The Liberal Democrats (and predecessors) have been very much the third party in the Westminster party system. However, the party has dramatically increased its parliamentary representation in recent years, achieving 62 seats in 2005, and holding 57 seats in the 2010 parliament. This has been achieved by taking seats from both Labour and the Conservatives, and by being able to exploit popular issues not represented by the two main parties, for instance in opposing the 2003 Iraq war. The Liberal Democrats have consequently become an important area for study in their own right (Russell and Fieldhouse, 2005). Nevertheless, their ascent has not been problem-free and has variously involved the perception of internal ideological and policy conflict, and some high-profile changes of leadership. This chapter therefore examines developments in the Liberal Democrats. The first section sets out the key elements of Liberal Democrat ideology and policy through the lens of the two main ideological strands in the party, classical liberalism, and more interventionist social liberalism. The second part evaluates the leadership of the party, and outlines the party’s procedures for selecting a leader. The third section sets out the party’s candidate selection processes and assesses how representative the party’s MPs are. Post-2010, the Liberal Democrats have participation in a coalition government alongside the Conservatives at Westminster to add to their record of holding office in the devolved institutions.
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