Who will follow in Tom McNally’s ermine footsteps?

The news Helen Duffett posted this week — Tom McNally to stand down as Leader of the Lib Dem Lords — was rather drowned out by the Tory conference and the row over the Daily Mail’s smearing of Ralph Miliband. But as the BBC’s parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy (no, not the fictional Mr Bridget Jones: different guy) points out here, it’s a role that matters lot these days, especially with the House of Lords here to stay for the forseeable…

The decision of the avuncular Lib Dem Lord to stand down as deputy leader of the House and leader of his party there, may seem a minor political footnote, but it matters.

Since Tony Blair swept away the Lords’ built-in Conservative majority of hereditary peers, managing the upper house has, almost unnoticed, become increasingly difficult. Even now, I get the impression that many Commons-based ministers don’t quite grasp that they do not have an automatic majority in the Lords – despite the hundreds of defeats they have inflicted on the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments. …

Lord McNally … was case-hardened in Jim Callaghan’s Downing Street, where he served as political secretary during the convulsions of the winter of discontent, after which he was pretty unimpressed by the normal run of political crises. He could make the House laugh, hailing the first Lord Speaker, Lady Hayman as “the Mary Poppins of the House of Lords” and noting, in his tribute to Lady Thatcher, that… “If one considers the number of people whom she sacked, promoted, defeated or berated, they must make up a goodly number of those present in the House today.…not only does this House know where the bodies are buried but some of the bodies are present here.”

But he hasn’t always been good humoured; in the debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill he became increasingly tetchy, under sustained goading from Labour’s Lord Bach. When he celebrated his 70th birthday recently, he told colleagues he was planning to give up the leadership in the near future. So who will replace him?

Here are Mark’s top runners and riders:

One view is that the Leader also has to be a government minister, which effectively narrows the field to Wallace, (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) the advocate general for Scotland, and former deputy first minister in the Scottish government, in coalition with Labour. Another Wallace, the Foreign Office whip William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire) might be a possible contender. The government’s Deputy Chief Whip, Lord Newby, who is returning officer for any leadership election, looks unlikely to stand, but any number of backbench peers might at least ponder having a go.

We’ll soon find out; the closing date for nominations will be October 15th and the election will be held on October 22nd, unless the new leader is returned unopposed.

He also speculates that Tom McNally may also stand aside from his post as justice minister, which would some scope to Nick Clegg for a mini-reshuffle of his own.

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