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Nicholas William Peter Clegg (born 7 January 1967) is a British Liberal Democrat politician who was the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdomand Lord President of the Council from 2010 to 2015 in the Cameron coalition ministry. Clegg was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015 and has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sheffield Hallam since 2005.
Clegg was educated at the University of Cambridge, the University of Minnesota, and the College of Europe, before becoming a journalist for theFinancial Times and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). In 2007 he was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats, leading his party into a coalition government with the Conservative Party in 2010. In 2015, he resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats following that year’s general election at which his party was decisively defeated and lost 49 MPs, moving from 57 MPs to eight.
Clegg is a fluent speaker of five European languages.
Early life and family
Clegg was born in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, the third of four children of Nicholas Peter Clegg, CBE, chairman of United Trust Bank and a former trustee of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation (where Ken Clarke was an adviser). Clegg descends from “Russia’s old Tsarist nobility”: his paternal grandmother, Kira von Engelhardt, Baroness von Smolensk, was a Russian noblewoman, and the granddaughter of Attorney-General of the Russian senate, Ignatiy Platonovich Zakrevsky. His English grandfather was Hugh Anthony Clegg, editor of the British Medical Journal for 35 years.
Clegg’s Dutch mother, Hermance van den Wall Bake, was interned, along with her family, by the Japanese military in Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during World War II. She met Clegg’s father during a visit to England in 1956, and they married on 1 August 1959.
Clegg is multilingual: he speaks English, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. His background has informed his politics. He says, “There is simply not a shred of racism in me, as a person whose whole family is formed by flight from persecution, from different people in different generations. It’s what I am. It’s one of the reasons I am a liberal.” His Dutch mother instilled in him “a degree of scepticism about the entrenched class configurations in British society“. He has said of languages that “The danger is that we [in the UK] can afford to be lazy about languages, because they all want to speak English – English is the most useful, the global language bar none. But I don’t think we should allow that luxury to be a sort of alibi not to learn languages.”
Clegg was educated at two independent schools: at Caldicott School in Farnham Royal in South Buckinghamshire, where he was joint Head Prefect in 1980,and later at Westminster School in Central London. As a 16-year-old exchange student in Munich, he and a friend drunkenly set fire to what he called “the leading collection of cacti in Germany”. When news of the incident was reported during his time as Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Clegg said he was “not proud” of it. He was arrested and not formally charged, but performed a kind ofcommunity service.
He spent a gap year working as a skiing instructor in Austria, before going on toCambridge University in 1986, where he studied Archaeology and Anthropology atRobinson College. He was active in the student theatre at Cambridge, acting in a play about AIDS and under directorSam Mendes. He was also captain of his college’s tennis team, and campaigned for the human rights organisationSurvival International. Clegg spent the summer of 1989 as an office junior in Postipankki bank in Helsinki.
It has been alleged that Clegg joined the Cambridge University Conservative Association between 1986 and 1987. Clegg has maintained he has “no recollection of that whatsoever”. However, Conservative MP Greg Hands has a record of CUCA members for 1986–1987, and Clegg’s name appears on the list. Hands noted that “for the avoidance of any doubt, there was only one ‘N Clegg’ at Robinson College … [he] is listed in the ‘Robinson College Record’, under ‘Freshmen 1986’. He graduated with an upper second class honours (2:1) degree in social anthropology.
After university, he was awarded a scholarship to study for a year at the University of Minnesota, where he wrote a thesis on the political philosophy of the Deep Green movement. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as an intern under Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, a progressive liberal magazine, where he fact-checked Hitchens’s articles.
Clegg next moved to Brussels, where he worked alongside Guy Spier for six months as a trainee in the G24 co-ordination unit which delivered aid to the countries of the former Soviet Union. After the internship he studied for a master’s degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, a university for European studies in Belgium, where he met his wife, Miriam González Durántez, a lawyer and the daughter of a Spanish senator. Nick Clegg is an alumnus of the “Mozart Promotion” (1991–92) of the College of Europe.
Careers outside politics
In 1993, Clegg won the Financial Times’ David Thomas Prize, in remembrance of an FT journalist killed on assignment inKuwait in 1991. Clegg was the award’s first recipient. He was later sent to Hungary, where he wrote articles about the mass privatisation of industries in the former communist bloc.
In April 1994, he took up a post at the European Commission, working in the TACIS aid programme to the former Soviet Union. For two years he was responsible for developing direct aid programmes in Central Asia and the Caucasus, worth €50 million. He was involved in negotiations with Russia on airline overflight rights, and launched a conference in Tashkentin 1993 that founded TRACECA—an international transport programme for the development of a transport corridor for Europe, the Caucasus and Asia. Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan then offered Clegg a job in his private office, as a European Union policy adviser and speech writer. As part of this role, Clegg was in charge of the EC negotiating team on Chinese and Russian accession talks to the World Trade Organisation.
Clegg has written extensively, publishing and contributing to a large number of pamphlets and books. With Dr Richard Grayson he wrote a book in 2002 about the importance of devolution in secondary education systems, based on comparative research across Europe. The final conclusions included the idea of pupil premiums so that children from poorer backgrounds receive the additional resources their educational needs require.
He wrote a controversial pamphlet for the Centre for European Reform advocating devolution and evolution of the European Union, and contributed to the 2004 Orange Book, where he offered market liberal solutions for reform of European institutions. He co-authored a pamphlet with Duncan Brack arguing for a wholesale reform of world trade rules to allow room for a greater emphasis on development, internationally binding environmental treaties, and parliamentary democracy within the WTO system.
Member of the European Parliament (1999–2004)
Clegg was selected as the lead Liberal Democrat euro-candidate for the East Midlands in 1998, and was first tipped as a politician to watch by Paddy Ashdown in 1999. On his election in 1999, he was the first Liberal parliamentarian elected in the East Midlands since Ernest Pickering was elected MP for Leicester West in 1931, and was credited with helping to significantly boost the Liberal Democrat poll rating in the region in the six months after his election. Clegg worked extensively during his time as an MEP to support the party in the region, not least in Chesterfield where Paul Holmes was elected as MP in 2001. Clegg helped persuade Conservative MEP Bill Newton Dunn to defect to the Liberal Democrats, with Newton Dunn subsequently succeeding him as MEP for the East Midlands.
As an MEP, Clegg co-founded the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, which led calls for reforms to expenses, transparency and accountability in the European Parliament. He was made Trade and Industry spokesman for theEuropean Liberal Democrat and Reform group (ELDR). In December 2000, Nick Clegg became the Parliament’s Draftsman on a complex new EU telecoms law relating to “local loop unbundling“—opening-up telephone networks across Europe to competition. Clegg decided to leave Brussels in 2002, arguing in an article in The Guardian newspaper that the battle to persuade the public of the benefits of Europe was being fought at home, not in Brussels.
In 2004 Clegg explained to the Select Committee on European Union that the aim of MEPs like himself, who had been active in the debate on the EU’s negotiating mandate, was to obtain the right to ratify any major WTO deal entered into by the European Union. The same year Clegg chaired a policy working group for the Liberal Democrats on the Third Age, which focused on the importance of ending the cliff-edge of retirement and providing greater opportunities for older people to remain active beyond retirement. The group developed initial proposals on transforming post offices to help them survive as community hubs, in particular for older people. He served on Charles Kennedy‘s policy review, “Meeting the Challenge”, and the “It’s About Freedom” working parties.
Whilst an MEP Clegg, for four years, wrote a fortnightly column for Guardian Unlimited. One particular article in 2002 accused Gordon Brown of encouraging “condescension” towards Germany. In an article, Clegg wrote that “all nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still. A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off”. The article was dusted down during the 2010 general election campaign when the Daily Mailinterpreted the article as being a “Nazi slur on Britain” and Clegg had begun to feel the full heat of the British tabloid press following his success during the first leaders’ debate.
On leaving the European Parliament, Clegg joined political lobbying firm GPlus in April 2004 as a fifth partner:
|“||It’s especially exciting to be joining GPlus at a time when Brussels is moving more and more to the centre of business concerns. With the EU taking in ten more countries and adopting a new Constitution, organisations need more than ever intelligent professional help in engaging with the EU institutions.||”|
In November 2004, then Sheffield Hallam MP Richard Allan announced his intention to stand down from parliament, Clegg was selected as the candidate for Sheffield Hallam constituency. He took up a part-time teaching position in the politics department of the University of Sheffield, combining it with ongoing EU consultancy work with GPlus. He also gave a series of seminar lectures in the international relations Department of the University of Cambridge.
