This year marks twenty five years since the formation of the Liberal Democrats. The party’s had something of a roller coaster journey since the merger of the old Liberal Party and the SDP. The first two years could not have been more disastrous. Three of the SDP’s five MPs refused to join, though most grass roots members transferred. While all of the seventeen Liberal MPs joined, some were less than enthusiastic about the new party.
The party even squabbled about its new name, with the membership vote for the short form of Democrats being overturned in favour of Liberal Democrats. As a former member of the SDP I preferred Democrats at the time but quickly realised I was wrong. “Lib Dems” has now become common political currency and it was important to make it clear we were the successors of Gladstone and Lloyd George.
The name confusion and the short lived competition of David Owen’s “continuing SDP” gave the new party such an awful set of election results in 1989 that it looked as though it might collapse before or be wiped out at the next general election. As Paddy Ashdown often jokes, his new party was an “*” in opinion polls, with negligible support. In Bristol West we came fourth in all bar one ward and I can remember attending a Clifton branch meeting where we discussed whether anyone could actually face going canvassing…I had to go out on my own.
But the 1990 local election results were better and in October David Bellotti won the Eastbourne by election, becoming the first MP elected as a Liberal Democrat. Presumably someone told Mrs Thatcher that her “dead parrot” was not only alive but squawking loudly. Within weeks she had resigned.
Since Eastbourne the Liberal Democrats have elected another 105 MPs, in 84 constituencies. In the 2010 general election the party got its highest ever absolute number of votes and vote share but only 57 MPs. First past the post is part to blame but perhaps a better incumbency programme over the preceding twenty years would have given the party about 90 seats, given that several new ones were won at that election.
Aside from the psephology, the demographics are quite depressing for a liberal party. Only one of the 106 MPs has been from an ethnic minority. Only seventeen have been women. We do slightly better on sexuality. I was the party’s first openly gay MP. Stephen Gilbert joined me in 2010. But we are the only two to have been open with our constituents before our first election. Four others have been outed as gay or bi-sexual. I’ve not done the precise arithmetic on social background but there is undoubtedly a strong tinge of middle class, privately educated and Oxbridge about many of my current and former Parliamentary colleagues.
Last Thursdays local elections were tough for the party. But we’re in much better shape than our first electoral outing in 1989. There’s two years to go before the next general election. The 2015 general election will be on the same boundaries as 2010, giving defending MPs a significant incumbency advantage. But if we are to do better than previous elections in holding on to what we’ve got, as well as making gains, then the party needs to be more ruthless in its marshalling of support for sitting MPs or held constituencies. We also must make sure that the 2015 Parliamentary party looks more like 21st century Britain. Many more women, more non white and more of whatever gender, race, sexuality or disability who aren’t too posh to know the price of milk.
The origins of this post are my doodles and calculations that I tweeted on Easter Sunday. I promised to write up the names and seats of the 106 MPs….sorry it’s taken so long but I’ve been busy electioneering! This could easily lead to future articles on MP political origins (SDP, Lib, Lib Dem and others), length of service, reasons for defeat, where are they now, etc etc!
Here’s the full One Hundred and Six, in date order:
David Bellotti – Eastbourne by election. Defeated GE 1992.
Mike Carr – Ribble Valley by election. Defeated GE 1992.
Nicol Stephen – Kincardine and Deeside by election. Defeated GE 1992.
1992 General Election
Russell Johnson – Inverness. First elected 1964. Retired GE 1997 and constituency lost.
David Steel – Tweedale, Ettrick & Lauderdale. First elected 1965. Retired GE 1997.
Robert MacLennan – Caithness and Sutherland. First elected 1966. Retired GE 1997.
Alan Beith – Berwick Upon Tweed. First elected 1973.
David Alton – Liverpool Mossley Hill. First elected 1979. Retired GE 1997 & constituency abolished.
Simon Hughes – Southwark and Bermondsey. First elected 1983.
Paddy Ashdown – Yeovil. First elected 1983. Retired GE 2001
Alex Carlile – Montgomery. First elected 1983. Retired GE 1997.
Charles Kennedy – Ross, Cromarty and Skye. First elected1983
Archie Kirkwood – Roxburgh and Berwickshire. First elected 1983. Retired GE 2005.
Malcolm Bruce – Gordon (1983 – )
Jim Wallace – Orkney & Shetland (1983 – retired 2001)
Matthew Taylor – Truro & St Austell (1987 by election – retired GE 2010)
Menzies Campbell – Fife North East (1987 – )
Ray Michie – Argyll & Bute (1987 – retired 2001)
Don Foster – Bath
Nick Harvey – North Devon
Nigel Jones – Cheltenham. Retired GE 2005
Liz Lynne – Rochdale. Defeated GE 1997
Paul Tyler – North Cornwall. Retired 2005 (Also MP for Bodmin Feb – Oct 1974)
David Rendel – Newbury by election. Defeated 2005
Diana Maddock – Christchurch by election. Defeated 1997
David Chidgey – Eastleigh by election. Retired 2005
Chris Davies – Littleborough & Saddleworth by election. Defeated GE 1997
General Election 1997:
Mike Hancock – Portsmouth South (previously SDP 1984 – 1987)
Richard Livsey – Brecon and Radnor (previously Lib 985 – 1992) Retired 2001.
