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The Liberal Democrat Party : From Contender to Coalitionist

Le Parti libéral démocrate : des rangs de l’opposition au partage du pouvoir
Muriel Cassel-Piccot

Résumés

Cet article étudie l’évolution des Libéraux-démocrates depuis 1988 et évalue le rôle qu’ils se sont forgé sur la scène politique britannique. Après un bref rappel des circonstances dans lesquelles le parti est né, puis a réussi à préserver et à développer une tradition politique singulière, nous nous intéresserons à la façon dont s’appliquent ses valeurs fondamentales. Une attention particulière sera portée à l’identité et au fonctionnement du parti, et plus encore à son approche fédéraliste et démocratique. Les stratégies mises en place ont permis à l’organisation de remporter certaines victoires. Elles impliquent cependant une professionnalisation qui a pu être source de tensions, que les différents leaders, chacun dans un style propre (un stratège visionnaire, un communicant rassembleur, un administrateur digne de confiance et un négociateur ambitieux), ont cherché à apaiser. L’enjeu pour le parti est aujourd’hui d’autant plus difficile qu’il doit continuer à défendre une position « médiane » tout en partageant le pouvoir avec les Conservateurs, ce qui implique souvent des paradoxes et des compromis – des notions peu compatibles avec la nature d’un système politique britannique fondé sur la confrontation.

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Texte intégral

class="gogo-topHauthdpartgesp uv cl="todiblirgsaphy"lass="sectedns,No Biblirgsaphiespan> : ASHDOWN Paddy, The Ashdown Diaries, Volume 1 : 1988-1997, London : Allen Lane, 2000, 400 p.

ASHDOWN Paddy, The Ashdown Diaries, Volume 2 : 1997-1999, London : Allen Lane, 2001, 592 p.

ASHDOWN Paddy, A Fortunate Life, London : Aurum, 2009, 404 p.

BENTHAM Claire, “Liberal Democrat Policy-making : An Insider’s View, 2000-2004”, The Political Quarterly, vol. 78, n°1, January-March, 2007, 59-67.

BRACK Duncan, GRAYSON Richard & HOWARTH David (eds.), Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century, London : Politico’s, 2007, 378 p.

CAMPBELL Menzies, My Autobiography, London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, 326 p.

COOK Chris, A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900-2001, Basingstoke : Palgrave, 2002, 288 p.

DOUGLAS Roy, Liberals : A History of the Liberal and Liberal Democratic Parties, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2004, 395 p.

DUTTON David, A History of the Liberal Party, Basingstoke : Palgrave, 2004, 347 p.

EVANS Elizabeth & SANDERSON-NASH Emma, When is a Triple Lock not a Triple Lock ? Professionalization and Pragmatism in the Liberal Democrats, Paper presented at EPOP 2010.

EVANS Elizabeth & SANDERSON-NASH Emma, “From Sandals to Suits : Professionalisation, Coalition and the Liberal Democrats”, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Political Studies Association, BJPIR, 2011.

GRAYSON S. Richard, “The Liberal Democrat Journey to a Lib-Con Coalition – And Where Next ?”, Compass, 2010, 15 p., <http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/compass/documents/Compass LD Journey WEB.pdf>, accessed 11 June 2011.

HAZELL Robert & YONG Ben, Inside Story : How Coalition Government Works, Constitution Unit, 3 June 2011, 14 p., <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/coalition-government/interim-report.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2010.

HICKSON Kevin, The political Thought of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1945, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2009, 224 p.

LAWS David, 22 Days in May, London : Biteback, 2010, 336 p.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS : <http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution.aspx>

Liberal Democrat Manifestos : Changing Britain for Good, 1992 ; Make the Difference, 1997; Freedom, Justice, Honesty, 2001 ; The Real Alternative, 2005 ; Change that Works for You, 2010.

MARSHALL Paul & LAWS David (eds.), The Orange Book : Reclaiming Liberalism, London : Profile, 2004, 302 p.

McIVER, Don, The Liberal Democrats, Hemel Hempstead : Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1996, 280 p.

RUSSELL Andrew & FIELDHOUSE Edward, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2005, 272 p.

WALTER David, The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England, London : Politico’s Publishing, 2003, 232 p.

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Notes

1 Percentage of votes at general elections : 1992 : 17.8 %; 1997 :16.8 %; 2001 : 18.3 % ; 2005 : 22 % ; 2010 : 23 %. <http://www.parliament.uk>, accessed on 11 July 2011.

2 Andrew Russell & Edward Fieldhouse, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2005, 272 p.

3 Nick Clegg, speech given to Demos, 19 December 2011. <http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2011/12/open-society-power-state>, accessed 2 January 2012.

4 Alun Wyburn-Powell, Clement Davies and his Impact on the Liberal Party, British Liberal Political Studies Group’s Conference, Gregynog, 15 January 2006.

