Opinion: Let’s write our new leader a two-year contract – and get rid of him if it doesn’t work out

NormanLambTim FarronThere’s been a lot of focus on the Labour Party’s new Leader being given a 2017 ‘break clause’, to ensure the freshness and efficacy of the Leader come 2020. Meanwhile, I saw a comment from a Lib Dem the other day to the effect of “we must give Farron or Lamb a good ten years, it’ll be a slow climb, etc.” I began thinking about the issue, and I have a proposal: why not give the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats a two-year contract, with rigidly-defined goals to meet, and either applaud them for meeting them, or get rid of them for not, on those criteria?

For too long, leadership challenges have been bloody, opportunistic, or subjectively triggered. Or, worse still, they haven’t happened, when they almost certainly should have done. We have recently seen the unreliability of opinion polls in measuring future performance. Will it be enough if, in 2017, we are polling back at, say, 20%? No. It will be success sculpted in the air, and prone to disassembly at a moment’s notice. What matters are solid, progressive results.

Here’s my proposal. We present the new Lib Dem Leader with a five-point contract, to cover the term August 2015 to July 2017. If they fulfil four or five criteria, astounding! If they fulfil three, that’s still a majority, they could carry on and improve. If they only manage two, one, or even none, they’re gone. We would have an automatic Leadership election.

All these points would be numerically straightforward, and most would be based on electoral outcomes. They could be determined by the Executive, put to Conference, crowd-sourced through the website, or whatever was thought best. I can even imagine a situation where the Leader set one of them, as a kind of ‘manifesto pledge’ (whether this would count be one of the five conditions, or a ‘bonus’ sixth, could be decided!) All conditions would be realistic, but challenging and ambitious.

My own suggestions, for the period August 2015 to July 2017, are as follows:

  • Achieve 3rd place (or better) in the London Mayoral contest in May 2016, on first-round votes.
  • Make a net gain in MSPs in the Scottish Parliamentary Election in May 2016.
  • Make a net gain in AMs in the Welsh Assembly Elections in May 2016.
  • Maintain the number of members at 60,000, or higher, as of 31st July 2017
  • Make a net gain in local councillors across the UK, measured from 1st August 2015 to 31st July 2017.

All those gains would represent real progress for the Party, and they’re all achievable. I can imagine a tougher or more specific list that would still be ‘fair’ on the new Leader. They reflect a spread of progress across the UK, and also include several of the big event set-pieces of the first half of the Parliament. They’re staggered so that, by the end of May 2016, we’ll know whether the Leader has achieved the first three. If he’s 0 for 3 then, it’s time for a leadership election already. A successful leader would be presented a new contract in 2017, probably a three-year one, to take him just beyond the next General Election In 2020.

I will leave it for commentators to point-out flaws or tweaks to this proposal. For instance, should a leader who has ‘failed’ their contract be allowed to run again in the fresh leadership election? Should the points include legislative achievements, like the successful defence of the Human Rights Act, for instance? And please, do submit your own lists! But I believe it’s time we got real. I believe we need to toughen up and simultaneously democratise the role of the Leader with true accountability. We must make sure that the continued effectiveness of the leader of our Liberal Fightback is never again a matter of opinion. Let the seats do the talking.

* David Faggiani is a young-ish Liberal living in London, ex-smoker and co-founder of 'Game of Seats' political discussion group on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Fighting talk. We need more of this, not the moribund arguments of coalition and how good we are. Why does the leader have to come from the Parliament. In my view the very best option for charisma and getting listened to is a certain lady from Wales. This argument is especially relevent now that we are not the third party in the Commons and will hardly be seen on Wednesday lunchtimes.

  • Hi David,

    a few comments.

    Firstly, there is a already a constitutional provision that the leader must be re-elected at the start of a new parliament. Maybe that provision could be beefed up – I believe that usually (s)he is re-elected unopposed. If you want to read up on it more detail is here, and the relevant article is 10)2)g. http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/376/attachments/original/1389636747/Constitution_-_December_2013.pdf?1389636747

    Secondly, in the current case, we should think about what the alternatives are at the moment. With all due respect to the rest of the parliamentary party, Norman and Tim are the only credible leaders. Ditching whoever wins for the other one in two year’s time will look incredibly indecisive.

    And finally, I worry about the lists you suggest rapidly getting out of date, or suddenly made unattainable by changing circumstances. A scandal a week before an election could throw everything off track.

    I certainly agree with your desire to improve democratic accountability. I’d argue that rather than set lists that could get out of date quickly, or set arbitrary timetables, we should simply make it easier for leadership elections to be triggered as and when they are needed.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jun '15 - 6:27pm

    I think a five year contract would be better. I wonder when the party is going to kick up a fuss about the underwhelming leadership offering.

    What choice do we have? Centre-left Farron or now self-confessed Centre-left Lamb? Does the party even have any credibility on the left after five years with the Conservatives?

    If Labour elect a female leader then I can see more people thinking there is more to fight for within Labour. Eight white men who have just been in coalition with the Conservatives for five years now saying they are leftists?

  • paul barker 15th Jun '15 - 6:59pm

    No. This is a bloody stupid idea, we have no idea how hard or easy it will be to recover, setting up arbitrary targets now is just silly.

  • This is a political party, not a corporation with the board giving their CEO profit targets.

    You could find you get the best one of the seven or so people who could be leader and still come fifth in the London mayor election and the elections in Scotland. In fact I think fifth behind the greens is the most likely result in both cases, even with a good leader.

    Trust has been damaged, that takes many, many years to win back.

