So, who are the Liberal Democrats?
They are first and foremost a fusion of two political parties. The Liberal Democrats are the heirs of the old Liberal Party that was a major party in the UK until overtaken by Labour in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. The second group was formed when a group of moderate Labour MPs, called the Social Democratic Party(SDP), split from the party in the 1980s and joined forces with the Liberals and by the early 1990s they resulting party was known as the Liberal Democrats.
The party tends to be the most left leaning party but economic issues do cause divisions and tensions within the party. Originally they were more moderate then the democratic socialism of Labour but Labour under Tony Blair moved right on economics, and now the Lib Dems might be more left than Labour. Liberal Democrats are most assoociated with pushing for reform of the political system, strong support for civil liberties, and for their opposition to the Iraq War.
Nick Clegg is the party leader but the real star is the treasury spokesman Vince Cable. Cable is popular, in large part, because of his predictions of the financial crisis and for his criticism of London's banking culture. Cable is also credited for the best insult of Gordon Brown when he said that the Prime Minister transformed himself from "Stalin to Mr. Bean."
Since the 1997 election, under the leadership of previous leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats have made gains in the number of seats in the Commons. Yet as the Lib Dem success has increased, the level of expectation also increases and many success are interpreted as disappointments when compared with the party's goals.
This year may be different. The Lib Dems may achieve their goal of becoming the official opposition party. More important they are slated to be kingmakers and Clegg is coy about how he will decide which party to support. The possible eclipsing of Labour by the Liberal Democrats and the possibility of the traditional UK two major party system become a 3 party system are two of the most important stories that will develop over the final stretches of the campaign.