Member of Parliament (2005–present)
Clegg worked closely with Allan throughout the campaign in Sheffield Hallam – including starring in a local pantomime – and won the seat in the 2005 general election with over 50% of the vote, and a majority of 8,682. This result represents one of the smallest swings away from a party in a seat where an existing MP has been succeeded by a newcomer (4.3%) – see Sheffield constituency article. Before becoming Leader of the party in 2007 he also served as treasurer and secretary of theAll-Party Parliamentary Group on National Parks, a particular interest given that his constituency includes part of the Peak District National Park.
Following his election to parliament, Clegg was promoted by leader Charles Kennedy to be the party’s spokesperson on Europe, focusing on the party’s preparations for an expected referendum on the European constitution and acting as deputy to Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Menzies Campbell. Clegg’s ability to articulate liberal values at a very practical level quickly lent him prominence, with many already seeing him as a future Liberal Democrat leader. Following the resignation of Kennedy on 7 January 2006, Clegg was touted as a possible leadership contender. He was quick to rule himself out however instead declaring his support for Menzies Campbell ahead of his former colleague in the European ParliamentChris Huhne, with Campbell going on to win the ballot.
Liberal Democrats’ Home Affairs spokesperson
After the 2006 leadership election, Clegg was promoted to be Home Affairs spokesperson, replacing Mark Oaten. In this job he spearheaded the Liberal Democrats’ defence of civil liberties, proposing a Freedom Bill to repeal what he described as “unnecessary and illiberal legislation”, campaigning against Identity Cards and the retention of innocent people’s DNA, and arguing against excessive counter-terrorism legislation. He has campaigned for prison reform, a liberal approach to immigration, and defended the Human Rights Act against ongoing attacks from across the political spectrum. In January 2007, Clegg launched the ‘We Can Cut Crime!’ campaign, “proposing real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where the Liberal Democrats are in power locally”.
Sir Menzies Campbell’s resignation
Clegg caused a degree of controversy when at the Liberal Democrat party conference in 2007 he admitted his leadership ambitions to journalists at a fringe event. The admission followed a period of increased media speculation about SirMenzies Campbell‘s leadership, which the admission by Clegg did nothing to reduce and resulted in a rebuke by some of his frontbench colleagues. This followed a report from the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Macguire that Clegg had failed to hide his disloyalty to Campbell’s leadership. Eventually on 15 October 2007 Campbell resigned saying that questions about his leadership were “getting in the way of further progress by the party”.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats (2007–2015)
Election to the leadership
After the resignation of Campbell, Clegg was regarded by much of the media as front-runner in the leadership election. The BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson stated the election would be a two-horse race between Clegg and Chris Huhne who had stood against Campbell in the 2006 election. On Friday 19 October 2007, Clegg launched his bid to become leader of the Liberal Democrats. Clegg and Huhne clashed in the campaign over Trident but were largely in agreement on many other issues. It was announced on 18 December that he had won. Clegg was appointed to the Privy Council on 30 January 2008 and affirmed his membership on 12 March 2008.
In his acceptance speech upon winning the leadership contest, Clegg declared himself to be “a liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing” and that he believes “Britain [is] a place of tolerance and pluralism“. He has stated that he feels “a profound antagonism for prejudice of all sorts”. He declared his priorities as: defending civil liberties; devolving the running of public services to parents, pupils and patients; and protecting the environment.
In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live on the morning after his election to the leadership, Clegg stated that he does not believe in God, but that he has “an immense amount of respect for people of faith“. In 2010, Clegg elaborated on this question, stating: “I was asked a question once in one of those questions where you’re only allowed to answer “yes” or “no”, and I was asked “Do you believe in God?” As it happens I don’t know whether God exists. I’m much more of an agnostic.”
He resigned as the leader of the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 general elections. He says he always expected it to be difficult but it is “immeasurably more crushing and unkind than he feared”. As a result, he is resigning and a leadership election will take place.
GQ magazine interview controversy
In March 2008, GQ magazine ran with an interview conducted by Piers Morgan in which Clegg admitted to sleeping with “no more than 30” women. Senior Lib Dem MPs defended his comments; Lembit Öpik said it showed “you can be a human being and a party Leader”, and Norman Lamb that “Nick tries to be absolutely straight in everything that he does, and that might sometimes get him into trouble but he will build a reputation for being honest and straightforward.” Speaking to the BBC about the interview Clegg said “wisdom with hindsight is an easy thing” as what had been a split second response had been “taken out of context, interpreted, over interpreted and so on”.
Relationships with the frontbench
Upon his election Clegg appointed leadership rival Huhne as his replacement as Home Affairs spokesperson and following his strong performances as acting party leader, Vince Cable was retained as the main Treasury spokesperson. Media commentators noted that the Clegg-Huhne-Cable triumvirate provided the Liberal Democrats with an effective political team for the coming years. On 5 March 2008, Clegg suffered a real test following the resignation of three of his front bench team. David Heath, Alistair Carmichael and Tim Farron had been told to abstain in the vote for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but had wanted to vote in favour and so defied the whip. In addition to the three frontbenchers, a further 12 more backbench LibDem MPs also defied the whip and voted “yes”. Clegg said “though we have disagreed on this issue I fully understand and respect their strongly held views on the subject…. However, as they have recognised, the shadow cabinet cannot operate effectively unless the principle of collective responsibility is maintained.”
The resignations happened not long after the Commons Speaker Michael Martin on 26 February 2008 had blocked calls by the Liberal Democrats for an “in or out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership. The Speaker’s authority was called into question when, led by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats marched out of the House of Commons, calling the Speaker’s decision a constitutional “outrage”. Just moments before, frontbench foreign affairs spokesman for the party Ed Davey had been expelled from the chamber by the Speaker’s deputy Sir Michael Lord for further challenging the ruling.
In November 2008, Clegg suffered more allegations of difficulties with the front bench following an article in the Daily Mirrorwhich reported that Clegg had criticised senior members of his front bench whilst on a plane journey. He told the BBC’s Politics Show that “a lot of it is, frankly, fiction”.
“I believe every single person is extraordinary. The tragedy is that we have a society where too many people never get to fulfil that extraordinary potential. My view – the liberal view – is that government’s job is to help them to do it. Not to tell people how to live their lives. But to make their choices possible, to release their potential, no matter who they are. The way to do that is to take power away from those who hoard it. To challenge vested interests. To break down privilege. To clear out the bottlenecks in our society that block opportunity and block progress. And so give everyone a chance to live the life they want.”
Liberal Democrat Manifesto Launch, 14 April 2010
Attitudes to other parties
In the Commons Clegg initially concentrated most of his fire on Labour and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but in the autumn of 2009 began also focusing on Cameron and the Conservatives. Clegg rejected an appeal from Cameron for their two parties to work together. Clegg argued that the Conservatives were totally different from his party, and that the Lib Dems were the true “progressives” in UK politics. At the 2009 party conference in Bournemouth he accused the Conservatives of “simply believing it is their turn” and claimed that come the election the “choice before people is the choice between fake, phoney change from David Cameron’s Conservatives, and real change the Liberal Democrats offer”.
Clegg became the first party leader in modern political history to call for a Speakerto resign following his handling of the expenses scandal, describing Michael Martin, the Speaker at the time, as a defender of the status quo and obstacle to the reform of Parliament.
In response to revelations about MPs’ expenses, Clegg set out his plans for reform of Parliament in The Guardian. Speaking about the plans, he said: “let us bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their summer holidays until this crisis has been sorted out, and every nook and cranny of our political system has been reformed.” He argued for the “reinvention of British politics” within 100 days, calling for a commitment to accept the Kelly expenses report in full; the power to recallmembers suspended for misconduct; House of Lords reform; reform of party funding; fixed-term parliaments; enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+; and changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power.
Shortly ahead of the election, Clegg was asked about his own expenses by Andrew Neil of the BBC. Clegg allegedly claimed the full amount permissible under the Additional Cost Allowance, including claims for food, gardening and redecorating his second home. The Telegraph also said Clegg claimed £80 for international call charges, a claim he said he would repay.
Clegg has aimed to modernise the Liberal Democrat Party at the same time as maintaining its traditions of political and philosophical Liberalism. In 2011, he told a party conference that the Liberal Democrats were radical centrist in orientation:
Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre.