  • Peter Hayes 15th Jun '15 - 7:18pm

    Totally nonsense. To pick on just one, the London mayor result depends on the candidate and that is decided by London members, it is not in the gift of the leader and the result depends on local policies as well as national.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Jun '15 - 7:20pm

    It is that stopped clock moment. I agree with Paul Barker.

    This proposal is close to Dagenham. 🙂

  • I think its completely unrealistic to suggest that after under a year in the job a leader would be able to turn the party, or more accurately public perception of it, around. It would be ridiculous to call a leadership election if we aren’t 3rd in mayoral election AND gain MSPs AND gain AMs by next May. The Labour party is an entirely different can of worms. Public perception of them isn’t nearly as bad as perception of us!

  • “For instance, should a leader who has ‘failed’ their contract be allowed to run again in the fresh leadership election? ”
    Are you seriously suggesting that if we didn’t make a gain in MSPs and AMs and come 3rd in London you would exempt the leader from running again?!
    “I’ll leave it to commentators to point out… tweaks to this proposal”
    I think we’ll be tweaking it with a hammer.

  • Man if this is the sort of proposal is typical of the sort of thing we get from the lib dems from now on I can see them being overtaken by CISTA…

  • Alfred Motspur 15th Jun '15 - 7:48pm

    I’m not too sure about some of the comments posted before me: I think we should be welcoming suggestions such as these, not slamming them down all-so-quickly. I’m personally not too convinced with the idea of “targets” that have to be met: as has been said before, trust takes years to earn back and whilst we should try our best to have the quickest bounce-back possible, we shouldn’t set ourselves “targets” when we don’t know what will happen between now and then and when there is so much that is out of our control.

    Still, I think it is time to have a serious look at leadership: ever since 2010, the Lib Dem vote has been falling and by-election after by-election should have proved this, as well as last year’s European elections. In hindsight, many would agree that it probably would have been in the interests of the Lib Dems to have run a leadership election before May. We would do well, therefore, to propose suggestions like these so that we can evaluate how we can ensure our leadership promotes the best interests of the party in the future.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 15th Jun '15 - 7:49pm

    Sorry, David. Bad idea for reasons previously mentioned by others here. These sort of goals are too dependent on factors not in control of the leader (candidate selection, other parties’ choices, how quick or slow people are to start listening again etc) so, while looking objective, could easily be missed by a good leader, or met by a poor one. Additionally, the media narrative (such as there is in our diminished state) becomes all about arbitrary goals for the leader to hang on. Just a flawed idea at a fundamental level – forget it.

  • Graham Evans 15th Jun '15 - 7:58pm

    We are probably stuck with a situation in which whoever is elected leader will be there for the next five years. However perhaps this is the time to consider separating leadership of the Party from leadership of the MPs in Westminster. This might also to some extent address the issue as to whether the Scottish and Welsh parties should become formally separate from the UK Party, in that the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh parliamentary parties would be more on par in terms of authority with the leader of the Westminster MPs, rather than subservient to him (or perhaps in future her). It is noticeable that Nicola Sturgeon is now widely acknowledged as the leader of the SNP, even though she is not a Westminster MP, and the same was true of Peter Robinson of the DUP. Moreover, the likelihood is that for the next five to ten years more talent for leadership is likely to be found among LDs outside Westminster than within it.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 15th Jun '15 - 8:05pm

    Alfred – welcoming fresh ideas doesn’t mean being at home to Captain Crazy!

    Critics of this idea have set out why it’s fundamentally flawed, and I haven’t heard serious answers to those points.

  • Liberal Neil 15th Jun '15 - 8:14pm

    One of the golden rules I was told in management training is that if you set someone work goals they have to be things that they can wholly or mainly deliver by their own efforts.

    Otherwise you set people up to be the victim of circumstances outside their control.

    None of your five suggestions remotely fit that definition.

    We should all work on the basis that whoever we elect now will run the course of this parliament. As others have said there is then a process if they are perceived to have failed.

    Our two most successful recent leaders, Paddy and Charles, each had much longer than one parliament as leader, and each did better on their second general election.

  • David Cooper 15th Jun '15 - 8:27pm

    Dear Mr Faggiani, I love numerical targets. Such a comforting feeling of meaning and control. So what about setting the next leader the following target:-
    “Turning three-quarters (75%) of the Liberal Democrat manifesto into government policy”

    Oh sorry, just noticed we’ve reached that already (Mark Pack, “Three-quarters of Lib Dem manifesto becoming government policy”, LDV May 2011). Worked well, didn’t it!

  • I agree with most people that setting targets like this for the leader is not very sensible. If the new leader can save us from oblivion in current circumstances he will have done ok, and all those 3 targets in 2016 would be significant achievements. The Scottish and Welsh elections are on PR so the question actually boils down to increasing our vote share in those countries since 2012 (and in Scotland we may have trouble due to events in Orkney and Shetland). In London we have to beat both UKIP and the Greens, and last time all the smaller parties were quite squeezed. I have the feeling that at the moment those two parties with a big single issue have a more solid base vote than we do.

    Holding the membership and increasing council seats are perhaps more realistic, and the latter is essential if we are to recover…

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '15 - 8:44pm

    “Make a net gain in local councillors across the UK, measured from 1st August 2015 to 31st July 2017.”
    Borough and district councillors? Town and parish councillors to be counted searately?
    Please do not forget or ignore the Greater London Assembly, which can be a stepping stone to being an MP.

