This chapter details the experiences and efforts of a key political player in the peace process. Importantly, it also explores the role of women in an ostensibly male environment, how decision-making was influenced, how relations were developed, and questions what qualities and differences women brought to the peace process.
This chapter explains how the decommissioning debate was conducted and how the Irish influenced republican thinking on the issue by working with leaders on statements. It also focuses on how leverage was brought to bear on this problem through intense engagement and the building of trust.
This chapter highlights the importance of strategic direction in negotiations and how convergent political positions were created and informed by an ethos of inclusivity. It also looks at the importance of deadlines in a peace process.
This chapter elaborates on the impact of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and how the Irish worked in Belfast to create closer ties with the British by monitoring and assessing policing and justice issues and raising questions about possible discrimination and anti-equality activities.
The period between Paddy Ashdown’s resignation announcement and his departure was marked by several electoral tests for the Liberal Democrats. The Party’s performance across the local elections and elections for the new Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales was uneven, but did lead to the establishment of two Labour-Liberal coalitions. When Charles Kennedy assumed the leadership in August 1999, the Party was a much stronger force than it had been in its early years. Eager to ensure the Liberal Democrats would retain their own identity, Kennedy moved away from Ashdown’s strategy of ‘constructive opposition’ to the Blair government. His effective campaigning in the 2001 General Election saw the Party win 52 seats, the largest number for a third party since 1929, and the following years saw the Party take a more oppositional role with regards to Labour, most strikingly in the case of the Iraq War, where all 53 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against military action. In the 2005 General Election the Liberal Democrats achieved the largest parliamentary Liberal Party representation since 1923. But an internal ideological struggle, prompted by the publication of The Orange Book in 2004, was to have significant implications in the years to come.
Despite faint signs of revival in the by-election successes of 1955 and 1956, the Liberal Party remained in a weakened state, with its leader, Clement Davies, coming under pressure to retire. He finally announced his resignation in September 1956, and was replaced two months later by Jo Grimond. Grimond quickly succeeded in reviving the Liberal Party’s base in local politics. He also put a strong emphasis on policy formulation, establishing the New Direction policy-making groups between 1958 and 1960. New issues such as European integration and innovations in defence policy were now addressed, but the Liberal mainstays of co-ownership, free trade and civil liberties remained central to the Party’s identity, receiving close attention in publications such as 1957’s The Unservile State and the 1959 Ownership for All Report. The 1959 General Election saw the Party improve its situation significantly, doubling its total national vote and overall vote share.
In the aftermath of Labour’s 1997 landslide victory, the likelihood of Liberal Democrat participation in a centre-left coalition seemed remote. Nevertheless, Tony Blair made it clear to Paddy Ashdown that he still favoured what he called ‘a framework for co-operation’ between the two parties. The short-term outcome was the appointment of several leading Liberal Democrats to the Jenkins Commission on Electoral Reform. Blair’s subsequent championing of ‘the Third Way’ prompted criticism from key Liberal Democrats, who found themselves re-examining their own values in order to provide an alternative. But this theoretical disagreement did not affect Ashdown’s strategy of following a path roughly the same as that of the Blairites. A greater rift was cause when Blair reneged on his promise to hold a referendum on electoral reform following the publication of the Jenkins Report. Ashdown was deeply disappointed. Realising that any prospect of a centre-left realignment had disappeared, he announced his resignation as Party Leader on 20 January 1999.
This final chapter reflects on the continuities and changes that have marked British Liberalism since the beginning of its revival under Jo Grimond in the 1950s. It identifies the main recurring themes as free trade, civil liberties, political and constitutional reform, and international cooperation – all of them forming a Liberal ‘third way’ between the Conservatives and Labour. The ‘market revolution’ of the 1980s posed an ideological dilemma for the Party, as Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives appropriated various economic liberal policies, prompting some Liberals to consider a more statist approach. But the formation of the Social and Liberal Democrats in 1988 marked the return of economic liberal ideas, with Paddy Ashdown striving to combine the market economy with a commitment to the ideals of community and active citizenship. The Party suffered terrible outcomes in the 2015 General Election and the 2016 EU referendum, but there are early signs of recovery in the modest gains of the 2017 General Election and the subsequent local elections of May 2018. Nonetheless, the future prospects for the Party remain uncertain, and the path of British Liberalism continues to appear uneven.
In spite of a good electoral outcome in 2005, some Liberal Democrats felt that their Party had failed to make the most of the political situation. It was decided that a narrative had to be agreed, establishing what the Party was for rather than what it was against. Meanwhile, a group of new MPs were raising concerns about a lack of internal organisation and strategic direction. In January 2016, Charles Kennedy finally made a statement about his alcohol problem and proposed a leadership contest, but he was ultimately obliged to step down in the face of a threat of mass resignations. The new Leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, made a commitment to restore stability and purpose by improving Party organisation. But he was soon under fire as a Conservative resurgence saw the Liberal Democrats lose 246 seats in the May 2007 local council elections. Facing the prospect of a general election that Autumn, Campbell secured his position with a well-received Leader’s speech, but when the election was postponed, he decided to resign rather than endure two more years of speculation over his leadership. His replacement, Nick Clegg, was elected leader in December, having narrowly defeated Chris Huhne.