Since becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats, Clegg has called for more choice for patients on waiting lists in theNational Health Service (NHS), giving them the option to go private and to be funded by the NHS if they wish; a substantial tax cut to “put more money back into the pockets of people”, better action on the environment, the abandonment of Britain’s Trident missile-defence system, fixed-term parliaments; devolving more power to local councils; giving constituents the power to force a by-election if their MP was found responsible for serious wrongdoing; and a slimming of government across the board. Clegg campaigned to cut spending on defence projects such as Eurofighter as well as the UK Trident programme. As regards public spending, at the party’s 2009 conference in Bournemouth Clegg argued for “savage” spending cuts and said politicians need to treat voters “like grown ups” whilst accusing the Labour and Conservative parties of indulging in “childish games” over the “c-word”.
On 29 April 2009 the Liberal Democrats proposed in the House of Commons to offer all Gurkhas an equal right of residence; the motion resulted in a defeat for the Government by 267 votes to 246. It was the only first day motion defeat for a government since 1978. On speaking about the result Clegg said “this is an immense victory […] for the rights of Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for justice, a victory for Parliament, a victory for decency”. He added that it was “the kind of thing people want this country to do”.
On 21 May 2009 the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years service could settle in the UK. The actress and daughter of Gurkha corps Major James Lumley, Joanna Lumley, who had highlighted the treatment of the Gurkhas and campaigned for their rights, commented: “This is the welcome we have always longed to give”.
Deputy Prime Minister (2010–2015)
Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Lord President of the Council on 11 May 2010 through a coalition with the Conservative Party under Prime Minister David Cameron.He has also been made Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform, which was a key point for the Liberal Democrats during the creation of the coalition.
The Coalition Agreement
The morning after the 2010 general election presented the country with no one political party able to form a government that would command a majority in the House of Commons. In light of this reality the Conservative leader Cameron went public and gave a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Lib Dem leader and said that he wanted to open up negotiations with the Liberal Democrats to form Britain’s first coalition government since the second world war. Replying Clegg said that he had always maintained that the party with the most seats and the most votes should have the right to seek to govern. Speaking to the press he said: “It seems this morning that it is the Conservative Party which has more votes and more seats – although not an absolute majority – which is why I now think that it is the Conservative Party which should seek to govern in the national interest.”
Following the announcement, teams of negotiators from both parties formulated what would become the Coalition Agreement which would form the basis of their partnership together. Gordon Brown’s resignation on 11 May 2010 meant that Cameron was invited by the Queen to form a government and a coalition with the Liberal Democrats was agreed with Nick Clegg as the Deputy Prime Minister.
Plans for electoral reform
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
On 5 July 2010, Clegg unveiled plans to have fewer MPs and to hold a referendum on the voting system so that the next general election would be contested under the Alternative Vote system. In a statement, he said UK democracy was “fractured”, with some votes counting more than others. As part of the statement he also changed initial plans requiring the number of MPs needed to vote to dissolve Parliament from 55% to 66%. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was presented to parliament on 22 July 2010 for its first reading which if successful would see the date of the referendum on changing the voting system from the current ‘first past the post’ system to the Alternative Vote (AV) system set for 5 May 2011.
The bill also introduced plans to reduce the number of MP’s in the House of Commons from 650 to 600 something which the Labour party attacked as gerrymandering as to do this there would need to be boundary changes. Clegg told MPs: “Together, these proposals help correct the deep unfairness in the way we hold elections in this country. Under the current set-up, votes count more in some parts of the country than others, and millions feel that their votes don’t count at all. Elections are won and lost in a small minority of seats. We have a fractured democracy, where some people’s votes count and other people’s votes don’t count.” On 22 July 2010 the question for the referendum on AV was published asking voters if they wish to “adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system” for electing MPs”. The question required a yes or no answer. The Act received Royal Assent on 16 February 2011. The result of thereferendum was that the alternative vote proposal was defeated by a margin of 2:1.
Fixed-term Parliaments Bill
Clegg also confirmed that the government planned to introduce legislation for five-year fixed-term parliaments, with elections to be held on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election, starting with 7 May 2015. The corresponding bill was presented to parliament on 22 July 2010 and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.
Prime Minister’s Questions
On 21 July 2010, Clegg became the first Liberal Democrat leader to answer forPrime minister’s questions. He courted controversy during the exchange when at the despatch box he attacked the shadow justice secretary Jack Straw for the decision to invade Iraq saying “perhaps one day you could account for your role in the most disastrous decision of all, which is the illegal invasion of Iraq.” Despite having long held views about the issue, the comment was controversial, as it did not reflect the policy of the government which was that the legality of the war in Iraq was currently being studied by the Iraq inquiry.
Clegg next stepped in for Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 September 2010 following the news that Cameron’s father had taken very ill. Standing in for the Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, Jack Straw challenged Clegg on the allegations of phone hacking against Downing Street’s director of communications Andy Coulson. Responding, Clegg claimed that the allegations dating from Coulson’s time at the News of the World were a matter for the police to investigate. On 10 November 2010, as Cameron was making a trade visit to China, Clegg deputised for the third time, meeting Harman across the despatch box. On a day that coincided with violent student protests against tuition fees in London, the Labour deputy leader chose the same subject to quiz Clegg, accusing him of a U-turn on pledges made before the election. Responding, Clegg accused Harman of trying to re-position the Labour Party as the party of students when the party had previously campaigned against fees only to end up introducing them.
The issue of student financing had been considered one of the flagship policies of the Liberal Democrats with all of the party’s MPs, including Nick Clegg, signing the Vote for Students pledge to oppose any increase in student tuition fees prior to the 2010 general election. As part of the coalition agreement the Lib Dems abandoned their pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees but gained permission to abstain on any vote relating to the increase of tuition fees. The Browne Review recommended that the present cap on student fees be lifted, potentially paving the way for universities to charge much higher fees in the future.
Clegg wrote to his MPs saying that he had “struggled endlessly” with the issue and said that departing from the pledge he had made prior to the election would be “one of the most difficult decisions of my political career”. Defending recommendations of the review Clegg said that poorer students would pay less since the income level at which students needed to earn before beginning to pay off their student loan would rise from £15,000 to £21,000.
During an interview on 24 October 2010 with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Clegg said that he “regretted” not being able to keep his pre-election policy to scrap tuition fees but claimed that this was a result of the financial situation the country had found itself in.
On 14 October 2010, Clegg delivered a speech at a school in Chesterfield, at which he announced the government’s intention to spend £7 billion on a ‘fairness premium’ designed to see extra support going to the poorest pupils over the course of the parliament. Clegg claimed that the funds for the scheme would be “additional” to the current education budget and this view was backed up by a Number 10 aide who when interviewed by The Guardian said “the money for this will come from outside the education budget. We’re not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall.” The package announced would provide 15 hours a week free nursery education for the poorest two-year-olds and a ‘pupil premium’ which would be given to schools to help those pupils eligible for free school meals worth £2.5 billion a year.
The announcement by Clegg ensured that two elements of the government’s Coalition Agreement had been fulfilled, that of the promise to support free nursery care to pre-school children and that of funding a ‘significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere’. For Clegg the announcement was an important one politically coming two days after the publication of the Browne Review into the future of university funding which signalled the reversal of the long cherished Liberal Democrat policy of opposing any increase in tuition fees. The pupil premium announcement was important as it formed one of the four key ‘priorities’ on which the party had fought the last election. On 20 October 2010, the plans for the ‘fairness premium’ were introduced by the Treasury as part of the spending review which said that the money would be introduced over the period of the review which “will support the poorest in the early years and at every stage of their education”.
In June 2011, Clegg proposed that more than 46 million people would be handed shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group under the “people’s bank” plan. The plan proposes that ordinary voters would be able to profit from any increase in the value of their shares once the Treasury has recouped taxpayers’ money used for the bail-out – an offer that could eventually be worth up to £1,000 to householders. Clegg said that it was “psychologically immensely important” for people to be given a stake in the banks in the wake of the financial crisis. “Their money has been used to the tune of billions and billions and billions to keep the British banking system on a life-support system,” he said. The taxpayer owns 84 per cent of RBS and 43 per cent of Lloyds after the Government spent £65.8 billion buying shares at the height of the financial crisis. The share price of both banks has fallen sharply since the bail-out.
Aides close to Cameron and George Osborne warned that the Liberal Democrat scheme could cost £250 million to establish and would prove an “administrative nightmare”. However Stephen Williams said “We are absolutely convinced it (standard privatisation) would not be cheaper, we are absolutely convinced of that.” A Downing Street spokesman said that the Liberal Democrat plan was “an option”. “The Treasury has said it is going to look at all the options and this will be one of those options,” the spokesman said. “We will be driven by making sure that we deliver the best value for the taxpayer.” The Treasury also played down the likelihood of the proposal becoming reality. A source said Mr Osborne was “happy to listen to ideas” but the “issue doesn’t currently arise”.