5 Two famous examples are Torrington and Orpington, which were won from the Conservatives in 1958 and 1962.

6 The Liberal Party polled 7.5 % of the votes and had 6 MPs in the House of Commons in 1970.

7 “Community politics”, the roots of which lay in the Young Liberals’ radicalism and militancy, is a phrase used to denote the local activism which came to play a dominant part in the Liberal Party’s revival.

8 Robert Pinkney, “Nationalizing Local Politics and Localizing a National Party”, Directory of Liberal Party Resolutions, London : Liberal Publication Department, 1978, 351.

9 Focus leaflets concentrate on local issues, use simple language and pictures, and invite readers to contact the local Liberal Democrats.

10 Bernard Greaves & Gordon Lishman, The Theory and Practice of Community Politics, A.L.C Campaign Booklet n°12, 1980. <http://www.cix.co.uk/~rosenstiel/aldc/commpol.htm>, accessed 10 January 2012.

11 Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900-2001, 6th ed., Basingstoke : Palgrave, 2002, 157.

12 The Lib-Lab Pact (1977-78) was a period of cooperation between the Liberal and Labour Parties so that James Callaghan’s government could stay in office.

13 Although the Liberal/SDP Alliance polled 25.4 % of the votes in 1983, it only won 23 seats because of the first-past-the-post system.

14 With 22.5 % of the votes cast, the Liberal/SDP Alliance won 22 seats in 1987.

15 The options were : Liberal and Social Democrats, The New Liberal and Social Democratic Party, or The Alliance.

16 Michael Meadowcroft, Tony Greaves, Rachel Pickford, and Andy Millson walked out.

17 David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party, Basingstoke : Palgrave, 2004, 267.

18 Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900-2001, op. cit., 201.

19 Paddy Ashdown, The Ashdown Diaries, Vol. 2 : 1997-1999, London : Allen Lane, 2001, 30.

20 The party came fourth after the Greens in the European elections, with 6.2 % of the vote and no MEPs.

21 <http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution.aspx>, accessed 11 July 2011.

22 Liberal Democrat Party, The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, 13-14.

23 Ibid., Preamble, paragraph 1, 7.

24 Ibid., 60-61.

25 Subsidiarity is the idea that matters ought to be dealt with by the lowest competent unit.

26 The Liberal Democrats, The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, op.cit., Preamble, paragraph 2, 7.

27 Ibid., Article 10.5, 29.

28 Ibid., Article 10.4, 29.

29 <http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-03872.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2011.

30 <http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution.aspx>, accessed 11 July 2011, Article 6.2, 20.

31 Ibid., Article 4.5, 15.

32 ACT allows people – supporters, members and non-members – to get “involved in politics and identify with the Liberal Democrats”. They “can join groups, organise events, watch videos, talk politics and join in campaigns”. <http://www.libdems.org.uk/404.aspx?aspxerrorpath=/constitution.aspx>, accessed 5 January 2012.

33 <http://www.liberator.co.uk>, accessed 11 July 2011.

34 Patrick Seyd & Patrick Whiteley, “British Party Members : An Overview”, Party Politics, vol. 10, July 2004, 355-366.

35 The Federal Conference may, upon the recommendation of the Federal Executive, resolve to establish and/or recognise a State Party in Northern Ireland.

36 The Act, which was part of the constitutional reform implemented by the New Labour government, set up an independent Electoral Commission to regulate political parties. It notably polices their registration, requires them to submit statements of their accounts, and imposes restrictions on campaign expenditure.

37 <http://www.scribd.com/doc/49086179/Liberal-Democrat-Spring-Conference-Reports-2011>, accessed 11 July 2011.

38 See below.

39 <http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution>, accessed 11 July 2011, Article 13, 35-36.

40 <http://www.aldc.org/ >, accessed 11 July 2011.

41 <http://ethnic-minority.libdems.org/en/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

42 <http://www.ldagents.org.uk/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

43 <http://www.liberalyouth.org/about-liberal-youth/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

44 <http://www.libdempca.org.uk/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

45 <http://womenlibdems.org.uk/en/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

46 <http://www.libdemlawyers.org.uk/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

47 <http://lgbt.libdems.org.uk/en/>, accessed 6 January 2012.

48 <http://lgbt.libdems.org.uk/en/page/manifesto2010>, accessed 6 January 2012.

49 Elizabeth Evans & Emma Sanderson-Nash, When is a Triple Lock not a Triple Lock ? : Professionalization and Pragmatism in the Liberal Democrats, Paper presented at EPOP 2010.

50 In 1994, the party conference voted in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis by 426 votes to 375 while Paddy Ashdown as well as all the other MPs opposed the amendment.