  • Gosh, the partyist-authoritarian Grandee streak runs deep judging by the (over) reactions in some comments above to a very sensible proposal.
    Face facts, the choice is limited because it is limited to the 8 MPs who managed not to lose their seats.
    Of them, one is the outgoing leader, and another embroiled in scandal. Of the remaining 6, we have managed to have just about a contest, which has caught virtually no public interest at all.
    A situtaion like this needs radical solutions and requiring the leader to undergo re-election every 2 years might just see off any further Grandeeist tendancies.
    Plus, I agree, Kirsty Williams is much the most convincing liberal voice left today.

  • Regardless of the specifics, there is a big question about how to deal with a leader who is not delivering increased votes. I guess the question is: when IS ‘the right time’ to face the fact that a leader is not delivering or that, despite great strengths, has lost the confidence and the trust of the general public. Surely the answer can never again be: ‘ not until the Party is decimated’.

  • The goals are too tough, but other than that I completely support the concept and 18 months to 2 years is plenty of time to get feet under the table. Had Labour used this system I truly believe they would have jettisoned Miliband and won the last election. We dont need the rule that the Party Leader must be an MP either, not when we have less than 20 MPs.

  • The Party needs someone to rebuild its structures and recruit new members.

    The Party also needs someone to lead it into the 2020 elections.

    Those two people may be, but are not necessarily the same.

    Ideally these would be different positions (and leader of the MPs could be something different as well) but if there has to be only one position, then the best thing might be to have a leadership election in 2019 to decide who the best election leader would be.

    The Party has the luxury of not having to think about whether its leader is well-qualified to be Prime Minister or not, since obviously that won’t happen for many decades, if at all.

  • There is nothing wrong in theory with an idea like this, but in our current situation it is unrealistic. I seem to recall that when he was running for leader Nick Clegg said he wanted to double the number of our MPs. Maybe at some point during the past five years the party as a whole should have been brave enough to tell him that he had failed dismally to achieve any realistic targets, explicit or implicit, but trying to implement something like this now is simply fighting last year’s battle.

  • Simon Gilbert 15th Jun '15 - 10:33pm

    I think none of this is about trust or leadership charisma. The party failed to articulate a clear set of liberal policies in the last election. The policies are the product and the party needs to have a deep discussion on what these should be before expecting the leader to sell them to the electorate. I believe the Tories will be extremely unpopular by the end of this Parliament and a Lib Dem party with a viable liberal agenda for this generation could become very popular.
    Any targets or timescale needs this policy debate to occur prior to expecting improved poll results.

  • I think the idea reasonable if not the specifics, we keep going on about evidence-based policy, why not evidence-based leaders? I agree with the people that say you couldn’t do this with just 8 MPs to choose from, but I also agree with Alistair’s point about not needing an MP as a leader, I think we’d do better with someone outside of Parliament right now, or one of the Lords.

  • A leader who has to worry about being kept by his party as part of contract timetable will talk to the party and not the pople.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 16th Jun '15 - 1:09am

    ChrisB – in what conceivable way is it “evidence based” to hold a leader to arbitrary targets which a good leader could fail to meet or a poor leader meet purely because of events out of their control (candidate selection, speed of forgiveness by the electorate, economic conditions etc)? And if you have concerns about David’s suggested targets, what are yours?

    Nobody has answered this fundamental question, because there isn’t a good answer.

    Whichever leader we chose, I’m willing to give them a decent run. Election results will give an indication of how they are going but they are not the only thing. They need to reform party structures, and to develop a policy platform for 2020 which is compelling, consistent and robust. Those aren’t things that are amenable to silly, arbitrary numerical targets which are far too vulnerable to events totally out of the leadership’s control.

  • Let each member pledge to do something in the next two years (stand as a councillor etc) then we will get somewhere.

  • Manfarang 16th Jun ’15 – 3:28am

    Quite right Manfarang. I would like to see some evidence of the thousands of new members actually doing something rather than just clicking a mouse over the “JOIN” button. Or in the case of the really excited amongst them — turning up once to a pub.

    At the peak of SDP Fever in the eary 1980s tens of thousands of people joined the SDP. And tens of thousands of them had disappeared within a few months when the hard work of winning elections was suggested.

    Similarly for one week in April 2010 we were told that 50% of the entire UK population said “I AGREE WITH NICK” – but they did not hang around long enough to buy the tee-shirt.

    Here in Kingston we do actually have a new member who is a candidate for us in a byelection in Grove Ward (polling day 16 July). If one in ten of the new members in London turn up to help him on Saturday we would have over 300 people on the streets of Kingston.

    I would love them to prove an old cynic wrong by getting out there and actually doing something.

  • Sean Emmett 16th Jun '15 - 7:47am

    Why not ask the leadership candidates what measures they consider to be indicative of a successful leadership?

  • To Manfarang
    That is a good start and we could all try to bring in at least one new member.

  • (Matt Bristol) 16th Jun '15 - 9:15am

    David, it was me who said we should give the leader 10 years, mainly because my perception is that the repeated changes of leader – mainly on issues of personality and not of policy – from Charles Kennedy to NIck Clegg did nothing for the party’s standing in the country, and damaged the public’s confidence in who we were and where we were going. Electing a new leader every 3 years is the quick way to create an external impression of internal panic. A lot of our leadership elections were fractious and produced material to be used against us, rather than being fruitful and positive explorations of possible future direction.

    However, I think some kind of target-setting process with the new leader for where we want to be by 2016 may be useful. But given that we could easily go backwards in the Commons particularly in the next GE, whether the new leader is Lamb or Farron, targets without time may not be helpful.

  • I think my biggest problem with this idea is that it proposes to hold the Westminster leader responsible for what happens in Scotland, Wales and London’s devolved assemblies. For success there, surely we should be looking to Willie Rennie, Kirsty Williams and Caroline Pidgeon. We should respect their mandates and not expect the Westminster leader to come riding to the rescue. Although of course I do very much hope that Lamb and Farron will be able to spend a lot of time helping out.

