Alistair Carmichael MP writes…How Lib Dem MPs will approach the leadership election

Next month will mark eighteen years since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament. To say it has been something of a rollercoaster would be an understatement – so it feels good to be on the way back up again!

One of the things that has made the process of rebuilding so much easier over the last couple of years has been the really good team dynamic that we have within the parliamentary party. Most of the time agreement on positioning and priorities is simple and intuitive. When it is not then I think we manage our discussions and differences well. Even when Stephen Lloyd felt it necessary to resign the whip because of undertakings he had given to his constituents before he was elected, the process was amicable and we all remain on good terms with Stephen.

It is against that background that we now embark on a leadership contest between two of our own colleagues – Jo Swinson and Ed Davey. The choice for the party will be between two different styles and sometimes maybe priorities. Our greatest strength is that as a party we are united. We simply do not have the ideological splits that will probably split either or both of the Conservative or Labour Parties in the next twelve months. Whichever of the two candidates is chosen by the members will lead a united group in the House of Commons. I would be as happy to work with either Jo or Ed as leader as I have been to work with Vince for the last two years.

Our constitution gives a special role to MPs in the process of electing a party leader – it requires any candidate to have the support of at least ten percent of the rest of the parliamentary party. In a parliamentary party of over fifty that made sense. In a parliamentary party of eleven things are different. That is why Liberal Democrat MPs have decided to treat their role in this election as a different, essentially neutral one. As all MPs are happy to work with either Jo or Ed as leader our role should be to facilitate a vote amongst the members. We will do this by agreeing that two MPs will nominate Jo (Tom Brake and Christine Jardine) and that two of us will nominate Ed (Wera Hobhouse and Jamie Stone).

In nominating in this way they act on behalf of us all in saying that we will work with whoever the membership should choose and that they should make the choice. Of course some parliamentary colleagues will want to make their preference known in the course of the campaign (Vince, as outgoing leader will not, nor will I as chief whip) but that is quite apart from the nomination process.

The next few weeks will allow us to have a debate about the future direction and leadership of our party. Our membership has doubled since the last time we did this and the party is in a very different place today than it was in 2015. Uniquely in British politics at the moment, for the Liberal Democrats a leadership election is an opportunity and not a threat.

* Alistair Carmichael is the MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.

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18 Comments

  • I think this article comes in the ‘grown up politics’ category and is to be very much welcomed

  • Brian Robinson 31st May '19 - 11:00am

    This seems to confirm that there will not be any other candidates (i.e. “we now embark on a leadership contest between two of our own colleagues – Jo Swinson and Ed Davey”), which I don’t think had been stated publicly before even if it’s what was probably widely assumed.

  • Richard Underhill 31st May '19 - 11:16am

    Both candidates should say whether they agree with Vince Cable about Donald Trump,
    or if not, what else they want to say, or do.
    For instance Trump has announced tariffs of 5% and rising on Mexico.
    Is this a breach of NAFTA agreements?
    Is this a man who you would trust to adhere to any deal that the UK might do with the USA during the current presidency?
    Would you be willing to play golf with him?
    Or was the Japanese Prime Minister merely being polite?

  • Richard Underhill 31st May '19 - 11:19am

    Will whichever candidate is second be deputy leader?

  • Yeovil Yokel 31st May '19 - 11:25am

    Thanks for this, Alistair, it’s good to hear from you. I didn’t realise you were still so young-looking….

  • There are only two things I want to hear from the candidates.
    How are they going to defend our record in coalition and the student fees fiasco. If the new party leader is going to cut through then these are the questions that I want to hear them address. These are still the attack lines of our opposition.
    A piece of advise to either candidate. If I were you I would attack the debasement of our political system. MP’s secondary incomes, Illegitimate think tanks and the money surrounding them, campaigning techniques and funding etc.
    Never has our political system been held in such low esteem and in a strange sort of way this could be our route to success.

