FACTBOX-Britain’s Lib Dems hold balance of power

May 11 (BestGrowthStock) – Britain’s third largest party has
suddenly found itself in the glare of the political spotlight.

Here are some details on the history of the party and its
role in past governments in Britain:

* ORIGINS

— The Liberal Party was formed in 1859 as the successor to
the historic Whig Party — whose origins lie in support for
constitutional monarchism — when Whigs, Peelites (breakaway
Conservatives) and Radicals (who supported parliamentary reform)
met in London to oust a minority Conservative government.

The Liberals governed Britain for most of the next 30 years.

* GOVERNMENT

— Four-time Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, a
Liberal, was a towering figure in British politics in the second
half of the 19th century.

— His achievements included reform of education, the
introduction of democratic local government, and the Third
Reform Act, which greatly extended the vote.

— After some years out of power, the Liberals headed
government in 1906-15 under prime ministers Henry
Campbell-Bannerman and Herbert Asquith and proved to be one of
the great reforming administrations of the 20th century. They
broke the power of the upper, unelected House of Lords and
established the foundations of the modern welfare state.

— In the years that followed, internal conflicts exacted a
terrible toll on the Liberals at the ballot box, about the same
time the Labour Party emerged as a coherent and effective source
of reform in the country.

* FALL AND RISE

— The centre-left Liberals declined until the 1950s when
new leader Jo Grimond was elected. Before, the party had
commanded barely 2.5 percent of the vote but by the end of his
tenure in 1967, Grimond had doubled their seats in parliament.

* Jeremy Thorpe was elected leader in 1967 and in the two
general elections of 1974 his party received 19 and 18 percent
of the vote. In 1976, when Thorpe was forced to resign because
of a scandal, Grimond stepped in as caretaker leader until the
election of David Steel.

— In return for supporting the minority Labour government
of James Callaghan in 1977, Steel was able to extract
concessions including an agreement to consult on legislation
before its presentation in parliament. The “Lib-Lab” pact
foundered in 1978.

— Steel led the party from 1976 until its 1988 merger with
the short-lived Social Democratic Party that created the Liberal
Democrats, and was briefly joint interim leader of the new “Lib
Dems”.

* NEW LEADERS

— Charles Kennedy, a Scot, succeeded Paddy Ashdown as
leader in 1999 and greatly increased the number of seats in both
the 2001 and 2005 elections, but in 2006 he resigned after
admitting to a drinking problem.

Another Scot, Menzies Campbell, became leader, but resigned
the next year after his support slumped in opinion polls.
— Nick Clegg became Liberal Democrat leader in December
2007. On Tuesday with a decision still awaited on which way the
Liberal Democrats would turn following an inconclusive election,
Clegg said talks to form a new government had entered a
“critical and final phase”.

* POLITICS AND POLICIES

— The left-leaning Liberal Democrats campaigned in the
election on a platform of lower taxes for people on lower
incomes and a boost for primary school education.

— Proposals included breaking banks up into separate retail
and investment banking divisions.

— They agreed with Labour that cutting spending too soon to
reduce the 163-billion-pound ($241.2 billion) budget deficit
could damage the economy. The party would rely mostly on cutting
spending rather than raising taxes. They would also cut tax
relief and loopholes available to richest people to pay for a
large tax break for Britons on modest incomes.

— Politically, the Lib Dems want proportional voting for
election to parliament to replace first-past-the-post system
that has favoured the two largest parties.

Sources:
Reuters/www.liberalhistory.org.uk/www.britannica.com

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FACTBOX-Britain’s Lib Dems hold balance of power