EXCLUSIVE: Lib Dem party presidency – first poll of Lib Dem members

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of the early race for the party presidency, the London mayoral selection, Trident, and the Labour leadership. Over 400 party members have responded, and we’ll be publishing the full results of our survey in the next couple of days.

A fortnight ago, in a surprise announcement, Baroness (Ros) Scott said she would not seek a second term as Lib Dem party president, the only party post other than the Leader directly elected by Lib Dem members. Ever since there has been much speculation about who might contest the election, and take on the role of ‘champion of the membership’ while the Lib Dems are in Coalition.

First up, we asked: Some people have suggested the next President should not be a Parliamentarian (either from the Commons or Lords) in order to ensure they represent the party membership. Others believe the President needs the media profile and party experience that comes with being a Parliamentarian. Do you think the next President should be a Parliamentarian?

Here’s what you told us:

  • 13% – Yes, s/he should be a Parliamentarian
  • 18% – No, s/he should not be a Parliamentarian
  • 65% – It entirely depends on the person
  • 4% – Don’t know / No opinion

Perhaps unsurprisingly, two-thirds of Lib Dem party members in our sample did not want to define whether an individual could make a good or bad party president on the basis of the position they hold. Indeed, although 18% of members stated the president should not be a Parliamentarian, it’s interesting that 13% reckoned it would be an advantage: a pretty even split.

Of course, it’s early days, and the arguments have yet to be played out: it’s clear that as the only Parliamentarian in the running, Tim Farron will face the charge that (i) he won’t have the time to do the job in the way other candidates could, and (ii) as a member of the Coalition government, albeit a backbencher, he won’t have the same freedom to speak out. His team in return will, of course, point to his tireless campaigning, and that he is rarely seen as someone unable to speak his mind if he disagrees with the Coalition. Whether party members’ opinions of the ability of a Parliamentarian to do the job change in the next couple of months may be crucial indeciding the election.

Lib Dem Voice next asked: Four individuals, listed below, have so far publicly stated their intention of standing as Party President. Who would you be most likely to vote for as President?

Here’s what our sample of 400+ party members said:

  • 2% – Jason Zadrozny
  • 7% – Jennie Rigg
  • 30% – Susan Kramer
  • 27% – Tim Farron
  • 3% – Other
  • 32% – Don’t know / No opinion

What’s most obvious — both from the headline results, but also from the comments of respondents — is that this race is still wide open. Some 35% of those we polled either didn’t know, or had no opinion, or named a candidate who is unlikely to stand. And even among those who did choose one of the four named candidates, many stated that this was their current preference and might change. So I think it would be unwise to over-read this first poll — especially as, even since asking the question, one of the candidates (Jason Zadrozny) has dropped out, and is now endorsing Susan Kramer.

The most that can tentatively be said at this stage is that it seems clear there are two leading candidates, Tim and Susan, who at first glance appear to be pretty much level-pegging among party members. However, there is a long way to go, and Jennie Rigg can be encouraged that, though currently in third place, there are many minds still to be made up, many members who want to hear from all candidates before deciding.

Of those who chose the option ‘Others’, by the way: Evan Harris’s name cropped up more than once, as did Baroness (Floella) Benjamin; while a handful had a preference for an ‘elder states(wo)man’ figure — a Paddy or a Shirley.

Here’s a selection of some of your comments:

  • The role should be filled by an individual who can use the media effectively; but, so long as they’re competent I don’t care where they come from.
  • I recognise and know most of them, but will make a decision on the basis of their manifestos, which are yet to be released.
  • Needs to be a person with some character and charisma, and with something forceful to say
  • I just want the best possible person for the job!
  • I was unsure, but we need someone who is clearly outside the parliamentary party so they can freely criticise the government and not have to worry about parliamentary work
  • I don’t want our President to be a thorn in the side of the governmental element of the LibDems.
  • The role of President is about the members, not the media or other politicians. Respect will come from ability not previous position.
  • In theory any member should be able to be President but the President needs to be able to understand how Parliament works, this cannot easily be done wiothout direct experience and current involvement
  • I’m nowhere close to making a decision until I know who all the runners and riders are, and what they’re standing for.
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