The history of the Liberal Democrat Party

The Liberal Democrats are a British political party founded in 1988 through a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, or SDP. In the middle ground between the dominant Labour Party and the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats occupy a centre-left, libertarian view point.

The Liberals first came to be recognized as a political party in the 19th century. Focused upon social welfare and civil rights, they provided the principle opponent to the Conservatives until the Labour Party grew in prominence during the 20th century. In 1981 the Social Democratic Party (SDP) splintered off from the Labour party as Labourites became increasingly unhappy with the dominion held over the party by trade unionists and leftists. Straight away, the SDP and the Liberals became allied, providing an alternative to the choice of Labour and Conservative. This alliance polled 25 percent of votes in the 1983 general election, but party tensions and the effects of the UK's first-past-the-post voting system hampered progress, and the party only won 23 seats in the House of Commons. In 1987 the alliance received 23 percent of the vote but was again hampered by the voting system, plus criticism that it lacked effective leadership, coherent policies and recognisable identity. The alliance formally became  the Social and Liberal Democratic Party in 1988, and the following year the party adopted the present name, the Liberal Democrat Party.

The Lib Dems have retained the old Liberal tradition of social or radical liberalism. They set great store on policies of constitutional reform, such as reform of the House of Lords, devolution of state authority from the centre to the regions, electoral reform, and the requirement for freedom-of-information legislation and a bill of rights. The Lib Dems take a left-of-centre stance on social and educational policies and are for European integration.

The Lib Dems are a mix of their predecessors in terms of their organization. They reflect the federalism of the old Liberals, with distinct but parallel English, Scottish, Welsh, and Federal party structures. With regard to making policy, the Federal Conference, which convenes twice annually, is formally sovereign, although a large amount of the key influence over policy proposals presented to the conference is retained by the Federal Policy Committee. The Federal Executive, overseen by the party president, governs the party's general affairs. It consists of the party leader, the vice presidents, members of Parliament, local councillors, representatives of the national parties, members elected by the Federal Conference, and other members.

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