UK political party of the centre, led since 2007 by Nick Clegg, successor to Menzies Campbell. The UK's third main party, the Liberal Democrats are successors to the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which merged in 1988 to form the Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD). The name Liberal Democrats was adopted in 1989. It is a progressive party, which supports closer integration within the European Union (EU), constitutional reform (including proportional representation, regional government, and election of the House of Lords), and greater investment in state education and the National Health Service, financed by higher direct taxes on the wealthy. The party has strong libertarian and environmentalist wings.
At the 1997, 2001, and 2005 general elections, under the consecutive leadership of Paddy Ashdown 1988–99 and Charles Kennedy 1999–2006, the Liberal Democrats benefited from anti-Conservative tactical voting by Labour supporters in marginal seats to return a larger than anticipated number of members of Parliament (MPs). Although the party lost seats at the 2010 general election (57 down from 62), they benefited from the Conservatives' failure to win an outright majority, and entered government as part of a coalition, with Clegg as deputy prime minister to David Cameron. However, against a backdrop of continuing economic recession in the UK, the party suffered a marked downturn in popularity by the midway stage of the coalition's five-year term, with heavy losses in local government elections and poor opinion poll ratings. At the same time, some fundamental Liberal Democrat aspirations were derailed, as a change in the voting system for national elections was rejected in a referendum, proposed legislation to reform the House of Lords was undermined by Conservative opposition, and Clegg was forced to renege on a pre-election commitment to oppose any rise in student tuition fees.
Federal party policy is established by a party conference, held twice a year in spring and autumn, and attended by elected representatives from constituency parties. Separate Scottish and Welsh conferences set policy for the party in Scotland and Wales. The Liberal Democrat leader is elected by party members on the basis of one member one vote.
Ashdown, Paddy (Jeremy John Durham)
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