Liberal Democrats

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Liberal Democrats, British political party created in 1988 by the merger of the Liberal party with the Social Democratic party; the party was initially called the Social and Liberal Democratic party. The Social Democratic party, which was formed in 1981 by politically centrist members of the Labour party, joined with the Liberals in 1981 in an electoral alliance, and in 1983 they won 23 seats in the House of Commons. In 1987 the alliance won 22 seats, and the next year the parties merged. In the 2001 and 2005 parliamentary elections the Liberal Democrats won 52 and 62 seats respectively. The 2005 result was the largest number won by the group since the predecessor Liberals gained 158 seats in 1924. Although the party lost several seats in the 2010 elections (despite increasing its overall share of the vote), it entered the government in coalition with the Conservatives, who had secured only a plurality. Nonetheless, the party remains something of a minor party in British politics, its centrist position threatened by Tony Blair's movement of the Labour party away from socialist positions in the 1990s and David Cameron's moderation of the Conservative party in the 2000s. Its ability to win seats also has been hampered by Britain's lack of proportional representation. Although the party secured a referendum on an alternative voting method through its participation in a coalition with the Conservatives, voters rejected the proposal in 2011. Nick Clegg became party leader in 2007, but stepped down in 2015 after the party suffered large losses in seats and vote share. Tim Farron succeeded Clegg as party leader.

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Liberal Democrats. British political party founded in 1988 from the merging of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Liberal Party, following the disappointing performance of the two parties' alliance at the 1987 general election. The tortuous and mismanaged negotiations, the failure to agree on a party name, and the existence of a rump ‘continuing SDP’ led by David Owen ensured that the early years of the party were dogged by low opinion poll ratings and bad local, European, and by-election results. The 6.4 per cent vote achieved at the 1989 European election was worse than any Liberal showing since 1959.

The increasing popularity of party leader Paddy Ashdown (especially following television performances during the Gulf War) enabled the Liberal Democrats to recoup much of the support that had been lost. At the general election of 1997 the party fought on a promise to raise income tax by a penny to be spent on education, and did well, returning 46 MPs. They obtained an element of proportional representation in the system for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, where they joined Labour in a governing pact. In 2001, led by Charles Kennedy, they increased their Westminster numbers to 52 and raised their numbers to 62 in 2005.

Christopher N. Lanigan

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Liberal Democrats (LD) (officially Social and Liberal Democrats) British political party formed in March 1988 by the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Its first leader (1988–99) was Paddy Ashdown. In the 1998 elections, it returned 20 MPs. The smallest of the three main political parties, it vigorously campaigned for proportional representation (PR). In the 1997 and 2001 general elections, they returned 46 MPs and 52 MPs respectively. Charles Kennedy succeeded Ashdown in 1999.