A fair leadership election

There has been much discussion of the postponement of the leadership election for fourteen months in this time of crisis. Whatever the merits of either side are, I think we can all agree it is unlikely the Federal Board will change their minds, if only because of the reams of articles and podcasts they are putting out bolstering their position.

I recognise that we must realise the realities of the coronavirus situation. It is true that online hustings would provide less scrutiny than in-person ones, not least due to a greater control over the flow of the conversation.The concerns about this do come from a bone deep liberal democrat commitment to democracy, and I recognise that.

The crisis demands that perhaps we bend our rules slightly in order to accommodate the necessary changes to our lives, and I believe that this is where Federal Board were coming from in reaching the decision that they did: yet we should stand strong about ensuring we have a fair and just contest at the end of the process.

There is one thing that could be done to quell the growing storm of voices wondering why the ruling body of a liberal party’s first instinct in a crisis is to drastically postpone any form of democracy: Sir Ed Davey could say he will not stand in the election in fourteen months’ time. It would be the best compromise, and the honourable thing to do.

It would not be a fair election if we give one of the potential challengers not only incumbent status going into the contest, but also control over what his fellow MPs, his potential challengers, say to the press.

If Sir Ed would like the chance to stand for elected leadership of the Lib Dems again, as is his right, he should stand down and let somebody who will pledge not to stand fill in as acting leader in the Commons in order to ensure a fair contest next year. This would ensure that every contender got equal media time and allow us to delay our leadership election fairly.

* Oliver Craven is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

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17 Comments

  • David Becket 31st Mar '20 - 1:12pm

    History shows that once the FB have taken a decision, however wrong, they will not budge just push out piles of junk.Look at he last election. Last summer we were on 21% we are now on 6% and vanishing fast, that gives an indication of the mismanagement of this party. There is no sign of any change on the way. For a start you need a leader not the rubbisk of an acting joint leader for over year.
    Can the MPs not wake up and set up a leadership, it is our only hope.

  • Peter Hayes 31st Mar '20 - 1:37pm

    Does it make any difference, the media will ignore whoever is leader. The way to gain support is local, using our deliverers to help prescription delivery etc. And where we do have good council support doing positive things and letting voters know.

  • Steve Griffiths 31st Mar '20 - 3:15pm

    We need to be doing something and be seen to be doing something. I have a great deal of respect for Ed Davie; a competent minister and a generally lovely chap, but with the situation of the acting leadership I get the feeling that we are somewhat rudderless, drifting and ebbing away. I get that we should be ‘all hands to the wheel’ in our local communities. I am and I am certain most Lib Dems are too, where they can. It is what Lib Dems do, but faffing around worrying about a leadership election, or no leadership election is not when we are at our best.

    In past times when this nation has been in peril, it was the Liberal Party that brought solutions. For the 1929 general election we produced the economically interventionist ‘Yellow Book’ with the mantra “We can conquer unemployment”. It bounced our support upwards from under 3 million at the 1924 general election to over 5 million in 1929. During WW2 the great Liberal economist William Beveridge published his report, which was a vision of a more caring society to follow the war. This lead directly to the NHS and the Welfare State; enhancing and broadening what Lloyd-George had begun with his ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909.

    The so called ‘Gig Economy’ has proved useless to the nation and its population at this time of crisis. Families whose wage earners are on zero hours contracts face ridiculous choices as to isolate or put food on the table. I have even heard Tories talk about a fairer society after this Covid 19 curse has passed. Surely we must still have amongst our ranks far-sighted Liberal economists and politicians that could write a ‘Beveridge 2’, as a vision of how things could be in Britain post Coronavirus? We should be working on this now.

    Ed Davie, Federal Board, MPs, MSPs, Noble Lords – are you listening?

  • Julian Tisi 31st Mar '20 - 3:34pm

    Disagree. Ed Davey is clearly a top contender should he choose to stand. Not saying it should definitely be him, but he should be allowed to stand and we should be allowed to choose him if we think he’s the right fit for the job.

    I think the FB have got this one wrong – as almost everyone on LDV seems to be saying. I can understand postponing the election but a whole year is excessive. I feel it ought to be in the autumn.

  • Alex Macfie 31st Mar '20 - 5:58pm

    “we are now on 6% and vanishing fast” Opinion polls are utterly irrelevant at this time when there aren’t going to be any elections at all for at least a year, and the Johnson government is enjoying a ‘crisis honeymoon’.

  • william francis 1st Apr '20 - 12:50am

    A decent compromise, but we need to keep the pressure up on the federal board.

