LibLink: Stephen Tall – Who could lead the Tories and Lib Dems after 2015?

Our very own Stephen Tall has been moonlighting again for the lucky people over at Conservative Home. For this edition Stephen has unpacked his crystal ball and programmed it to Spring 2015, where he finds several possible scenarios confronting Messrs Clegg and Cameron.

Here’s a sample:

Conventional wisdom suggests David Cameron will have to win outright to be sure of continuing as Conservative leader. After all, the last Conservative leader to fail to win two successive elections outright – Edward Heath in 1974 – is not a happy precedent. Yet if the Conservatives were to emerge as the largest single party once again then that would surely count as a victory of sorts, a defying of (current) expectations? In which case, Mr Cameron would have every reason to believe he could carry on, whether in a second Coalition or (much more tiresomely for him) as head of a minority government.

For Nick Clegg, too, success could end up being relative. If the party held onto more than 50 seats that would be considered (given where the polls are now) a triumph; 45 seats good enough; 40 seats just about okay. The Lib Dems would continue to have enough parliamentary muscle to matter, especially if there’s another hung parliament.

There is an alternative scenario for each leader: their personal doomsday. David Cameron could suffer the ultimate indignity of being beaten by Ed Miliband. A Labour majority, or simply Labour being the largest single party by some distance, would mean the end for Mr Cameron’s (by then) 10 years as Tory leader. What a disappointment to a political career that would be: played two, drawn one, lost one. As records go, it’s more David Moyes than Alex Ferguson. And if Nick Clegg sees the party reduced to fewer than 40 MPs – a drop of one-third – he will resign as the first Liberal leader in a generation only to have presided over my party’s falling Commons representation.

Who would follow them? With Boris back in the Commons (I won’t even bother to say ‘if’: it’s when) he would surely prove irresistible to a party longing to be lead once again by a proven electoral winner. His unabashedly pro-immigration stance will jar, but probably not badly enough to prevent such a force of nature. For sure, he’s not Europhobe enough for what used to be called the right-wing of the party (and which is now its mainstream) – though this will be offset by his likely ‘dream ticket’ with that better-off-outer Michael Gove.  And Boris is mischievous enough to relish the prospect of fighting a potential European referendum that Prime Minister Miliband may yet be forced to concede.

And for the Lib Dems? It’s hard to see who can beat Tim Farron, the current party president. Leaderships often alternate styles – the ‘fat pope, thin pope’ principle – and his plain-speaking, northern, good-humoured passion will contrast with Nick Clegg’s smooth-talking, southern, occasionally tetchy, emollience. An energetic campaigner firmly identified with the party’s social liberal wing (ie, more tax-and-spend than Orange Book) he will use the next 18 months to try and develop some policy gravitas to leaven his authentically cheeky chappie personality. Some of his fellow MPs I’ve spoken to (including those on the same wing of the party as Mr Farron) are less-than-enthusiastic, reckoning he’s chosen the easy path during coalition of filling a role that guarantees you profile without getting your hands dirty. But it’s the Lib Dems’ 42,000 card-carrying members who will decide.

And you can read Stephen’s thoughts in full here.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Donald Smith 7th Nov '13 - 2:30pm

    Surely Vince rather than Tim! Please?

  • Will age count against Vince by 2015? Farron looks the favourite as Clegg’s successor, but will he have the gravitas of Ashdown, Kennedy, or Clegg (in the run up to 2010)? Doubtful.

    I think the forecast is pretty good. What is strking is how the next election is really too close to call, meaning it’s unlikely that any majority government – single party or coalition – will have enough of a majority to be considered stable.

    In which case we could see another election soon after, which would probably be Johnson v Miliband (or other Labour leader) v Farron. And that has the look of a Johnson majority as its outcome.

  • I think Tim is actually growing into his role and growing into a major and serious politician in the last year. I’ve been really impressed to be honest. He’s talking about the issues that matter and

    I’d be proud of a Tim led party. Much prouder than I am now of the party. He’s one of the only MP’s who votes and listens to conference – secret courts and decarbonization to name just two!

