Most of the nation could not care less about us having a leadership election. So, let’s do it.

The Liberal Democrat leadership election should not be delayed until May 2021. We will be going into a crucial election season without direction. Labour will have a new leader trying to rejuvenate the party. The Conservatives will be rallying around the Prime Minister. We, on the other hand, will be soul searching and asking difficult questions that should be getting solved now. How will we convince voters we’re who they should trust to help run their areas, when we cannot even decide at that point what kind of party we want to be?

The mood of the nation is not focused on our party whatsoever now. As well intended the Federal Board’s delayal is, considering the Covid-19 pandemic, nobody in the country is listening. They rightly have far more important things to be occupied with. The few times I have seen a journalist report the announcement, the comments are not filled with praise for our sensibility, rather just comments on our national irrelevance. When Spring Conference was rightly cancelled, there were more jokes about how ‘the rules don’t apply to small gatherings’ than praise for the good decision, sadly.

However, unlike Spring Conference, in-person interaction is not a necessity for a leadership contest. It was good to see that the Board are looking into adapting how HQ can work in accordance with social distancing rules. There are also many who do not see how the same cannot be investigated for adapting a leadership contest in these uncertain times. Furthermore, whilst the immediate future may not be the best time, who is to say that October or November 2020 is not either? Nobody knows what will happen in 12 weeks’ time, let alone 18 months. Who is to say that the elections will not be postponed yet again anyway? Who is to say that restrictions will go in a cycle of being lifted and re-implemented? It is surprising that as a party dedicated to nuance, there has been an absolute decision to delay until May 2021 instead of, let’s say, reviewing the situation in a few months’ time.

The public is not going to praise us for our cancellations – we are the last thing on their minds right now. However, we will be rewarded by them in May 2021 if we have a clear vision and direction by then. Sadly, Federal Board’s decision has not helped in making this seem likely. I know many young members who work long hours for this party on low wages or joined this party with sincere hope for the future. They feel tired and done with it – more delay and time without proper vision will lead them to give up.

I understand the principle behind the decision to delay, yet we are giving up the opportunity to develop a key vision and ask important questions about the party. As a British Prime Minister, who produces significant division in this party, once said, ‘power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile’.

* Hermione Peace is 22 and the outgoing chair of the University of Birmingham Liberal Democrats. She also served on the Young Liberals Executive from 2017-2019.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Fully agreed

  • Yes indeed. Who doesn’t have email, Facebook etc and even the good old postie will deliver.

  • Yes, most of the time the only people who care what we do are ourselves. We should have started the process before Christmas and had a new leader in place by now. There was some argument that we did not want to clash with the Labour leadership contest, well they still have another week to go, we could have been done and dusted by the end of February.

  • Totally agree. The delay proposal is way too long, and we need new leadership well in advance of the next set of elections.

  • Hear, hear. The situation should be monitored and once it is safe to do so the election should happen with the normal length timetable from that point.

  • Daniel Walker 30th Mar '20 - 11:52am


  • John Marriott 30th Mar '20 - 11:55am

    @Hermione Peace
    Perhaps you should have out a full stop after the word ‘us’. Sorry to be pedantic/old fashioned; but shouldn’t your title have read ‘OUR having a leadership election’. I’m sure that, if he has the time, someone like ‘Michael 1’ will put me right on this point of grammar! 😀

  • John Marriott 30th Mar '20 - 11:58am

    Apologies. That ‘out’ in the first sentence should have read ‘put’.

  • “Yes, most of the time the only people who care what we do are ourselves”.

    Now why’s that ? A classic definition of self indulgence describing the classic little bubble of today’s Lib Dem World.

  • Jack Worrall 30th Mar '20 - 11:59am

    100% agree. Spot on. Fully correct. I hope they review this decision.

  • Absolutely agree with this thread…When the country returns to (nearly) normal we can announce that, ‘We had a leadership election and xxxx is our new leader”

    The country can then answer, “When?”, “Who?”

  • David Becket 30th Mar '20 - 12:43pm

    Once again we see how far out of touch with real life those who run our party are.

    We need leadership NOW.

    Tory’s have a PM.
    Labour have a leader of the opposition.

    We have an acting joint leader, does not look like a real party .

    I can see little point in wasting any more time and money with this lot.

  • William Francis 30th Mar '20 - 12:43pm

    Absolutely agree!

  • For those that don’t subscribe to them, people may want to know there is a joint Never Mind the Bar Charts / Lib Dem podcast episode in which Mark Pack explains the Federal Board’s thinking on postponement.

  • John Barrett 30th Mar '20 - 1:29pm

    This article is full of common sense and I hope those on the Federal Board will read and then re-read this section, “Furthermore, whilst the immediate future may not be the best time, who is to say that October or November 2020 is not either? Nobody knows what will happen in 12 weeks’ time, let alone 18 months. Who is to say that the elections will not be postponed yet again anyway?”

