Liberal Democrats (UK)
Political party in the United Kingdom
Top 10 Liberal Democrats (UK) related articles
- 1 History
- 2 Ideology
- 3 Policy platform
- 4 Organisation and structure
- 5 Support
- 6 Electoral results
- 7 Federal Conference
- 8 Leadership
- 9 Current MPs
- 10 Reception
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The Liberal Democrats (commonly referred to as the Lib Dems) are a liberal political party in the United Kingdom. The party has 11 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 89 members of the House of Lords, five Members of the Scottish Parliament, one member in the Welsh Parliament and one member in the London Assembly. The party served as the junior party in a coalition government with the Conservative Party between 2010-2015. The Liberal Democrats are currently the junior partner in a coalition with Welsh Labour in the devolved Welsh government. The party previously served in coalition with Scottish Labour in the Scottish Executive from 1999 to 2007.
In 1981, an electoral alliance was established between the Liberal Party, a group which descended from the 18th-century Whigs, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a splinter group from the Labour Party. In 1988, the parties merged as the Social and Liberal Democrats, adopting their present name just over a year later. Under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown and later Charles Kennedy, the party grew during the 1990s and 2000s, focusing its campaigns on specific seats and becoming the third-largest party in the House of Commons. Under Nick Clegg's leadership, the Liberal Democrats were junior partners in David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government in which Clegg served as Deputy Prime Minister. Although it allowed them to implement some of their policies, the coalition damaged the Lib Dems' electoral prospects and it suffered many losses at the 2015 general election which relegated them to fourth-largest party in the House of Commons. Under the leaderships of Tim Farron, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson, it refocused itself as a party opposing Brexit. Since 2015 the party has failed to recapture its pre-coalition successes under Ashdown and Kennedy and a poor performance in the 2019 general election saw Swinson lose her seat.
Positioned in the centre to centre-left of British politics, the Liberal Democrats ideologically draw upon both liberalism and social democracy. Different factions have dominated the party at different times, each with its own ideological bent, some leaning towards the centre-left and others the centre. The party calls for constitutional reform, including a change from the first-past-the-post voting system to proportional representation. Emphasising stronger protections for civil liberties, the party promotes socially liberal approaches to issues like LGBT rights, drug liberalisation, education policy and criminal justice. It favours a market-based economy supplemented with social welfare spending. The party is internationalist and pro-European, it supported the People's Vote for the continued UK membership of the European Union and greater European integration, previously calling for adoption of the euro currency. The Lib Dems have promoted further environmental protections and opposed some UK military ventures like the Iraq War.
The Liberal Democrats are historically strongest in northern Scotland, south-west London, south-west England and mid-Wales. Membership is primarily middle-class and more university educated than most UK parties. The party's partner in Northern Ireland is the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Internationally, the party is a member of the Liberal International and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, with its MEPs formerly affiliated to the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, until the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020.
Liberal Democrats (UK) Intro articles: 47
The Liberal Party had existed in different forms for over 300 years. During the 19th and early 20th century, it had been one of the United Kingdom's two dominant political parties, along with the Conservative Party. Following World War I, it was pushed into third place by the Labour Party and underwent a gradual decline throughout the rest of the 20th century. In the 1970s, the Liberal leader David Steel began contemplating how an alliance with other parties could return it to political power. In 1977, he formed a pact with Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan to back Callaghan's government in a motion of no confidence. This angered many Liberals and damaged them electorally. In the 1979 general election, the Liberals lost three seats in the House of Commons; the Conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the election.
Within Labour, many centrists were uncomfortable with the growing influence of the hard left, who were calling for the UK to leave the European Economic Community and unilaterally disarm as a nuclear power. In January 1981, four senior Labour MPs—Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, and David Owen, known as the "Gang of Four"—issued the Limehouse Declaration in which they announced their split from Labour. This led to the formal launch of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in March. One of its first decisions was to negotiate an electoral arrangement with the Liberals, facilitated between Jenkins, who was the first SDP leader, and Steel.
The new alliance initially did well in opinion polls. The SDP and Liberals agreed to contest alternating by-elections; between 1981 and 1982, the SDP came close in Warrington and won Crosby and Glasgow Hillhead. At the 1983 general election, the Liberals gained five additional seats although the SDP lost many that they had previously inherited from Labour. After the 1983 election, Owen replaced Jenkins as head of the SDP. Several gains were made in subsequent by-elections: the SDP won in Portsmouth South and Greenwich and the Liberals in Brecon and Radnor and Ryedale.
