Christine Jardine MP writes…Our party’s priority needs to be supporting communities, not a leadership election

I think that it is fair to say that this Spring is not what any of us expected.

By now we all planned to have come away from York conference in full campaign mode for the local elections and once that was finished there was the not insignificant matter of the leadership election.

The first two have already been victims of the Coronavirus guidelines and social distancing.

But what about the third element of that triumvirate? The leadership election.

I am afraid that I think that should also be postponed.

As the pandemic tightens its grip, and we are seeing both increased public concern and an escalating death-toll I think it would be completely inappropriate to prioritise ourselves.

This for me, however, is not about whether or not we have hustings, whether the candidaes will be able to campaign effectively or whether it will be possible for staff to run the process remotely.

No I am thinking about all those people, including many members, whose lives are going to be turned upside down over the next three months.

How many will be on reduced income , or perhaps none at all?

I am trying to avoid mentioning it, but bluntly what sort of national death toll will we be coming to terms with?

Frankly those are the things I want all of our elected representatives to be focussing on.

Getting the information and action the country needs.

Holding the Government to account.

Supporting our communities through difficult times.

If the public even suspects that we are putting what, to most of them will be a matter of little importance, before the good of the country we will lose the respect we have worked so hard to regain over the past few years.

We are not, any of us, where we expected to be this Spring.

But despite our disappointment we still have important jobs to do for the country.

Surely that should come first.


* Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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  • John Marriott 26th Mar '20 - 2:25pm

    Quite right, Christine. If they can postpone the Olympics ……..

  • Richard Whelan 26th Mar '20 - 3:24pm


    You make good points in your article and, given the scale of the crisis, you are probably right.

    My only concern is that Ed Davey, if he does decide to stand in the leadership contest that we will eventually have, could have an unfair advantage over the other candidates in the leadership race by the mare fact that he is already assuming leadership responsibilities as Acting Leader.

    It maybe that until a leadership election can be held you organise yourselves differently as a Parliamentary Party so that other potential candidates, like Layla Moran and Wera Hobhouse, assume joint leadership responsibilities with Ed Davey so that they too have a chance to shine.

    It is probably too early to say whether the Autumn Conference in Brighton can go ahead. But if it does, and we haven’t been able to resolve the leadership question because of the crisis by then, maybe it would be worth considering replacing the Leader’s Speech with a Leadership Hustings so that members can take a first look at the candidates who are likely to stand, hear their pitches, and be able to question them on what they have to say.

    This approach was trialled at the Conservative Party Conference in 2005 when David Cameron first came to prominence. I can’t see why we can’t adopt the same approach. It may benefit the party in the long run because somebody may emerge who had previously never been thought of before.

    So while I accept that a Leadership Election may not be able to be held on the planned timetable because of the Coronavirus Crisis, I think you need to find innovative ways of ensuring that, those who are planning to stand in it, when it is eventually held, are given equal billing in the months ahead, so that both members and the country alike, can see how they perform in these times of crisis in order to form judgements on their suitability to become Leader.

  • Christine is entirely correct. Actually, could I go one step further and suggest that we pretty much tear up all our policy documents and suspend all policy working parties, as the world we encounter when this nightmare is finally over is going to be a very different place.

  • Barry Lofty 26th Mar '20 - 3:40pm

    For what it is worth I fully endorse Christine Jardine,s stance on the leadership elections, our country and party have more important things to concentrate on at the moment.

  • It is quite possible that we may need to delay our party’s leadership election. However we don’t need to decide that now.

    By early May we should have a much clearer picture, and can decide either to commence the leadership election process or else defer it for a few months.

  • Mark Blackburn 26th Mar '20 - 5:19pm

    Agree a leadership election is not a great idea right now, but it’s so important for the party’s development that we don’t just slip into the habit of having Ed as a leader. Our party definitely needs at least a genuine opportunity to offer fresh blood when the time is right. Why not appoint a respected caretaker manager from the HoL for a fixed but reviewable term?

  • marcstevens 26th Mar '20 - 6:13pm

    I agree Richard and I am concerned that a delay will be benefit orange bookers at the expense of social liberals who believe in supporting people in difficult times as the welfare state is set up to do.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Mar '20 - 6:14pm

    Mark Blackburn 26th Mar ’20 – 5:19pm
    Keir Starmer has been reluctant to say who he would want in his shadow cabinet. Their current leader would like to be included. They should remember a junior health minister who visited a hospital. She went on the Today Programme to tell the nation how to run a bath. The BBC presenter expected numerous emails from listeners. Putting the cold water in first has the advantage of reducing the risk of scalding a patient. Was she re-elected as an MP?

  • @ Richard Underhill, “Keir Starmer has been reluctant to say who he would want in his shadow cabinet ” What’s wrong with that ?

    Sounds sensible and keeps ’em on their toes…and anyway he hasn’t won yet. Actually it’s not entirely true, Mr Underhill, because he has said that both Lisa Nandy (grand-daughter of the late Frank Byers) and Rebecca Long-Bailey will be in it.

    Maybe some of the good people who chose the backbenches will be in it. Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves all come to mind. Ms Reeves would make a brilliant shadow Chancellor (an economist at the Bank of England and the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. between 2000 and 2006).

    If parliamentary Lib Dems have sense they will cooperate and work together with Mr Starmer. This awful government does need a decent opposition for all our sake.

  • Denis Loretto 26th Mar '20 - 11:50pm

    I gather the decision has now been made to defer the Leadership election until 2021. But surely we are not going to saddle Ed Davey for all that time as “Joint Interim Leader”. If we do that we demean both him and the Party. This is not a time to worry about whether or not this gives Ed an unfair advantage in the eventual election. That would only happen if he performs very well in the meantime and so far in my view he has. On April 3 the Labour Party will have a new Leader – hopefully Keir Starmer as David Raw says above. It will then be all the more essential for us to have a Leader in post, albeit for a designated period pending the election.

  • Sad but reasonable. I do hope we don’t delay this forever though. If Autumn Conference goes ahead, I rather like Richard Whelan’s idea that “maybe it would be worth considering replacing the Leader’s Speech with a Leadership Hustings so that members can take a first look at the candidates who are likely to stand, hear their pitches, and be able to question them on what they have to say.”

  • Richard Whelan says it well about a possible hustings at the September conference. If that conference goes ahead, then our Federal Conference Committee needs to prepare for it being a different format from normal. More opportunity for discussions with our MPs could be one new element in current circumstances irrespective of the virus situation or the leadership competition. We are in need of both internal party conversations and more communication with people outside the party in order to come to a view about where the party should be going for the future.

  • William Wallace 27th Mar '20 - 12:24pm

    It’s a very welcome decision to postpone the contest. And I hope the President and the Federal Board will agree to drop the ‘interim’ label from now on. We need as a party to come out of this crisis fighting for our principles, with clear messages put across by our leadership and the parliamentary team. Then next year we have a contest; and those who have worked together with Ed Davey most impressively will attract a lot of support.

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