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University 18 Yrs + | Parties and Voting

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The UK Liberals/Alliance/Liberal Democrats

Although the Liberal vote revived from 1959 and reached respectable levels in many suburban and rural seats, given the electoral system, it hardly had any MPs before 1983.

These were almost entirely in Cornwall and Devon, rural Wales and the Scottish Highlands and Borders, supplemented by occasional by-elections gains such as Orpington in 1962 and the Isle of Ely in 1973.

When the Alliance was formed between the Liberals and the Social Democrat Party, by a group of key ex-Labour figures, it was hoped that the SDP would attract Labour votes and the Liberals Conservative votes.

Although the Alliance polled well across the country in 1983, the SDP never did this and its successes depended on the personal attraction of their major figures such as David Owen and Shirley Williams.

Nevertheless, when the two parties merged in 1988 the Liberal Democrat Party had a stronger base than the old Liberal Party and had also developed a strategy of winning local councillors and using that platform to target Parliamentary constituencies.

Breaking through from 1997

The breakthrough for the party came in 1997 as a result of the unpopularity of the Conservative Party and tactical voting.

During the election campaign the Observer organised opinion polls in a number of seats, in which the Conservatives could be defeated by the combined Labour and Liberal Democrat vote, showing which of the two parties was the main challenger.

In every one of these constituencies the Conservatives were defeated by tactical voting helping the party the opinion polls predicted could win, whereas in some seats not covered in the story they held on.

The Liberal Democrats won 46 seats with successes particularly in Scotland, SW London and Cornwall. As Labour became less popular in 2005 and 2010 the Liberal Democrats won a few seats from them in big city and industrial areas.

Going into Coalition

This led to the formation of the Conservative/Liberal Coalition in 2010, although a disastrous U-turn on charging tuition fees (the Liberals had said they would scrap them in their manifesto) tainted their entire five years in office.

The 2015 election saw huge defeats across the country and the resignation of then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The party has since been run by  Tim Farron MP, Vince Cable MP and Jo Swinson, their first female leader, who is positioning the Liberal Democrats as the anti-Brexit and anti-Corbyn party.

Liberal Democrats – four types of seats

The Liberal Democrats now have four types of seats:-

  • Those where a well-known local MP is well entrenched and less likely to lose
  • A group of Scottish seats which may behave differently to England
  • Marginals where there will be intense competition with the Conservatives and squeezing the Labour vote will be important
  • A group of seats where they compete with Labour but which may be difficult to hold and gain.