Polling day in the 1992 general election

John Major secures a fourth consecutive victory for the Conservatives. For the Liberal Democrats a poll of 17.8% and 20 seats was something of a disappointment given that the party had run an energetic and effective campaign, however the closeness of the campaign between Labour and the Conservatives led to a third party squeeze. The party lost its three by-election gains from the previous parliament and lost Southport and Brecon & Radnor to the Conservatives and Ceredigion & Pembroke North to Plaid Cymru. In return it gained four seats from the Conservatives – Bath, Cheltenham, North Cornwall and North Devon.

Paddy Ashdown attends a dinner for Boris Yeltsin

Paddy Ashdown attended a dinner for Boris Yeltsin at Chequers at which, he records, Prime Minister John Major made a banal speech and Yeltsin made an even more banal reply. But he took the opportunity to discuss the situation in the Balkans, one of his own areas of specialty, with David Owen who was at that time the EU co-chairman of the Conference for the Former Yugoslavia. Ashdown thought Owen must be desperate to get out of the mire but he stayed on until 1995. Ashdown himself would become High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002 after standing down from the Liberal Democrat leadership.

Death of Stephen Ross, Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight, February 1974-87

Ross was a popular local figure on the Isle of Wight and was Leader of the Council there twice. According to David Steel, Ross won and held the seat largely through the force of his own personality. He retired from the Commons in 1987 and became a peer taking the title Baron Ross of Newport.

Death of Jo Grimond, twice leader of the Liberal Party

Jo Grimond, Baron Grimond was Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland 1950-83, Leader of the Liberal Party 1956-67 and 1976. A man of considerable charm and intellect, Grimond’s period as leader saw the Liberal Party undergo a notable revival. Grimond reversed the seemingly inexorable Liberal decline and brought dynamism and ideas back to the Party. His writings, in particular, The Liberal Future and The Liberal Challenge and his formation of the Unservile State Group gave political liberalism a new direction and placed it on the left of British politics. Grimond resigned the leadership after 11 years during which time the Liberal Party’s vote had risen from 722,000 to over 2.3 million and the number of MPs had more than doubled. Grimond returned briefly to the leadership in the wake of the resignation of Jeremy Thorpe when he steadied the Party’s nerves and oversaw the first leadership election that involved a vote of the whole party.

Death of Arthur Holt, Liberal MP for Bolton West 1951-64

Along with Donald Wade in Huddersfield, Holt owed his election to a pact with local Conservatives with each party allowing the other a free run in one of the two constituencies that made up the town. Without a Tory opponent Holt was able to defeat the sitting Labour MP John Lewis at the 1951 general election and held the seat for 13 years until the pact broke down following the Liberals’ decision to contest the Bolton East by-election in November 1960. Holt served as Liberal Chief Whip 1962-63 and President of the Liberal Party 1974-75.

Emma Nicholson MP announces that she is leaving the Tories and joining the Liberal Democrats

In an interview with the BBC the MP for Devon West and Torridge stated why she was joining the Liberal Democrats, ‘The Liberal Democrats conceptualize my own personal philosophy and feelings in a way the Conservative Party no longer does: concern for the poor, for people in trouble, both those at home and those seeking asylum; and, over and above all, a straightforward goal on Europe – namely, involvement as hard and as fast as we possibly can, for the sake of Britain and everybody else – and equally a vision of Britain’s future. All this is sorely missing from the Conservative Government..’ Nicholson stood down from parliament at the following election and her seat was retained by the Liberal Democrats. She served as a Liberal Democrat MEP for ten years (1999-2009) and now sits in the House of Lords. In 2016 she re-joined the Conservatives.

Paddy Ashdown records in his diaries that Prime Minister John Major went to Buckingham Palace to resign that morning and that the general election had therefore formally begun. Ashdown also notes that he received another death threat in the post from the neo-Nazi organization Combat 18.

The Liberal Democrats win 46 seats in the general election

In spite of the increase in seats, their best showing since the 1920s, the Liberal Democrats share of the vote fell by 1% to 16.8%. The party’s decision to move to a target seat strategy, focusing campaigning and resources on a select number of winnable seats, paid dividends. MPs elected for the first time included Vince Cable, Paul Burstow, David Heath, Ed Davey and Steve Webb, all of whom would go on to serve as ministers in the Coalition Government. The election saw the Conservatives removed from office, losing 178 seats. With Labour winning 418 seats, previous talk of a possible coalition or arrangement between the Liberal Democrats and Labour was shelved, although the parties did work together on a number of joint commissions, most notably towards the ‘Jenkins Report’ into reform of the electoral system.

In a rerun of the general election, Mark Oaten holds Winchester for the Liberal Democrats

In May’s general election Oaten had gained Winchester from the Conservatives after a day of recounts by 2 votes. The narrowest result in a general election for over 80 years. Following a complaint by Gerry Malone, the Conservative incumbent, 55 ballot papers were rejected by the Returning Officer as they had not been stamped properly by polling station staff. In the subsequent by-election Oaten triumphed with 68% of the vote, a 26% increase from the original result. Oaten’s majority rose from 2 to 21,556. The by-election was the last election fought by Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Looney Party. This was also a seat in which the Literal Democrat Mark here to win stood. Mark Oaten joined the SDP in the 1980s and served as MP for Winchester until he stood down in 2010. Recently he has written a book looking at coalition governments since 1850.

