UK: Tell Me About the LibDems

I know that in the United Kingdom the two big parties are Conservatove and Labour, but about 10-20% of the population vote for a third party, supposedly positioned between them, called the Liberal Democrats. I know they resulted from a merger of the Liberal Party (which moved from being a major party from 1688 until the 1920s) with the more centrist wing of the Labour Party. I know they survived largely in Scotland. Wales. the Southwest, and occasional wins in seats elsewhere.

But what do they stand for today? What sort of positions do they take that differentiate them from the Tories and Labour? Where are they strong? What are their chances of survival as a ‘viable’ alternative party?

Here’s their policy guide, if you’re interested:

Time magazine recently posited that they may well be the power brokers after the next election, as a hung parliament is a real possibility.

I can’t remember a general election when they weren’t hoping for that.

They’re always saying that, but it never happens.
Their main complaint is the want of electoral reform stifles their chances of winning seats.
The Liberals came close to electoral extinction in the 1950s, when they were down to one or two seat in the House.
In recent years their pitch has been ‘if you hate New Labour dragging us into Dubya’s Wars, and can’t stand Conservatism either, vote for us’.

Ironically this is probably the reason that most people would vote for them (Brown is greatly hated right now and Cameron greatly mistrusted), yet so many people pull the “I might agree with them but I don’t want to vote for them because they won’t win” thing that they never can win. In fact, they had a television ad some years back with John Cleese patiently explaining to people that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly, appealing to voters’ intelligence and logic is not a vote-winner in any country for any party.

I’m a big fan of the LibDems in general although like the US Democrats they are by far their own worst enemies, with the lower ranks swelled with well-meaning middle-class types who you wouldn’t want running a church bake sale let alone representing you in Parliament. I do rather like Nick Clegg though, and they need to point out much more loudly that throughout the entire financial mess the only Parliamentarian with any economic credibility was the LibDem’s shadow Chancellor Vince Cable. Plus they came out best (or maybe “least worst”) in the recent expenses scandal.

If they ever got their image problem sorted out they might actually become the kingmakers everyone assumes they will be, but I’m not seeing it happen yet and the election is soon. Assume another 18% share of the votes yet again.

My standing joke is “vote Lib Dem, then whatever happens it’s not your fault”. They do seem to be stuck in this cycle where people won’t vote them because they can’t win. Other than that, they are a credible party. Traditionally, their policies are somewhere between the Conservatives and Labour, but as Labour has moved to the right the Lib Dems are to the left of them in some areas.

This year, one of their candidates is a porn director.

As Alka Seltzer and others have said, they are hampered by two things: (a) the voting system, and (b) the widespread perception that a vote for them is wasted because they aren’t going to win.

It is worth mentioning that they do fare better in local elections around the country. There are many town or city councils where they are in power, or have a sizeable say in how things are run. It’s just the national or ‘General’ election where they tend to always fare rather badly and end up in a sorry third place.

With regard to the forthcoming General Election, there is no reason to suspect it will be any different from every other Election in living memory. The Lib Dems will approach it with gleaming confidence that this will be their big chance (what else can they say?), and there will be lots of media speculation about the fact that maybe this time they’ll get some real power. Then the vast majority of people will vote either Tory or Labour, and the LibDems will be a small rump in parliament with no real power to speak of. It always happens. It’s like Groundhog Day but with voting.

Of course there was a hung parliament in which the Libs played a power broking role in living memory, that of the LibLab pact. Also happened in the twenties, in the first ever “Labour” government (no parliamentary majority, largely reliant on Liberals so not really a Labour government.)

Also, although they paint themselves as Jam and Jerusalem they were originally the Alliance, the Liberals and the Social Democratic Party. Although the Liberals were a venerable and hopeless institution the SDP were a group of ragamuffin enemies of democracy from the Labour party, not the traditional Labour right but a group, particularly the Gang of Four, who left the Labour party when they found out they were going to be required to submit to reelection by local party members before standing as a parliamentary candidate.

That’s one way of looking at it :dubious: Alternatively the Labour Party had moved so far to the left and so many Trotskyists had infiltrated local parties that it neither represented the views of many natural labour voters nor had a hope in hell of defeating Thatcher’s Tories in the polls.

(Note I’m not arguing it either way - just saying **blindboyard’s **view is not exactly neutral.)

On the politics of the Lib Dems, this gets a bit confused. In Scottish and Northern seats they are fighting the Labour Party and trying to appeal to disaffected Labour voters. In the south and south west they are fighting to take seats from the Conservatives so have to give a different message. In the north it is about social justice and fighting inequality, in the south it is libertarian, caring conservatism. They do end up schizophrenic while trying not to offend either group of possible supporters. We have a classic case at the moment where Nick Clegg, their leader, is trying to avoid saying what he would do if there was a hung parliament. If he says he could support the Tories it will count against him in the north and in the inner cities, if he breathes that he might keep Gordon Brown in power he drives off many potential voter in the south.

The one thing they are almost always good at is local organising and local politics. They really work hard at it and make sure they address the local issues. They also have some really good individual MPs. My local MP, Evan Harris is a case in point. A former family doctor he talks an awful lot of sense about a range of issues as well as being very effective on constituency matters. Elected in 1997 to a formerly safe Conservative seat (this was the election that brought in Blair and New Labour) that would never vote Labour. Having got in I can’t see him being beaten this time - both he and the local Lib Dem team are so effective you would hardly know other parties were around.