Twenty-seven years ago, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party merged in acrimonious circumstances. It was a genuine merger, rather than a takeover of one party by the other, and for an interim period the former leaders of each predecessor party served as joint leaders of the new Social and Liberal Democrats. Even that name had been carefully chosen to ensure there could be no appearance of a takeover - the thinking was that putting the word 'Liberal' in the middle ensured the name couldn't be lazily shortened in common usage. To some extent that proved to be a spectacular delusion, because within just eighteen months the name had been officially changed to 'Liberal Democrats'. But at least the retention of the word 'Democrats' was a symbolic reminder of the merger, and of the party's SDP heritage.
But now, for some bizarre reason, the likely new Lib Dem leader Tim Farron seems to want to "change the name back" to the Liberal Party. If I was a former SDP member (like Vince Cable, Shirley Williams or Charles Kennedy), I'd be thinking : "How can you change 'back' to a name that has never previously been used? You're talking about an entirely different party. If I'd wanted to join the Liberal Party, I would have done so, but that's not what the merger was about."
Perhaps after the best part of three decades, such people are used to having their social democratic roots trashed, and are unlikely to walk off in a huff now. But at the very least, Farron seems to be gratuitously going out of his way to alienate a significant number of his own members at a time when you'd think he'd be desperate to maintain as broad a church as possible (if you can call a party with eight MPs a 'broad church'). The idea that he's going to gain anything by way of brand identity is risible - does anyone seriously believe that the word "Democrat" is deterring people who would otherwise be gagging to vote for "the party of Gladstone and Lloyd George"?
One thing that has always irritated me about both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond (and even Nicola Sturgeon) is their habit of referring to the Liberal Democrats as "the Liberals". It's like a calculated act of disrespect : "You're so insignificant that I can't be bothered remembering what you're calling yourselves this week." But I may have to withdraw that complaint now, because if even the party's own leader has no respect for the official name and what it symbolises, why should anyone else?