The Liberals became a significant political party in the mid-19th century. Committed to extending civil rights and social welfare, they were the primary opposition to the Tories until the rise of Labour at the start of the 1900s. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed at the start of the eighties by former Labourites who weren’t pleased with that party’s domination by leftists and trade union officials.
Almost from the very start of the SDP, the Liberals and Social Democrats were aligned with one another, presenting themselves as the alternative to a polarizing choice between radical Labourites and Conservatives. The Alliance, as it was sometimes called, polled a quarter of the electorate in the 1983 general election, raising speculation that it might finally end the “two-party mold” of British politics.
Since rising to power in 2010, the Liberal Democrats have seen a considerable drop in confidence from the electorate. Many felt anger at Nick Clegg for “getting into bed” with the Tories, whose principles frequently clashed with the Lib Dems’. Especially on the issue of student tuition fees did former Lib Dem supporters shown anger with Clegg, resulting in him apologising to his voters in 2012. Many people feel former Lib Dem voters may defect to Labour or the Green Party. Some people are also threatening to spoil their ballot paper at the 2015 election.
This party was harmed by internal conflict and the anomalous effects of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system. It only won 23 of 633 seats in the House of Commons. The Alliance gained 23 percent of the vote in 1987 but still suffered due to the electoral system and widespread criticism that it lacked a coherent identity. In March 1988, the two parties formally combined as the Social and Liberal Democratic Party.
Paddy Ashdown was elected as the first leader of the new party in the summer of 1988. Ashdown’s avowed technique was initially one of “equidistance” between the Tories and Labour. He sought to ensure that the new party entirely supported free-market economics.