51 Brian Wheeler, “Sir Menzies Wins Vote on Trident”, BBC, 3 March 2007. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6415007.stm>, accessed 11 July 2011. The then leader wrote in his autobiography : “They realised I was staking my leadership on the vote. The conference rules gave me no concessions.” Menzies Campbell, My Autobiography, London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, 274.

52 Toby Helm, “Nick Clegg Suffers Defeat as Liberal Democrats Reject Health Reforms”, The Guardian, 12 March 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/mar/12/nick-clegg-defeat-liberal-democrats>, accessed 11 July 2011.

53 <http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2010/03/the-full-text-of-the-lib-dem-triple-lock/ - axzz1RtiP9RP1>, accessed 11 July 2011.

54 <http://www.libdems.org.uk/news_detail.aspx?title=Carried_with_amendment:_Strategy,_Positioning_and_Priorities&pPK=07a9d6af-9669-4fda-8560-5303c4e495f0>, accessed 11 July 2011.

55 <http://s3.amazonaws.com/ld-migrated-assets/assets/0000/7657/A08ReformCommission.pdf>, 5, accessed 11 July 2011.

56 Elizabeth Evans & Emma Sanderson-Nash, When is a Triple Lock not a Triple Lock ? : Professionalization and Pragmatism in the Liberal Democrats, op. cit., 6. Andrew Russell & Edward Fieldhouse, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, op. cit., 67.

57 “My Priorities for a Liberal Britain”, speech delivered on 8 June 2006. <http://www.mingcampbell.org.uk/2006/06/08/my-priorities-for-a-liberal-britain/>, accessed 11 July 2011.

58 Claire Bentham, “Liberal Democrat Policy-making : An Insider’s View, 2000-2004”, The Political Quarterly, vol. 78, n 1, January-March, 2007, 59-67.

59 The Chief Officers’ Group consists of the party leader, the chairs of the FFAC, FCC, CCC, the Parliamentary Office of the Liberal Democrats, representatives of the English, Scottish, and Welsh parties, the Federal Party’s President, Treasurer, and Chief Executive. The Liberal Democrats Reports and Financial Statements, Year ended 31 December 2010. <http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/119448/Liberal-Democrats-Federal-SoA-2010.pdf>, accessed 6 January 2012.

60 <http://www.libdemvoice.org/nearly-three-years-on-how-does-the-bones-report-look-24309.html>, accessed 11 July 2011.

61 The two parties agreed on the implementation of devolution, the European Human Rights Convention, and the reform of the House of Lords.

62 The committee first started as the Joint Consultative Committee. Its purpose was to discuss constitutional affairs.

63 The commission, chaired by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, proposed to replace Single Majority Single Plurality (SMSP) in Westminster elections by an AV (Alternative Vote) top-up system to create a broadly proportional outcome. David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party, op. cit., 289.

64 Andrew Russell & Edward Fieldhouse, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, op. cit., 43.

65 He spoke with authority on Hong Kong and former Yugoslavia.

66 Don MacIver (ed.), The Liberal Democrats, Hemel Hempstead : Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1996, 183-184.

67 Andrew Russell & Edward Fieldhouse, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, op. cit., 70.

68 Chris Cook, A Short History of the Liberal Party, 1900-2001, op. cit., 215.

69 As newly elected leader, Paddy Ashdown tried to talk the party into branding themselves “Democrats” but he failed. According to his own words, he had underestimated the importance of the liberal tradition as well as the question of identity. See Paddy Ashdown, The Ashdown Diaries, Volume 1 : 1988-1997, London : Allen Lane, 2000, 11.

70 Menzies Campbell, My Autobiography, op. cit., 152.

71 He studied philosophy and politics at the University of Glasgow. There, he became a member of the Dialectical Society (a debating club) and president of Glasgow University Union. At twenty-three, he became the youngest MP to sit in the House of Commons. He won the Scottish seat of Ross, Cromarty & Skye for the SDP in 1983. Later, when the Social and Liberal Democratic Party was taking form, Kennedy was one of the few SDP MPs to support the merger.

72 Jackie Ashley, “Kennedy turns Lib Dem guns on Labour”, The Guardian, 21 January 2002. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/jan/21/liberaldemocrats.interviews1>, accessed 11 July 2011.

73 Andrew Russell & Edward Fieldhouse, Neither Left nor Right ? : The Liberal Democrats and the Electorate, op. cit., 259.

74 John Barrett, Alistair Carmichael, Paul Holmes, and John Pugh.

75 Alistair Carmichael, “Setting Communities Free”, Liberator, November 2003.

76 Richard S. Grayson, “The Liberal Democrat Journey to a Lib-Con Coalition – And Where Next ?”, Compass, 2010. <http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/compass/documents/ Compass%20LD%20Journey%20WEB.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2011.