    The idea of a limited leadership term is a good one, but it should be a clear term limit, and not an exercise in target setting. The existing provision for a leadership contest in the early stages of each parliament should be strengthened and contested regardless of how much we like the incumbent.

    On the question of where we should get that leader from, I disagree with the idea of picking someone outside of the Commons at present. We have more than one MP. While this state of affairs continues, long may it do so, we will need a leader of the parliamentary group and that person will be seen as the leader in all but name even if we do select someone else. The way that the media has fun with the situation every time Carswell and Farage have a disagreement, however mild, might be a useful warning. More importantly though, the House of Commons is where our leader can directly challenge the government and present a liberal alternative to its plans. It is where we can table motions and amendments in pursuit of our aims. And it is where some of the most visible aspects of what we do as a political party happen. Its not about having a serious prime minister candidate, but about having someone to defend and advocate liberalism in the chamber from which some of the most serious threats to it will be emerging.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '15 - 9:28am

    paul barker

    No. This is a bloody stupid idea, we have no idea how hard or easy it will be to recover, setting up arbitrary targets now is just silly.

    Indeed. Setting fixed targets almost always means the targets take over from common sense.

    What we need is a political culture in which the leader is seen as the servant of the members, so if the members want someone else then that’s up to them and no big thing. Some people are good at the leader job, some people aren’t, often it’s difficult to tell until they’ve got there and tried it out. So, if it turns out the person chosen isn;t that good, well, we the members are the boss, put someone else in that post, that’s it.

    It doesn’t need targets set in advance. Just let us use as members use our common sense and on-the-ground experience with how it’s going. If we think it’s not going well, try someone else.

  • (Matt Bristol) 16th Jun '15 - 9:35am

    Sorry, 2026, NOT 2016.

  • paul barker 15th Jun ’15 – 6:59pm……………No. This is a bloody stupid idea, we have no idea how hard or easy it will be to recover, setting up arbitrary targets now is just silly…………..

    Exactly! Should the new leader (and his successors) fail to radically increase our popularity, we could end up with giving most of our MPs ‘a go’ within two parliaments…

    It seems the ‘silly season’ has started…

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore,

    My targets would be : Net gain in members, net gain in councillors over the next 3 years.

    If you consider retaining members and councillors as “silly, arbitrary numerical targets” then we have differing views as to the nature of progress. If in 5 years time we’ve moved nowhere (less/same members/councillors) under a new leader, you wouldn’t think to say “Tim/Norman, we’ve tried it your way, it hasn’t worked out”? To suggest this would be the only measure of a leader is a straw man, nobody has argued that. To be logically explicit, I think all leaders of all membership organisations that preside in a drop in membership are poor leaders of membership organisations. I also think the converse true. You don’t follow this logic, defining all factors as being outside of a leaders control, sounds like a pretty odd “leader” to me (Ed Miliband or Sepp Blatter perhaps). Indeed your logic would lead us to conclude there’s simply no point in having a leader, because they can’t effect tangible, measureable results.

    In terms of system design these arguably aren’t arbitrary targets at all, as they have clear existential meaning for the organisation. It’s not me saying “we need more members”, it’s the nature of a membership organisation, and so can be logically defined when describing a party. You wouldn’t call the amount of blood or water in your body arbitrary would you? It clearly isn’t, the organism requires it to survive.

    David’s suggesting ways we might improve our lot, you seem content insulting members by calling them “crazy” and their ideas “silly” (read our constitution). Most leadership positions in the modern world are target-orientated, why should the leader of the Lib Dems be exempt? In the charter schools of New Orleans heads/teachers have been given these types of targets and removed from positions swiftly when they didn’t achieve – this has been a successful strategy in a difficult environment. You may see it as “silly” and “crazy”, but it’s a tried and test method working all over our world.

  • David’s article is a good contribution – whether we agree with its proposals or not. The subject itself is appropriate because ‘liberals’ and ‘democrats’ should always frame how to work together across the country. Whatever the criteria by which a leader will judge progress will become public knowledge via the actions taken over time. Targets will be set and a good leader will be open to members on progress made and targets missed [and what to do on both]. Both our leadership candidates will surely do this.
    But will it remain essential that the leader is selected from the HoC itself? While we remain a small party in parliament, those in the HoC in particular will not have time to lead in the country. As Westminster’s system is sometimes seen by the public as the seat of both power and corruption [however unfounded] do we need a leader to be encumbered by that position? Those comments which look at other criteria for selecting leaders [we have regions etc who also have leaders] are open to changes we need to consider. Leaders need time to work throughout the party – and sitting in the HoC ‘un-noticed’ by the Speaker is probably not the best use of any leader’s time while our representatives there are so few.

  • It has sparked a debate, so let us not be too unkind.
    There are ‘events’ and they impact all political parties.
    I have a simple expectation from a leader at this time. It is to build a campaigning team both in and out of Parliament. That probably means very careful judgement over how much time is taken up in the Commons ( the penny will drop even for the SNP zealots in due course).
    I do recall Charles talking about the twin problems: what to say and how to get what he said noticed.
    He cracked it in the end.
    We have people who do know what to say. We have a serious problem over the ‘getting noticed’ bit. And our problem is not just the political journalists, it is a lot of comedy writers and performers. Both lots have an oversimplified view of what the Parly Party has been up to. Breaking that perception is a big job.
    I disagreed with Nick Clegg on a lot of things, but his appearances on The Last Leg were useful. Other leaders will find, I hope, other unconventional ways of working.
    Setting the sort of targets in the original piece need to be realistically set more locally and that means using all our regional and national leaders too. There is a role for the Party Leader to both challenge and support.
    There is a big team-building job to do.