Foundation and early years (1987–1992)
Both parties lost seats in the 1987 general election. In the wake of this, Steel called for the SDP and Liberals to merge into a single party. At the grassroots, various local constituency groups had already de facto merged. In the SDP, Jenkins, Rodgers, Williams, and the MP Charles Kennedy supported the idea; Owen and the MPs Rosie Barnes and John Cartwright opposed it. The SDP's membership was balloted on the idea: after it produced 57.4% in favour of the merger, Owen resigned as leader, to be replaced by Bob Maclennan. A Liberal conference in September found delegates providing a landslide majority for the merger. Formal negotiations launched that month and in December it produced a draft constitution for the new party. In 1988, Liberal and SDP meetings both produced majorities for the merger; finally, the memberships of both parties were balloted and both produced support for unification. Those in both parties opposed to unification split to form their own breakaway groups.
The Social and Liberal Democrats were formally launched on 3 March 1988. Steel and Maclennan initially became joint interim leaders. At the start, it claimed 19 MPs, 3,500 local councillors, and 100,000 members. In its first leadership election, Paddy Ashdown defeated Alan Beith. Ashdown saw the Liberal Democrats as a radical, reforming force, putting forward policies for introducing home rule for Scotland and Wales, proportional representation, transforming the House of Lords into an elected Senate, and advancing environmental protections. At the September 1988 conference it adopted the short form name "the Democrats" and in October 1989 changed its name to "Liberal Democrats". The bird of liberty was adopted as its logo. In 1989, its election results were poor: it lost 190 seats in the May 1989 local elections and secured only 6.4% of the vote in the 1989 European Parliament elections, beaten to third position by the Green Party of England and Wales. This was the worst election result for an established third party since the 1950s. Its prospects were buoyed after it won the 1990 Eastbourne by-election, followed by-election victories in Ribble Valley and Kincardine and Deeside. In the 1991 local elections it secured a net gain of 520 seats. In the 1992 general election, it secured 17.8% of the vote and 20 seats in the House of Commons: 9 of these were in Scotland and 5 in Southwest England.
Consolidation and growth (1992–1999)
Between 1992 and 1997 the party underwent a period of consolidation, particularly on local councils. In the 1994 local elections, it came second, pushing the Conservatives into third place. In the 1994 European Parliament elections, it gained two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). In 1993, the party was damaged by allegations of racism on the Liberal Democrat-controlled council in Tower Hamlets; it faced additional problems as its distinctive centrist niche was threatened by the rise of Tony Blair and New Labour, a project which pushed Labour to the centre. At the 1997 general election, it fielded 639 candidates, securing 46 MPs, the greatest number that the Liberals had had since 1929. These were concentrated in Southwest England, Southwest London, and areas of Scotland.
Although Blair's Labour won a landslide victory in 1997 and did not require a coalition government, Blair was interested in cooperation with the Lib Dems. In July 1997 he invited Ashdown and other senior Lib Dems to join a Cabinet Committee on constitutional affairs. Privately, Blair offered the Liberal Democrats a coalition but later backed down amid fears that it would split his own Cabinet. The joint Committee launched the Independent Commission on the Voting System in December; its report, published in October 1998, proposed the change from the first past the post electoral system to an alternative vote top-up system. This was not the Lib Dems preferred option—they wanted full proportional representation—although Ashdown hailed it as "a historic step forward". Many Lib Dems were concerned by Ashdown's growing closeness with Labour; aware of this, he stepped down as party leader in 1999. Before he did so, the party took part in the 1999 elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In both, the Lib Dems came fourth and became Labour's junior coalition partners.
Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell (1999–2007)
The MP Simon Hughes was initially seen as Ashdown's most likely successor, but was defeated in the contest by Charles Kennedy. To reduce the impact of more leftist members who tended to dominate at conferences, Kennedy proposed that all members—rather than just conference delegates—should vote for the party's federal executive and federal policy committees. In 2001, Kennedy suspended the Joint Cabinet Committee with Labour. The media characterised him as "Inaction Man" and accused him of lacking a clear identity and political purpose; later criticism also focused on his alcoholism. In the 2001 general election, the party fielded 639 candidates and made a net gain of 6, bringing its total of seats to 52.
Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and the launch of the U.S.-led War on Terror, the Liberal Democrat MPs backed the government's decision to participate in the United States invasion of Afghanistan. The party was more critical of Blair's decision to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; Kennedy joined the large anti-war march in London. With the Conservatives backing the Labour government's decision to go to war, the Lib Dems were the only major party opposing it. In following years, Lib Dem MPs increasingly voted against the Labour government on a range of issues. Much of this Lib Dem opposition to the government came from their members in the House of Lords. In the 2003 local elections, the party secured about 30% of the vote, its highest ever result.
In 2004, The Orange Book anthology was published. Written largely by centre-right economists in the party, it sparked discussions about Liberal Democrat philosophy and brought criticism from the party's social-liberal wing. In the 2005 general election, the Lib Dems secured 62 seats, the most the Liberals had had since 1923. Kennedy however faced growing calls to resign over his alcoholism; in January 2006 he did so. In March, Menzies Campbell succeeded him as party leader. Campbell was not popular with voters and faced a resurgent Conservative Party under David Cameron; in the May 2007 local elections the party experienced a net loss of nearly 250 seats. In that year's Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) secured the largest vote and the Lib Dem/Labour coalition ended. Campbell was frustrated at the constant media focus on the fact that he was in his late sixties; in October he resigned and Vince Cable became acting leader.
Nick Clegg and coalition with the Conservatives (2007–2015)
In December 2007, Nick Clegg narrowly beat Chris Huhne to take the party's leadership. Clegg's reshuffle of the leadership team was seen by many as a shift to the right; under Clegg, the party moved away from the social democratic focus it displayed previously. It rebranded itself as a party that would cut rather than raise taxes and dropped its hard pro-EU position. In the 2008 local elections it gained 34 seats, beating Labour in terms of vote share. The following year, the party was damaged by the expenses scandal as several Lib Dem MPs and peers were found to have misused their expenses; Campbell for example was revealed to have claimed nearly £10,000 in expenses for luxury home furnishings. In the build-up to the 2010 general election, Clegg took part in the UK's first televised party leaders debate; he was generally considered to have performed well, with pundits referring to an ensuing "Cleggmania".
In the election, the Lib Dems secured 23% of the vote and 57 seats; the Conservatives were the largest party but lacked a majority. The Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition government, with Clegg becoming Deputy Prime Minister. Four other Lib Dems—Cable, Huhne, Danny Alexander, and David Laws—entered the coalition Cabinet. Of the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs, only two refused to support the Conservative Coalition agreement, with former party leader Charles Kennedy and Manchester Withington MP John Leech both rebelling against. Many Lib Dems opposed the move, with some favouring a coalition deal with Labour. As part of the coalition agreement, the Conservatives agreed to Lib Dem demands to introduce elected health boards, put forward a Fixed Term Parliament Bill, and end income tax for those earning less than £10,000 a year. The Conservatives also agreed to shelve their plans to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a proposed British Bill of Rights. The Conservatives refused to agree to Lib Dem demands for proportional referendum, instead offering a referendum on a switch from first-past-the-post to the Alternative Vote system. The coalition introduced an emergency budget to attack the fiscal deficit.
After joining the coalition poll ratings for the party fell, particularly following the government's support for raising the cap on tuition fees with Liberal Democrat MPs voting 27 for, 21 against and 8 abstaining. The Liberal Democrats had made opposing tuition fees a major message of their campaign, with all of the party's MPs, including Nick Clegg, signing the Vote for Students pledge to oppose any increase in student tuition fees prior to the 2010 general election. Clegg later made a formal apology for breaking this promise in September 2012. Shortly after the 2015 general election, Liberal Democrat leadership contender Norman Lamb conceded that Clegg's broken pledge on university tuition had proven costly.
In the May 2011 local elections and the elections for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, the Liberal Democrats suffered heavy defeats. Clegg admitted that the party had taken "big knocks" due to a perception that the coalition government had returned to the Thatcherism of the 1980s.