House of Lords reform
In August 2012, after reform of the House of Lords was abandoned, Clegg said the Conservatives have defied the Coalition agreement by trying to “pick and choose” which items of Government policy they support. The row marks one of the most serious crises for the Coalition since the 2010 general election. Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said he was “very disappointed”, describing the decision as a “great shame”. Clegg said that favoured by the Conservatives to make sure the Coalition is a fair and equal partnership. “My party has held to that [Coalition] contract even when it meant voting for things that we found difficult,” he said. “But the Conservative party is not honouring the commitment to Lords reform and, as a result, part of our contract has now been broken.” Clegg also revealed the Conservatives rejected his suggestion of a “last ditch” compromise to save both policies. “Clearly I cannot permit a situation where Conservative rebels can pick and choose the parts of the contract they like, while Liberal Democrat MPs are bound to the entire agreement,” he said.
In September 2012, Clegg formally announced that he was “regrettably” withdrawing proposals to reform the Lords in the face of overwhelming opposition from Conservative MPs. He signalled he would exact his revenge by refusing to sack any Liberal Democrat minister who voted against changes to MPs’ boundaries – which is Government policy – in retaliation over the Lords reform débâcle. Traditionally party leaders are offered peerages when they leave the House of Commons. When asked by Labour MP Dennis Skinner if he would take a seat in the Lords, he said: “No”, adding: “I personally will not take a seat in an unreformed House of Lords. It just sticks in the throat.”
Cash for honours
In 2011, Clegg spoke out against the practice of parties putting forwards nominees for royal honours in return for campaign contributions.
Cyril Smith child abuse allegations
In April 2014, Clegg refused to hold an inquiry into what he called the “repugnant” actions of former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith. Greater Manchester Police have stated that Smith, who died in 2010, abused young boys. Clegg said: “My party, the Liberal Democrats, did not know about these actions.” Clegg stated that the child abuse allegations were a matter for the police.
Calls for resignation
Following poor results in the 2014 local elections, two parliamentary candidates suggested Clegg should resign. Party activists launched an online petition urging him to quit. MP John Pugh argued: “We have just lost 72% of the council seats we were defending and 91% of the Euro seats. The vast majority of the UK this morning is without Lib Dem representation at any level. If that does not prompt a serious, sharp review focussed view both of strategy and leadership, then whatever will!” These calls were dismissed by senior party members and former leader Paddy Ashdown. The party went from 57 seats to 8 in the 2015 General election. Clegg resigned later that day.
Electoral performance and standing in the polls
Standing in the polls
After Clegg became leader, the polls were mixed; the Liberal Democrats occasionally polled above 20 points, averaging around 19%. In May 2009, the party overtook Labour in an opinion poll (25%–22%) for the first time since the days of its predecessor, the SDP–Liberal Alliance, in 1987. Clegg thus became the first Liberal Democrat leader to out-poll Labour in an opinion poll. After Clegg’s performance in the first of three general election debates on 15 April 2010, there was an unprecedented surge of media attention and support for the Liberal Democrats in opinion polls. ComRes reported the Liberal Democrats at 24% on the day, and on 20 April in a YouGov poll, the Liberal Democrats were on 34%, one point above the Conservatives, with Labour in third place on 28%. This success was described as “Cleggmania” by journalists.
Following the formation of the coalition, support for the Liberal Democrats has fallen. On 8 December 2010, the eve of a House of Commons vote on changes in the funding of higher education, an opinion poll conducted by YouGov recorded voting intention figures of Conservatives 41%, Labour 41%, other parties 11% and Liberal Democrats 8%, the lowest level of support recorded for the Liberal Democrats in any opinion poll since September 1990.
Parliamentary by-elections (2008 to 2010)
Five parliamentary by-elections were held during Clegg’s leadership prior to the 2010 general election. At Crewe and Nantwich the party’s share of the vote decreased by 4%. In the subsequent Henley by-election the party achieved a 1.8% increase in their vote. At the Norwich North by-election the party came third with a 2.2% fall in their vote share. The two Scottish by-elections, Glenrothes and Glasgow East, saw decreases in the Liberal Democrat vote, 8% and 10% respectively.
2008 and 2009 local elections
The local election results for the Liberal Democrats during the same period have been mixed. In the 2008 local electionsthe Liberal Democrats took second place with 25% of the vote making a net gain of 34 councillors and took control ofSheffield City Council, but their share of the vote was down 1%. The next year the Liberal Democrats gained Bristol but lost both Somerset and Devon producing a net loss of councils and a net loss of one councillor. The party however did increase its share of the vote by 3% to 28% beating the Labour Party into third place. In the European Parliament electionsheld on the same day, the Liberal Democrats gained a seat but had a slight decrease in their share of the vote, staying in 4th place compared to the previous European elections, behind the two main parties and UKIP.
2008 London elections
In the 2008 London Assembly elections the Liberal Democrats were the only one of the three main parties to see a decrease in their share of the vote, and in the mayoral election the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick came third again with a decreased share of the vote.
2010 general election
At the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote, an improvement of 1%, however they only won 57 seats, 5 fewer than in 2005. No political party had an overall majority, resulting in the nation’s first hung parliament sinceFebruary 1974. Talks between Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, and Clegg led to an agreed Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, enabling the Queen to invite Cameron to form a government.
Parliamentary by-elections (2010 onwards)
Since the 2010 general election, Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have contested 13 by-elections in Great Britain (as of 2 March 2013). The party scored their first by-election win of Clegg’s leadership at Eastleigh in 2013, with Mike Thornton holding the seat for the Liberal Democrats, despite a 19% swing away from the party. Clegg described the result as an election in which Liberal Democrats “overcame the odds with a stunning victory.”
Earlier by-elections in the parliament had proven less successful. They failed to win Oldham East and Saddleworth in January 2011, after they had successfully petitioned to overturn the general election result. They polled 32% of the vote, a small increase on 2010, but lost out to Labour whose vote was up by 10 percentage points. The Liberal Democrats also came second at Leicester South (which they had held between 2004 and 2005) in May 2011 with 23% (down 4% on 2010), and at Manchester Central in November 2012 where they polled 9% (down 17%).
In the remaining nine contests, Liberal Democrats have finished no higher than third place (and in Rotherham finished in an unprecedented 8th position, with just 451 votes, or 2% of the total). In every by-election except Oldham East and Saddleworth their vote has fallen, with decreases of over 10% recorded at eight of the contests. In six of the 13 by-elections, the party have lost their deposit after failing to poll 5% of the vote – an unusually high number of such lost deposits for a major party.
2011 local, Scottish and Welsh elections
A year following the formation of the Coalition Clegg’s Liberal Democrats faced poor results in the local elections. InScotland the party lost all its mainland constituency seats, holding only the Shetland and Orkney islands. Their constituency vote share also fell from 16% to just 8% In the Welsh elections the party held just one of its 3 constituency seats, that of Welsh leader Kirsty Williams, but gained a regional seat. In the 2011 local elections, the Lib Dems lost over 700 councillors, and slumped from 25% to 17% in the share of the local council vote, also losing control of Sheffield City Council with the LibDems dropping to the lowest number of councillors in more than 20 years.
In the AV referendum, the Yes vote, supported by the Liberal Democrats, was defeated by 67.9% to 32.1%. In the face of the election results, Clegg told the BBC that Liberal Democrats must “get up, dust ourselves down and move on”.
2012 local and London elections
Local elections were held in May 2012 to 185 local authorities in Great Britain, including all 32 councils in Scotland and 21 out of 22 in Wales.
Results again proved poor for the Liberal Democrats, as they won 431 seats in total, a loss of over 300 on the pre-election position. They also lost overall control of one council (Cambridge, though the Liberal Democrats hold 21 out of 42 seats, so they exercise control with the mayor’s casting vote). They retained control of the other six councils they were defending in England. Despite the losses, the Liberal Democrat vote share saw a modest increase compared to 2011.