    As I mentioned in another thread, we have got to look at how we act in the future “Post Pandemic” and move away from business as usual.

    This will involve innovation and dealing with the changing facts. Reducing the amount of travel or commuting and reduce the need to take actions that increase our carbon footprint. The decision to postpone the conference was correct but the long delay in the leadership election was something that might have been right in other times, or under other circumstances. It does not make sense for the times we are now in and might be in for months or years to come.

    As Bob Dylan once said “The time they are a changing…..

    We must now change too.

  • Phil Wainewright 30th Mar '20 - 1:55pm

    We do not need a leadership election to “decide what kind of party we want to be.” The two are completely different things. Indeed most LibDem leadership contests in recent years mostly seem to consist of two candidates each doing their utmost to avoid debating policy! And frankly the idea that the party’s policy direction is set by the leader is an idea that shouid be anathema to Liberals.

    While I share the reservations about the length of delay to the leadership contest, isn’t this leadership limbo the perfect opportunity for the grassroots to define what kind of party we are, and therefore what sort of leader we want? Surely that is the only order in which such decisions should be made.

  • Kevin White 30th Mar '20 - 2:09pm

    Couldn’t agree more. TheFederal Board is utterly wrong.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Mar '20 - 2:13pm

    Yay Phil Wainewright!

  • Barry Lofty 30th Mar '20 - 2:18pm

    Hear Hear Phil Wainewright do we really need all this controversy during this present crisis?

  • Paul Barker 30th Mar '20 - 2:33pm

    We should remember that there are small numbers of powerful people in The Media & in other Parties who do care about what we do, they are always on the lookout for ways to damage us & a Leadership Election in the middle of a World Crisis could be just the opportunity to smear us again.

    Why is everyone assuming that the Internet & The Postal Service will keep going as usual, we are only at the start & I have already had deliveries that didnt turn up.
    On current trends this crisis wont peak in The UK for another Month, dont assume that everything will go on working normally.

  • Johnny McDermott 30th Mar '20 - 2:47pm

    Well said! Put in simpler and sharper terms that I have achieved so far.

    Conference is another good point – if we an run an online hustings/ election, we can start thinking of that. If this is going to go on for many months, we’ll be done and participating, not quietly (or furiously, privately?) rowing amongst ourselves.

    Paul Barker – I feel at this point all publicity is good publicity – though like the article headline says, whatever they say about it, the most likely public response is to shrug or laugh then forget about us 30 seconds later.

    Phil Wainright – it will become a party-defining election. 5 candidates not arguing about policy is never going to happen, nor is it desirable. Half the problem last time round was Ed and Jo’s unwillingness to distinguish themselves. So this will set the course, even if it shouldn’t (and we should) – if that starts with 18 months of ‘dither and delay’, the jokes may not come while we postpone, but there will be plenty when we decide to reemerge from the political wilderness. And when we do, we won’t know what we stand for. ‘Liberal values’ often contradict ‘progressive ones’, fiscal responsibility contradicts social lib forum ideas. We do need to decide what we’re for, unless of course two of us together can describe it without relying on an equally nebulous ‘preamble’ to our constitution. A leader doesn’t do that for us, but they clearly guide us. And we can’t be guided in 5 moderately different directions.

  • Thomas Hague 30th Mar '20 - 3:26pm

    I think the board have made a terrible mistake.
    I am a member of the party because I believe in what it stands for when it comes to democratic reform but we cannot claim to stand for that while we have a leader in place without any mandate beyond “being the one that survived”. FTR I like Ed, I’d have been satisfied had he won over Jo but he is an interim leader until an election nothing more. As far as I am concerned he has no mandate to lead us and waiting until the end of the next locals to hold an election is an insult to the membership.

  • Richard Lowe 30th Mar '20 - 3:45pm

    Completely agree.

    With the talk now moving towards potentially cancelling Autumn Conference, surely that should have been cancelled first?

    I was already sceptical of holding it after the 2020 elections, but the idea of waiting until after next year’s huge set of elections, seems foolish to me.

  • James Moore 30th Mar '20 - 3:50pm

    Completely agree with this article.

  • Peter Watson 30th Mar '20 - 4:03pm

    One silver lining of the dark cloud of coronavirus for the party is that it provides a convenient excuse for the lloooonnnnnnngggg delay in selecting a new leader.

    However, the planned timescale extends what was already an amazingly slow process for such a small party with a paucity of candidates.

    The delay since the General Election looks like the party does not have confidence in Davey who has to carry on as a de facto leader undermined by this and being introduced in the media as an “acting co-leader”. It also looks like the party does not have confidence in itself, hoping that the current leader-in-waiting, Layla Moran, or one of the other less well-known MPs will emerge as a saviour with a silver bullet that will magically fix all of the party’s problems.

