =|title =Nick Clegg is new Lib Dem leader|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-02-06] Clegg is the youngest party leader in the UK, the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam, and was an MEP for the East Midlands from 1999 to 2004.cite web|year =2007|url =|title =The Nick Clegg story|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-02-06]

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,cite web|year =2007|url=|title=Nick Clegg's speech in full|publisher =BBC|accessdate=2007-11-22] 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."cite web|year =2008|url=|title= Clegg bid for compulsory English|publisher =BBC|accessdate=2008-04-28]

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 Vince Cable as Shadow Chancellor.cite web|year =2007|url=|title=Clegg reveals his frontbench team|publisher =BBC|accessdate=2008-03-23] 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.

Electoral results

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.cite web|year =2005|url =|title =Blair wins historic third term – majority of 66|publisher =BBC|accessdate =2008-03-21]

The British first-past-the-post electoral system 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,cite web|year = 2008|url =|title =Voting Systems|publisher =Electoral Reform Society|accessdate =2008-01-28] 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.cite web|year =2004|url =|title =No rest yet for wily architect of poll triumph|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-02-18] 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.cite web|year = 2007|url =|title =If Clegg gets it right in 2008, he could bring the Lib Dems into government|publisher =The Guardian|accessdate =2008-03-23] 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'.

* 1 Joint interim leader, as leader of the Liberal Party before the merge.
* 2 Joint interim leader, as leader of the Social Democratic Party before the merge.
* 3 Interim leader between the resignation of Charles Kennedy on 7 January 2006 and his own election on 2 March 2006.
* 4 Interim leader between the resignation of Menzies Campbell on 15 October 2007 and the election of Nick Clegg on 18 December 2007.

Deputy Leaders

* Russell Johnston, 1988–1992
* Alan Beith, 1992–2003
* Sir Menzies Campbell, 2003–2006
* Vincent Cable, 2006–present

Leaders in the European Parliament

* Graham Watson, 1994–2002 "(President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party)"
* Diana Wallis, 2002–2004
* Chris Davies, 2004–2006
* Diana Wallis, 2006–2007 "(Vice-President of the European Parliament)"
* Andrew Duff, 2007–present

"The Liberal Democrats did not have representation in the European Parliament prior to 1994."

Frontbench Team

The key positions on this team include:
* Nick Clegg – party leader
* Vince Cable – deputy leader, Treasury spokesperson
* Ed Davey – Foreign Affairs spokesperson
* Chris Huhne – Home Affairs spokesperson
* Simon Hughes – Lib Dem Leader of the House of Commons, party president

ee also


External links

* [ Liberal Democrats' official website]
* [ Liberal Democrats' official videos]

Regional parties

* [ Scottish Liberal Democrats]
* [ Welsh Liberal Democrats]
* [ London Assembly Liberal Democrats]

Party sub-organisations

* [ Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors]
* [ Liberal Democrats in Business]
* [ Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates Association]
* [ Delga: Liberal Democrats for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality]
* [ Liberal Democrat Libertarians]
* [ Liberal Youth]
* [ Liberal International British Group]
* [ The Beveridge Group]
* [ Liberal Democrats Online]
* [ Liberal Democrat Christian Forum]

Historical information

* [ Liberal Democrat History Group]
* [ An archive of Liberal/SDP/Liberal Democrat electoral manifestos from 1900-present]


* [ Upcoming Liberal Democrat meetings countrywide]
* [ Guardian Unlimited Politics: Liberal Democrats]
* [ Lib Dem Blogs, an aggregator of Liberal Democrat blogs]
* [ Lib Dem Image, for official party merchandise]

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