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.

Charles Kennedy announces that he is resigning as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Kennedy’s resignation was the final act of a turbulent period in the party’s history which began after the 2005 general election. Concern about Kennedy’s drinking began to be expressed and although Kennedy took steps to assert his authority discontent grew, culminating in a letter signed by half the members of the shadow cabinet asking Kennedy to consider his position. In January, following information that ITV woulf be running a story about his drinking, Kennedy convened a press conference to announce that he was calling a leadership election in which he would be a candidate. This was the last straw for most of the party’s MPs who indicated that they would not serve under him. Faced with this ultimatum Kennedy resigned two days later.

Willie Rennie wins the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election

The by-election was caused by the death of the sitting Labour MP, Rachel Squire after a long illness. Despite poor opinion poll ratings at the start of the campaign, and reports that Liberal Democrat ambitions were confined to holding off the SNP to retain second place, Rennie and his team pulled off the first by-election defeat for Labour in Scotland since they lost the Glasgow Govan seat to the SNP in 1988, turning a Labour majority of over 11,000 into a Lib Dem majority of 1,800. The by-election took place during the Lib Dem leadership election which followed the resignation of Charles Kennedy, a difficult time for the party. Sir Menzies Campbell, whose North East Fife seat was next door, and the winner of the leadership campaign said the victory had been won because of a ‘very good local candidate’ who had fought a ‘very good campaign’.

Sir Menzies Campbell is elected leader of the Liberal Democrats

The election had been triggered by the resignation of Charles Kennedy. Campbell the early favourite was challenged by Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes. Huhne in particular fought an energetic campaign and gained a good deal of ground in the campaign so that when the first round of voting was announced Huhne had pushed Hughes into third place. After Hughes’ votes were redistributed, Campbell was elected with 29,697 votes to Huhne’s 21,628. As leader, Campbell brought more rigour to policy making and to party organisation, however his leadership was never fully embraced by the party and after leading the Liberal Democrats for barely 18 months, Campbell resigned in October 2007.

The Tories get a scare in the Bromley by-election

Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Abbotts increases the party’s share of the vote at the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election by 17.5% to finish just 633 votes behind the victorious Conservative, the party jumping from third place at the previous general election. Nigel Farage came third for UKIP with 8% of the poll and for only the second time since 1945, Labour dropped to fourth place.

Nick Clegg is elected leader of the Liberal Democrats

The contest between the two candidates to succeed Menzies Campbell, Clegg and Chris Huhne rarely caught fire but was notable for some personal spats, the most notorious of which was the “Calamity Clegg” dossier leaked to the media by the Huhne camp. Clegg the front runner fought a cautious campaign to the frustration of some of his supporters. Huhne the outsider was more aggressive and finished strongly so that when the result was announced, Clegg’s majority was just over 500 votes.

Simon Hughes is elected Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats

The previous incumbent, Vince Cable, had resigned on his appointment as Business Secretary in the newly formed coalition government. There was one other candidate in the contest, Tim Farron the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale. After a short campaign Hughes received the votes of 38 of the party’s MPs to Farron’s 18 with one abstention. Hughes served until January 2014 when he resigned, following his appointment as a government minister.

Mike Thornton wins the Eastleigh by-election

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Chris Huhne, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and saw Thornton beat Diane James of the UK Independence Party with a majority of 1,771 to record the first by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats since 2006 and provided a rare example of a governing party successfully defending a seat.

The Liberal Democrats win the Chesham & Amersham by-election from the Conservatives

The by-election was caused by the death of the sitting MP Dame Cheryl Gillan. Although the Liberal Democrats were the clear challengers a win for them was by no means certain; the Conservative government remained popular and had gained a seat off Labour at the Hartlepool by-election the previous March. The uncertainty was reflected in calls for an electoral pact between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens by former LibDem MP Philip Lee and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. A number of issues including HS2, the government’s proposed planning reforms and uncertainty as to what levelling up meant for the South of England provided ammunition for the Liberal Democrats which ran a strong campaign with Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey visiting the constituency no less than 16 times. Sarah Green is the first Liberal MP elected in Buckinghamshire since Lady Vera Terrington in 1923.