  • Martin Lowe 7th Nov '13 - 4:52pm

    Unfortunately, we have to forget Vince – being the bag-carrier for the deeply unpopular Royal Mail privatisation is one thing, but selling it off cheap is a double betrayal for the British public.

  • Hasn’t Vince already said he plans to retire as an MP at the next election? That would pretty much rule him out.

    Tim Farron has the considerable merit of being one of the Lib Dems with the spine to vote against the Tuition Fee rise too. I’m not sure a move to the left will actually do much for the Lib Dems fortunes; they’re too tainted in the eyes of most leftists to get a look in for a couple of elections whilst a move away from Clegg’s centre-right position risks alienating those who have stuck with the party.

  • What price a Lynne Featherstone-led party post-2015? Since, according to her, men make terrible decisions when in charge, she could show some dynamic and (presumably) flawless leadership . Bring it on.

  • markfairclough 7th Nov '13 - 9:07pm

    Anyone but Farron please

  • @Helen, I do not think Will disagrees with you, but is making that the point that – rightly or wrongly – the British public does.

    I have always thought Jo Swinson would make a great leader. She is assured, confident and personable, whilst also being no one’s fool. However, I guess that she, too, is tainted by her time in BIS – and this assuming she can keep her seat, which is far from certain.

    However, my personal choice would be Julian Huppert. He has spin, brains and cares about the issues that really matter to the party. Furthermore, he is great brilliant speaker and has managed to mostly remain untainted during our time in Government.

    However, turning to more realistic prospects. I think Tim has really grown as a politician, moving from back-bench troublemaker with Opik to a a genuine leadership contender. He is a great speaker and mostly puts himself on the right side of the issues (AKA, opposite to the right); however, I wonder if he is really gitty and shrew enough to be a leader, especially if he ends up being a leader in another coalition (however unlikely that is?)

    On flip side, should things go really badly for us in the next election (which they could very well do), then Tim could be a good choice for a leader because he is a change from the norm, has the charismatic personality needed to rally what would be our few remaining battered party members and should keep everyone with just enough faith for to us start rebuilding again.

  • Sorry, that should be spine, not spin. Though, I am sure some would say that I was correct the first tie. Haha.

  • Stephen Donnelly 7th Nov '13 - 10:18pm

    At the Hay festival this year Nick Robinson was asked if Boris would be the next Tony leader. His reply was convincing. Boris has made too many enemies in their party. He will never be leader.

    We all like Vince, but he is not a leader, he is a maverick. He really did not want to be a minister this time (according to Matthew d’Ancona). His campaign would begin and end on the students loan question. The last conference was hardly a triumph for him.

    Two open fields, but fortunately another Cameron – Clegg coalition is the most likely outcome.

  • Christine Headley 8th Nov '13 - 12:21am

    Vince didn’t stand last time because , he said, he thought the media would home in on his age, as they did to Ming Campbell. He is only two years younger than Ming, and was 70 in May (according to Wikipedia).

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Nov '13 - 2:02am

    Politically, I’m not a fan of Tim Farron – the Liberal Democrats aren’t the Socialist Democrats or the Christian Democrats.

    Ed Davey is my favourite to succeed Nick Clegg, but he has made me weary by tolerating all female shortlists. I have not given up on Nick Clegg, I’m just looking for a bit more honesty or fewer artificial middle class schemes.

    I don’t know much about Lynne Featherstone, besides she seems to have done a good job in development, but she has made me weary by suggesting the parents who send their daughters for genital mutilation shouldn’t get prosecuted.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Nov '13 - 2:05am

    By the way, I take back the kind of populist dig at Tim Farron’s religion affecting his voting. It is the socialist rhetoric that I do not like.

  • Vince has announced he IS standing at the 2015 GE. It was not age that brought Ming down, it was out – of – touchness as a Leader. Ming is great when explaining difficult points about Foreign or other complex issues, and simplifying in the right ways, or arguing difficult cases, where he is very persuasive. He doesn’t however, look or seem sufficiently like the population he seeks to represent to be a party leader. He was persuaded, I am sure, by a significant group of senior Lib Dems, who have backed him for years, and of course, by his wife, who was clearly delighted to be the wife of the Leader.

