Four things I want from the next Liberal Democrat Leader

Vince Cable has made the difficult but correct decision to stand down as the leader of the Lib Dems. And now, for the third time in four years, we’re left looking for a new leader.

It’s certainly frustrating for us Liberals to see arguably the worst government and worst opposition in living memory still absolutely trouncing us in the polls.

What is clear in a relentlessly unpredictable political climate is that opposition to Brexit is not an automatic ticket back to the top, and the shadow of the coalition years looms larger than many of us realised.

With a leadership election anticipated to kick off after this spring’s local elections, here are four things I’ll be looking for our next leader to prioritise…

Embracing radicalism

If you have ever discussed politics with someone who is relatively apolitical, you’ll know that the most common criticism of the Lib Dems is that we’re ‘fence-sitters’. It’s not true, but I can certainly see why people think it. We have some wonderfully bold policies, but we always seem reluctant to champion them. We need a leader who is proud to promote cannabis legalisation, devolution on demand, and the Land Value Tax to name but a few – it’s time to bring them to the fore, alongside backing Remain. As Charles Kennedy once said, “If it makes us unpopular in certain quarters, let us be unpopular for what we care about, what we believe in and what defines us and what we think is best for the country”.

Energy

Another thing our next leader needs to do is be absolutely everywhere. To his credit, Tim Farron put himself about to get the Lib Dems the media attention we’re not usually afforded – but that precedent stopped with Cable. The next leader needs to pick up that baton and start forcing liberal solutions back in to the national conversation.

Forgetting the Past

Many of us will argue, myself included, that the Lib Dems were right to have gone in to Coalition in 2010 – but it isn’t a view that is widely shared. We need to stop trying to vindicate ourselves for the 2010-15 Parliament. We were naïve to try and play politics the way we think it should be played, rather than the way it actually is. We have lost our right to claim the many successes of the Coalition, like same-sex marriage, as our own because not enough people believe us, even though it’s true. The electorate have made up their mind on our role in the coalition and we need to move on from it… quickly.

Increasing our appeal

I, for one, welcome Conference’s decision to ratify the new Supporters Scheme, if the Lib Dems are going to strong-arm our way back in to the picture we need to increase our voter base. Seriously, look at our current seats and our target seats and literally every one of them can be characterised as either an affluent suburb or a rural fringe. We need to make sure we are appealing to people other than the well-educated white middle class – liberalism has a lot to offer people of all backgrounds and we need to find a way to promote that.

I already have in mind the candidate that I think will meet most, if not all, of these criteria but I have yet to make up my mind for certain. What I am sure of though, is that it’s time for our next leader to stop faffing about, to step up and finally realise the potential of this rejuvenated liberal party.

* Chris Whiting is a 22 year old freelance journalist from Leicester. Passionate about radical liberalism, LGBT+ rights and his cat.

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22 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Mar '19 - 8:59am

    Might we have a clear, concise membership-involving economic policy?

  • Yeovil Yokel 19th Mar '19 - 9:18am

    Thanks for your article, Chris, but it contains no mention of the single biggest hurdle the LD’s have to overcome in order to perform better at elections, which in turns affects us adversely in our media coverage and our standing in opinion polls: FPTP.

  • Paul Barker 19th Mar '19 - 9:34am

    We need to be prepared to change the Leadership timetable very quickly, if we get a snap Election Vince may have to postpone his departure.
    Also, I would add a fifth thing to look for – a willingness to work with others who aren’t Liberals.

  • The Lib Dems have collapsed in the polls and now stand Nationally as the fourth party maybe fifth in the big cities… coverage is zero not even Vince Cables resignation has caused a ripple in the media. The country is on the verge of utter chaos the Lib Dems should join TIG for the National interest. The time for selfish party tribalism is now at an end TIG offer the Lib Dems a chance to be part of the game.

  • I agree with pretty much everything in this article. If all Lib Dem Leadership contests are Pardoe vs Steel (pace Jonathan Calder http://liberalengland.blogspot.com/2014/10/are-all-liberal-leadership-contests-are.html ) then I think the author, like me, is longing for a Pardoe.

    I bet we get a Steel.

  • Silvio: TIG have repeatedly said that we are toxic and they want nothing to do with us. Continually chasing after them and saying “please let us be in your gang” when they keep rebuffing us really does have the whiff of desperation.