In London, elections were held to the London Assembly and Mayoralty. The Liberal Democrats again selected Brian Paddick as their Mayoral candidate. He polled just 4% of the vote (down from 10% in 2008), and finished fourth behind theGreen Party. In the Assembly, the Liberal Democrats also finished behind the Greens across London, and failed to win any of the individual constituency seats. They polled 7% of the vote on the London-wide list (which elects “top-up” candidates to the assembly under a form of proportional representation), which represented a decline of 5% on the previous contest. This meant that the party lost one seat, and was reduced to just two assembly seats, their smallest representation since the formation of the assembly in 2000.
In the aftermath of the results, Clegg again faced calls to quit as leader, with former MP Lembit Öpik suggesting that Clegg retain his Cabinet position while relinquishing leadership of the party, saying “My empirical view is that we would have done better with a different leader”.
2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections
As part of the Coalition Agreement, directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners were introduced to replace Police Authorities. Elections to the new posts took place in November 2012. Liberal Democrats contested 24 of the 41 police force areas, and failed to win any of the contests (and in fact never progressed to the second round of the two-stage count in any of the elections they fought). Their best performance was in Cumbria, where they polled 22%, while their worst was Surrey where the took just 6% of the vote.
Despite not winning any contests under their official party label, one Liberal Democrat, Winston Roddick was elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales having stood as an Independent. Roddick claimed that he had never hidden his party membership and that his campaign was “financed by himself with no donations or backing from any political party and he was an independent candidate in every sense of the word”. His campaign also dismissed as “sour grapes” claims from the Labour Party that “the only way in which the Lib Dems thought they could win the election was by presenting themselves as independent.”
2015 general election
In the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats were reduced from 57 seats to 8. Clegg held his Sheffield Hallam seat with a reduced majority, contrary to polling that said he was vulnerable to Labour, but resigned the leadership the day after.
Broadcasting and media
Since January 2013 Clegg has presented a weekly radio show on LBC called Call Clegg. Initially broadcast in the London area, the programme went national along with LBC in February 2014. The programme was nominated for twoRadio Academy Awards in 2014.
A party political broadcast in which Clegg apologised for the Liberal Democrats breaking the promise over tuition fees was remixed into a song, “Nick Clegg Says I’m Sorry” by The Poke and Alex Ross, and sold on iTunes as a charity single. The song charted on 23 September 2012 at number 143 in the Official UK Singles Charts before climbing to 104 the following week. In his 2010 production Dandelion Mind, comedian Bill Bailey sang “Nick Clegg you don’t have to wear that dress tonight, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the right” to the tune of “Roxanne“.
In September 2000, Clegg married Miriam González Durántez, from Valladolid, Spain. They have three sons. While Clegg has stated that he does not believe in God, his wife is a Roman Catholic and they are bringing up their children as Catholics. On 16 September 2010, during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom, Clegg attended the State reception in the grounds of Holyrood Palace and was introduced to the Pope by Her Majesty the Queen. Clegg identifies as a feminist.
Clegg lives in Parkfields, Putney, south west London. He also has a house in his constituency close to the Peak District and often walks with his wife near Stanage Edge, which he describes as “one of the most romantic places in the world”. In May 2010 Downing Street announced that Clegg and the Foreign Secretary William Hague would share use of Chevening, which is typically the official country residence of the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.
When he appeared on Desert Island Discs in October 2010, his choice of discs included Johnny Cash, Prince andRadiohead and his luxury was a “stash of cigarettes”. In an interview in April 2011, Clegg stated he dealt with the pressures of political office by reading novels late at night and he “cries regularly to music”. He supports Arsenal F.C.
Styles of address
- 1967–1999: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg
- 1999–2004: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg MEP
- 2004–2005: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg
- 2005–2008: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg MP
- 2008–present: The Rt Hon Nicholas William Peter Clegg MP
|Leader||Tim Farron MP|
|President||The Baroness Brinton|
|Lords Leader||The Lord Wallace of Tankerness|
|Founded||9 June 1859 (Liberal)
26 March 1981 (SDP)
3 March 1988 
|Merger of||Liberal Party
Social Democratic Party
|Headquarters||8–10 Great George Street,
London, SW1P 3AE
|Youth wing||Liberal Youth|
|Membership (29 June 2016)||70,000|
|European affiliation||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
|International affiliation||Liberal International|
|European Parliament group||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
|Colours||Amber (Yellow/Orange )|
|House of Commons||
8 / 650
|House of Lords||
108 / 800
1 / 73
1 / 25
5 / 129
1 / 60
1,800 / 20,252
2 / 17
The Liberal Democrats (often referred to as the Lib Dems) are a political party in the United Kingdom with representation in England, Wales andScotland. The party was formed in 1988 from a merger of the Liberal Partyand the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which had formed the SDP–Liberal Alliance for the previous seven years.
From their first general election in 1992 until the election of 2015, the Liberal Democrats were the third party in the House of Commons winning between 46 and 62 MPs. At the 2010 general election, under the leadership of Nick Cleggwho had been elected leader in 2007, the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats, again making them the third-largest party in the House of Commons behind the Conservatives with 307 and Labour with 258. However, with no party having an overall majority, the Liberal Democrats agreed to join a coalition government with the Conservative Party with Clegg becoming Deputy Prime Minister and other Liberal Democrats taking up ministerial positions.
At the 2015 general election, the party was reduced to only eight MPs, being replaced as third party by the Scottish National Party which had 56 MPs elected. Nick Clegg resigned as leader and Tim Farron won the subsequent leadership election.
The Liberal Democrats were formed on 3 March 1988 by a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had formed a pact nearly seven years earlier as the SDP–Liberal Alliance. The Liberal Party, founded in 1859, were descended from the Whigs, Radicals and Peelites, while the SDP were a party created in 1982 by formerLabour members, MPs and cabinet ministers, but also gained defections from Conservatives.
Having declined to third party status after the rise of the Labour Party from 1918 and especially during the 1920s, the Liberals were challenged for this position in the 1980s when a group of Labour MPs broke away and established the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP and the Liberals realised that there was no space for two political parties of the centre and entered into the SDP–Liberal Alliance so that they would not stand against each other in elections. The Alliance was led by David Steel (Liberal) and Roy Jenkins (SDP); Jenkins was replaced byDavid Owen. The two parties had their own policies and emphases, but produced a joint manifesto for the 1983 and1987 general elections.
Following disappointing results in the 1987 election, Steel proposed to merge the two parties. Although opposed by Owen, it was supported by a majority of members of both parties, and they formally merged in March 1988, with Steel and Robert Maclennan (who had become SDP leader in August 1987) as joint interim leaders. The new party was initially namedSocial and Liberal Democrats (SLD) with the unofficial short form The Democrats being used from September 1988.The name was subsequently changed to Liberal Democrats in October 1989, which is frequently shortened to Lib Dems. The new party logo, the Bird of Liberty, was adopted in 1989.
The minority of the SDP who rejected the merger remained under Owen’s leadership in a rump SDP; the minority of the Liberal Party divided, with some retiring from politics immediately and others (led by former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft) creating a new ‘Liberal Party’ that claimed to be the continuation of the Liberal Party which had just dissolved itself. Michael Meadowcroft eventually joined the Liberal Democrats in 2007 but some of his former followers continue still as the Liberal Party, most notably in a couple of electoral wards of the City of Liverpool.
The then-serving Liberal MP Paddy Ashdown was elected leader in July 1988. At the 1989 European Elections, the party received only 6% of the vote, putting them in fourth place after the Green Party. They failed to gain a single Member of the European Parliament at this election.
Over the next three years, the party recovered under Ashdown’s leadership. They performed better at the 1990 local elections and in by-elections—including atEastbourne in 1990, Ribble Valley in 1991 and Kincardine & Deeside in 1991.
The Lib Dems did not reach the share of national votes in the 1990s that the Alliance had achieved in the 1980s. At their first election in 1992 (which ended in a fourth successive Conservative win), they won 17.8% of the vote and twenty seats.
Following the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader in July 1994 after the death of his predecessor John Smith, Ashdown pursued co-operation between the two parties because he wanted to form a coalition government should the next general election end without any party having an overall majority. This Lib-Lab pact failed to form because Labour’s massive majority after the 1997 general election made it an irrelevance for Labour, and because Labour were not prepared to consider the introduction of proportional representation and other Lib Dem conditions. The election was, however, something of a turning point for the Liberal Democrats. They took a smaller share of the vote than at the previous election, but they managed to more than double their representation in parliament, winning 46 seats, through tactical votingand concentrating resources in winnable seats.