    Vince does not have that problem – he may dress quite idiosyncratically, but he understands how to empathise with various sectors of society

  • peter tyzack 8th Nov '13 - 9:49am

    the one point we always forget when choosing any candidate (for Leader, PPC, or any other post) is that we need to choose the person who will most appeal to the voter, not simply the one we personally like.!
    By far the best scenario for the Party would be if Nick could lead us through a ‘successful’ general election, hopefully into a second coalition (of either sort), and then say that he has done enough as Leader and give notice to quit. Tim would then beat all comers, without any doubt, and with his ability to speak directly to the public would be the most likely person to lead us towards being the largest single party in 2020.
    That should be the course for our strategists..

  • markfairclough 8th Nov '13 - 10:15am

    I agree with Eddie sammon

  • lynne featherstone 8th Nov '13 - 10:23am

    Eddie – that is a misquote or misinterpretation. What I have said is that cutters should be the first target and that putting 20,000 sets of parents in prison is not the answer to female genital mutilation. It is child abuse, illegal and a crime – therefore of course parents should be prosecuted if a charge can be successfully brought. The problem according to the Director of Public Prosecutions is that in cases where it has come down to a child giving evidence against their own parents and therefore being taken away from their parents – the cases have all collapsed.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Nov '13 - 11:21am

    Thanks Lynne. Sorry it was a misinterpretation, I shall be more careful in future.

  • Alternatively, Nick Clegg manages to hold on to 45-50 Lib Dem MPs, negotiates a coalition with Labour as the largest party and carries on as Lib Dem leader in a government of a progressive, reforming left-of-centre nature most of us always wanted in the first place.

    Don’t forget, if we have to change leader, it means we’ve lost our bet that we can make coalitions work and sell that as an idea to the British public. To wish for that to come to pass I feel is both defeatist and disloyal to one of the most basic ideas of the party.

  • nvelope2003 8th Nov '13 - 12:28pm

    One year before the 2011 Scots Parliament election Labour were either leading or level pegging with the SNP in opinion polls yet the SNP won an overall majority. If the Scots vote for independence inspite of the current opinion polls then 41 Labour,11 Liberal Democrat and 6 SNP MPs will be removed from the Commons when Scotland leaves the UK. This would make it very difficult for Labour to win the 2015 election and much easier for the Conservatives to gain an absolute majority as they only lose one MP. Even if Scottish MPS were elected to Westminster in 2015 while the details were being negotiated they would have to leave on Independence day and a Government could hardly be formed which depended on their support. An all party Government might be needed to negotiate the terms of independence. Presumably there might be demands for another general election in the remains of the UK after Scotland went.

  • It’s Tim v Davey – and Davey is the Answer…I actually dred the question!

  • Stephen, do you really think you are doing the party any service by kicking off a pointless debate about who might or might not succeed Nick Clegg if he leads us to failure in the 2015 election?

    Whatever the brickbats thrown at him I happen to think that Nick has displayed great ability and courage since taking the party (with full consultation and backing from its members) into this unprecedented coalition. There is general acceptance that Nick will lead us into the 2015 election. It is the job of all of us Lib Dems to help him towards as much success as can be achieved in undoubtedly difficult circumstances. Going on prematurely about who our next leader might be only serves to weaken the incumbent .

  • David Allen 8th Nov '13 - 1:55pm

    Talking about the next leader will indeed weaken the incumbent, but that is what is bound to happen if Clegg leads into 2015. It is the pundits who will be doing the talking. Just as Gordon fought 2010 looking like a busted flush, so Clegg would fight 2015 looking like yesterday’s man. Gordon did not recover. Nor would Nick.

    Granted, Tim Farron would not be the right person to try to fight 2015. He would needlessly be risking his own future career.

    Vince would be the right choice for 2015. (To the poster who mentioned Royal Mail, I would say – yes it was a mistake, all politicians make mistakes, but we have already forgotten last year’s mistakes, and by 2015, most people will have forgotten what happened in 2014).

