The Liberal Democrats are in a sorry state

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En 2010, les Libéraux-démocrates étaient au plus haut dans les sondages, et Nick Clegg connaissait une popularité à la Churchill. Aujourd’hui, la situation s’est inversée et le parti traverse en plus deux graves scandales sexuels. Alors qu’est-ce qui explique ce déclin ? Quel avenir pour les Lib-dems ?

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The Liberal Democrat Party, which is frequently shortened to Lib Dem, became a Party in 1888, by a merger between the Liberal Party, and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party was a liberal political movement created during the 19th century by a merger of Whigs, the Peelites and Radicals. The liberal party won the election of 1906, and oversaw the welfare reforms that created a basic British welfare state.  They run the government until 1918, and then formed a coalition with the conservative party. After this period of success, the Liberal party did not win a general election again and was progressively caught up by the new Labour party.

The Social Democratic Party or the SDP, was, until the merger of 1988, a centrist political party (created in 1981) which had never won a general election. It was founded by four senior Labour Party moderates known as the gang of four (Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams). 

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To represent this new merger, a new party logo was created in 1989, the Bird of Liberty. Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister at the time famously laughed at this new logo, but he who laughs last laughs longest.The first leader of the Lib Dem was Paddy Ashown, and at their first election in 1992 they won 17.8% of the vote and twenty seats, and then 46 seats in the 1997. But in the middle of 1990 due to the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994, and with his “New Labour” movement, the question of the cooperation between the two parties became an important issue, and Ashdown pushed for an alliance. But, most Lib Dems wanted to keep their own identity, thus the party increasingly shifted to the left.

In 1999, Charles Kennedy became the Lib Dem leader, two years before the party’s results improved at the 2001 election (52 seats and 18.3% vote), this rise was partially due to the Lib Dem’s position against the war in Iraq. Nevertheless, it was not just due to this position because at the 2005 general election, the party won again an increasing number of seats; in fact they won their highest share of the vote: 62 seats. In 2006,Charles Kennedy’s popularity declined, partially because of his alcoholism, and a competition for the leadership of the party begun. Just after Menzines Campbell was elected leader of the Lib Dems, the leaderless party won the Dunfermine and West Fife by-elections. It was a blow for Gordon Brown, who lived in the constituency, and was a frontrunner of the next election, in 2010. In 2007 Nick Clegg won the leadership election, and became the party’s fourth leader.

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In 2010 Nick Clegg was, because of his charisma, the most popular politician since Churchill in 1945. This popularity and his way to debate had an unexpected impact on opinion polls in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Well, it seems to be a long time ago…  Destroying a two-system party is not an easy thing. Today, the party is going through the most serious crisis since 2007 and the popularity of its leader is decreasing.

After the elections, the coalition with the Tories has quickly known some trouble. Moreover Nick Clegg’s Europhilia (he was indeed European MP from 1999 to 2004), in a country where EU bashing is increasingly popular, can explain why the Liberal democrats are going through hard times.

There is also this scandal about two members of the party accused of sexual harassment. This event could alienate women, who are normally in favour of liberal-democrat ideas, because they are moderate, modern and open-minded. Moreover it was the party’s transparency during the 2010 legislative election, which made it trustworthy and appealing.

In spite of the good economic results of the coalition, these recent events could have a negative impact on the liberal democrats. In the next legislative election, in 2015, we may  see Labour take the upper hand again.

Emmanuelle SIMONET & Léonor WEJMAN

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