As part of the deal that formed the coalition, it was agreed to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote, in which the Conservatives would campaign for First Past the Post and the Liberal Democrats for Alternative Vote. The referendum, held on 5 May 2011, resulted in First Past the Post being chosen over Alternative Vote by approximately two-thirds of voters. In May 2011, Clegg revealed plans to make the House of Lords a mainly elected chamber, limiting the number of peers to 300, 80% of whom would be elected with a third of that 80% being elected every 5 years by single transferable vote. In August 2012, Clegg announced that attempts to reform the House of Lords would be abandoned due to opposition for the proposals by backbench Conservative MPs. Claiming the coalition agreement had been broken, Clegg stated that Liberal Democrat MPs would no longer support changes to the House of Commons boundaries for the 2015 general election. The Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in 2011 announced plans for halving UK carbon emissions by 2025 as part of the "Green Deal" which was in the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto.
The Lib Dems lost over 300 councillors in the 2012 local elections, leaving them with fewer than 3000 for the first time in the party's history. In June 2012 it was reported that membership of the party had fallen by around 20% since joining the coalition.
In February 2013, the party won a by-election in Eastleigh, the Hampshire constituency that had previously been held by the former minister, Chris Huhne. The party's candidate, Mike Thornton, had been a local councillor for the party, and held the seat. In eighteen other by-elections held throughout the 2010–15 Parliament, the party lost its deposit in 11; in the Rochester and Strood by-election held on 20 November 2014, it came fifth polling 349 votes or 0.9% of the total votes cast, the worst result in the history of the party. In the 2014 local elections, the Liberal Democrats lost another 307 council seats and ten of their eleven seats in the European Parliament in the 2014 European elections.
In the 2015 general election, the party lost 48 seats in the House of Commons, leaving them with only eight MPs. Prominent Liberal Democrat MPs who lost their seats included former leader Charles Kennedy, former deputy leaders Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, and several cabinet ministers. The party held onto just eight constituencies. The Conservatives won an outright majority. Clegg then announced his resignation as party leader.
Opposing Brexit (2015–2019)
Membership of the Liberal Democrats rose from 45,000 to 61,000 as the party prepared to hold its 2015 party leadership ballot. On 16 July 2015, Tim Farron was elected to the leadership of the party with 56.5% of the vote, beating opponent Norman Lamb. In the May 2016 local elections, the Liberal Democrats gained a small number of council seats, though they lost ground in the Welsh Assembly. The party campaigned for a Remain vote in the referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union in June 2016. After the Leave vote, the Liberal Democrats sought to mobilise the 48% who voted Remain, and the party's membership rose again, reaching 80,000 by September.
In the 2017 general election, during which the party advocated continued membership of the European Single Market and a referendum on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the Liberal Democrats' vote share dropped 0.5% to 7.4%, its lowest percentage ever, but produced a net gain of four seats. Farron then resigned; in July 2017 Vince Cable was elected leader unopposed. He called for a second referendum on the UK's relationship with the European Union. In December 2018, the MP for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd, resigned the Liberal Democrat Whip, saying that his party's position on Brexit was inconsistent with his pledge to his constituency that he would "respect the result" of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. Although Lloyd remained a Liberal Democrat member, this took the number of sitting Liberal Democrat MPs down to 11.
The party gained 704 councillors in the 2019 local elections. In the 2019 European Parliament election the party ran with an anti-Brexit message seeking the support of those who wish the UK to remain in the EU, using the slogan "Bollocks to Brexit" which attracted considerable media attention. In that election, the party gained 20% of the popular vote and returned 16 MEPs. In May, Cable stood down as leader, triggering a leadership election.
Between June and October 2019, the total number of MPs rose from 11 to 21, following eight defections from other parties, one by-election win, and Lloyd retaking the whip. The defections were mainly former MPs of Change UK, with Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston joining directly from the party, whereas Heidi Allen, Luciana Berger, and Angela Smith joined after subsequently being part of The Independents. The remaining defectors were three of the 21 rebel Conservative MPs who had the whip withdrawn for voting against the government on a piece of legislation which would prevent a no-deal scenario on 31 October 2019: Antoinette Sandbach, Sam Gyimah, and Phillip Lee. The latter physically crossed the floor during the debate on the legislation, effectively removing the majority of the first Johnson government.
