2014 – looking for a dark horse, or a safe pair of hands?

I mentioned yesterday that there were two elections that might pass uncommented upon for the most part, one of which was internal to the Liberal Democrats. Yes, we have a Presidential election to look forward to, and given that Tim Farron is term-limited, somebody new is going to be leading the voluntary Party into a potentially tough General Election.

Six years ago, everybody knew that Lembit was going to run for the Presidency, whilst Ros Scott was emerging as a likely opponent. What wasn’t clear was what the Leader’s Office wanted, or who they would back, or whether further viable candidates would emerge. In the end, a combination of credibility, hard work and superior organisation meant that Ros gained a landslide victory.

This time, there is no campaign already underway, no individual on record as intending to run, no hint that the Leader’s Office have someone in mind. So, in the absence of those things, here are my thoughts on the factors that might influence any individual decision to run.

What can’t the candidate be?

Anyone holding Ministerial office is surely ruled out, there just isn’t the time to combine the two jobs. You can probably rule out anyone with a majority of under 5,000, as they’ll be too busy fighting one of those fifty-seven by-elections I hear so much about. Paddy Ashdown isn’t a runner either, I suspect, as I can’t see him combining it with chairing the election campaign.

What skills might they need?

Resilience would be my first choice. Most Liberal Democrats, along with most commentators, expect a loss of seats. The successful applicant will need to be able to explain why it isn’t an utter catastrophe in such a way that members believe it. If the result is bad enough, they may need to preside over a leadership contest – it might be better if they weren’t a potential candidate themselves.

Management skills would be my second choice. The ability to work with the Chief Executive and with Federal Executive to run the professional and voluntary parties will be critical, although losing our place in Government will be balanced by an increase in Short and Cranborne money. Federal Executive is likely to be fractious, so the Party needs a diplomat, someone who can keep it on track.

Can anyone be President?

Theoretically, yes. Practically, no. The President must have credibility sufficient to lead Federal Executive, or to be taken seriously by the Leader’s Office, and preferably both. Otherwise, they’re just an under-resourced cheerleader, whilst the important decisions are taken off-stage. That doesn’t rule out a non-Parliamentarian, but it makes the success of such a candidate hard to envisage, especially if they haven’t started ‘putting themselves about’ yet.

So, those are some initial thoughts, based on absolutely zero knowledge of what might be happening out there regarding candidacies, but the experience of two years as Presidential consort. But what would the rest of you want?

* Mark Valladares spent two years as the husband of the Party President (2009-10).

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This entry was posted in Party Presidency.


  • On principle, I will not ever vote for a member of the House of Lords as party President, so Lembit got my vote against Ros Scott.

  • Liberal Neil 3rd Jan '14 - 1:58pm

    @Alan Jelfs – that’s an interesting approach. I always vote for the best person for the job so I voted for Ros.

    For me the most important quality I’d like to see in the next President is the ability to rally party activists to get out campaigning and recruiting in the first part of 2015.

    What their status is in terms of elected position or whatever is far less important to me.

  • I’d not vote for anyone from the commons for the reasons outlined in the article. I could be persuaded by someone from the upper house.
    I tell you one thing? I’d kill for Jeanette S to go for it, and she’s in neither of the houses but has a long period of service in offices such as regional chair such that she should have the respect of the leader’s office. But sadly I suspect she won’t. Which is a damn shame, because a Yorkshire arse-kicker might be just what we need…

  • Peter Andrews 3rd Jan '14 - 10:29pm

    I can’t think of an obvious candidate so it will certainly be interesting to see who stands

  • John Heyworth 4th Jan '14 - 10:39am

    I can think of no better candidate for Party president than Sarah Teather. Sarah meets the criteria set out by Mark above, she is standing down at the next election so she is free from the worry of defending her seat. She has experience of ministerial office (albeit in nmy opinion too briefly), she is a recognisable figure both within the Party and the media and more importantly holds true to her Liberal values.
    Losing someone of Sarah’s ability from the HoC is bad enough but this role would allow her to remain central to the debate on the future direction of our party and it’s policy. She has been an asset ever since her magnificent by-election victory in Labours heartland of Brent and could surely use this to galvanise the activities of members in similar seats.
    I shall be writing to Sarah urging her to stand and would call upon others to do the same.

  • Agree with Antony. It would mean leaving it until after the European elections of course, to be sure that they are still an MEP.

  • david thorpe 4th Jan '14 - 3:07pm

    didnt realise the party president could only serve one term……………………………

  • Simon Banks 4th Jan '14 - 4:25pm

    I don’t see why the Party president shouldn’t be a senior parliamentarian who has kept in touch with the grassroots and has no leadership ambitions or current ministerial office. But a non or ex parliamentarian would be fine too. Someone with a strong grounding in local government would be a plus given the perception that Nick Clegg isn’t really very interested. Someone with standing and resolution, who could stand up to the leadership if necessary, would be good.

