Members and Staff

Our organisation welcomes and encourages diversity within our membership and staff. Our aim is that our membership is truly representative of all sections of society and each member feels able to contribute and participate in whatever way they wish to. We are therefore committed to being inclusive in all aspects of the work that we do, whether that is formulating policy, organising Party conferences, providing support for candidates, or running local campaigns.

Isabelle Parasram is the party’s Vice President. Isabelle works to champion diversity and increases engagement with BAME communities at various levels across the party.

Changing leaders

From the outset Ashdown’s successor, Charles Kennedy, was less inclined to work with Labour, focusing instead on replacing the Conservatives as the principal party of opposition. The Liberal Democrats began to benefit from the electorate’s disillusionment with New Labour, gaining ground in by-elections and local elections, and increasing their vote share in the 2001 general election to 18 per cent, with six net gains.

The terrorist attacks in the US on 11th September 2001, and the Labour government’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, transformed the political situation. The Liberal Democrats were the only one of the three main parties to oppose the war, and also to attack the steady infringements of civil liberties perpetrated by New Labour in the name of the war on terror. The party’s policy platform was popular and distinctive, with its critique of over-centralised and micro-managed public services, its proposals for a fairer tax system, its consistent support for strong environmental policies, and its opposition to Labour’s introduction of tuition fees for university students.

By-election and local election gains continued, and the Liberal Democrats emerged from the 2005 general election with 62 seats, the highest number of Liberal MPs since 1923, and 22 per cent of the vote. Despite this, there was a widespread feeling amongst party members that in the wake of a deeply unpopular war, and with the Conservatives still not mounting effective opposition, they should have done better. Amidst mounting dissatisfaction with Kennedy’s laid-back leadership style, MPs became increasingly concerned over the party’s drift and lack of direction, and also the leader’s rumoured alcoholism. Following two attempts to persuade Kennedy to resign, he finally stood down in January 2006. In March, Sir Menzies Campbell, the party’s deputy leader, was elected as the third leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The Campbell leadership, which lasted just nineteen months, was not, in general, a happy period. Campbell was a well-respected foreign affairs spokesman but found it difficult to adjust to the rough and tumble of the Prime Minister’s questions. Although he restored a sense of purpose and professionalism to the party organisation and drove through important reforms of party policy, local election results under his leadership were not encouraging. The party’s slide in the opinion polls throughout 2007 caused panic amongst some parliamentarians and led to a systematic undermining of his leadership. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s decision not to call an election in autumn 2007 signalled the end, and Campbell announced his resignation in October.

After a hard-fought election, Nick Clegg narrowly beat Chris Huhne for the leadership; both men had been MEPs from 1999 to 2004, and both had been newly elected to the House of Commons in 2005.

Into Government

Clegg’s assumption of the leadership stopped the slide in the opinion polls and stabilised party morale, and the Liberal Democrats performed strongly in the local elections in 2008 and 2009. However, the world-wide credit crunch and the bail-out of a series of major banks by the government in 2008–09 resulted in a major deterioration in British public finances, and a transformation in the political scene.

Liberal Democrat policy had to change: the party’s 1990s’ pledge of higher public expenditure in key areas was no longer viable, and Labour’s record of costly, ineffective and increasingly centralised public services measures had, in any case, undermined support for central state activity.

This process led to some tensions within the party, particularly between the so-called ‘economic liberals’ (aligned with the proposals published in 2004 in The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism), who argued for a smaller state and less government intervention, and the so-called ‘social liberals’ who in their turn pointed to the need for continued government action, in particular, to reduce inequality and deal with the growing environmental challenge (set out in 2007 in Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century). The divisions between the two groups were never as hard and fast, or as deep-rooted, as the media liked to pretend, however, and in general, the leadership won support for its proposals for cutting the public deficit and prioritising public expenditure more sharply.

The Liberal Democrats entered the 2010 election with a programme based on fairness, including redistributive taxation, a ‘pupil premium’ to improve school education for children from poorer families, an economic stimulus package focused on low-carbon investment and a far-reaching programme of political and constitutional reform. After a dramatic campaign, featuring the country’s first-ever television debates between the three main party leaders – in which Nick Clegg performed strongly – and wild swings in the opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats ended with a small increase in their total vote, to 23 per cent, although the vagaries of the electoral system delivered a net loss of six seats.

The election outcome of a hung parliament gave the Liberal Democrats their first real chance of power, and negotiations for a coalition began with both Conservative and Labour parties. In the end, a coalition programme containing a substantial portion of the Liberal Democrat manifesto was agreed with the Conservatives. On 11 May 2010, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party and Federal Executive voted almost unanimously to enter the coalition, a decision endorsed overwhelmingly by party members at a special conference five days later.

For the first time in 65 years, Liberal ministers sat on the government benches of the House of Commons. Five Liberal Democrats entered the cabinet, including Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, and a further fourteen became junior ministers.

Step up & Stand

We know that the Party needs to reflect the people and communities that it represents, and that is why we are focused on improving the diversity of our MPs in Parliament. So, If you are a member of an underrepresented group and are even half-considering becoming a candidate we want to hear from you. You don’t have to have years of political experience just a passion to change things for the better. Here’s how you can become a candidate.