Heading into the 2019 general election, the party polled well, with one poll showing the party with 20% (within 4% of Labour) as late as 28 October. Nonetheless, during the campaign period the party's fortunes dwindled, and leader Jo Swinson received negative reviews. In the election, the Liberal Democrats lost ten seats from the previous parliament and one from the previous election, returning 11 MPs. Of the nine new MPs who joined between June and October 2019, the eight who contested their seats in the 2019 general election all lost their seats. However, the party did gain 4.2% in the vote, rising to 11.6%. Swinson herself narrowly lost her East Dunbartonshire constituency to the Scottish National Party's Amy Callaghan, and Swinson was forced to resign as leader the next day as the Liberal Democrat Constitution, which mandates that the leader must also serve as an MP, meant she was disqualified from holding the party leadership. Deputy Leader Ed Davey and Party President Sal Brinton then jointly assumed the positions of acting co-leaders of the party. Brinton was at the end of the year (31 December 2019) replaced by Mark Pack as Party President and acting co-leader while Mike Dixon remains the party CEO.
Ed Davey (2020–present)
As of 2020, the party has 89 peers in the House of Lords. The Lib Dems' federal board set out a timetable in January 2020 which stated that a new party leader would be elected in July 2020. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom in the late winter and spring which saw many politicians infected, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the party's board initially pushed the leadership election back to May 2021. The decision was reversed in May 2020 to hold the leadership election in July 2020.
In September 2020, it was revealed by the party's new campaigning chief that the Liberal Democrats had starting planning a four-year drive to woo "soft conservatives". Daisy Cooper said the party could find a route forward by appealing to voters that had always thought of themselves as conservatives but who opposed the current direction of the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson.
When Davey was asked by Andrew Marr about the party's stance on rejoining the EU, he said "We are not a rejoin party, but we are a very pro-European party." This caused anger to some Lib Dem members and a few days after Davey wrote a blog post clarifying his position. He stressed the Liberal Democrats were "committed to the UK being members of the European Union again" and insisted that members may have "misinterpreted" what he said on The Andrew Marr Show and that once he was able to clarify "people were completely relaxed".
Liberal Democrats (UK) History articles: 126
The Liberal Democrats have an ideology that draws on both the liberal and social democratic traditions. The party is primarily social liberal, supporting redistribution but sceptical of increasing the power of the state, emphasising the link between equality and liberty. The party supports investment and progressive taxation, but also promotes civil liberties and a less centralised economy. This distinguishes the party from many liberal parties elsewhere in Europe that are instead dominated by classical liberalism. By comparison, the Liberal Democrats support a mixed economy and have sometimes opposed privatisation.
The party spans the centre and centre-left, and has emphasised each aspect at different times. The public have traditionally viewed the party as centre-left, though during the Cameron–Clegg coalition they were seen as centrist. On economic issues, the party has usually been positioned between the Conservatives and the Labour Party, though typically closer to the Labour Party. There is a degree of ideological diversity among members of the Liberal Democrats, with a wide range of opinions on most subjects.
A key ideological influence on the Liberal Democrats is Leonard Hobhouse, and there is substantial overlap between the party's platform and the form of social democracy advocated by Anthony Crosland in The Future of Socialism. The party's egalitarianism is based on the concept of equality of opportunity and have been sceptical of positive discrimination, including in their process for selecting political candidates. The party has frequently debated the introduction of all-women shortlists in selection, but not implemented them.
The Liberal Democrats support a range of constitutional reforms, including by advocating a decentralised federal structure for the United Kingdom, including devolving power to the regions of England. The party supported devolution to Scotland and Wales enacted by the Labour government under Tony Blair. The party has consistently supported electoral reform to produce more proportional results. On social issues, the party is liberal and progressive. It has consistently supported LGBT rights and drug reform. The party is internationalist and pro-European. They have consistently supported policies of European integration, including long-term advocacy of the United Kingdom adopting the euro, though they have opposed the establishing of a European army. Both before and after the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, the party has advocated for the United Kingdom's continued membership of the European Union. The party support liberal interventionism. They supported the war in Afghanistan, later opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq due to its lack of support from the United Nations. The party has also faced internal division over the issue of nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom.