    Perhaps another silver lining is that in the current climate and for the foreseeable future, no one will notice.

  • The trick for a leadership candidate is to inspire the internal electorate while boring the pants of the electorate at large, the latter being relatively easy. They can be inspired later if the internal process comes up with the right result and the new leader and the party’s wider leadership have the nous to know what style, strategy, timing etc. is appropriate month by month. Political campaigning is much more than textbook public relations. Up and down the country Liberal Democrats are putting energy into supporting local communities and residents during the present crisis which almost certainly get worse before things get better. Are we really saying that thinking about a future leadership election, which a limited number of people need to prepare for and eventually organise, will distract the troops on the ground from their current efforts? New and vital jobs are usually done by people who are already busy and political activists ought be amongst the best in understanding day-to-day priorities without getting inappropriately distracted!

  • marcstevens 30th Mar '20 - 4:34pm

    I think the extraordinary delay has been engineered deliberately to the advantage of Ed Davey and the Orange Booker wing of the party. People can still take part in a leadership election as well as supporting public services, the vulnerable and elderly in light of the Coronavirus situation.

  • @marcstevens “I think the extraordinary delay has been engineered deliberately to the advantage of Ed Davey and the Orange Booker wing of the party.”

    I’ll let you into a little secret. My controller at Tory Central office has activated me to make sure that the Orange Book domination of the party, the articles on this board, and the comments BTL, adhere strictly to the Orange Book line. The SLF can and will be crushed! Bwa-ha-haaa …..

  • Richard Underhill 30th Mar '20 - 6:07pm

    marcstevens 30th Mar ’20 – 4:34pm
    I have never read the Orange Book, although I understand that it is available at a well known internet supplier, with a South American name.
    I would vote for Ed Davey, the sooner the better.

  • Most people indeed will not care or notice if we hold a leadership election. Others will perceive it (fairly or not) as self-indulgent and heartless. The media will either make sure that’s the message, or ignore it totally,
    Even Labour have the sense to downplay theirs at the moment.
    The world (and democracy) won’t end if we delay a few months.

  • …in fact… I am a key worker stuck in a tiny office 2 feet from a woman who travels by bus (and only soap/water in the ladies’ to ‘protect’ us).
    I have 24 family members/close friends in the high-risk categories (including age, chemo patients, some front-line health workers).
    The number of beans I care about the leadership right now is therefore 0.

  • Bad news story if the election goes ahead vs no news story if its 2021.What a choice. On balance it was right to postpone but not to put a finalized date.The party cannot tread water for over a year so leadership need to be moving on something.

  • Julian Tisi 30th Mar '20 - 8:25pm

    Excellent article, nicely put. Thanks! Completely agree.

  • Agree. The Federal Board got this wrong.

  • Agree. Entirely.

    It might not be something that would be as fun or exhilarating, but we most certainly need a leader prior to elections in 2021.

  • Alison Crawford 31st Mar '20 - 4:11pm

    Firstly, I am sorry to see so many readers are critical of “the leadership”. These leaders are the people who are prepared to stand up and be counted when it comes to every day running of the party.
    Whatever decision HQ made would have been the wrong one as far as many of you LDV readers are concerned.
    In my opinion, we should get on with our own local work being Lib Dems and stop being so critical.

    Also, for me the leadership contests are a chance to see the candidates in person and make our own judgements as to who is the most suitable. I have enjoyed many such hustings. Clearly this is not possible now, so let’s wait until things have improved.

  • Wilf Forrow 31st Mar '20 - 7:01pm

    Absolutely agree. Leadership is even more vital now than ever. If we can’t even run a leadership election, how will we ever convince people we could run a country?

  • Frances Kneller 31st Mar '20 - 11:14pm

    Watching the leadership debate from the inconvenient, comfort of NZ as an active Libdemmer, here’s my threeha’pence.
    The public’s real focus is Covid-19. Mystifyingly Johnson’ s approval rating is high, but the election of Keir Starmer is likely to change the political dynamics. For most voters the LibDems are currently irrelevant.
    Ed Davey being referred to as co/ acting Leader in all media coverage is unhelpful to him and the party. He may not be everyone’s first choice but the party should endorse him formally as leader for say 18 months. We then have a short election in Summer 2021 with the result announced at the Autumn 2021 conference.
    With the potential for a second Covid-19 wave in the Autumn , an Autumn 2020 Conference is too risky. Member engagement through an Econference if necessary.
    A focussed leadership contest next summer with both live and online hustings.
    Some decisive action and closure absolutely required now. We might not like it , but it’s not forever and we need to consolidate and move forward together.

  • Ex-member with a question.

    Have previous leadership contests been great recruiting drives?

    If not, get it done when nobody is watching,

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