One lesson worth learning from the Greens…

Anyone who knows me will know that I am no great fan of the Green Party, indeed, I have written for these pages before about why the Liberal Democrats have been right to continue to reject the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ between the two parties. However, pluralist that I am, I admit that it would be naive to refuse to ever accept lessons from our political rivals. As Spring Conference in York approaches, there is one particular lesson from the Greens that Liberal Democrats should bear in mind.

Buried within the amendment to the party constitution set to be debated in York is a rule change that would allow non-MPs to stand for leader of the Party. The experience of the Greens demonstrates how foolhardy this idea is. Since Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley became co-leaders of the Greens, how often can you recall the media giving either of them airtime? Despite her no longer being leader, the media are still far more interested in the views of the Greens’ solitary MP Caroline Lucas. Although account must be taken of her often strong media performance, it does nothing to improve the profile of the Greens’ new leaders. This is the reality that any future non-MP leader of the Liberal Democrats would have to contend with; if you’re not based in Westminster then you will struggle to get mass media coverage – something the Party already struggles with as it is.

The fact that political journalists are more interested in the views of MPs based in Westminster than leaders elsewhere poses certain risks for the Liberal Democrats. Not only is there significant risk of message ill-discipline, as leader of the Party and leader of the parliamentary group may not always be on the same wavelength, but this in turn could lead to tension between the two – a tension that the party simply cannot afford. The history of the Liberal-SDP Alliance and the relationship between the two Davids (Steel and Owen) only goes to show the dangers of two prominent leaders with the potential to contradict one another.

With this in mind, Liberal Democrats would do well to vote against these proposals when they are debated next month. While our parliamentary party may at present be small, we should be ambitious enough to expect to increase its size in the near future, allowing for a wider pool of already credible potential leaders. Let us not follow the Greens’ example and struggle to get our voice heard, condemning us to be little more than a pressure group with a parliamentary wing. As a recent party of government we should demand better than that.

* Andy Briggs is Co-Chair of Liberal Reform, a pressure group for personal, political, social and economic liberalism.

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27 Comments

  • Farage gets more airtime than the Greens, why because he has name recognition. If the Green’s co-leaders had that, the media would be talking to them and not Caroline Lucas.

  • Steve Trevethan 12th Feb '19 - 9:12am

    Perhaps the Greens do not get much/any exposure on the “Main Stream Media” because their messages are not wanted and/or are opposed by those who have influence and power over the MSM?
    Might we be arranging the BAFTAs while our World burns?

  • Andy Briggs 12th Feb '19 - 9:13am

    @Mark Ha! So true.

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '19 - 9:36am

    The Green Party – what’s not to like? But, wait a minute. As they say, everybody wants to go back to nature; but nobody (or at least very few) wants to go on foot.

    As for the ‘perfect’ Ms Lucas, I would guess that she’s more concerned about holding on to her parliamentary seat, with all that entails, rather than trying to herd cats as party leader.

  • If you want to be in the media you need to have the resources to make yourself available and the staff to do so. It is ironic that Mr Farage is able to use his resources gained from the EU to ensure that he is able to be available to the media.
    So if we decide to have a Leader who is not an MP this will work if they can base themselves in London and has an office with at least a few people able to keep in touch with the media and have access to their diary.
    Of course the best option would be reform the communications of the party to explore methods of actually involving all the members in real policy development. We could start with the way we deal with the deal with the issue of the European Union.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Feb '19 - 10:54am

    Tom Harney:
    Mr. Farage has presumably been approved by the Electoral Commission for his new Brexit party and intends to stand in the next euro-elections, if they happen. He has not mentioned local elections.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Feb '19 - 11:33am

    Who says we do not have two leaders and one of those is not an MP i am talking about the role of party president who leads our members in the country and up holds our constitution. The Leader in Westminster does need to be an MP or Lord to get a pass to get through the door and vote .
    So lets be sensible the new batch of MPs 2017 do appear more in tune with the membership and include some fresh faces ,gender balance and social liberal values.

  • David Warren 12th Feb '19 - 1:27pm

    I agree with Andy on this.

    The Liberal Democrats and the parties that were part of the merger that created us always had an MP as leader. At times that meant the leader was chosen from a pretty small group of five or six people.

    Any UK wide political party which is fully committed to parliamentary democracy as we do should choose its leader from amongst its MPs.

    With that in mind I hope the proposed changes are overwhelmingly rejected.

  • “Buried within the amendment to the party constitution set to be debated in York is a rule change that would allow non-MPs to stand for leader of the Party. The experience of the Greens demonstrates how foolhardy this idea is. ….”

