The tragic collapse of the Liberal Democratic party at the 2015 general election overshadows any positive role it may wish to play in the current Brexit referendum. By far the most consistently and enthusiastically pro-European British political party, the Liberal Democrats’ rise to power in 2010 and in particular Nick Clegg’s accession to the position of Deputy Prime Minister signified both an unexpected success and foreshadowed an unprecedented disaster. It was an unprecedented success because this relatively new party with deep roots in the great 19th-century Liberal party that last governed Britain between 1908 and 1922 under the Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd-George premierships, then went into steep decline, and finally merged with the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Nick Clegg, a former Liberal Democrat Euro-MP was groomed to the leadership of the party by former party Paddy Ashdown who had given the Liberal Democrats some much-needed credibility during his tenure as between 1998 and 1999. Clegg was in many ways seen as the party’s new face: a young, dynamic, urbane, well-educated leader, member of the Oxbridge élite and potentially a future British Prime Minister.
His willingness and ability to work in coalition with David Cameron and the Tory party from 2010 to 2015 and in doing so to both moderate the more radical Tory policies of and to establish an institutionalized Liberal Democratic powerbase on which to build at the next general election so as to allow his party to become a true contender for power badly backfired and brought with it a LibDem collapse of historic portions in 2015. Although the Liberal Democrats did indeed succeed to hem in the Tories’ more radical policies especially on European matters, the compromises they had to enter into and assume ownership of - especially with regards to university tuition fees - alienated large section of its voter base, which defected both to Labour and to the Tories in 2015, thus reducing the Liberal Democratic presence in the House of Commons to just a handful of MPs
Tim Farron, who succeeded Nick Clegg successor as party leader, is enthusiastically pro-European and has launched what he calls a joyful and positive campaign in favour of staying in the EU. He recently encapsulated his party’s position on the EU by declaring that Prime Minister Cameron
“…has shown himself to be weak, and heartless. And this campaign needs the opposite. This campaign needs strength and compassion… The leave campaign will play nasty, and it seems people on our own side will engage in a nasty race to the bottom on immigration, migration and refugees. But Liberal Democrats, I will not stand for it… Europe is not perfect. Westminster is not perfect. But picking up your ball in a sulk and heading home is not the way to win…We should be a leading voice to make changes. Remaining in a reformed Europe. This is Britain's time to lead the way."
However, the magnitude of the LibDems’ defeat at the most recent parliamentary elections limits their voice and their impact in the upcoming Brexit referendum.