Ronnie Fearn – Southport (previously Lib 1987 – 1992) Retired 2001.
Andrew George – St Ives
Colin Breed – Cornwall South East. Retired GE 2010 and constituency lost.
John Burnett – Devon West & Torridge. Retired 2005 and constituency lost.
Adrian Sanders – Torbay
Jackie Ballard – Taunton. Defeated GE 2001.
David Heath – Somerton & Frome
Brian Cotter – Weston Super Mare. Defeated GE 2005.
Steve Webb – Northavon
Dr Peter Brand – Isle of Wight. Defeated GE 2001.
Mark Oaten – Winchester. Retired GE 2010 and constituency lost.
Norman Baker – Lewes.
Vince Cable – Twickenham
Dr Jenny Tonge – Richmond Park. Retired GE 2005
Edward Davey – Kingston & Surbiton
Tom Brake – Carshalton & Wallington
Paul Burstow – Sutton & Cheam
Bob Russell – Colchester
Dr Evan Harris – Oxford West & Abingdon. Defeated GE 2010
Paul Keetch – Hereford. Retired GE 2010 and constituency lost.
Andrew Stunell – Hazel Grove
Phil Willis – Harrogate & Knaresborough. Retired GE 2010 and constituency lost
Richard Allen – Sheffield Hallam. Retired GE 2005
Donald Gorrie – Edinburgh West. Retired GE 2001
Sir Robert Smith – West Aberdeenshire
Lembit Opik – Montgomery. Defeated GE 2010
Michael Moore – Tweedale, Ettrick & Lauderdale (Roxburgh and Berwickshire since 2005)
Sandra Gidley – Romsey by election. Defeated GE 2010
2001 General Election
Richard Younger-Ross – Teignbridge. Defeated (at Newton Abbot) GE 2010
Annette Brooke – Mid Dorset and North Poole
Sue Doughty – Guildford. Defeated GE 2005
Norman Lamb – North Norfolk
Matthew Green – Ludlow. Defeated GE 2005
Patsy Calton – Cheadle. Died 2005
Paul Holmes – Chesterfield. Defeated GE 2010
David Laws – Yeovil
Dr John Pugh – Southport
Roger Williams – Brecon & Radnor
Alistair Carmichael – Orkney & Shetland
John Thurso – Caithness & Sutherland
Alan Reid – Argyll & Bute
John Barrett – Edinburgh West. Retired GE 2010
Sarah Teather – Brent East by election. Seat abolished GE 2010 and ST elected at Brent Central
Parmjit Singh Gill – Leicester South (2004 – 2005)
2005 General Election
Lorely Burt – Solihull
Tim Farron – Westmoreland & Lonsdale
Julia Goldsworthy – Falmouth & Camborne. Defeated (at Camborne and Redruth) GE 2010
Jeremy Browne – Taunton
Stephen Williams – Bristol West
Lynne Featherstone – Hornsey & Wood Green
John Hemming – Birmingham Yardley
David Howarth – Cambridge. Retired GE 2010
Greg Mulholland – Leeds North West
John Leech – Manchester Withington
Paul Rowen – Rochdale. Defeated GE 2010
Jenny Willott – Cardiff Central
Jo Swinson – East Dumbartonshire
Danny Alexander – Inverness, Badenoch & Strathspey
Mark Williams – Ceredigion
Dan Rogerson – Cornwall North
Martin Horwood – Cheltenham
Chris Huhne – Eastleigh. Resigned 2013
Susan Kramer – Richmond Park. Defeated GE 2010
Nick Clegg – Sheffield Hallam.
Mark Hunter – Cheadle by election.
Willie Rennie – Dunfermline & West Fife by election. Defeated GE 2010
2010 General Election
Stephen Gilbert – St Austell & Newquay
Duncan Hames – Chippenham
Tessa Munt – Wells
Stephen Lloyd – Eastbourne
Simon Wright Norwich South
David Ward Bradford East
Gordon Birtwhistle – Burnley
Ian Swales – Redcar
Julian Huppert – Cambridge
Mike Crockart – Edinburgh West
Mike Thornton – Eastleigh by election
Defectors (not ever elected as Liberal Democrats have been Emma Nicholson (Con, Devon West 1995, retired 1997), Peter Thurnham (Con, Bolton North East 1996, retired 1997), Paul Marsden (Lab, Shrewsbury & Atcham 2001, re-joined Lab pre GE 2005) and Brian Sedgemore (Lab, Hackney South and Shoreditch 2005 and retired GE 2005).