What Went Wrong for Britain’s Liberal Democrats?

Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20, 2019
Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20, 2019 (Liberal Democrats)

Britain’s Liberal Democrats were polling as high as 20 percent in September, when it seemed just possible they might beat Labour into third place. The projection now is they will end up with 11 percent support in the election on Thursday, up from 7-8 percent in the last two elections but still a far cry from the 22-23 percent Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg won in 2005 and 2010.

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, even lost her seat in Dunbartonshire East to the Scottish nationalists by a margin of 149 votes. It means her party will need to find a fourth new leader in five years.

What went wrong? Read more “What Went Wrong for Britain’s Liberal Democrats?”

Liberal Democrats Are Least Bad Option in British Election

Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20
Jo Swinson unveils the Liberal Democratic manifesto at a party conference in London, England, November 20 (Liberal Democrats)

British politics hasn’t given liberals hope in recent years.

In 2015, we called for another Conservative-Liberal coalition. When the Conservative Party won an outright majority that year and veered to the right, embracing Brexit with a gusto, we switched to the Liberal Democrats. We still supported Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives in Scotland in 2017, but she is gone and with her any hope of moderation on the right.

Boris Johnson, who once described himself as a liberal, has made common cause with the reactionaries in his party to take power; forced out 21 principled moderates who opposed his Brexit policy, including ten former cabinet ministers, two former chancellors and one former deputy prime minister; and unlawfully suspended Parliament in an attempt to prevent debate on his Brexit deal, which, for all his bluster, is essentially the deal the EU offered two years ago.

Worst of all, Johnson frames this election as a choice between “the people” and Parliament. That is the sort of insidious rhetoric which paves the way for the erosion of liberal democracy. Read more “Liberal Democrats Are Least Bad Option in British Election”

Stakes Are High in British Election, But Outcome Is Up in the Air

The Houses of Parliament in London, England, February 19, 2013
The Houses of Parliament in London, England, February 19, 2013 (Martin Robson)

In a month, Britain will have its third election in four years. Once more the reason is Brexit, or rather the lack of Brexit.

I’ve argued before that Britain’s departure from the EU is accelerating a breakdown of the two-party system. The upcoming election is like a kaleidoscope. Every time you shake it, a new pattern appears.

Yet the stakes are simple enough. For the Conservatives, all that matters is winning a majority. The other parties merely have to stop this from happening to claim victory.

Already we can say the new Parliament will be more partisan and less experienced. Sixty lawmakers with 750 years of combined legislative experience are not seeking reelection. Many blame the coarse political discourse of recent years. Read more “Stakes Are High in British Election, But Outcome Is Up in the Air”

Local Elections Highlight Political Fragmentation in United Kingdom

View of Bideford, England from the River Torridge
View of Bideford, England from the River Torridge (Shutterstock)

The outcome of local elections in the United Kingdom last week painted a stark picture for the country’s two major political parties.

The ruling Conservatives were expecting to lose around 800 of their 5,521 seats. They ended up losing 1,330 and with it control of 44 councils.

Labour, who were expecting gains, ended up losing 84 seats and control of six councils.

The clear winners were the Liberal Democrats, who more than doubled their seats, from 658 to 1,351, with 19 percent support. The Greens also won.

It is tempting to write up the result to those parties’ pro-EU message, but there is actually more at play. Read more “Local Elections Highlight Political Fragmentation in United Kingdom”

Liberal Democrats Are the Least Bad Option in Britain’s Election

British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron
British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron (Shutterstock/Finbarr Webster)

This British election is an impossible choice for liberals like us.

We can’t possibly support Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies of nationalization and unilateral nuclear disarmament would compound the disaster of Brexit — which he did far too little to prevent — many times over.

But we are not impressed with Theresa May either. She was the best possible candidate to succeed David Cameron last summer, but only because the alternatives were worse. Many British voters could make the same calculation this week. Read more “Liberal Democrats Are the Least Bad Option in Britain’s Election”

Local Elections Test British Parties’ Prospects for June

Theresa May Lars Løkke Rasmussen
Prime Ministers Theresa May of the United Kingdom and Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark answer questions from reporters in Copenhagen, October 10, 2016 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Tom Evans)

Today’s local elections in the United Kingdom should be a good indicator of the national mood going into the general election in June.

The areas holding elections on Thursday are the “shire counties” of England and all counties of Scotland and Wales.

These areas are mostly rural or semi-rural and have a tendency to be either Conservative bastions, particularly in England, or have no single party in control. Read more “Local Elections Test British Parties’ Prospects for June”

British Liberal Democrat Revival Starts to Look More Likely

Tim Farron
British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron (Shutterstock/Finbarr Webster)

After they formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, Britain’s Liberal Democrats only lost elections — local, mayoral and national.

The low point came in May 2015, when the party lost 49 of its 57 seats in the House of Commons. Big names, like Danny Alexander and Vince Cable, were voted out. Liberal strongholds across South West England simply vanished.

Liberals have talked up a “LibDem revival” since that dismal election result and commentators have dismissed it as sheer optimism.

But could there be something to it after all? Read more “British Liberal Democrat Revival Starts to Look More Likely”

A (Small) Opportunity for Britain’s Liberal Democrats

Tim Farron
British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron (Shutterstock/Finbarr Webster)

If Labour reelects the far-left Jeremy Corbyn as its leader this week, which seems likely, and the Conservatives under Theresa May do lurch a little to the right, that should leave space in the center of British politics for the Liberal Democrats.

Unfortunately for them, that space will never be very wide.

I argued here the other day that May is breaking — however carefully — with David Cameron’s liberal legacy in order to secure the support of suburban and provincial voters who are more right-wing than the party has been. Many of them voted Conservative in 2015 and many voted to leave the European Union in the referendum in June, prompting Cameron, who had advised a “remain” vote, to step down.

A rightward shift under May, on education and immigration policy, could tempt more urban and liberal-minded voters to defect, I warned:

If May seems in thrall to those who voted to leave the EU because they are dissatisfied with the modern world, don’t be surprised if those who only voted for the Conservatives when they had finally come to terms with the modern world abandon her in the future.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is exploiting this vulnerability. His is now “the free-market, free-trade, pro-business party,” he told a conference in Brighton this week. Read more “A (Small) Opportunity for Britain’s Liberal Democrats”

Five More Years: British Should Reelect Cameron, Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom deliver a news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, December 21, 2010
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom deliver a news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, December 21, 2010 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

With Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives expected to once again fall short of a parliamentary majority in the election this week, this website is hoping the Liberal Democrats will scrape together enough seats to keep the two parties in power. The last five years of coalition government have been stable and successful. The alternative, a Labour government held to ransom by Scottish separatists, would be anything but. Read more “Five More Years: British Should Reelect Cameron, Clegg”