The party has a number of factions representing different strains of liberal thought. Although the social liberals, represented by the Social Liberal Forum (often abbreviated to the SLF), are the majority, factions that advocate for more economically liberal positions include Liberal Reform (often abbreviated to LR) and the "Orange Bookers", named after The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism; The Orange Book is most often associated with former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who contributed to it, along with former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and incumbent leader Ed Davey. Additionally, there is the centre-left Beveridge Group, inspired by William Beveridge. The Beveridge Group has been associated with both social liberals and social democrats within the party, including former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
Liberal Democrats (UK) Ideology articles: 21
The Liberal Democrats support institutional reform in the United Kingdom, including the decentralisation of state power, reform of Parliament, and electoral reform. At its 1993 conference, the party put forward plans for the introduction of fixed term parliaments, something it would later secure in the coalition government of 2010–2015. Also in 1993, it proposed state funding for political parties. The Liberal Democrats have long included a commitment to proportional representation in their manifestos. According to the New Statesman, this is the "one policy with which the Liberal Democrats are identified in the minds of the public." The Lib Dems calls for devolution or home rule for Scotland and Wales were enacted by Blair's Labour government in the late 1990s. The 1993 conference also called for the introduction of a bill of rights into the British constitution. Its 2001 manifesto included a commitment to lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.
According to a 1999 survey, two-thirds of party members supported retaining the monarchy. In the 1990s, there was an anti-royalist contingent within the party; in 1993, the party conference announced support for removing the royal prerogative, and the 2000 conference backed calls for the monarch to be removed as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. At its 2003 conference, the party's Youth and Student League put forward a motion calling for the abolition of the monarchy and the introduction of an elected head of state. The 2000 party conference produced a call for the 1701 Act of Settlement to be reformed so as to allow the heir to the throne to marry a Roman Catholic, while the party's 2001 manifesto called for the disestablishment of the Church of England.
The 1999 membership survey found that most favoured free markets and individual responsibility; they were nevertheless split on whether or not they regarded private enterprise as the best way to solve economic problems. Most were against either further privatisation or further nationalisation, although they were overwhelmingly favourable to increasing taxation and government spending. The membership was also heavily against additional restrictions on trade unions.
Liberal Democrat policy has generally been favourable to social welfare spending. During the 2000s, the party made pledges for major investment into health, education, and public services. In 1995, the party announced a plan to put £2 billion into education, including nursery places for under fives, while its 2005 manifesto included a commitment to use £1.5 billion to decrease class sizes in schools. In the 2000s, the party also pledged to abolish tuition fees for university students, and in the build-up to the 2010 general election, Clegg pledged that under a Lib Dem government this would be achieved over six years. In 2004, it pledged to add £25 a week to the state pension for people over the age of 75. In 2003, it outlined plans for devolving control of schools to local councils.
In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, it stated that such increases in education spending would be funded through higher taxes. These included a 50% tax on those earning over £100,000 a year, and raising the basic rate of income tax by one penny in the pound. In 2003, the party's conference approved plans for a local income tax of 3.5 pence in the pound that would replace council tax; the party believed that this would result in 70% of the population paying less tax. In 2006, the party abandoned its plans for a 50% tax on the highest earners, and also put forward plans to cut income tax but balance the books by increasing tax on air travel and introducing a carbon tax.
Under Clegg, the party emphasised lowering taxes rather than raising them; it stated that a 4 pence reduction in the basic rate tax could be permitted by finding £20 billion savings in Whitehall. This measure was opposed by the left of the party. Amid the 2008 recession, Clegg called for £20 billion cuts to state spending, to be funded by measures like reducing the number of people eligible for tax credits and scrapping road building schemes. In its 2010 manifesto, it pledged to end income taxes for those earning under £10,000 a year, something it introduced through the Cameron coalition government. Also in 2010, it stated that it would halve the national deficit over the course of four years. It had also specified that it would oppose any increases in VAT, although when in coalition announced an increase in VAT to 20%.
Foreign policy and the European Union
The Liberal Democrats supported the war in Afghanistan in 2001. The party was the only of Britain's three major parties to oppose the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The party's leadership stressed that this was not because the party was intrinsically anti-war, but because the invasion did not have support from the United Nations. In the wake of the invasion, the party's 2005 manifesto included a pledge that the UK would never again support a military occupation deemed illegal under international law. Menzies Campbell demanded the suspension of all future arms exports to Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War and Operation Summer Rains.
The Liberal Democrats called for a full judicial inquiry into Britain's involvement in CIA black sites and extraordinary rendition since the September 11 attacks. They also called on the UK government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and condemned the Saudi-led coalition's attacks targeting civilians in Yemen. In February 2019, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an advisory opinion stating that the UK must transfer the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius as they were not legally separated from the latter in 1965. Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael stated: "The ICJ has very clearly instructed the UK to return the island chain to Mauritian control. The government's refusal to do so is arrogant and jeopardises our credibility on a world stage."