77 Paul Marshall & David Laws (eds.), The Orange Book : Reclaiming Liberalism, London: Profile Books, 2004, 161.

78 “Profile: Charles Kennedy”, The Times, 5 January 2006. <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article785448.ece>, accessed 11 July 2011.

79 “Poll gap stays just as wide no matter who wins the arguments”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 April 2005, 1 & 8. YouGov Poll, 5,108 respondents to : “Is he, or is he not, telling lies to win this election ?” Answer : Tony Blair, Yes 58 %, No 26 %; Michael Howard, Yes 51 %, No 24 %; Charles Kennedy, Yes 22 %, No 46 %.

80 “Profile: Charles Kennedy”, op. cit.

81 At a morning press conference, Charles Kennedy was embarrassed when he had to answer questions about his party’s policy on local taxation.

82 During the 2005 electoral campaign, Charles Kennedy enjoyed free flights charged to a Swiss company. But the law bans political parties from accepting donations from foreign companies. Cf. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act, 2000.

83 Charles Kennedy attempted to question Tony Blair on CIA flights through British airspace. The Prime Minister replied that his question was “completely absurd”.

84 Charles Kennedy, “I’ve been coming to terms with a drinking problem”, The Times, 5 January  005.

85 A barrister in England and Wales.

86 Andrew Sparrow, “Menzies Campbell : Lib Dems should feel comfortable disagreeing with Tories”, The Guardian, 5 November 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/05/sir-menzies-campbell-interview-lib-dems-disagree>, accessed 11 July 2011.

87 Menzies Campbell, “Menzies Campbell : Extraordinary Rendition”, The Independent, 2 January 2006. <http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/menzies-campbell-extraordinary-rendition-524010.html>, accessed 11 July 2011.

88 Menzies Campbell, “Our Foreign Policy is just Plain Wrong”, The Observer, 20 August 2008. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/aug/20/foreignpolicy.syria>, accessed 11 July 2011.

89 Menzies Campbell, My Autobiography, op. cit., 286.

90 Paul Marshall & David Laws (eds.), The Orange Book : Reclaiming Liberalism, op. cit. ; Duncan Brack, Richard S. Grayson & David Howarth (eds.), Reinventing the State : Social Liberalism for the 21st Century, London : Politico’s, 2007, 278 p. See also Richard S. Grayson, “The Liberal Democrat Journey to a Lib-Con Coalition – And Where Next ?”, op. cit., 7.

91 Paddy Ashdown, A Fortunate Life, London : Aurum, 2009, 386.

92 “Senior Lib Dems Quit over EU Vote”, BBC, 5 March 2008. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7279805.stm>, accessed 11 July 2011. Three senior Liberal Democrats resigned from the frontbench defying Nick Clegg’s order over the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

93 David Laws, 22 Days in May, London : Biteback, 2010, 336 p.

94 The Liberal Democrat Party, The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, op.cit., 39.

95 <http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/>, accessed 20 July 2011.

96 Short and Cranborne Money is the name given to the annual payment made to opposition parties in the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively. Short Money was introduced in 1974 by H. Wilson’s government ; Cranborne Money was introduced on 27 November 1996. As the Liberal Democrats are members of the coalition, they are no longer in the opposition.

97 Robert Hazell & Dr. Ben Yong, Inside Story : How Coalition Government Works, Constitution Unit, 3 June 2011, 12. <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/coalition-government/interim-report.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2011.

98 Mary Ann Sieghart, “A Party that is Growing up in Public”, The Independent, 13 December 2010. <http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mary-ann-sieghart/mary-ann-sieghart-a-party-that-is-growing-up-in-public-2158709.html>, accessed 11 July 2011.

99 David Edgar, “Who’ll Stand up for Liberty in Britain”, The Guardian, 27 January 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commen.tisfree/2011/jan/27/civil-liberty-britain-freedom-bill>, accessed 11 July 2011.

100 “NHS Shakeup : From Malignant to Muddled”, The Guardian, 23 May 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/23/health-reforms-nick-clegg-changes>, accessed 11 July 2001.

101 Robert Hazell & Dr. Ben Yong, Inside Story : How Coalition Government Works, op. cit., 10.

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Muriel Cassel-Piccot, « The Liberal Democrat Party : From Contender to Coalitionist », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n°8 | 2014, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2014, consulté le 17 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/6954 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.6954

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Auteur

Muriel Cassel-Piccot

Université Lyon 3 – Jean Moulin, France. Muriel Cassel-Piccot is a senior lecturer at Université Lyon 3 – Jean Moulin, France. She first started her career as a researcher in communication, focusing on British media and advertising. Since then, she has expanded her field of study, devoting particular attention to British parties’ communication strategies and to the Liberal Democrat Party.

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