    Petition them, write strongly worded emails to HQ, lobby senior members of the party. We can’t stay passive during this situation.

  • Ed wants to be leader. He has a bunch of things he’d like to do as leader, which he set out in the 2019 leadership election. He clearly can’t do those things as acting leader given that the party voted against doing them only last year.

    It’s hard for him, as acting leader, to talk about what he’d like to do as leader. That’s a disadvantage. The advantage is that he can model what his leadership would look like and he gets more publicity than any other MP.

    One advantage of having 14 months is that the leadership contenders can lay out their platforms for what they want to do with the leadership. But Ed is constrained by the obvious question “well, why don’t you just do it then; you’re leader now?” And yes, he’s acting co-leader, but the media aren’t going to make that distinction, are they?

    And that, in turn, constrains the other candidates, because their proposals look like a challenge to Ed’s existing (acting co-)leadership, rather than a proposal for after the (distant, future) leadership election.

    If there’s a neutral figure – and Richard Flowers is right to point out that we’re basically talking about Alistair Carmichael or Christine Jardine – as acting co-leader with Mark Pack, then proposals from the candidates (or prospective candidates, or whatever they are) are not going to seem like challenges to the existing leadership in the same way, and the neutral interim leader will not be putting forward their own permanent proposals.

    The acting co-leadership system was designed for the rare case where an outgoing leader could not stay on until the leadership election was completed, and one reason we moved to this from just having the Deputy Leader as acting leader (as Vince Cable was after Charles Kennedy resigned) was to ease the situation where the acting leader was also a leadership candidate (ie so the President could constrain the acting leader from using the leadership powers and platform to give themselves an advantage in the leadership election). But it really is designed as a short-term expedient, and if we are to have an acting leader for an extended period, then having someone who is not themselves a leadership candidate would remove most of that conflict of interest concern.

  • This is an interesting idea, and there are some interesting comments too.

    I don’t think Alisdair, as chief whip, /can/ be acting/interim/whatever leader, can he? And Christine has at least mooted an intention to stand, as have Layla, Daisy, and Wera.

    If I’m reading Olly right he’s suggesting two options: Ed stays on as acting leader now, but doesn’t stand in the forthcoming election; OR Ed steps down in favour of somebody else now so that he can fairly run in the the forthcoming election.

    In terms of hassle for the party, the former would clearly be easier. In terms of what is long term BEST for the party… I’m honestly not sure.

    Certainly something to think about though.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Apr '20 - 1:31pm

    I agree that, if we have to have such a long wait before we can have a properly elected leader, then the MP who acts as co-leader with Mark Pack should be someone who definitely has no intention to stand for leader.
    Not everyone will like this idea, but I was wondering whether Tim Farron could step in to be “acting Co-leader”. He “knows the ropes” of being leader, and it seems clear that he has no intention of standing in the contest.

  • Whilst we prevaricate and pontificate Rome burns. We are now at 6% with no sign that we will not fall further. Why do we do this to ourselves? We need a LEADER.

  • Wilf Forrow 1st Apr '20 - 7:27pm

    If we’re prepared to stand down from politics for 14 months during Corona Virus and Brexit, the two biggest events since WWII, then we might as well just dissolve the party now. I’ve never heard such a council of despair. Ed must be tearing out what little hair he has left. Paddy Ashdown will be turning in his grave.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Apr '20 - 8:53pm

    Voters generally don’t know or care who our leader is outside of general elections. We win and lose on the ground, via local campaigns. But the thing is that there aren’t going to be any elections at all for over a year. So opinion polls are simply irrelevant at this point in time. They reflect public rallying to the government at a time of crisis, and the lack of airtime given to ANY opposition figures, but especially those from minor parties. The Labour leadership election hasn’t exactly got a great deal of coverage since the Coronavirus crisis started. A Lib Dem leadership election conducted via online hustings would barely register with the public.
    We are not “stand[ing] down from politics”: we are still an opposition party, still criticising the government. However, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for politicking at present as there are no elections, and many of the usual methods of communication with the electorate aren’t available anyway.
    This North Korean obsession with the “leader”, as if we aren’t a party without one, strikes me as rather against the spirit of the Lib Dem party. The public coudn’t care less whether or not we have an elected leader; when things get back to normal, no-one’s going to attack us for not having had an elected leader during the crisis (or, at least, no ore than they woud attack us for holding a leadership election during it).

  • Oliver,

    What you write comes out of fair-mindedness, and that means you will be a liberal for life, regardless of whatever crazy direction the people disagreeing with you take this party in, and regardless of what forum your liberalism comes to the fore in the future. Good luck!

    Richard Swales.

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