  • I think it’s a good idea for our leader to have targets.. We have got to seriously consider ideas like this rather than dismissing them immediately because we need to reform our party as well as getting more members, Councillors etc. I don’t think we should expect any improvement by 2016 as this would be in the miracle category, much like our increase in membership after the election. It may not be possible to set many targets but perhaps we could look at the mechanisms for removing leaders. I think that from the removal of Charles Kennedy onwards we haven’t endeared ourselves to voters.

  • (Matt Bristol) 16th Jun '15 - 12:31pm

    By the way, I welcome this article because it has not (yet) split the commenters on a right-left basis and there is considerably less irritable re-settling of old scores going on than in recent weeks.

    (PS I please guilty to some of the irritability in recent weeks).

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '15 - 12:59pm

    An interesting idea but too many hostages to fortune for it to be a runner. Target-setting in this way have proven to be a poor way of improving performance in health and education, so why introduce it here?

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '15 - 1:01pm

    Correction: ‘ has proven to be…’

  • David Evans 16th Jun '15 - 1:47pm

    It’s very interesting to see David Faggiani’s comment regarding his targets of progress over the next two years “All those gains would represent real progress for the Party, and they’re all achievable”. I just wonder how many of our young-ish members have a real idea of the depth of the hole we have got into with the voters and how long it will take to get out of it. It took us forty years of hard work to get from single figures of MPs to the 64 or so we had in 2005, and throughout that period we were looked on benignly by the electorate and had the one off boost of the SDP being founded. Now all that is lost and right now we looked on with a mixture of disdain, disillusion and distrust by most voters. Even more, most will soon forget any detail of what we have done in coalition and will just remember the trust issue.

    In all likelihood, it will be a generation (30 years) before most people who we let down will have forgotten or forgiven. If our new leader plays a blinder early on, we may turn it around a bit faster, but it will take a total change of emphasis. If we carry on as if we have done nothing wrong over the last five years it will take much longer. In the meantime we have lost 90% of our MPs and their staff and just as we lost 90% of our MEPs and their staff in 2014. We have boundary reviews, a resurgent SNP in Scotland and a Conservative party that has developed a campaigning approach that annihilated us in the whole of the South West in one go. With all that, surviving well enough to come out even over the next five years will be a massive challenge for our new leader whoever he is, expecting progress in two is sadly just a joke.

  • David Faggiani 16th Jun '15 - 2:29pm

    Thank you so much everyone for reading the article, and especially for taking the time to comment!A lot of people have disagreed in principle, clearly (some quite vehemently!) and others have developed points nearer to my way of thinking, but still with many points of disagreement. I will attempt to give some proper responses to as many of you as I can as soon as I get the chance (perhaps this evening?)

    I’ll just quickly answer Sean Emmett, in saying that yes, I have just put the argument to the two Leadership contenders, via. Twitter. Tim Farron has answered, Norman Lamb has not as yet, but that’s not a bad thing, it was only an hour or so ago! And, y’know, it’s Twitter, no-one has moral Twitter duties. My brief exchange with Tim Farron, excluding introduction niceties, went like this (I hope he doesn’t mind me re-producing here, below):

    Me: wondered if you had any initial thoughts on this piece I’ve penned for @libdemvoice? (link)
    Tim Farron: I’ve read it. But not sure I agree. I have tried to lay out SMART objectives
    Me: people in the comments arguing that you would not hold direct responsibility for Scottish/Welsh success was quite controversial!
    Tim Farron: I think the leader has responsibility

    And that’s the exchange so far.

  • @David Evans “It took us forty years of hard work to get from single figures of MPs to the 64 or so we had in 2005”

    This is very much “fighting the last war” thinking. The world is a very different place to how it was in the mid 1970s. There is no reason to assume that the same approach that worked in the 1970s (of incremental council gains followed by MPs in 3 or 4 election cycles) will work in the 2010s, 2020s and 2030s.

    ” I just wonder how many of our young-ish members have a real idea of the depth of the hole we have got into with the voters and how long it will take to get out of it.”

    What is great is that we have had a surge of new members who are mostly younger and more switched on to the new world. They’re not hidebound by the sort of thinking that sees only a 40-year slog, but will be much more imaginative and creative a bout how we move forward.

  • Julian Tisi 16th Jun '15 - 4:12pm

    I agree with the general principle that as a party we should be hard-nosed if it turns out we elect someone who isn’t moving us forward and be prepared to move on and choose a new one if it doesn’t work.

    But otherwise, no I don’t agree. First, because the targets are too short-termist – three of them are judged in 2016. But more importantly because I don’t think it can come down to simple targets like this. There are too many other factors at play.

  • TCO 16th Jun ’15 – 2:44pm………………What is great is that we have had a surge of new members who are mostly younger and more switched on to the new world. They’re not hidebound by the sort of thinking that sees only a 40-year slog, but will be much more imaginative and creative a bout how we move forward……….

    It’s not the members you have to convince; it’s the electorate…..Older voters have the sort of thinking that ‘David Evans’ mentions and, from my conversations with young voters, they believe that the LibDem brand is ‘not for them’…… .
    I think you underestimate the problem and oversimplify the solution….We may well have to rely on major unpopular moves by Tory/Labour to ‘kick-start’ our revival…

  • On the point of who holds responsibility, of course the overall leader holds overall responsibility. But, in May some called for Willie Rennie’s resignation based on the loss of ten out of the eleven seats there. I was suggesting that the Westminster leader was more directly responsible for that, and would now argue that the buck, while it would stop with the leader, would go via the relevant leader in the devolved assembly.