  • It’s very, very, very, very disappointing that all 11 (or 9 if you discount the two leaders we have had in this Parliament) were not nominated and the MPs really did trust the membership rather than paying patronising lip service to it. We are grown ups and we can cope with it – and we have STV!

    Parties always benefit in the longer term from bigger, more argumentative leadership contests to test the candidates and sharpen policies. Remember that Gordon Brown and Theresa May were considered such brilliant and successful politicians that they were given “coronations”! That worked out well didn’t it?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st May '19 - 1:00pm

    This approach makes for a fabulous election,excellent attitude from both Alistair and colleagues, thanks.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st May '19 - 1:26pm

    Thank you to our MPs for being so magnanimous and for treating the members’ vote as the important one. It seems as if the culture of our parliamentary party may be changing for the good of us all.

  • They are big shoes to step in to.

    This was my Leader :

    January 14, 1963 – President John F. Kennedy meets Leader of the …
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZPfsvEPJnA
    Video for jo grimond▶ 0:35
    10 Jan 2019 – Uploaded by HelmerReenberg
    President John F. Kennedy in rocking chair meets with Leader of the Liberal Party of Great Britain, Jo Grimond …

  • David Becket 31st May '19 - 5:03pm

    @PJ
    For a start whenever me mention the coalition we refer to it as “The Tory led coalition”, and make that stick. Never again should the word coalition on its own pass our lips.

  • Michael 1’s suggestion that all our MPs should have their names on the leadership ballot would force some of them to stand for a position they did not wish to hold. This would be absurd in any political party, and particularly so in a liberal one.

  • This is great to see.. Grown up and mature politics, that’s why I love the lib dem movement. Can we have some policy as well though. I am seriously worried about Scotland and the SNP, how can we get Scotland to trust a Westminster parliament that has spat at them. Serious conversations need to be had.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st May '19 - 10:07pm

    I saw Jo and Ed being interviewed on Channel 4. Thankfully I think we’ve gone back to being the nice peoples’ party. I do hope whoever wins that we’ll have a great team at the top.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Jun '19 - 9:39am

    It is an opportunity for us to clarify our values, ethos and culture. Our time in coalition put enormous pressure on these so I welcome this. We should focus during the election on what motivates, inspires and resonates with us. While specific policies on the main issues of the days is important, more so is what we as a Party and our future leader brings to the table.

  • Philip Moss 1st Jun '19 - 11:22am

    I expect both to acknowledge that we made serious mistakes during the Tory Led Coalition. As soon as our Holy Grail, was voted down, we should have given notice
    and withdrawn from the Gov. and advised that we would only support on an as and when basis. In that way the worst aspects of Tory policy would not have seen the light of day.
    It was of course useful for the party to experience office, which will stand us well in the future. Openess , seeing both sides of any argument , coming firmly down on one, will
    help people understand exactly were we are. Good luck to our future leader and all at
    Westminster, Local Councils, and MEPs, hopefully our time has come.

  • @Michael1 I tend to agree with your comments on LDV more often than not, but the idea that all 11 MPs should stand for leader is a really odd suggestion. Does it not cross your mind that some of our MPs don’t actually /want/ to be leader? Take Vince, for example. Why should he stand for leader just after he has resigned??? Tim Farron also resigned from the job less than 2 years ago, for very personal reasons which he believes make the role impossible for him. Layla Moran has said she considered standing but decided against it – “this time:” she wants to gain a bit more experience and build up her majority. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? I know one of the other MPs quite well personally who I can assure you would never dream of taking on the job. Why should they have to? And what kind of leader would they be if having to do it against their will?
    We have two excellent candidates who are both passionate about the job. I would be happy to see others stand as well but the decision is surely up to them, and nobody should be criticised for not standing.

  • Brian Ellis 2nd Jun '19 - 9:06pm

    This an excellent approach for the election of our next leader it shows how we can work in harmony without rancour. I can go back to the leadership election between David Steel and John Pardoe. Now for the first time we have a good lead from the whole of the Parliamentary Party, and we also gain an insight into how Alistair works as the Chief Whip.

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