The 2015 general election left the Liberal Democrats on a precipice. The party was reduced to just eight MPs, a much shrunken local government base, and had been dethroned from its traditional position as the third party of British politics.
Since then, it has been seeking a way back to its post-1997, pre-2010 levels of support, and the result of the EU referendum in 2016 seemed to offer just that. By speaking out for a pro-European Union perspective, a position the Liberal Democrats had long held as a party, they hoped to build support among voters who had opted for Remain.
An early general election poses a major problem for the party – it’s too soon to have had a chance to shake off the negative legacy of coalition with the Conservatives, and too soon to see how the government’s negotiating strategy for leaving the EU will play out.
The party manifesto for the June 2017 election tries to offer the electorate policies that will overcome these twin pressures. It also seeks to give the party something to build on before the next general election, which is expected to be held in 2022, after the UK has left the EU. Perhaps understandably, it seeks to limit the ambition of the party to being a stronger opposition, rather than seeking to enter government. Indeed, it explicitly rules out a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour.
The big issues
There is a twin track offer on Brexit in this manifesto. On the one hand, during the negotiations, the Liberal Democrats will campaign for Britain to remain in the single market. On the other, the party wants to offer a referendum on the final deal, with an option to remain in the European Union on the ballot paper.
Clearly, the party hopes to appeal to Remainers…
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