Politics: Is the UK Liberal Party an Alternative to the Liberal Democrats?

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The debate between the old UK Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats? (from 2011)

With a fall in support for the Liberal Democrats, the Liberal Party could become an alternative to the Liberal Democrats.

Another page, discussed the ‘Liberal Democrat versus Liberal’ theme before 2011. In this article, events in 2011 are outlined, and some future predictions are made.

Liberal Democrat Performance in 2011

In May 2011, the Liberal Democrats achieved 10% in the national opinion polls. This figure was associated with the loss of control of Liberal Democrat held local authorities; such as Newcastle upon Tyne. In this city, the Liberal Democrats lost 10 council seats. If their polling remains at 10% nationally, in May 2012, then a repeat performance can be expected.

Two parliamentary by-elections are examined here. The Liberal Democrats received 1,012 votes (4% of the total votes cast) in Barnsley and 1,364 (6% of the total votes cast) in Feltham and Heston.

Liberal Party Performance in 2011

The Liberals run no local authorities in the United Kingdom. However, they have increased their presence at local level. In Ryedale, in North Yorkshire, the Liberal Party now outnumbers the Liberal Democrats by 4 councillors to 2. In South Tyneside the Liberal Party fielded candidates in 6 out of the 18 wards. One of the candidates was a former Liberal Democrat activist. The Liberal Party did not field candidates in the by-elections listed above.

The future of both parties after 2015

The Liberal Party could field more candidates in England, if the Liberal Democrats lose more council seats, and if there are further defections to the Liberal Party. Further defections, could also depend on whether there was a pact between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at a 2015 general election. In this situation, the Liberal Democrats may find it difficult to unite members of parliament with former local councillors who have lost their seats. Such local councillors may feel let down by national decisions which they have little control over. This could provoke defections to the Liberal Party.

Differences on Economic Policy between the two parties

One the main points here is why there is an ideological divide between the two parties.

The Liberal Democrats have agreed to two more years spending cuts after a 2015 general election. The Liberal Democrats appear to have been influenced by prominent activists who call for a smaller state which suggests less government spending. Arguments in favour of austerity are not present on the Liberal Party website. This gives the Liberal Party the opportunity to set out an alternative set of economic policies to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

There were economic reasons for the Liberal Democrats joining the Conservative coalition. These were to provide stability in the financial markets, so that demand for UK government bonds would be maintained. Interest rates on the bonds would remain low. In defence of the Liberal Democrat leadership, if a coalition government had not been formed then there probably would have been a second general election in the autumn of 2010. This could have had serious consequences for the United Kingdom's credit status.

The author’s concern is that the Liberal Democrat leadership chose to join the coalition because like the Conservatives, they too believed in economic policies of ‘austerity’.

Could the Liberal Party provide an alternative to the Liberal Democrats?

It would be interesting to speculate about a future parliamentary by-election. In such a situation, a Liberal Party candidate could offer a more coherent challenge to the Conservative Party; than a Liberal Democrat candidate. This is because the Liberal Democrats, arguably, take some of their ideas from the right wing Institute of Economic Affairs. In this context, it is difficult to see how the Liberal Democrats could oppose Conservative economic policies when some of their activists are in support of them.

Such a situation is hypothetical as the Liberal Party is generally not putting up candidates currently in British parliamentary elections.

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