What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?


THE title of this post is the question that—more than ever before—I find myself asking following the Liberal Democrats’ just-finished gathering in Brighton. It was my fourth Lib Dem conference. My first, also in Brighton, was in 2012. Back then, too, the talk was of the party’s identity crisis. Two years into its coalition with the Conservatives, members were grumpy. Nick Clegg, then the deputy prime minister, had led them into government and was on the back foot after an unpopular budget and a failed referendum on electoral reform. Was the party a centre-left force: a Labour Party without the authoritarian streak? Or was it a force of the free-market centre: an enlightened complement to Tory power? Pamphlets circulated about things like the meaning of liberalism.

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