    I don’t know why Mark seems to be assuming we’ll not be in office after 2015.

  • Mark your wife was a fantastic President, the best person I can rember at doing that job in my time in the party, I wish she would come back for second term but can appreciate that she might not want to.

  • peter tyzack 4th Jan '14 - 8:12pm

    Mr V, what rot… ‘most LDs expect a loss of seats’.. do they really? Only because the likes of you keep telling that story, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, and anyone who subscribes to defeatism is not suited to being candidate for the Presidency.
    On that subject, if you look across at the other parties, we are the one party with a good story to tell to the electorate, we need a change in Standing Orders to allow Tim to stand again, as he is the one person who is positive for our future. And as for a name the Leader’s Office ‘have in mind’ they can stick their nose somewhere else as this is an election for someone to represent the membership, not the Leader’s placeman.

  • No, it’s not defeatism; it’s because the polls consistently show the Liberal Democrats hovering around 10% of the vote, leading to a projection of a return of fewer than 25 seats.

    Panicked pessimism is bad. But equally so is mindless optimism in disregard of reported public opinion — it leads to complacency and avoidance of the necessary corrective measures.

  • Jeremy Baker 4th Jan '14 - 9:49pm

    I would certainly support Sarah Tether – cannot think of anyone better.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 5th Jan '14 - 2:36am

    @ Peter Tyzack,

    Sadly, when Liberal Democrat Voice recently polled those party members amongst its readership, 93% were of the view that there would be less than 57 Liberal Democrat MPs after the 2015 General Election. Without checking, I suspect that this has been a majority view for some time. Now, you might argue that those polled are predominantly pessimists, but it is statistically unlikely. But that is not to say that they have given up, and won’t be rolling up their sleeves to gain the best result possible, but I refuse to write something that implies that all is perfect in a perfect world, especially in the face of the evidence.

    I do think that allowing a President to have more than two terms is not a great idea. Firstly, incumbents are hard to shift in this Party anyway, and are seldom opposed in terms of the Presidency, and second, it’s a really tough job to do if done properly, and four years is quite long enough for anyone.

  • David Simpson 5th Jan '14 - 12:39pm

    Sharon Bowles is an obvious. Currently one of the fifty most influential women in the world, she is standing down as an MEP so will have the time.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Jan '14 - 4:05pm

    Sharon Bowles would be great, for a number of reasons. Sadly, as one of the ‘fifty most influential women in the world’ I suspect she’ll want to be doing something pretty significant after standing down as an MEP, and that may not very well allow her to be party President at the same time.

    (I don’t know a huge deal about the position but I suspect that party president won’t count as ‘pretty significant’ when we bear in mind she was named as a possible candidate to be new head of the Bank of England…)

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 6th Jan '14 - 11:57am

    Thought I’d add another female voice. It’s great to see so many nominations for women above. Those instincts are correct if we do not want to be seen by the public as a party run by men for men. And of course all the women mentioned would make excellent candidates.

  • peter tyzack 4th Jan ’14 – 8:12pm
    Mr V, what rot… ‘most LDs expect a loss of seats’.. do they really? Only because the likes of you keep telling that story, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy,

    Peter, can I ask you to think about what you have said here? Do you really believe that people who read LDV are pessimistic about Liberal Democrat chances in 2015 because Mr V or anyone else who bothers to comment in LDV “keep telling that story”. ???

    Is it not more likely that people are pessimistic because they look at the facts around them? People make judgements on the basis of their experience, the opinion polls, local election results, etc etc. They may have all sorts of reasons for feeling pessimistic about next year. The hollowing out of the party and the dramatic reduction in the number of members, activists and elected councillors since Clegg became leader may inform opinion?

  • Mark Valladares 5th Jan ’14 – 2:36am
    But that is not to say that they have given up, and won’t be rolling up their sleeves to gain the best result possible,

    Mark, from the evidence of comments in LDV some most definitely have given up. Some have left the party and will not return whilst Clegg and his lot dominate the party. Some remain in the party but without enthusiasm or inspiration and just hope that Clegg will go sooner rather than later. Some will struggle on in their own patch and hope that Toxic Clegg does not undermine years of solid work in their community. Some will acknowledge the political facts of life and work to take the party back so that it is a party of members and activists once again, working with people to take and use power. Any candidate for President who can articulate a message of hope despite what Clegg has done to the party would be welcome. But that hope has to be founded in the necessary hard work that rebuilding the party will require after next year’s defeats.

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