Who are the Liberal Democrats?
Posted by Matt Walker on September 20, 2009
The Liberal Democrats are the third party of British politics. They are described as such because they usually gain fewer votes and MPs at general elections.
This was not the case 100 years ago when they were the Liberal Party. In the 19th century and right up to the end of the First World War, governments were formed by either the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. In the 20th century, the Liberal Party became ‘progressive’, developing social policies such as old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and free school meals.
In the 1920s, the Liberal Party went into decline, replaced as the main progressive challenge to the Conservatives by the Labour Party. In the 1980s, they made an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, and merged with them in 1988. They subsequently changed their name to the Liberal Democrats.
At the last general election the Lib Dems won 23% of the vote, but only won 10% of seats in the House of Commons. This is their main problem: the UK electoral system punishes small parties, and the Lib Dem MP tally is always lower than their vote actually justifies. In the same election, Labour won 36% of the vote but obtained 53% of the available seats.
As the third party, where should the Liberal Democrats position themselves? Should they attack Labour or the Tories, or both? How should they maximise their seats at the next election.
The Observer commentator Andrew Rawsley offers up some ideas.