  • Silvio
    We did tank in The Polls, probably down to 6% in Summer 2017 but since then we have staged a small recovery. We are currently averaging 10% in The Polls that exclude TIG.
    Silvio & Jennie
    TIG are not a Party yet. The only evidence that they think we are toxic is from “Journalists” & their Senior sources.
    Clearly TIG decided that they would get farther with a New Group than by joining us, a reasonable point of view. TIG have the temporary benefit of Newness, its easier for MPs to join a new group rather than us, they can appeal to Voters that we haven’t won over.
    We need their Glamour & appeal to Non-Liberals, they need our organisation & experience, together we can do a lot better than we can apart.

  • Mark Blackburn 19th Mar '19 - 11:23am

    Spot on Chris. And while I massively respect and like Vince, the hard truth is that in real terms the party has got nowhere under his stewardship. The new leader needs to make a radical fresh start – and that means someone untarnished by Coalition.

  • @Silvio 19th Mar ’19 – 10:30am
    silvio, you say The Lib Dems have collapsed in the polls and now stand Nationally as the fourth party maybe fifth in the big cities… coverage is zero not even Vince Cables resignation has caused a ripple in the media. The country is on the verge of utter chaos the Lib Dems should join TIG for the National interest. The time for selfish party tribalism is now at an end TIG offer the Lib Dems a chance to be part of the game.

    5th??? Get your facts right, Silvio. The latest London polls put the Lib Dems on 15%.

    And the latest opinión polls that include TIG, put the Lib Dems ahead of them. What a surprise!

  • @Chris Moore. The opportunity for a proper seat at the table exists with TIG. Under a Soudbry or Umunna led party the Lib Dems could find finally a leader who would get column inches and TV exposure…the Lib Dems heart is in the right place but that’s not nearly enough. Dig deep into polling and the decline stands out or switch on the 24 hour rolling news see if a Lib Dem pops up. Time for a change and that time is now

  • William Fowler 19th Mar '19 - 11:58am

    The New Zealand PM seems very impressive, anyone like her amongst LibDem MP’s…

  • @ Jennie, Jennie, you say, Silvio: TIG have repeatedly said that we are toxic and they want nothing to do with us. Continually chasing after them and saying “please let us be in your gang” when they keep rebuffing us really does have the whiff of desperation.

    Not only have TIG not repeatedly said we are “toxic”, nor have they said “they want nothing to do with us” Also we are not “chasing” after them, nor therefore are we being “rebuffed”.

    In fact, as Anna Soubry and Chuck Umunna’s article reminded us there has been much co-operation with TIG MPs both prior to and post TIG’s formation. This will continue, as there is common ground and common purpose in some áreas.

    If there is eventually a formal partnership of some sort, the Lib Dems hold most of the aces: not least, our 100,000 members and 1800+ councillors and a settled philosophy. TIG have none of that. we are also likely post-Vince to have a very personable and energetic leader – better tahn anything TIG can offer.

    So we are not going to be absorbed; indeed, there is nothing currently to absorb us.

    If TIG do not attract more defectors, I don’t think they will get far at all. they need to keep on picking up defectors to gain media attention and maintain momentum. If they do this, then they may make a positive contribution. Otherwise I fear they will merely be struggling to save their seats. (we should help them in that.)

  • @ Silvio. Silvio, you say “Dig deep into polling and the decline stands out or switch on the 24 hour rolling news see if a Lib Dem pops up. Time for a change and that time is now”

    I’m not against co-operation with TIG, we have to have to have a positive attitude and build a partnership, if we can, and if TIG stilll exists. But I think you are hyping them way too much. Currently, they are just a disparate group of defectors, without even a shared philosophy.

    You do not need to “dig deep” into polling to notice that current Lib Dem scores of 10-12% are less than 2010s 24%. But the Lib Dems are recovering and have often stood on pitiful percentages between General Elections.

    I don’t think either Anna Soubry or Chuck Umunna are charismatic leaders , let alone particuarly coherent thinkers.

  • I’m sorry, but a lot of this is naive or without substance. What does Chris want of the new Leader? Four things. Let’s take a look.