Ashdown retired as leader in 1999 and the party elected Charles Kennedy as his replacement. The party improved on their 1997 results at the 2001 general election, increasing their number of seats to 52 and their share of the vote to 18.3%. Liberal Democrat candidates won support from former Labour and Conservative voters due to the Lib Dems’ position on issues that appealed to those on the left and the right: opposition to the war in Iraq and support for civil liberties, electoral reform, and open government. Charles Kennedy expressed his goal to replace the Conservatives as the official opposition; The Spectatorawarded him the ‘Parliamentarian of the Year’ award in November 2004 for his position on the war. The party won seats from Labour in by-elections in Brent East in 2003 and Leicester South in 2004, and narrowly missed taking others inBirmingham Hodge Hill and Hartlepool.
At the 2005 general election, the Lib Dems gained their highest share of the vote since the SDP–Liberal Alliance (22%) and won 62 seats. Many had anticipated that this election would be the Lib Dem’s breakthrough at Westminster; party activists hoped to better the 25% support of the 1983 election, or to reach 100 MPs. Much of the apparent lack of success resulted from the first-past-the-post electoral system: the party got 22% of the votes nationally but only 10% of the seats in the Commons. Controversy became associated with the campaign when it became known that Michael Brownhad donated £2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats. Brown, who lived in Majorca, Spain at the time, was charged in June 2008 with fraud and money laundering and subsequently jumped bail and fled the country. In November 2008 he was convicted in his absence of thefts amounting to £36 million and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
The 2005 election figures revealed a trend of the Lib Dems replacing the Conservatives as Labour’s main opponents in urban areas. Many gains came in previously Labour-held urban constituencies (e.g., Manchester Withington, Cardiff Central, Birmingham Yardley), many of which the Conservatives had held in the 1980s, and Lib Dem aspirants had over 100 second-place finishes behind Labour candidates. The British electoral system makes it hard for the Conservatives to form a government without winning some city seats outside of its rural heartlands, such as the Lib Dem Bristol Westconstituency, where the Conservatives came third in 2005 after holding the seat until 1997.
In a statement on 5 January 2006, Charles Kennedy admitted to a long battle with alcoholism and announced a leadership election in which he intended to stand for re-election, while Sir Menzies Campbell took over as acting leader.
For several years rumours had alleged that Kennedy had problems with alcohol—the BBC‘s Nick Robinson called it “Westminster’s worst-kept secret”. Kennedy had on previous occasions denied these rumours, and some suggested that he had deliberately misled the public and his party.
Kennedy had planned to stand as a candidate, but he withdrew from the election citing a lack of support among Lib Dem MPs. Sir Menzies Campbell subsequently won the contest, defeating Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes, among others, in a very controversial race. Mark Oaten withdrew from the contest because of revelations about visits to male prostitutes. Simon Hughes came under attack regarding his sexuality while Chris Huhnewas accused live on The Daily Politics of attempting to rig polls.
Despite the negative press over Kennedy’s departure, the leaderless party won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election over Labour in February 2006. This result was viewed as a particular blow for Gordon Brown, who lives in the constituency, represents the adjacent seat and featured in Labour’s campaign. The party also came second place by 633 votes in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, threatening the safe Conservative seat and pushing Labour into fourth place behind the UK Independence Party. In July 2007, Sir Menzies announced that the party wished to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 16p per pound—the lowest rate since 1916—and wanted to finance the cut using green taxes and other revenues, including making gains from UK properties owned by non-UK residents eligible for capital gains tax.
Opinion poll trends during Campbell’s leadership showed support for the Lib Dems decline to less than 20%. Campbell resigned on 15 October 2007, and Vince Cable became acting leader until a leadership election could be held. Cable was praised during his tenure for his performances at Prime minister’s questions over the Northern Rock crisis, HMRC‘sloss of child benefit data, and the 2007 Labour party donation scandal.
On 18 December 2007, Nick Clegg won the leadership election, becoming the party’s fourth leader. Clegg won the leadership with a majority of 511 votes (1.2%) over his opponent Chris Huhne, in a poll of party members. Clegg is the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam, and was an MEP for the East Midlands from 1999 to 2004.
In his acceptance speech, Clegg declared that he was “a liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing” and that he believes “Britain [is] a place of tolerance and pluralism”. He claimed that his priorities were defending civil liberties; devolving the running of public services to parents, pupils and patients; and protecting the environment, and that he wanted to forge a “liberal alternative to the discredited policies of big government”. He also proposed a target to double the number of Lib Dem MPs within two elections, and before the 2008 local elections confirmed that he was pleased with their performance in the polls.
Shortly after election, Clegg reshuffled the party’s frontbench team, making Chris Huhne the replacement Home Affairs spokesperson, Ed Davey the Foreign Affairs spokesperson, and keeping Vince Cable as Shadow Chancellor. His predecessors were also given roles: Campbell joined the all-party Commons foreign affairs select committee, and Kennedy campaigned nationwide on European issues, as president of the European Movement UK.
Clegg became deputy prime minister to David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, in a 2010 coalition agreementthat placed a centre-right government at the helm of the United Kingdom. Political commentators identified Clegg’s leadership as promoting a shift to the radical centre in the Liberal Democrats, bringing more emphasis to the economically liberal side of social liberalism.
In coalition government (2010–15)
After the first of three general election debates on 15 April 2010, a ComRes poll put the Liberal Democrats on 24%. On 20 April, a YouGov poll put the Liberal Democrats on 34%, the Conservatives on 33% and Labour on 28%.
In the general election held on 6 May 2010, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote and 57 seats in the House of Commons. The election returned a hung parliament with no party having an absolute majority. Negotiations between the Lib Dems and the two main parties occurred in the following days. David Cameron became Prime Minister on 11 May afterGordon Brown‘s resignation and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with the Conservative Party, with Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister and other Liberal Democrats in the cabinet. Three quarters of the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto pledges went into the Programme for Government.
After joining the coalition poll ratings for the party fell, particularly following the government’s support for raising the cap on tuition fees with Liberal Democrat MPs voting 27 for, 21 against and 8 abstaining. Shortly after the 2015 General Election, Liberal Democrat leadership contender Norman Lamb conceded that Clegg’s broken pledge on university tuition had cost the party dear.
On 8 December 2010, the eve of a vote on the raising of the cap on tuition fees in the United Kingdom to £9,000, an opinion poll conducted by YouGov recorded voting intention figures of Conservatives 41%, Labour 41%, Other Parties 11% and Liberal Democrats 8%. the lowest level of support recorded for the Liberal Democrats in any opinion poll since September 1990. In the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, 2011 held on 13 January 2011, the Liberal Democrats gained 31.9% of the vote, a 0.3% increase despite losing to Labour. In a by-election in the South Yorkshire constituency of Barnsley in March 2011, the Liberal Democrats fell from second place at the general election to sixth.
In council elections held on 5 May 2011, the Liberal Democrats suffered heavy defeats in the Midlands, North and Scotland. They also lost heavily in the Welsh assembly and Scottish Parliament, where several candidates lost their deposits.According to The Guardian, “they lost control of Sheffield council – the city of Clegg’s constituency – were ousted from Liverpool, Hull and Stockport, and lost every Manchester seat they stood in. Overall, they got their lowest share of the vote in three decades”.
As part of the deal that formed the coalition, it was agreed to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote, in which the Conservatives would campaign for First Past the Post and the Liberal Democrats for Alternative Vote. The referendum, held on 5 May 2011, resulted in First Past the Post being chosen over Alternative Vote by approximately two-thirds of voters.
In May 2011, Nick Clegg revealed plans to make the House of Lords a mainly elected chamber, limiting the number ofpeers to 300, 80% of whom would be elected with a third of that 80% being elected every 5 years by Single transferable vote. In August 2012, Clegg announced that attempts to reform the House of Lords would be abandoned due to opposition for the proposals by backbench Conservative MPs. Claiming the coalition agreement had been broken, Clegg stated that Liberal Democrat MPs would no longer support changes to the House of Commons boundaries for the 2015 general election.
The Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in 2011 announced plans for halving UK carbon emissions by 2025 as part of the “Green Deal” which was in the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto.
In council elections held on 3 May 2012, the Lib Dems lost more than three hundred councillors, leaving them with fewer than three thousand for the first time in the party’s history. In June 2012 it was reported that membership of the party had fallen by around 20% along with falling poll numbers since joining the coalition. On 20 September 2012 Clegg personally apologised for breaking his pledge not to raise university tuition fees.
