Beginning with the 1945 General Election, this chapter assesses the position of the British Liberal Party at mid-century. A poor performance in 1945, which saw several Party notables, including leader Sir Archibald Sinclair, lose their seats, was followed by further decline in the elections of 1950 and 1955, fought under Clement Davies. When Davies was offered the position of Minister of Education by Winston Churchill in 1951, he rejected it, a decision that likely saved the Party from absorption by the Conservatives. But the Liberals’ position remained highly precarious. It was not till after the 1955 General Election that the first stirrings of a revival began to be felt, notably in the by-elections at Torquay in December 1955 and Hereford in February 1956.

in The uneven path of British Liberalism

From the beginning of his period as Leader, Nick Clegg sought to downplay the division within the Liberal Democrats between ‘social liberals’ and ‘economic liberals’. However, policies such as channelling savings from public spending into tax cuts suggested that he was more inclined towards the latter. In an effort to achieve balance, the Party created a new think-tank, the Social Liberal Forum, which recognised the valid role of the State as an enabler of individual freedom, though it still found room for criticism. Clegg himself, in a pamphlet titled The Liberal Moment, attacked Labour’s State-driven approach as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and highlighted recent infringements in civil liberties. The Liberal Democrats did well in local elections throughout 2008 and 2009. When Gordon Brown finally called a general election for 2010, the Party built its manifesto around the theme of ‘fairness’, including ‘fair taxes’ and ‘a fair chance for every child’. They also pledged to phase out university tuition fees. Clegg’s performance in the first televised Party Leaders’ debates was strong, and the Liberal Democrats ultimately won 57 seats, with 23.6 per cent of the total vote.

in The uneven path of British Liberalism

The culmination of the five-year decline in the Liberal Democrats’ popular support was the Party’s disastrous performance in the 2015 British General Election. A campaign that stressed the Party’s achievements in office while emphasising their centrist position did nothing to win over voters. The result was the loss of some 49 seats – the worst result since 1970. More bad news was to follow when, on 23 June 2016, the UK voted 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent to leave the European Union. Tim Farron, who had replaced Nick Clegg as Leader following the latter’s resignation, attempted to make a positive case for remaining in the EU, but this was drowned out by the Remain campaign’s appeal to caution and preserving the status quo. Over the course, then, of six years, the Liberal Democrats had suffered major losses in electoral support at nearly every level of British government, concluding with a disastrous outcome at the 2015 General Election, and 13 months later an equally calamitous result in the 2016 EU referendum.

in The uneven path of British Liberalism
From Jo Grimond to Brexit

This book explores the development of liberal thought within the British Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats. A thorough updating of The Revival of British Liberalism: From Grimond to Clegg (2011), it begins with the accession of Jo Grimond at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 and charts the liberal resurgence in the second half of the twentieth century through to the major setbacks of the 2015 General Election and the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Drawing on interviews with leading politicians and political thinkers, the book examines liberal ideas against the background of key historical events and controversies, including the period of coalition government with the Conservatives. A comprehensive account of British liberalism throughout the last 60 years, it will be essential reading for students, scholars and political practitioners alike.

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The left and European integration after the crisis

This concluding chapter argues that the conventional interpretations of the relationship between the left and European integration have been altered by the crises. We start by summarising the existing interpretations of the left and integration, before setting out the argument that the crises created an opportunity for a new left perspective on the European Union, which we term ‘alter-Europeanism’. We then analyse the main obstacles hindering the achievement of any new form of programme for the European left in the context of the current form of European integration. Judging from the case studies in this book, the European left remains broadly supportive of EU integration and is reluctant to embrace Euroscepticism fully. However, extensive debates have emerged over the direction of the European Union, indicating that there are limits to the Europeanisation of the left. The economic crisis has significantly altered the relationship of the left and Europe.

in The European left and the financial crisis
Europe, nationalism and left politics

How does the radical left in Europe approach the issue of European governance? How have left-wing voters and parties responded to growing popular criticism of the ‘European project’? And how might they respond in the future? This chapter seeks to answer these questions by, first, locating left-wing criticism of European integration within a historical context. While still partly nationalist in orientation, this left tradition is not necessarily opposed to European integration provided it delivers greater economic justice and equality – the problem with the current pattern of integration is that it tends to do precisely the opposite. Can that pattern be reversed? The chapter briefly discusses some proposals for reversal or reform, but highlights the difficulties faced in trying to implement any such programme of left-wing reform at the European level.

in The European left and the financial crisis
An uncertain balance

After decades without significant changes, in the short period from the May 2014 European elections to the June 2016 general elections, Spanish politics experienced the emergence of new political actors, new electoral dynamics and new issues on the agenda. This chapter aims to synthesise the main changes in Spain’s political system during the crisis, with a special focus on the leftist parties. The first section summarises the evolution of the Spanish left since 2008. The second section addresses the country’s new party system after the 2015 and 2016 general elections and the patterns of interaction among its main actors. The third section analyses the discourse, tactics and ideology of the leftist parties to shed light on the controversial nature of the newcomers. Finally, the analysis focuses on the Spanish left’s attitude towards European integration.

in The European left and the financial crisis
One step forward, two steps back

The chapter examines the Cypriot left in the period since the outbreak of the crisis, a period that found the major party of the Cypriot left, AKEL, in government. A brief historical perspective is introduced in order to contextualise the discussion and highlight the particularities of the left bloc in Cyprus, which is dominated by a reformist communist party. It then proceeds to scrutinise the Cypriot left’s responses to the crisis in terms of government–opposition dynamics; the impact that these responses have had on the left’s electoral fortunes and ability to mobilise; and the intra-bloc relations, especially amid a scenery of advancing political de-alignment. The chapter focuses on the Cypriot left during the economic crisis, examining its constituent units in terms of their responses to the crisis, their strategy and tactics in the party political arena and the impact the crisis had on their electoral fortunes and ideological standing. The analysis of the left bloc is unavoidably intertwined with broader developments in the EU and the overall political system of Cyprus.

in The European left and the financial crisis
Opportunity or catastrophe?

This book examines how the European left reacted to the economic crisis triggered by the banking collapses of 2008, and this first chapter outlines the structure of the book as a comparative analysis across ten EU member states, as well as across the different party families of the left, from social democracy through green left to the radical left. The basic features of the economic crisis that hit the global economy in 2008 are introduced, and the very particular implications it had for the European Union. The chapter then examines how the crisis created a challenge for left-wing parties in Europe, setting out the political ideas linked to the economic crisis.

in The European left and the financial crisis
Editors: Michael Holmes and Knut Roder

The financial crisis that erupted on both sides of the Atlantic in 2007–8 initially seemed to offer new political and economic opportunities to the left. As financial institutions collapsed, traditional left-wing issues were apparently back on the agenda. There was the prospect of a return to a more regulated economy, there was widespread state intervention to try to salvage failing banks, and it led to increased scrutiny of the wages and bonuses at the upper end of the scale. However, instead of being a trigger for a resurgence of the left, and despite a surge of support for new parties like SYRIZA and Podemos, in many European countries left-wing parties have suffered electoral defeat. At the same time, the crisis has led to austerity programmes being implemented across Europe, causing further erosion of the welfare state and pushing many into poverty. This timely book examines this crucial period for the left in Europe from a number of perspectives and addresses key questions including: How did political parties from the left respond to the crisis both programmatically and politically? What does the crisis mean for the relationship between the left and European integration? What does the crisis mean for socialism as an economic, political and social project? This collection focuses on a comparison between ten EU member states, and considers a range of different party families of the left, from social democracy through green left to radical left.