Paddy Ashdown announces his resignation as Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Ashdown had been contemplating standing down for some time and particularly since the Labour government’s negative response to the Jenkins Commission report on proportional representation, however when Ashdown made his announcement it came as a surprise to many of his colleagues. Ashdown records in his diary his discussion with Diana Maddock, then Party President, “She had expected the worse. Her first reaction was, ‘Goodness that’s a relief. I thought you might be about to announce we were going into coalition…’.”

Death of Baroness Robson of Kiddington

Inga-Stina Robson was born in Stockholm and had a career in the Swedish Foreign Service. While stationed in London she married Lawrence Robson, a Liberal candidate and their home in Kiddington, Oxfordshire became a centre for entertaining and later a training establishment for the Liberal Party. Stina Robson chaired the Womens’ Liberal Federation and the National Liberal Club. She contested four parliamentary elections without success and was made a life peer in 1974.

Sandra Gidley seizes the Hampsire seat of Romsey from the Conservatives

The win for the Liberal Democrats represented the only by-election gain for any party during the 1997-2001 parliament. Following a hardline Conservative campaign focused on asylum and law and order, new Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy ascribed the party’s success and its 21% vote increase, to ‘a victory of the politics of hope over the politics of fear’.

Polling day in the 2001 general election

Tony Blair and New Labour are re-elected with a majority hardly changed from the 1997 Labour landslide. The Liberal Democrats, now lead by Charles Kennedy fighting his first election, confounded many of his critics by increasing both its share of the vote (up to 18.3%) and the number of MPs (up to 52). Although two seats were lost to the Tories, seven were gained plus one from Labour which included North Norfolk, Chesterfield and Ludlow. For the first time since 1929 the party had at least one MP in every region.

Death of Richard Wainwright, much respected Liberal MP for Colne Valley

Wainwright joined the Liberals when at Cambridge University in the late 1930s and stood as Liberal candidate for Pudsley in 1950 and 1951 and then for Colne Valley where he stood three times before being elected in 1966. He was defeated in 1970 but re-captured the seat in February 1974 and held the seat until he retired in 1987. In parliament Wainwright spoke for the party on finance, trade and industry and finally employment. For the party he chaired the party’s research department (1968-70) and served as party chairman (1970-72). On his retirement from parliament Wainwright was actively involved in the Electoral Reform Society and was a founder member of Charter 88. His son Martin has been Northern Editor of the Guardian and his daughter, Hilary is a radical academic and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine.

Sarah Teather wins the Brent East by-election

Sarah Teather becomes the new MP for Brent East, winning a byelection with a 29% swing against Labour. In the 2001 election, the Liberal Democrats had finished third with only 10.6% of the vote. Commenting on the result, Party Leader, Charles Kennedy said, “In Britain’s most diverse community, we have shown that we can speak for every section of society and the Liberal Democrat message is one they want to hear and support”.

The Liberal Democrats win the Leicester South by-election

Local councillor Parmjit Singh Gill gained the seat from Labout with 34.9% of the vote. Gill fought the seat at the general election the following year but was defeated by the Labour candidate Peter Soulsby.

Simon Hughes becomes President of the Liberal Democrats

Simon Hughes is elected President of the Liberal Democrats, defeating his only opponent Lembit Opik the MP for Montgomeryshire. After his election Hughes pledged ‘to work flat out for a big increase in Liberal Democrat seats at the next general election, to increase our membership to overtake Labour’s and grow our party’s resources, appeal and voters to make the party fit for the purpose government.’ Hughes served two terms as President, retiring in 2008.

The Liberal Democrats win 62 seats in the 2005 general election

The election saw Tony Blair and the Labour Party re-elected for a historic third term with a majority of 66. Thanks to some strong identifiable policies such as opposition to the Iraq war, tuition fees and the council tax, the Liberal Democrats increased its vote share to 22% with big rises in its vote in the North of England and in Scotland where the party came second to Labour resulting in the largest number of Liberal MPs elected since 1923. 11 seats were gained from Labour, including Birmingham Yardley, Falmouth and Camborne, Leeds North West and Manchester Withington, plus three from the Tories and Ceredigion was recaptured from Plaid Cymru. This was balanced by the loss of four seats to the Conservatives. Although the party had polled well, there was a feeling that, given the lack of popularity of the other two main parties, the party could have made more progress and that an opportunity had been missed.

Mark Hunter holds Cheadle for the Liberal Democrats

The by-election was caused by the sad death of Patsy Calton from cancer. The campaign had been marked by Lib Dem accusations of Tory dirty tricks and negative campaigning, over one of which legal action was threatened. The Times said the Lib Dems were getting a taste of their own political medicine but Hunter achieved a majority of 3,650 and a 0.6% swing from the Conservatives whose candidate Stephen Day had lost the seat to Calton at the 2001 general election.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy calls a leadership election

Kennedy called the election following an admission that he was receiving treatment and help for a “drink problem”. He initially signalled his intention to stand in the contest to allow the party’s membership to decide whether he should continue as leader. However, following the release of a statement signed by 25 Liberal Democrat MPs which signalled that they would not continue to serve under Kennedy, he announced on January 7th that he would not seek re-election. Since his election in 1999, Kennedy had overseen an increase in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs elected, from 46 MPs in 1999 to 62 MPs at the point he resigned in 2006.