a reply to: tadaman
Politics of the UK;
I always think these things are best understood through the historical background, so that's how I'll do it.
In the nineteenth century, the old Tories and Whigs were re-branded as Conservatives and Liberals.
Both parties were really coalitions. The Conservatives were based on the land-owning aristocracy (hence their original approval of the tariff barriers
against imported corn).
The Liberals were led by the Whigs, liberal-minded aristocrats. This was also the party of business and the middle classes, and the Radical theorists.
The first attempts to organise the working class politically also began within the Liberals.
It was in this era that W.S. Gilbert wrote that every child "born alive/ is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative".
This was not quite true, because an Irish party was also growing and introducing complications in Parliamentary life.
The Liberal coalition began to break up. The first stage was Gladstone's decision to go for Home Rule for Ireland. This lost him the Whigs and other
members of his party, who began working with the Conservatives under the name Liberal Unionists.
It is against this background that The Importance of Being Earnest has a real dig at that last group.
Jack is asked about his politics; he says that he doesn't really have any, but he calls himself a Liberal Unionist. Lady Bracknell replies
condescendingly "Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate". The film version fifty odd years later substitutes
"Liberal", because by that time the Liberal Unionists had been absorbed into the enlarged "Conservative and Unionist party". Even in that form, the
joke had lost some of its topical bite.
Nevertheless, the country went into World War One under a Liberal government. By the end of the war, this had become a "National" government, which
was mainly Lloyd George and a few other Liberals leading the Conservatives. In 1922, the Conservative back-benchers (M.P.'s without government posts)
rebelled against this, breaking up the coalition and dumping Lloyd George. The organisation of Conservative back-benchers is still called "The 1922
Committee". Since the Liberals never recovered their unity, this ended their future chances of forming a government.
Also their social base was being ripped apart. Their working-class vote had defected to the new Labour party. Their middle class vote reacted against
the rise of Labour by defecting to the Conservatives. Winston Churchill was doing the same thing for the same reason, his second change of party. As
he himself observed (from memory), "Anyone can rat once. It takes a real genius to rat twice".
Meanwhile, the achievement of Home Rule and the eventual republic in Ireland had taken that complication out of party politics.
So the twentieth century developed a three party system, Conservative and Labour and the small rump of Liberals. I've seen a suggestion that this is
why General Elections are, by tradition, held on Thursdays. It was a practice that had grown up to allow each of the three parties to borrow their
local Town Halls in turn for a same-week pre-election political meeting. A splinter group from Labour existed for a time, worked with the Liberals,
and finally merged with the Liberals to form what is now the Liberal Democrats. It used to be the case, but isn't any more, that Ulster produced six
guaranteed Ulster Unionist M.P.'s who would automatically vote with the Conservatives. (No, six is the number of counties. There must have been a few
more consituencies) The nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland are more recent growths.
In terms of the official OP question, the Conservatives are obviously regarded as right wing, and the others regard themselves as belonging to the
virtuous left in comparison.
Because the Conservatives have been the governing party for the bulk of the last hundred years, anti-authoritarianism naturally aligns itself as part
of the left. So "libertarianism" as a distinct issue has never really taken root.
edit on 14-4-2015 by DISRAELI because: (no reason