LETTER:Life beyond Westminster's two-party club

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The Independent Online
From Mr David Rendel, MP

Sir: Anthony King's article about the SDP ("The end of the Mad Hatters", 16 November) demonstrates, once again, the curiously Westminster-centric attitude to politics shown by so many political commentators.

Mr King asserts that over the past 20 years the British party system has scarcely changed. Has he not noticed that, during that time, the Liberal Democrat Party has moved from third place to second place, overtaking the Conservatives, in local government? We have moved from fewer than 1,000 councillors to more than 5,000 councillors, and having been in control of no councils at all, we are now in control of more than 50, and are the largest Party in more than 50 others.

These changes began before the formation of the SDP, continued steadily while that party was in existence, and have, if anything, accelerated since the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party. Many of those thousands of councillors now proud to call themselves Liberal Democrats were drawn into the new party as a result of the formation of the SDP.

It is, of course, true that the huge popularity of the Alliance in 1982 at national level proved in the end as ephemeral as the current popularity of Tony Blair is likely to prove in a few months' time. The volatility of the current British electorate can lead to very large transient swings in national popularity.

In contrast, the increasing strength of the Liberal Democrats in local government, in which the formation of the SDP has played such a significant part, is now so firm and so long-standing, that it will surely be seen in history as of far greater significance than any temporary national swings.

The fact that so many of our current parliamentary seats have been won on the basis of previous local election success shows that it can only be a matter of time before we achieve increasing success at national level, this time based on a much more secure and long-lasting foundation.

Yours sincerely,

David Rendel

MP for Newbury (Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London, SW1

16 November

The writer is Local Government spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.