Liberal Democrats

The rainbow has 7 colours, however, if we look closely, in between each band of colour there is yet another colour, which is a mix of the two colours on either side: between red and orange there is a dark, red-ish orange. If we think of the political spectrum in the same way, between left-wing politics and centre politics, we find the Liberal Democrats.

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Table of contents

    In this article, we are going to get to know the history of the Liberal Democrats, their manifesto, beliefs, and policies.

    Liberal Democratic Party, UK

    The Liberal Democratic Party, also called the Lib Dems, is a UK liberal party and the third-largest party in modern UK history.

    Ideological positioning

    Many liberal parties in Europe follow classical liberalism. The UK Liberal Democrats, instead, are fundamentally social liberals.

    Liberal: a follower of liberalism as a political philosophy. This generally includes a commitment to individual freedoms, secularism, and democracy.

    Liberalism

    Classic liberalism stands for a free-market economy, the promotion of individuals' freedoms within the law, and minimal government intervention.

    Social or modern liberalism, instead, believes that people's freedom and individuality can only be achieved under favourable economic circumstances. This branch of liberalism, therefore, promotes state intervention for welfare reforms that can improve the circumstances of those in society who need it the most.

    Key supporters

    According to YouGov, in an article analysing voting behaviour according to different demographic characteristics, the Lib Dems are strongest with university-educated voters1. Sociology, politics, and international studies lecturer Paula Surridge has been studying how the increasing number of graduates impacts the political scene. She suggests that the experience of going to university opens students up to new experiences and perspectives which might be used to explain their tendency for social liberal views2.

    History of Liberal Democrats

    The UK Liberal party originated around 300 years ago, and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, together with the Conservative Party, dominated the UK political scene.

    The popular success of the party declined after WWI, as the Labour Party established itself as a dominant political party in the UK's two-party system. During the Conservative Thatcher government in the early 1980s, the Labour Party faced divisive issues. This was due to discord with the far left of the party that called for leaving the EU and unilaterally disarming as a nuclear power. The centre-left of the Labour Party split and became the Social Democratic Party. They joined the Liberal party in 1988 and became the Social and Liberal Democrats. They, in turn, became the Liberal Democrats in 1989.

    Liberal Democrats, Logo of the Social and Liberal Democrats, StudySmarterFig. 1 Logo of the Social and Liberal Democrats

    Key political figure: Paddy Ashdown

    Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, StudySmarterFig. 2 Paddy Ashdown

    Paddy Ashdown was the Liberal Democrat's leader from 1988 to 1999. He saw the party as radical and believed it could be a force for reform. It was under his leadership that the party took its current name and logo. Under his leadership, the party gained two members of the European Council and faired very well in the 1997 general elections. Paddy Ashdown put forward policies for further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales, proportional representation and for better environmental protection.

    The level of popularity of the Liberal Democrats fluctuated throughout modern history. At times, they were the second, and at times the fourth-biggest party in the UK.

    In the 1994 local election, they came second and pushed the Conservatives to third position. However, New Labour, a 1990s Labour re-branding that shifted Labour's politics to the centre, affected the Liberal Democrats negatively.

    Joining the Conservatives in a coalition government (2010-2015), and going back on election promises such as their opposition to increased student tuition fees, lost them popular support in the long term.

    The current Liberal Democrats Party Leader is Ed Davey. Recently, the party's opposition to leaving the European Union and a push to gain voters from “soft” conservatives led to it gaining more than any other party in England in the 2022 local elections.

    Liberal Democrats Manifesto

    In the UK, a Manifesto is a document produced by political parties before a national election detailing what they stand for and pledge to do if they win the election.

    The latest Liberal Democrats Manifesto was from 20193 and its slogan was "Stop Brexit, Build a Brighter Future".

    Their Manifesto contained the following points.

    • Unlike any other party, they promised to stop Britain from leaving the European Union without another referendum.

    • They pledged to direct more funding toward the NHS, massively extend the free childcare provision, recruit more teachers and meet the government target for new houses built a year.

    • There was a strong focus on environmental protection. They promised to generate 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030, tax frequent flyers, improve the railway network and freeze train fares.

    • They also pledged to legalise cannabis, increase the wages of zero-hours workers, and resettle 10,000 refugees a year.

    Liberal Democrats Beliefs

    As we mentioned above, the Liberal Democrats draw from the politics of liberalism and social democracy, so they are generally seen as a centre-left party.

    Liberal Democrats, Left-right political spectrum, StudySmarterFig. 3 Left-right political spectrum

    Social Democracy is an ideology that stems from socialism and retains some of its ideals, such as people's control of government spending. However, unlike socialism, social democracy welcomes state regulation of the means of production, rather than state ownership. This means that in a social democracy there is space for private ownership, as long as there is a welfare system in place.

    They are also sceptical of too much government centralisation, and they support the devolution of powers to the regions of England.

    The Liberal Democrats supported Tony Blair's Labour Government enactment of the devolution of Scotland and Wales (1997).

    Devolution: the delegation of power to a lower level.

    As we can see from their manifesto, their liberal beliefs stand out when it comes to social issues. They believe in gender identity equality, fairer education policies, drug liberalisation, and criminal justice issues.

    The Liberal Democrats proudly say they are at the forefront of LGBTQ+ equality for decades. The Liberal Democrats LGBTQ+ equality body is an official part of the Liberal Democrats Party, supported by the party membership.