  • Anyone interested in targets should read the book on the subject, “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector” by Prof John Seddon. It’s much better than the title suggests and is a must-read for anyone involved in government, local or national. His conclusion? Targets are a really, really terrible idea, they drive perverse behaviour, don’t lead to the desired outcomes and are invariable gamed.

    That said, David Faggiani has a point. Those who become party leaders almost never know when they are past their sell-by date and that it’s time for them to step down in the wider interest – usually it takes a heavy electoral defeat or a defenestration by the party. That’s true of almost all recent leaders of all parties. If their powers of patronage are such that it’s difficult to depose them then they will lead their party to disaster.

    The only people in a position to really judge how the leader is doing are the MPs and they are also strongly incentivised to get it right; for many of them their seat is on the line and for all of them their chance of a shot at ministerial office. It is also only they who will really know if there is an emerging problem like CK’s difficulties with alcohol or (if he had gone on a little longer) Wilson’s Alzheimer. So give MPs the power to table and vote on a no confidence motion in the leader with only quite a small number required to trigger the process – perhaps 20%. Even if all the MPs were very unhappy they would not abuse this power since they would understand better than anyone the ramifications and of course it only makes sense if they collectively think there is a better candidate. That is, of course, roughly the Conservative’s solution and it’s served them very well over the years.

    Naturally, giving MPs power to depose a leader that no longer commanded their confidence wouldn’t impact the OMOV election of a replacement by the membership which would be unaffected.

  • David Evans 16th Jun '15 - 5:26pm

    Sadly TCO you are making exactly the same mistakes as many of those new young members did in the early 1980s. With the advent of the SDP they thought it would be a quick ride to stardom and those who had built brick on brick were “fighting the last war.” As you know (I hope), the SDP/Liberal Alliance peaked in the Opinion polls at over 50% in December 1981, but fell back to 25%, just 1% less than Labour by June 1983. However, while Labour got 209 seats, the Alliance got only 23. It took a lot of pain through merger and ratings within the margin of error of zero percent, before we built substantially on it.

    After any disaster, there are two groups – those who knew it was going to happen and had the courage to say so, because they had learned the lessons of the past; and those who had persuaded themselves it was different this time, because they were “not hidebound by that sort of thinking” and were “switched on to the new world.” Hence it is all going to be so different this time. Sadly TCO, they are the ones who got discouraged after a year or so and burnt out quickly.

    Those who stuck at it because they know how things worked and listened to those who had been doing it successfully for years, kept going and we got the party to where it was in 2010 and gave Nick his chance. Sadly he didn’t listen to them after that point and made mistake after mistake.

    Now as a Liberal I believe you have a perfect right to your opinions, but they are opinions based purely in dreams and supposition. If we want the next generation of Lib Dems to get it right, and be even more successful than we were, they need to learn for the past, its successes and its failures. And the people to learn from are the ones who were right, not the ones who are still backing the rider who thought there was nothing to learn from the previous generation and who eventually finished last.

  • @David Evans and of course you were right 🙄

    Now, perhaps you’ll list out the way the world is the same as it was in 1981 for me please. You’ll have to forgive me, I was starting secondary school in that year, but even I can think of a few.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jun '15 - 6:40pm

    Is it ostrich time again or what? Start the recover of our fortunes next year, meake net gains in two years? David – what on earth gives you the idea that we have even reached the bottom of the rejection pit yet? We lost so incredibly badly for a reason – not because we were in the coalition, not because of the Tory rubbish of vote Labour get SNP but because we are not trusted by the electorate.

    As Liberal Democrats we have to put forward a vision of the future – in my view, a vision based on the preamble to our constitution, this cannot be achieved with short term thinking. We have to be able to point to our vision and say to the public that THIS is the future we want for you and your children and THIS is how we will achieve it. And we do the same thing election after election until the public see that a) we mean what we say and b) our vision is fair and equitable and the right thing to do.

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th Jun '15 - 7:42pm

    As politics this may not be the best thread that ever occurred on here, but as contrasting entertainment to what else is on offer it has considerable value…

  • I agree with Total Cost of Orangebookism 🙂 Parties can rise and fall more quickly with the media we have today. We’ve mastered the falling, now lets give rising a bash.

  • Gordon “The only people in a position to really judge how the leader is doing are the MPs and they are also strongly incentivised to get it right; ”

    The problem is, none of the ZmPs raised their heads above the parapet to admit that Nick Clegg was making terrible mistakes. They should have spoken up after the EP Elections last year but they chose to keep quiet, I guess because no-one wanted to replace him and be blamed for the loss of seats everyone could see coming.

  • Peter Chambers 16th Jun '15 - 9:20pm


    You make a good point about the MPs being in a good position to notice if a leader is past their sell by date.

    This is about party democracy. As David Runciman says in “The Confidence Trap”, democracies might not be good at avoiding failure but they are good at coping by trying different things – fast. That is something that we have failed to do recently. Possibly a fault in our democracy?

  • Has the Party reached rock bottom yet? I’m not sure it has. Carmichael and Clegg will both struggle to hold onto their seats next time round.

  • I think with only 8 MP’s it would be a bit unwise to let 20% of them trigger a leadership election!

    We are a OMOV party and leadership elections should be triggered by the membership (eg constituency parties), not 1.6 MP’s!

  • I do not think Clegg will run again in 2020. I am sure he will find a very nice job that pays much better than being an MP.

  • Why are some people obsessed with the idea that you measure success adn improvement by daft ‘key performance indicators’ like these suggested by the author. The KPI approach failed in local government, and it failed in our General election campaign. I’m a Liberal and I’m against this sort of thing!