    Vince would actually win back some of our lost voters. Nick will never convince those voters. Either you support continuing Cameron-Clegg, or you don’t. Our lost voters don’t.

    Vince could treat 40 seats as a victory, a revival of the now-moribund independent Liberal Democrats, serve (in or out of government) for half a parliament, and then hand a revived party over to a younger successor. So his age is his big advantage!

  • Liberal - still here 8th Nov '13 - 3:29pm

    The comments in LDV show that many of the contributors are completely out of touch – imagine Boris as Prime Minister with his finger on the nuclear button ! The Tories must either keep Cameron or look elsewhere – the future of the UK is far too serious for Boris !
    Nick, who led us into government for the first time since Lloyd George , deserves a top award for courage and proving that we have the people equal to those in any other party, able to lead in government. I wish we could have listened in to some of the Cabinet meetings !
    Some of our M.P.s and Peers have walked through the lobby against parts of Coalition policy – you can’t back a principle for fifty years and then abandon it ! Most are Liberals first and Coalitionists (reluctantly !) second. They do not deserve derision – they stood firm when we had only 5 M.P.s and, at one point, only 1% in the News Chronicle opinion poll ! But we have been given an opportunity to govern and have won many of our arguments. Nick and our parliamentarians deserve immense credit. The Liberal puzzle is increased massively by a dire economic situation and the rejection of party politics by much of the electorate. Why else does UKIP get a hearing ?
    Nick deserves the opportunity of leading us into the 2015 election – if he so wishes ! We do need one or two others who can earn our wholehearted support as leaders – Vince did that in 2010. A leader emerges because others share the vision to which he or she is committed. Where are those with this heart-warming and soul -stirring vision ?

  • Nick Barlow 8th Nov '13 - 5:02pm

    He’d not necessarily be my candidate of choice, but my tip for next leader of the party (whenever that vacancy arises) is Alistair Carmichael. If Scotland votes no next year, he’ll not only have experience as a Cabinet member, he’ll be the Secretary of State who saved the Union. He’s also an engaging public speaker and doesn’t have any obvious ties to the various factions.

    As for Boris, I think he’ll join David Davis, Kenneth Clarke, Michael Hesletine, Michael Portillo and so many others in the club of people who were definitely going to be the next Tory leader.

  • Andrew Colman 8th Nov '13 - 5:48pm

    I predict a lab/lib coalition with Milliband and Cable as leaders
    Boris likely to be caught by the same trap as Portillo ie . Not an Mp at leadership election time

  • markfairclough 8th Nov '13 - 6:21pm

    As for the Tories I think Hammond or May will be their next leader,.

  • Mark, surely even the Tories are not stupid enough to make May their leader, right? o0 Heck, at least with Boris is actually sort of popular with some parts of the public.

    Nick, that is an interesting one, but I do not think he would go for it. I get the feeling he is happy being high up, without being the front-man.

  • nvelope2003 9th Nov '13 - 12:28pm

    Why is it so important to save an unhappy Union ?

  • “Vince would actually win back some of our lost voters. Nick will never convince those voters.”

    If Vince Cable became leader he would be reminded incessantly that he not only voted to increase tuition fees, but was the cabinet minster responsible for the legislation.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Nov '13 - 5:23pm


    ” if we have to change leader, it means we’ve lost our bet that we can make coalitions work.”

    Logic deficit, Kapitan.

    Firstly, who says a leadership decision means we ‘have to’ change Leader? To do so or to not do so is a choice, based upon collective judgement which can be a positive thing or a negative thing.

    But it is nothing at all to do with whether we can or cannot make coalitions work. Hundreds, if not thousands of Liberal Democrats have made coalitions work for decades. Electorates in the areas concerned have often appreciated this. Any decision re: the Leadership might be at least partly related to whether a particular Leader made a particular Coalition in central government work. Generalisation in such a situation would be stupid.

  • Max Wilkinson 9th Nov '13 - 5:32pm

    Can anybody imagine us being in coalition with a Tory party led by an angry head-banger like May or Hammond?

    The thought makes me shudder.

  • markfairclough 9th Nov '13 - 10:05pm

    Boris wont be Tory leader , he’s actually not all that rightwing you know.

