A survey of more than 100 years of the history of the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrat Party, demands that some tentative conclusions be drawn. The most intriguing question concerns the relationship between the party as it stood in 1900 and that existing in the second decade of the twenty first century. The name on the bottle has certainly changed, but are its contents essentially the same? At the most fundamental level, a clear institutional continuity is apparent. The party may have come near to going out of business in the decade after the end of the Second World War, but it never actually did so, and it has been handed on by successive generations of leaders, activists and followers without interruption. It has been the victim of many defections, most notably in 1931–32, and, more recently, has benefited from the arrival of new recruits, especially following the merger with the majority of the Social Democratic Party in 1988. But enough of the core has always been retained to guarantee a legitimate pattern of descent from Campbell-Bannerman to Clegg. This institutional continuity is confirmed by the party’s extra-parliamentary structure.
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