Britain’s Liberal Democrats lost almost half of their councilors in local elections on Thursday. According to party leader Nick Clegg, the liberals were being “blamed” for coalition budget cuts.
A simultaneous referendum to change Britain’s voting system was also expected to bring defeat for the country’s largest minority party. Both the Conservatives and Labour campaigned to maintain the “first past the vote” system which makes it difficult to third parties to compete.
Many liberal votes went to Labour. The socialists fall one seat short of a majority in the Welsh Assembly but the Scottish National Party won an absolutely majority in their local parliament, making it the first party ever to do so.
The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin were expected to remain the largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Throughout the United Kingdom, the Conservative vote was holding up.
Clegg, who is also deputy prime minister in a coalition government with the Conservatives, told the BBC last night that his party was bearing “the brunt of the blame” for unpopular spending cuts which were bringing back “memories of things under Thatcher,” the conservative prime minister during the 1980s. While some party members urged him to resign, the Liberal Democrat leader promised to “redouble our efforts” and “get up and dust ourselves down.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said that the coalition government would “work for the full five years” of this parliament to rein in public spending and restore economic growth.
The liberals have lost popularity in government, particularly among students and young urban professionals. Voters punished them for agreeing to raise the value-added tax from 17.5 to 20 percent and their support for an education reform measure which they claimed to oppose ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections.
The Liberal Democrats’ plight is comparable to the struggle of liberals in Germany who have performed poorly in local elections this year. Both parties have their base divided. Leftists were disillusioned by their support for deep spending cuts while moderate voters are drawn further to the right where they find conservatives who share their concerns about immigration and crime and don’t appear that hostile to welfare provisions anymore. There isn’t much room left for social liberalism in the center.