Whiteley et al. noted that "like the Liberals before them, [the Liberal Democrats] have taken a strong positive position on internationalism", including the need for international cooperation, aid for the developing world, and European integration. In this they have always been more internationalist and pro-Europeanist than either Labour or the Conservatives.
From its foundation, the Liberal Democrats were committed to the UK's membership of the European Union. In 1993, it called for the UK to take a lead in seeking a timetable for the adoption of a pan-European currency, and also called for the formation of an autonomous European central bank. A 1999 survey of party members found they overwhelmingly backed European integration, and two thirds wanted the UK to adopt the euro currency. In its 1999 manifesto for the European Parliamentary elections, it called for completing the European single market, holding a referendum on the adoption of the euro currency, establishing an EU constitution, expanding the EU into Central and Eastern Europe, and encouraging an EU-wide clampdown on pollution and international crime. This attitude had been inherited from the Liberal Party which had originally proposing membership into the predecessor European Coal and Steel Community. However, the Liberal Democrats oppose the European federalism espoused by their counterparts.
Despite its pro-European stance, the party has included Eurosceptics such as the MP Nick Harvey. The 1999 membership survey found that 37% wanted the UK to remain in the EU but to have the latter's powers reduced while 5% of members wanted the UK to leave the EU altogether. Cook argued that whereas the Lib Dems were once "the most pro-European of all British parties", by 2008 it had "a vocal Eurosceptic element" who were opposed to the British ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty without a referendum. Under Clegg, the party backed away from its hardline pro-EU position.
In June 2016, following the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum in which 51.9% voted in favour of leaving the European Union, Tim Farron said that if Liberal Democrats were to be elected in the next parliamentary election, they would not follow through with triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and leaving the EU ("Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements") but would instead keep UK part of the EU. Following this promise, the Liberal Democrats claim that their membership has increased by 10,000 since the referendum; at one point, the growth in the party was the equivalent of one person joining per minute. Campaigning for a second referendum regarding the exact goals of Brexit negotiation was one of the party's flagship policies in the 2017 general election and the 2019 general election.
The Liberal Democrats have strongly advocated for environmental protection and have typically taken more radical stances on environmental issues than either Labour or the Conservatives. In 1993, the party put forward proposals for an EU tax on energy use and CO2 emissions. That year, it also proposed that GDP should be redefined to take into account pollution and the depletion of natural resources. At its 2009 conference, the party introduced a commitment for Lib Dem controlled councils to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. Other policies included:
- Designate an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas with appropriate management by 2020.
- Encourage the uptake of water metering, including introducing metering in all defined water-stressed areas by 2025, coupled with the development of national social tariffs to protect low income households.
- Complete the coastal path, introduce a fuller Right to Roam and a new designation of National Nature Parks to protect up to a million acres of accessible green space valued by local communities.
Human rights and individual liberty
The Liberal Democrats place greater emphasis on human rights and individual freedoms than the Conservatives or Labour. Conversely, the political scientist John Meadowcroft expressed the view that "the Liberal Democrats are a supposedly liberal party that does not believe in liberty." Commenting on the 1999 membership survey, Whiteley et al. noted that the majority of members took "a distinctly right of centre view" on many, although not all, moral and legal issues.
Its 1997 manifesto committed the party to lowering the age of consent for same-sex couples to 16, bringing it in line with that for mixed-sex couples. At its 2000 conference, party delegates backed calls for the government to provide legal recognition for same-sex relationships. In the 1999 membership survey, 57% believed that the government should discourage the growth of one-parent families. That same survey found just over half of the party membership expressing pro-choice views regarding abortion access.
At its 1994 conference, party delegates voted to end criminal prosecutions for cannabis possession, although the party's 23 MPs voted against the measure. The 1999 membership survey suggested a tougher stance on many law and order issues, with over half wanting longer sentencing and no option of parole for those serving life sentences. The 2004 party congress approved a ban on smoking in public places.
In March 2016, the Liberal Democrats became the first major political party in the UK to support the legalisation of cannabis. The party supports cannabis sale and possession to be legal for all UK adults aged 18-years-old and over, the set up of specialist licensed stores to sell cannabis, the legalisation of home cultivation of cannabis for personal use, small scale cannabis clubs to be licensed, and a new regulator to oversee the market.