  • Phyllis – Why the MPs didn’t act when it was clear that we were on a path to disaster is a mystery to me also; I hope that someone close to several might enlighten us but in the meantime I have a couple of theories. The first is that the leader’s powers of patronage are so great that he can maintain a blocking majority of support rather as Blatter is alleged to have done at FIFA. The second is that the party’s culture militates against challenge. When Paddy Ashdown became the Lib Dems first leader in 1988 there was a palpable sense of relief after the chaos that had gone before and he was regarded as a saviour by many. The sense of adulation for the leader that created seems to have continued; not long before the general election surveys were showing Clegg with high levels of support among the members so MPs may well have concluded that any challenge would go nowhere – and they were probably right.

    That’s why I hope that the new leader, once elected, will make it a priority to change the rule governing a leadership challenge. He will have a brief window of opportunity to do that before disputes arise over strategy or policy and make it more difficult.

    Andrew – whatever the number of MPs a failing leader should be challenged; the party is not a vehicle to massage his ego or promote his career. We should recognise that those who aspire to leadership are much more likely than the general population to have narcissistic or psychopathic tendencies. That can actually be a good thing if that energy and drive is properly harnessed but it can be immensely damaging if unchecked.

    Sometimes the reason for a challenge will be well known but at other times it won’t – for instance it may involve personality issues or behaviour that, if it became public, would be immensely damaging to the party so best remove the problem swiftly then, should it later come out, it would be possible to say: “As soon as it became apparent that he was doing X we dumped him”. That’s an effective defence, politically speaking.

    I certainly believe that any leader should command the support of a majority of his subordinates (MPs in a political party) and isn’t able to act like a dictator. That principle is consistent with liberal notions of industrial democracy that we hear little about these days.

    In general I think ‘democracy’ and ‘participation’ are often confused although there is no particular correlation between them – you can have either without the other. Democracy is having the power to remove someone (or some group) quickly, efficiently and without a civil war. That means having established procedures for a challenge that are well understood by most participants. Participation means what it says but too often is just a sham: “Tell us what you think then we will ignore it and do what we were going to do anyway.”

    I know this will strike many as rank heresy but FWIW I think the Conservatives are a far more democratic party than the Lib Dems. Consider Cameron’s troubles with his EU renegotiations. His feet are being well and truly held to the fire by the euro-sceptics and if he fails or gets it wrong he will probably be kicked out. It’s messy but it’s democracy in action. Contrast that with Clegg who was able to do all sorts that the Party emphatically did not support and yet he faced no challenge.

  • @Gordon ” Contrast that with Clegg who was able to do all sorts that the Party emphatically did not support”

    And what is your evidence that the Party didn’t support Clegg, other than that of a few vociferous nay-sayers on LDV?

    Clegg won a majority in the leadership election and the majority of his MPs supported him.

  • Gordon,
    I agree that failing leaders should be challenged, but allowing that challenge to be triggered by just two people is absolutely daft! A defeated and disgruntled candidate and one supporter would be able to create chaos! If a majority of MP’s AND a significant proportion (20%?) of constituency parties call for an election, then it should happen. MP’s should perhaps be able to precipitate the consultation with constituency parties.

    As for holding seats, I think Clegg would hold his seat quite easily actually – Labour threw everything they could at Hallam, and I don’t think they will ever surpass that vote. His problem is boundary changes though – the 2013 proposals would make Heeley a better prospect than Hallam, which would include bits of Barnsley which have not had a Lib Dem stand for council in years, while removing Dore and Totley. Greg Mulholland would also be in big trouble, with Leeds NW split completely in two with two wards joining wards won by Tories in 2015 and two joining wards won by Labour. he would be far from the favourite in either. Paradoxically, David Ward might be selected in a new 3-way marginal that includes the best bits of Bradford East and Tory (and Lib Dem at local level) bits of Pudsey….

  • TCO – I didn’t say the Party didn’t support Clegg – in fact I emphasised that it did. My point was that he was able to do policy things the party as a whole didn’t and doesn’t support as far as I can tell. You may believe it was just a few malcontents but a lot of long-term members left – as did the voters.

    Andrew – I’m glad you agree that failing leaders should be challenged but how is that to happen if the arrangements are such that the hurdle is too high to jump? And what if a defeated candidate was disgruntled? He would have be literally insane to create chaos as doing so would really antagonise everyone and completely scupper his chance of a replay. Moreover, if the majority of MPs were happy with the leader then he would be quickly slapped down. Also with my scheme any rebel MPs would first have to win a secret ballot of all the party’s MPs but the sponsors of the rebellion would be known so it wouldn’t be a cost-free option – more likely to be career-ending unless successful.

    As the Conservatives’ experience shows, dissatisfied factions have to bide their time and only act when they are fairly sure of success – which is of course another way of saying that there is a substantial split in the party – and usually a growing chance of electoral damage. Rebels know that there is a significant cost to be paid for regicide and are actually very cautious. In practice also a failing leader will usually know that he has lost critical support and resign without putting it to a vote.

    If on the other hand you involve the constituency parties it becomes a completely different ball-game. Any dirty washing will have to be aired in public (not a good idea!) and the chances of a failing leader appealing to members over the heads of the MPs are immeasurably greater. You would potentially create a situation where MPs have no confidence whatsoever in the leader but can do nothing about it. How on earth does that lead to an effective Parliamentary party?

  • David Allen 17th Jun '15 - 7:13pm

    This is a proposal that, if a Leader is to be challenged, he or she must first be branded in public as having failed to meet a set of arbitrary performance targets. This, if it happens, will of course be wonderful publicity for the Liberal Democrats.