    Hardly “buried”, Andy! Whatever one thinks of this particular aspect of Vince’s proposed organisational changes – and I reserve my judgement! – the intended EFFECT, although perhaps not the underlying PURPOSE, of these constitutional amendments is quite clear and has already been widely discussed on LDV and elsewhere. However, I refer here to its *intended* effect because careful reading of lines 77-78 of the constitutional amendment at agenda item F10 reveals an apparent drafting error – and I leave it to others to make of this what they will.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Feb '19 - 1:04am

    I do not understand why a leader outside the uk parliament has we know, in no way hurt UKIP, but would us.

    The candidates for president or mayor are independent of a legislature, throughout many countries, what is so particular about this small party?

    Davids Warren or Raw, radicalism is not merely a stance on issues, but on different methods, ways , and means, a radical departure from business as usual, might work for us, as with a president of the party who is not in parilament , but might. like me, or many, not have the means , of income or savings, but have the ability and talent.

  • I hate agreeing with Liberal Reform.
    Maybe I AM drifting right as I get older….

  • Julian Tisi 13th Feb '19 - 9:14am

    To me this is about perceived ambition. I suspect that if this gets passed at Spring Conference it will be the only mainstream story coming out of Spring Conference. And what will it say about our party? That we’re settling into our new diminished role as a minor party with no aspirations of power. The wrong message at the wrong time.

  • Farage is controversial and, as such, his comments attract the media; the BBC, in particular, seem enamoured by his presence.
    If the LibDems want the same attention may I propose Stimpson as leader; media debates between him an, perhaps, David Raw would have ‘Today’, ‘Question Time’, etc queuing up for appearances.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Feb '19 - 11:48am

    David Raw

    If you saw what is is front of you, instead , here, regularly, seeing what you want to, you might at a great stage in your journey, learn something.

    If you engaged with the person, rather than your own brand, yes, that word, of comedy, you might laugh with people rather than at them.

    Unlike you , I have been on and needed tax credits. Unlike you I have the desire to serve party and country but cannot afford to, or have never been in an area or position to.

    Like you I have lots to offer.

    Unlike you I am unable to even though a generation your junior, because nobody really connects in this impersonal society or party, they merely talk about it.

  • Given the way politics operate in the UK having a non MP as leader would be a recipe for mischief and chaos. Picture the scene. “This evening we have with us the Lib Dem leader, whose parliamentary party just ignored him/her on a crucial vote” “What do you have to say LD leader? How can you speak for the LibDems when you can’t even get your MPs to listen to you” and etc
    We already have a leader in parliament and a president who does not have to be in parliament. In my view, that’s the right balance. I won’t be supporting the proposal.

  • Geoffrey Payne. If we ever get to that stage, most of us would already have taken down our tents and slipped quietly away.

  • David Raw 13th Feb ’19 – 10:20am………[email protected] Expat, As not quite the Messiah’s Mum in the Life of Brian said, ‘You’re a very naughty boy’.

    PS Suggested press release :

    “Universal Credit wasn’t our fault – I think we were asleep at the time. We can see clearly now we should never have dallied with that oh so charming Mr. Cameron. But at the time he seemed to have so much in common with our dear Sir Nicholas. Let’s put it down to an unfortunate experience, shall we ?”.

    Sorry about that’, Brian’s mum’ but I couldn’t resist gently lampooning those who mistake bluster for content.

    As for UC…Considering that even the Tories accept its detrimental affect on the poorest (your Food Banks and my rough sleepers gave us an early insight into just how bad it was) those on here who defended its introduction should feel ashamed.

  • Peter Watson 13th Feb '19 - 12:49pm

    Given that the number of Lib Dems in a room is often approximately equal to the number of opinions in that room, it seems like a recipe for confusion to offer up as a party spokesperson a leader in the Commons (and one in the Lords?), a leader outside Parliament, and a chairperson!

    It makes sense for the SNP and other regional parties to have a recognised leader in one of the devolved parliaments. It makes sense for the Greens to take some of the administrative burden off a former leader in Parliament who also has to be a constituency MP and important party spokesperson inside and outside Parliament. It made/makes sense for UKIP with no MPs, but did cause problems when they had one. I don’t think it makes sense for the Lib Dems who I am sure would prefer to be thought of as a party with a large enough and talented enough pool within Parliament from which to elect a leader.

  • David Evans 13th Feb '19 - 4:50pm

    Of course the proposal could be deliberately put there so that people can have their triumph by rejecting that part, while the really tricky bit gets through because people can only focus on one rebellion at a time. I gather that sort of thing happened a lot between 2010 and 2015. 🙁

  • @David Evans: How very Machiavellian!!

  • Peter Hirst 13th Feb '19 - 6:18pm

    To me, it just shows that for a non-MP to be leader they must be of such character and public esteem that outweighs them not being an MP, not an outright exclusion. This is ultimately for party members and others eligible to vote to decide.

  • Nigel Jones 13th Feb '19 - 6:19pm

    @Geoff Payne; if we reached the point that none of our MPs were suitable for leader or did not want it, we would have sunk very low. I am opposed to having a non MP as our leader; the President can fulfil that complementary role.

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