  • Adam Robertson 9th Nov '13 - 11:03pm

    On the leadership question, I firmly back Nick Clegg as leader. Admittedly, he has made mistakes in Government, but he is one of the reasons, why I am a Liberal Democrat. Yes the tuition fees debacle, was unedifying but he was between a rock and a hard place. Ed Miliband took an opportunity to show political opportunism, when the Labour Party supported the Browne Review, then backed away from it.

    I agree with Nick Barlow, that Alistair Carmichael has no ties to factions within the party. He will get a lot of 2nd Preferences in the leadership election, when one takes place. I personally favour, Ed Davey, because he has got experience in Government, so if the Liberal Democrats, have another chance to serve in Government, he would exactly know what to do. Not to say, Tim Farron, would not do a good job but it does concern me that he does not want to get his hands dirty. He is very likeable but as I believe as a Guardian Article, said the fact that he has not been in Government, may go against him. That is one of the reasons, why I am cautious about Tim Farron.

  • David Allen 9th Nov '13 - 11:58pm

    “Can anybody imagine us being in coalition with a Tory party led by an angry head-banger like May or Hammond?
    The thought makes me shudder.”

    Why aren’t you shuddering about the present coalition, which is taking Thatcherism to new heights of social inequality, contempt for the poor, and the dismantling of state health and education to let Tory donors, crony capitalists and kleptocrats plunder our economy?

    The Bullingdon Boys didn’t really change when they grew up. They just learnt a smoother act. That includes co-opting useful idiots like Nick Clegg, who gave Cameron the crucial help he needed to create his bogus “moderate” image.

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Nov '13 - 10:45am


    There are some things the coalition has done that make me uncomfortable, but it has done some good things. I’m not keen on some of the health changes, but I’m not convinced social inequality has widened as much as you seem to think. As for the ‘dismantling’ of state education, I’m not sure what you mean.

    Anyway, this is not really on topic. The point is that we’re better off being in coalition with somebody like Cameron. Despite what you say, he is on the moderate side of his party. A coalition with an uncompromising socially conservative person like May or Hammond would be much worse.

  • markfairclough 10th Nov '13 - 4:58pm

    @max , agree

  • Morgan Inwood 10th Nov '13 - 5:42pm

    Interesting question.

    For us I can see it being an orange Booker vs Social Liberal. Ed Davey, Tim Farron and Jo Swinson have all been mentioned as possible leaders post-Clegg. There are some who David Laws but there is a problem which is the expenses one from 3 years ago. Julien Huppert is also seen as a future leader.

    For the Tories, Theressa May as others have mentioned, George Osbourne and Michel Gove

  • Max Wilkinson,

    “I’m not convinced social inequality has widened as much as you seem to think.”

    How much do you seem to think I seem to think? I said it had widened. You agree that it has widened. What are you continuing to beef about?

    “The point is that we’re better off being in coalition with somebody like Cameron. Despite what you say, he is on the moderate side of his party. A coalition with an uncompromising socially conservative person like May or Hammond would be much worse.”

    Despite what you think I say, I accept that others in his party are further to the Right. However – You implicitly assume that the sole purpose of the Liberal Democrats is to support Tory-led government. Until five years ago, such an assumption would have been dismissed as a ludicrous suggestion by any Lib Dem spokesperson.

    How did we degenerate so quickly and so completely?

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '13 - 2:00am

    I have to say I question the idea that David Cameron is some kind of moderate conservative. The times have changed and conservatism is no longer about loyalty to the militaristic and wealthy national establishment, but the militaristic and even more wealthy international establishment. I’m not saying this is the explicit aim of anybody, but givens need to be questioned.

    We also need to question the liberalism of concentrating more power into Brussels. I am not saying we should be Eurosceptic, but the only way to stop the EU becoming a conservative dream is by having a thick core of democracy running right through its body. It is not democratic enough and we need to stop sounding like the status quo is largely fine. Euroscepticism is real and needs to be popped with significant reform.