On 28 February 2013, the party won a by-election in Eastleigh, the Hampshire constituency that had previously been held by the former minister, Chris Huhne. The party’s candidate, Mike Thornton, had been a local councillor for the party, and held the seat. In eighteen other by-elections held throughout the 2010–15 Parliament, the party lost its deposit in 11;in the Rochester and Strood by-election held on 20 November 2014, it came fifth polling 349 votes or 0.9% of the total votes cast. This was both the worst result in the history of the party, and of any governing party.
Despite Clegg’s efforts at triangulation, the Liberal Democrats experienced its worst-ever showing in the 7 May 2015 election, losing 48 seats in the House of Commons, leaving them with only eight MPs. Prominent Liberal Democrat MPs who lost their seats included former leader Charles Kennedy, former deputy leaders Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, and several cabinet ministers. The party held onto just eight constituencies in Great Britain, with only one in Scotland, one in Wales and six in England. The Liberal Democrats’ erstwhile coalition partner, Cameron’s Conservatives, won an outright majority, negating the need for them to accommodate the smaller party in government. On 8 May 2015, Clegg announced his resignation as party leader.
In the 2015 party leadership ballot, held on 16 July 2015, Tim Farron was elected to the leadership of the party with 56.5% of the vote, beating opponent Norman Lamb. On 29 July 2015 Farron unveiled his frontbench team, with Tom Brake MP taking on Foreign Affairs, Alistair Carmichael MP Home Affairs, Baroness Kramer Economics and Baroness Jolly representing Defence.
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
The two main ideological strands within the Liberal Democrats are social liberalsand the classical liberals, the latter supporting economic liberalism. The principal difference between the two is that the classical liberals tend to support greater choice and competition and aim to increase social mobility through economic deregulation and creation of opportunity, whereas the social liberals were more commonly associated with directly aiming to increase equality of outcomethrough state intervention. Correspondingly, classical liberals tended to favour cutting taxes for the poorest in order to increase opportunity, contrasting with social liberals, who would rather see higher spending on public services and the disadvantaged in order to reduce income inequality.
The strand of social liberalism in the party is influenced by William Beveridge, who is credited with drafting further advancements of the welfare state, and economist John Maynard Keynes. In February 2009, many social liberals founded the Social Liberal Forum, an internal party pressure group, to pursue social liberal policies within the party. Notable social liberals in the Liberal Democrats include David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell, Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes.
In 2004 members of the classical and economic liberal faction contributed to The Orange Book, which contained free-market economic and social policies and seen as an attempt to move the party towards the centre-right. Individuals from that faction include Nick Clegg, David Laws and Jeremy Browne, a group which has been referred to as the Orange Book Liberals.
|This article is outdated. (May 2015)|
Schools in England
- Pupil premium of £2.5bn given to head teachers, aimed at disadvantaged children, which could allow average primary school to cut class size to 20 pupils. — £488 per child on free school meals, is given to schools on top of their main funding. Total pupil premium funding for 2011–12 is £625m and was due to rise to £2.5bn a year by 2014–15.
- Workplace scheme for 800,000 pupils to give them the opportunity to gain skills and experience. — £1bn of new funding will provide opportunities including job subsidies, apprenticeships and work experience placements for 500,000 unemployed people. The government will subsidise 160,000 work places by providing £2,275 to any private sector business willing to hire an unemployed person aged 18 to 24 years old.
Health in England
- Cut size of the Department of Health by half, abolishing or cutting budgets of quangos, scrapping Strategic Health Authorities and seeking to limit pay of top NHS managers to below level of prime minister. Three quarters of health quangos have already been axed, and plans have been announced to scrap Strategic Health Authorities.
- Scrap Labour’s personal care at home and divert cash to give one week’s respite for one million carers. — Over £400million available in additional funding over coalition period to the hundreds of thousands of carers who work over 50 hours a week.
- Bill announced which will regulate CCTV, end the collection of DNA from innocent citizens, scrap ID cards and the children’s contact database, end control orders, reduce the maximum pre-charge detention period under that Act from 28 to 14 days, outlaw wheel-clamping on private land, enable those with convictions for consensual sexual relations between men aged 16 or over (which have since been decriminalised) to apply to have them disregarded, and an amnesty with British citizenship for all illegal immigrants.
- A full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping.
- The Liberal Democrats have also successfully accomplished prohibiting British companies from selling chemicals abroad where it is known that they may be used in carrying out the death penalty.
- Like their predecessors in the SDP–Liberal Alliance, the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the Trident replacementprogramme, and believe that “a step down the nuclear ladder towards a minimal yet credible deterrent offers the best balance of deterrence coupled with a clear commitment to disarmament.”
The Liberal Democrats have been strongly in favour of European integration. The party maintains a “strong and positive” commitment to the European Union; the Liberal Democrats and its predecessors (the SDP–Liberal Alliance) have been consistently in favour of British EU membership, with the Liberal Party originally proposing membership into the predecessor European Coal and Steel Community. The Liberal Democrats have supported giving more sovereignty to the EU when they perceive it to be in the national interest, and were initially in favour of the European single currency, theeuro. However, the Liberal Democrats oppose the European federalism espoused by their counterparts.
In June 2016 following the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum Tim Farron stated that if Liberal Democrats were to be elected in the next parliamentary election, they would not follow through with triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and leaving the EU (“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”) but would instead keep UK part of the EU.
- The Liberal Democrats have been described by the New Statesman as “unsparing in their criticism of the unfairness offirst-past-the-post,” and are fully committed to electoral reform, including Alternative Vote and proportional representation. It is one of their most popular policies, and described by the New Statesman as “one policy with which the Liberal Democrats are identified in the minds of the public.”
1 / 25
5 / 129
1 / 60
UK general elections
In 1992 General Election, the Lib Dems succeeded the SDP–Liberal Alliance as the third most popular party, behind Labour and the Conservatives. Their popularity declined from the levels attained by the Alliance, but their seat count rose, a feat that has been credited to more intelligent targeting of vulnerable seats. The vote percentage for the Alliance in 1987 and the Lib Dems in 2005 is similar, yet the Lib Dems won 62 seats to the Alliance’s 22.
The first-past-the-post electoral system used in UK General Elections is not suited to parties whose vote is evenly divided across the country, resulting in those parties achieving a lower proportion of seats in the Commons than their proportion of the popular vote (see table and graph). The Lib Dems and theirLiberal and SDP predecessors have suffered especially,particularly in the 1980s when their electoral support was greatest while the disparity between the votes and the number of MPs returned to parliament was significantly large. The increase in their number of seats in 1997, 2001 and 2005 was attributed to the weakness of the Conservatives and the success of their election strategist Lord Rennard. Lib Dems state that they want ‘three-party politics’ in the Commons; the most realistic chance of power with first past the post is for the party to be the kingmakers in a hung parliament. Party leaders often set out their terms for forming a coalition in such an event—Nick Clegg stated in 2008 that the policy for the 2010 General Election was to reform elections, parties and Parliament in a “constitutional convention”.
|General election||Name||Share of votes||Seats||Share of seats||Source|
23 / 650
22 / 650
20 / 651
46 / 659
52 / 659
62 / 646
57 / 650
8 / 650
The party had control of 31 councils in 2008, having held 29 councils prior to the 2008 election. In the 2008 local elections, they gained 25% of the vote, placing them ahead of Labour and increasing their control by 34 to more than 4,200 council seats—21% of the total number of seats. In council elections held in May 2011, the Liberal Democrats suffered heavy defeats in the Midlands, North and Scotland. They also lost heavily in the Welsh assembly and Scottish Parliament. In local elections held in May 2012, the Lib Dems lost more than 300 councillors, leaving them with fewer than 3000 for the first time in the party’s history. In the 2013 local elections, they lost more councillors. In the 2014 local elections they lost over 300 councillors and the control of two local governments.
2016 local elections
In the 2016 local elections, the number of Liberal Democrat councillors increased for the first time since they went in to coalition in 2010. The party won 43 seats across the country, and increased its vote share by 4%. The party picked up most of its key seats including former MP for Manchester Withington, John Leech, who won Didsbury West with 53% of the vote. His win on Manchester City Council signified the first gain for any party other than Labour for the first time in six years in Manchester. Former Cheadle MP Mark Hunter also won a seat on Stockport council.
The party has generally not performed as well in elections to the European Parliament. In the 2004 local elections, their share of the vote was 29% (placing them second, ahead of Labour) and 14.9% in the simultaneous European Parliament elections (putting them in fourth place behind UK Independence Party). The results of the 2009 European elections were similar with the party achieving a vote of 28% in the county council elections yet achieving only 13.7% in the Europeans despite the elections taking place on the same day. The 2009 elections did however see the party gain one seat from UKIP in the East Midlands region taking the number of representatives in the parliament up to 11. In 2014, the party lost ten seats, leaving them with one MEP.