    “We need to be radical…proud of what defines us and what we think is best for the country”
    Apparently this is cannabis legalisation

    “Be everywhere”
    Have you looked at Vince’s schedule? Do you follow his reports on Twitter. He in incredibly energetic. If it doesn’t get covered, that may not entirely be down to him. Not all of the places Farron went were exactly liberal and nor was the coverage exactly positive.

    “We need to stop trying to vindicate the coalition…and move on”.
    Is anyone actively vindicating? Who? When? And what if the electorate won’t ‘move on’?

    “We need to increase our voter base”.
    Easily said. Agreed. How?

    Also, for a Party that is always preaching inclusiveness and non-tribal behaviour, some of the comments on TIG on this thread and elsewhere are hysterically funny.

  • Janny Barnes writes:

    “and you don’t want that, not voting sounds ok.”

    Not voting is never OK. If you don’t vote, the bad guys always win. You might end up with someone like Chukka Umunna forcing you to join the Army. Your vote can prevent that. Don’t throw it away.

    I say we strangle TIG at birth, as we did very successfully Dr David Owen’s “Continuing SDP”. Yes, Dr David Owen, another supporter of conscription.

  • Paul Barker 19th Mar '19 - 6:46pm

    I have to say that Jennie Barnes comments sound very like the things we hear from Momentum.
    The handful of Polls to ask about TIG suggest that they do seem to have a potential constituency among Centrist & Social Democratic Voters, averaging around 10% so far. Their Voters partly overlap with ours but they also attract some who dont want to Vote for us right now. Thats why working with TIG makes sense, they can reach Voters that we can’t.
    If we look at what happened with The SDP/Liberal Alliance we can see the potential, lots of people said that wouldn’t work either. Lets keep our minds & hearts open.

  • Andrew McCaig 19th Mar '19 - 7:54pm

    I would say there is about a 50% (+/- 40%) probability that the next national election will be a euro election in only just over 2 months time.

    I would go into that election more hopeful of our chances than in any election since 2010. But the Tiggers would certainly be a big issue here, splitting the Remain vote with the possibility neither of us get any seats. For this event a single party would make much more sense in a PR vote, but I certainly would not want to join the Tiggers myself. They are much less Liberal than the original SDP, who at least had a strong commitment to fair votes (a core and defining Liberal value for me)

  • marcstevens 19th Mar '19 - 8:47pm

    Hello Silvio, I think the demise of the Lib Dems is highly exaggerated. There is a very healthy councillor base and the Party is slightly up on 12% in the latest yougov poll. What annoys me is when the Party doesn’t even stand a candidate like in this week’s Basildon by-election where my partner wants to vote Lib Dem but has no choice as there is no candidate standing.

    I do agree with you on closer co-operation with the TIG group, the two groups have more in common than differences and the differences are not so great as they would be with say the Labour party and the Tories. The Supporters scheme is also a very good idea for the Party and should be used not just to attract new members but also ex-members back into the fold.

    The new leader should also clearly establish the direction the party will take. Under Vince’s leadership it has moved further away from the libertarian orange bookerism and the social liberal wing has come to the fore more. I would like to see the Party move far more in this social liberal direction, as the alternative led to many members leaving and lost votes. It will be interesting to see what the new Leader will stand for. You would be an asset to the party if you were to join.

  • David Evans 20th Mar '19 - 1:00pm

    I’m afraid that, although well meaning, this article simply demonstrates another form of the naivety that has held our party back for the last eight years. There are some good starts in it, with an acceptance that the way our leaders played their hand in coalition was a disaster and bad for Liberal Democracy, and its urging our party to be radical, but then it fails to be radical itself, preferring to say we should Forget the past rather face up to it.

    The old parties prefer to forget the past so that they can all pretend to themselves that they were right all along and they don’t need to change. That approach is not radical. What is radical, and I despair at how many Lib Dems still prefer to oppose it, is to look at what went wrong (and so much did) it and learn from it, to ask at every level of the party, what did I do wrong? Why for five years, despite repeated warnings from the electorate and some members, did the party,its leaders, its MPs, councillors, activists and members, simply plough onwards to near annihilation in 2015 rather than accept the facts and change?

    Why is radical change good for the country, but not for ourselves?

    What is radical about saying “Forget it. I have nothing to learn.”?

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