    I would be interested to hear from any leader who agrees with this thesis, it would be hugely popular. Some people on the left would agree, but I find it hard to agree with forced altruism by getting the lower and middle class to pay high taxes and control their businesses.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '13 - 3:00am

    Slightly controversial, but I disagree with high taxes and lots of regulation full stop. I’m not asking for someone to run a populist campaign attacking wealthy minority. We’re all dependent on each other and class warfare just replaces productivity with hostility and ultimately violence. We need someone who doesn’t think Labour, the Conservatives or “the west” has the moral high ground. I’ll put that one under the pillow for the leader fairy.

  • @Eddie Sammon – “Euroscepticism is real and needs to be popped with significant reform.”

    We Europhiles all know that the EU would benefit greatly from reform. Indeed reform and improvement should be a constant process. However it must be understood that representatives of one or other country cannot dictate this process. In advocating reform it is essential to make it clear where we stand on the main issue – in or out. I have no compunction in saying that even if no reform is currently negotiable it is still massively to the UK’s benefit to stay in – and by all means continue to work for reforms where appropriate.

    I feel sure that Cameron actually wants to stay in but has allowed himself to be hooked up to the implied position that if a sufficient degree of reform is not extracted from our EU partners he will lead the “out” campaign. This is a desperately dangerous position in which to place our country. I hope Labour will step up to the plate and stand (on this point at least) shoulder to shoulder with the Lib Dems. Otherwise the future is bleak indeed.

  • Simon Banks 11th Nov '13 - 2:41pm

    Jack – many who have stuck with the party would still like to see a shift.

    I agree Tim Farron would be favourite. He engages with the activists in the guts as well as the mind in a way Nick Clegg can’t. Occasionally, though, he seems to speak first and think later. I heard Michael Moore speak at Glasgow and thought, “Gosh, he has great leader qualities”. Maybe that was what did for him?? I wouldn’t worry too much about Tim’s “lack of gravitas”, though, if he was up against Boris.

    I’m not convinced Nick Clegg would resign if we got 39 seats, though, and the membership – rather than the activists – would be unlikely to endorse a revolt. In any case, my guess is still 42-5.


  • Max Wilkinson
    “Dismantling of state educatio” We can see it before our very eyes. Certainly at LEA level, where the ability to carry out any coordination or management has more or less disappeared certainly here in the SW of England. Cuts, justified by falsely overstating economic crisis as a public spending crisis, have brought our County and Borough Councils low. Staff, worried for the future have deserted a sinking ship. Secondary schools have defected to the Academy sector, the Sec of State, yes, Gove, has appropriated more and more powers to himself. Free Schools have been given a freer and freer rein. Primaries, where they cannot find a white knight to rescue them, are being forced into academisation. Well, you might say these developments are still in the state sector, but we have seen dramatic centralisation, of a type we as a Party would have opposed root and branch in the past. The current situation is absolutely appalling! I don’t think it much matters whether it is Cameron, May or Hammond. It frankly gives our Orange Bookers an excuse to go off on a privatising rampage.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '13 - 9:06pm

    Denis, you make some fair points, the “Why I’m In” campaign isn’t a deal breaker for me, it is mainly the american and western exceptionalism that I don’t like. Yes we probably have better civil rights than most countries, but maybe that is because our nations are richer so can afford to focus on such things.

  • 42,000 card carrying members? Is that the current official figure,

  • theakes 12th Nov ’13 – 11:02am
    42,000 card carrying members? Is that the current official figure,

    This discussion is based on an assumption that Liberal Democrats do badly at the 2015 election – membership is likely to be below 40,000 by then.
    So if there is a turnout of less than 60% for the leadership election it could be won with 12,000 members giving a first preference to one candidate. At that point Ed Davey, who will be remembered as Mr Chinese Nuclear Power, may regret his sudden change of mind on what until recently he repeatedly described as *unsafe and uneconomic nuclear”.
    People need to be able to trust a party leader to not “change their mind” on fundamental matters of policy and principle.

  • For me it has to be Tim . The process of change begins at the Spring. Conference 2014!

    Tim is a solid Lancastrian. He listens and responds accordingly. He actually responds to emails.

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