In Europe, the party sits with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)political group, which favours further strengthening the EU. The group’s leader for seven and a half years was the South West England MEP Graham Watson, who was also the first Liberal Democrat to be elected to the European Parliament when he won the oldSomerset and North Devon constituency in 1994. The group’s current leader is the former Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt.
|European election (UK)||Name||Share of votes||Seats||Share of seats||Source|
0 / 81
|1989||Social and Liberal Democrats||6%||
0 / 81
2 / 87
10 / 87
12 / 78
11 / 72
1 / 73
Scottish Parliament elections
The first elections for the Scottish parliament were held in 1999 and resulted in the Liberal Democrats forming a coalition government with Labour from its establishment until 2007. The Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace became Deputy First Minister, a role he continued until his retirement as party leader in 2005. The new leader of the party, Nicol Stephen, then took on the role of Deputy First Minister until the election of 2007.
For the first three Scottish Parliament elections, the Lib Dems maintained a consistent number of MSPs. From the 17 elected in 1999, they retained this number in 2003 and went down one to 16 in 2007. However, this fell to only five seats after the 2011 election as a result of the widespread unpopularity of their coalition with the Conservative party at the UK level.
|Election||Constituency votes||Regional votes||Total seats||Share of seats|
17 / 129
17 / 129
16 / 129
5 / 129
5 / 129
Welsh Assembly elections
Elections to the newly created National Assembly for Wales also took place for the first time in 1999 and saw the Liberal Democrats take six seats in the inaugural Assembly, with Welsh Labour winning a plurality of seats in the assembly, but not enough to win an outright majority. In October 2000, following a series of close votes, the parties formed a coalitionthat saw the Liberal Democrat leader in the assembly, Michael German, become the Deputy First Minister. The deal lasted until the election of 2003, when Labour won enough seats to be able to govern outright.
The party has polled consistently in all four elections to the National Assembly, returning six representatives in the first three elections and five in the 2011 Election, thereby establishing itself as the fourth party in Wales behind Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. Between 2008 and 20016, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats was Kirsty Williams, the assembly member for Brecon & Radnorshire, the Assembly’s first female party leader. The current leader is Mark Williams.
|Election||Constituency votes||Seats||Regional votes||Seats||Total Seats||Share of Seats|
6 / 60
6 / 60
6 / 60
5 / 60
1 / 60
The Liberal Democrats are a federal party of the parties of England, Scotland and Wales. The English and Scottish parties are further split into regions. The parliamentary parties of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly form semi-autonomous units within the party. The leaders in the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament are the leaders of the federal party and the Scottish Party; the leaders in the other two chambers, and the officers of all parliamentary parties, are elected from their own number. Co-ordination of all party activities across all federated groups is undertaken through the Federal Executive. Chaired by the party leader, its 30+ members includes representatives from each of the groups and democratically elected representatives.
The Lib Dems had 65,038 members at the end of 2010 and in the first quarter of 2008, the party received £1.1 million in donations and have total borrowings and unused credit facilities of £1.1 million (the “total debt” figure reported by the Electoral Commission includes, for example, unused overdraft facilities). This compares to Labour’s £3.1 million in donations and £17.8 million of borrowing/credit facilities, and the Conservatives’ £5.7 million in donations and £12.1 million of borrowing/credit facilities.
Specified Associated Organisations (SAOs) review and input policies, representing groups including: ethnic minorities(EMLD), women (WLD), the LGBT community (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats), youth and students (Liberal Youth), engineers and scientists (ALDES), parliamentary candidates (PCA) and local councillors (ALDC). Others can become Associated Organisations (AOs) as pressure groups in the party, such as the Green Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats Online, the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and the Liberal Democrat Disability Association. The National Union of Liberal Clubs (NULC) represents Liberal Social Clubs which encourages recreational institutions where the promotion of the party can take place.
Like the Conservatives, the Lib Dems organise in Northern Ireland, though they do not contest elections in the province: they work with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, de facto agreeing to support the Alliance in elections. There is a separate local party operating in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats. Several individuals, including Alliance Party leader David Ford, hold membership of both parties. Alliance members of the House of Lords take the Lib Dem whip on non-Northern Ireland issues, and the Alliance Party used to have a stall at Lib Dem party conferences.
It is also a ‘sister party’ of the Liberal Party of Gibraltar and contests the South-West England constituency at European Parliamentary elections on a joint ticket with them taking place six on the party list.
The party is a member of Liberal International and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, and their 1 MEP sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament.
|Year||Membership (as of 31 December)|
|Entered office||Left office||Date of Birth||Date of Death|
|David Steel 1||7 July 1987||16 July 1988||31 March 1938|
|Robert Maclennan 2||6 August 1987||16 July 1988||26 June 1936|
|Paddy Ashdown||16 July 1988||9 August 1999||27 February 1941|
|Charles Kennedy||9 August 1999||7 January 2006||25 November 1959||1 June 2015|
|Sir Menzies Campbell 3||2 March 2006||15 October 2007||22 May 1941|
|Vince Cable 4||15 October 2007||18 December 2007||9 May 1943|
|Nick Clegg||18 December 2007||16 July 2015||7 January 1967|
|Tim Farron||16 July 2015||Incumbent||27 May 1970|
- 1 Joint interim leader, as leader of the Liberal Party before the merger.
- 2 Joint interim leader, as leader of the Social Democratic Party before the merger.
- 3 Interim leader between the resignation of Charles Kennedy on 7 January 2006 and his own election on 2 March 2006.
- 4 Interim leader between the resignation of Menzies Campbell on 15 October 2007 and the election of Nick Clegg on 18 December 2007.
- Russell Johnston, 1988–92
- Alan Beith, 1992–2003
- Sir Menzies Campbell, 2003–06
- Vince Cable, 2006–10
- Simon Hughes, 2010–14
- Sir Malcolm Bruce, 2014–2015
- Vacant, since 2015
Presidents chair the Federal Executive Committee. They are elected for a two-year term, starting on 1 January and ending on 31 December. They may serve a maximum of two terms.
- Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, 1988–90
- Charles Kennedy, 1991–94
- Robert Maclennan, 1995–98
- Diana Maddock, Baroness Maddock, 1999–2000
- Navnit Dholakia, Baron Dholakia, 2001–04
- Simon Hughes, 2005–08
- Rosalind Scott, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, 2009–10
- Tim Farron, 2011–14
- Sal Brinton, Baroness Brinton, 2015–
Leaders in the House of Lords
|Leader||Entered office||Left office|
|1||Roy Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead (1920–2003)||16 July 1988||4 May 1997|
|2||William Rodgers, Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank (b. 1928)||4 May 1997||13 June 2001|
|3||Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby (b. 1930)||13 June 2001||22 June 2004|
|4||Tom McNally, Baron McNally (b. 1943)||22 June 2004||October 2013|
|5||Jim Wallace, Baron Wallace of Tankerness (b. 1954)||October 2013||present|
Leaders in the European Parliament
- Graham Watson, 1994–2002 (President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party)
- Diana Wallis, 2002–04
- Chris Davies, 2004–06
- Diana Wallis, 2006–07 (Vice-President of the European Parliament)
- Andrew Duff, 2007–09
- Fiona Hall, 2009–14.
- Catherine Bearder, 2014–
The Liberal Democrats did not have representation in the European Parliament prior to 1994.
Chairs of the English Liberal Democrats
- Paul Farthing (1994–2000)
- Dawn Davidson (2000–04)
- Stan Collins (2004–2007) 
- Brian Orrell (2007–2010) 
- Jonathan Davies (2010–2012) 
- Peter Ellis (2012–2015)
- Steve Jarvis (2015–present)
Leaders of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
- Malcolm Bruce (3 March 1988 – 18 April 1992)
- Jim Wallace (18 April 1992 – 23 June 2005)
- Nicol Stephen (27 June 2005 – 2 July 2008)
- Tavish Scott (26 August 2008 – 7 May 2011)
- Willie Rennie (17 May 2011 – present)
Leaders of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
- Richard Livsey (1988–1992)
- Alex Carlile (1992–1997)
- Richard Livsey (1997–2001)
- Lembit Öpik (2001–2007)
- Mike German (2007–2008)
- Kirsty Williams (2008–2016)
- Mark Williams (2016–)