Power proves toxic for Britain's Liberal Democrats

2015-05-08 09:19
Leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband, leaves after making a speech after retaining his seat of Doncaster North at the counting centre at Doncaster Racecourse, northern England. (Oli Scarff, AFP)

Leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband, leaves after making a speech after retaining his seat of Doncaster North at the counting centre at Doncaster Racecourse, northern England. (Oli Scarff, AFP)

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Sheffield - Britain's Liberal Democrats had hoped that entering government for the first time five years ago would recast their image as a party that meant business. Instead, it has brought them to the brink of collapse.

Their leader Nick Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy, hinted on Friday he could resign after a "cruel and punishing night" in which the party is forecast to retain only 10 of its 57 seats in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats lost some of their most senior figures including Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Business Secretary Vince Cable and former leader Charles Kennedy.

Clegg himself managed to hold on to his seat in the city of Sheffield, northern England, despite a tight race but looked emotional during his acceptance speech.

It was all a far cry from when Clegg first took the Lib Dems into a coalition government with Cameron after the 2010 election, their first press conference together in the Downing Street rose garden symbolising their harmony.


But being in power proved a bruising experience for the party, which was formed in 1988 but has a heritage stretching back centuries.

One of their most damaging moments came when the coalition government increased university tuition fees, breaking a key Lib Dem promise to scrap them altogether which had drawn significant support from students.

Clegg later issued an apology but this went viral on YouTube thanks to a spoof remix.
Scarred by experience

The Liberal Democrats argued that their influence helped soften some of the austerity measures which the Conservatives wanted to introduce in a bid to cut a budget deficit which stands at nearly £90bn.

Voters seemed to disagree. As well as the high-profile scalps of some of its longest-serving lawmakers, at least 150 Liberal Democrat candidates lost their deposits.

This means the candidates failed to attract the bare minimum of votes needed for them to get back a bond which all parties standing have to pay in a bid to deter joke candidates.

Experts say the terrible results will make the Lib Dems wary of teaming up with the Conservatives, or anyone else again.

"For the Liberal Democrats and other parties it will make them even more wary of ever going into a coalition," said Tony Travers, politics professor at the London School of Economics.

Former party leader and elder statesman David Steel is among those who favour a period of opposition to allow the Liberal Democrats to regroup, The Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.

The party is expected to meet later on Friday, after which the future of both Clegg and the Liberal Democrats themselves is expected to become clearer.

But few are under any illusions that the future looks bleak.

"I'm not going to pretend that the Lib Dems have had anything other than a bad night," a senior party source at the count in Sheffield said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Read more on:    ed miliband  |  uk  |  uk 2015 elections

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