    Many of our policies have eventually become law, not least because the other parties look to us for ideas to appeal to the “pink vote”. We have a good record of introducing LGBT equality legislation through Private Members' Bills and amendments, and the best voting record in the Houses of Parliament4

    The 2013 Same-Sex Marriage Act passed by the LibDems and Conservative coalition government was proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone.

    The Liberal Democrats are Internationalist and pro-Europe. They are part of the Liberal International which is an international coalition that promotes liberalism worldwide.

    They called for the UK to adopt the Euro currency and supported the People's Vote, an unsuccessful 2018 campaign for a second referendum on the UK leaving the European Union.

    When it comes to foreign policy, the Liberal Democrats believe in Liberal interventionism.

    Liberal interventionism, or internationalism, is a foreign policy that believes in promoting a liberal world order through two main channels:

    • Interventions in foreign states can only be justified if they further liberal principles.
    • Multilateral agreements should be reached between states to uphold international law and promote liberal democracies.

    The Liberal Democrats opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as it didn't have the support of the United Nations.

    Liberal Democrats Policies

    Let's have a look at some Liberal Democrats' policies, divided by themes:

    Constitutional Reform Policies

    The Liberal Democrats support several constitutional reforms, from devolution to the lowering of the voting age. However, swapping voting systems from first-past-the-post to proportional representation is the change that they are most recognised for.

    Voting systems

    First-past-the-post is the electoral system currently used in the UK that allows the one candidate in an election with the most votes to win. They will win even if they do not have over 50% of the votes. This leads to only one party being in power, which in turn means a strong, unified government able to single-handedly make decisions. The downside of this is that this government might not represent the majority of voters.

    Proportional representation, instead, allows parties to win proportionally as many seats as the votes they receive. This system allows for more people's votes to be represented in the government. However, as this system may lead to coalition governments, it may also lead to stagnation in decision-making. This is because each decision will need discussions and compromises.

    Welfare Policies

    As we've seen from their ideology, and in their Manifesto pledges, the Liberal Democrats are generally in favour of increasing social welfare spending. They largely aim to raise the money for policies such as reducing class sizes and increasing pensions, through taxing higher earners.

    During the coalition government with the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats managed to introduce their 2010 Manifesto pledge to end income taxes for those earning less than £10,000 a year.

    Environmental Policies

    The 2019 Manifesto shows that the Liberal Democrats' commitment to environmental protection goes further than that of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. They have several policies aimed at reducing water use and protecting the UK's natural resources.

    In 2009, the Liberal Democrats Party Conference committed to reducing carbon emissions by 10% by 2010 in all Liberal Democrats controlled councils

    Human Rights and Individual Liberties Policies

    On their website, the Liberal Democrats have a detailed list of the human rights and civil liberties policies they'd implement if in power. They claim they intend to end discrimination and intolerance under any circumstance, protect people's rights and freedoms, and create the same opportunities for everybody. They intend to focus on the UK, but also have policies that include the whole world community.

    They pledge, for example, to:

    • Oppose any law that could erode civil liberties unnecessarily;
    • Introduce the X gender option in passports;
    • End period poverty by removing the VAT and providing free sanitary products;
    • Work to end torture and abolish the death penalty around the world.

    Liberal Democrats - Key takeaways

    • The Liberal Democratic Party, is a UK social liberal party and the third-largest party in modern UK history.
    • The UK Liberal party originated around 300 years ago.
    • The level of popularity of the Liberal Democrats fluctuated throughout modern history.
    • The Liberal Democrats draw from the politics of liberalism and social democracy.
    • The Liberal Democrats are internationalist and opposed the UK leaving the EU
    • The Liberal Democrats' Manifesto and their policies cover constitutional reforms, welfare, environmental protection and human rights and individual liberties.

    References

    1. YouGov 2019 general election: the demographics dividing Britain
    2. Paula Surridge Education and Liberalism: Pursuing the Link 2016
    3. LibDems website
    4. LGBT LibDems website
    5. Fig. 2 Paddy Ashdown (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paddy_Ashdown_(2005)_(cropped).jpg) by Chritian Lambiotte (https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q99970903) licenced by CC-BY-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode) on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Liberal Democrats

    Who are the Liberal Democrats?

    The Liberal Democrats are a UK party that emerged from the merging of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.

    What do the Liberal Democrats stand for in the UK?

    In the UK the Liberal Democrats stand for constitutional reform, internationalism and a close relationship with the EU, environmentalism, furthering welfare spending and promotion of individual liberties.

    What do the Liberal Democrats believe in?

    The Liberal Democrats believe in a mix of liberal principles and social democratic principles. They believe that state intervention should be minimised, and it's only justified for the welfare of the population.

    What is the Liberal Democratic Party?

    The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal party and the third-largest party in modern UK history.

    What are the policies of Liberal Democrats?

    The Liberal Democratic Policies aim to bring about constitutional reform in the UK. They focus on increasing taxation for high earners to pay for social policies. They focus on environmental protection and the furthering of human rights and individual liberties, both in the UK and internationally.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which political philosophies do the UK Liberal Democrats get their beliefs from?

    How did the Liberal Democrats stand in relation to Brexit?

    Which of these themes is not covered by Liberal Democrats policies?

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