    To stave off this threat, no doubt great efforts will first be made to fudge the targets and declare that the Leader has passed. This will of course risk ridicule. If however the Leader does fail the targets, it will then be open season for the Party’s opponents to make mischievous comments. The template is “Don’t blame poor old Tin Lammon, it’s not his faulty, it’s just that his whole party is a joke and has no policies.”

    So if we want to elect a Leader who is then totally unassailable, let’s adopt these proposals.

    What would be much more sensible would be to specify an automatic leadership election after three years. We should specify that an election without at least two candidates is not valid and that after three years the Leader’s authority expires if he is not re-elected. In other words, we must have a contest, the Leader cannot simply demand a re-coronation. But on the other hand, the election makes no presumption whatsoever that the Leader has failed. On the contrary, if Tin Lammon beats Nim Farrmb by 90% to 10% after three years, the party will have given its leader a ringing endorsement. That won’t hurt us, and if, on the other hand, the leadership does change, then the new leader has two years to turn things around.

  • To the people that are repulsed by the idea of targets, was Farron completely wrong this week when he said “I have set for myself the target of recruiting of 100,000 members by the time of the next election”?

  • David Faggiani 18th Jun '15 - 5:38pm

    So, it’s gone a bit far for me to really speak to everyone on here, so I’ll try to summarise! Please forgive my rough percentages, they are endlessly debatable, just the way I perceive opinion.

    I think about 20% of respondents were so repulsed or unimpressed by my idea that they completely disagreed with it or dismissed it outright. (“bloody stupid”, ‘close to Dagenham”, “Captain Crazy” etc.) Cheers guys.

    Another 40%, say, seem to think it’s flawed or unsuitable, either on liberal principle, or for the moment, (only 8 MPs etc.) – again, they wouldn’t consider it at all, not right now, anyway.

    I’d say roughly another 30% of people seemed to think my targets themselves were pretty deeply flawed (eg. too out of the Leader’s control) or too short-termist. I completely accept that. I can easily see them being re-written (my first three points could easily be combined into a ‘May 2016’ single net gains point, for instance), or being set for three years, or even four.

    About 10% of people seemed fairly happy with the idea, particularly the idea of simple membership figures being a numerical target. That seemed to be the best consensus point, among my points.

    However, that still puts about 60% of commentators (again, my estimate!) firmly against my idea! Cheerfully conceded. It seems I’ve lost this one.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jun '15 - 6:01pm

    @David Faggiani
    I just wanted to say that the way you returned to the thread to summarise and respond is brilliant and is a great example for other article writers on LDV.

  • John Tilley 18th Jun '15 - 7:36pm

    I agree with Peter Watson —

    Peter Watson 18th Jun ’15 – 6:01pm
    @David Faggiani
    I just wanted to say that the way you returned to the thread to summarise and respond is brilliant and is a great example for other article writers on LDV.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jun '15 - 7:47pm

    Defenestration is a violent act, not to be recommended in a democracy which has frequent elections.

    Tourists to the Czech Republic are told that several centuries ago they had a King who was excessively authoritarian. The nobles picked up his chair and himself and threw both out of the window from an upper floor. He survived, became less authoritarian and ruled for a long period.

    In 1948 Jan Masyryk fell from a balcony and died. The Republic of Czechoslovakia became a communist dictatorship in the Warsaw Pact. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/strange-death-of-jan-masaryk

  • We have a pragmatic way to ensure a reasonably bloodless succession if there is a problem, as happened when Charles Kennedy’s alcohol problems became too much of a liability. We also should not put too much onto the leader as if they do it all without us

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jun '15 - 5:33pm

    This is a bad idea, so maybe Labour will try it. Liz Kendall is isn favour.
    David Cameron has already said that he will not contest another general election, so his clock is ticking too. There will be euro-elections in 2019.
    For a smaller party we need to get noticed, which is partially done at general elections.
    Ming Campbell won a democratic leadership election, was a Liberal’s Liberal, but was pushed out on the basis of allegations that he wore sock suspenders. Was it true? Did it really matter either way? Who were the “Young Turks” anyway?

  • (Matt Bristol) 22nd Jun '15 - 10:35am

    All opposition parties are still learning how you appoint new leaders and time your campaign in a fixed-term parliament situation. It is possible that when the Tories leave government (eventually… please…) they too will struggle with it – they didn’t really know how to campaign against Blair and even Brown until Labour was fatally, slowly, tortuously weakened by 4-5 years of distrust and mutual loathing inside and outside the party mainly over the impact of 9/11 and the Iraq War but also over the economic crisis. Since 1979, we would appear to still be riding a loooong trend of ‘biding your time and waiting for your opponent to slip up’ rather than ‘taking the battle to the enemy’. Since 1979, no opposition leader appointed in the wake of a clear election defeat has seen immediate turn-round (I may be prepared to accept Ashdown as a partial exception to this stricture, but I think you’ll have a hard case emphatically proving it).

    Since 2010, Labour ran a campaign based around the first 1-3 years of the parliament when the economy was obviously flagging and inequality was clearly of concern (which isn’t to say the evonomy is cat-iron invulnerable now, or that inequality has gone away), and then tried to extend it into the last 2 years of the parilament without massive success.

    It is still a moot point whether the appointment of a new leader in the immediate aftermath of GE failure is inherently a good idea, but since Hague its become fixed practice in ‘major’ parties and I think most of us would agree that Nick Clegg had little credible reason for staying.

    David, you’re right to seek to address the thorny and nebulous issue of what is success for our party and is it measurable, I just don’t agree with your solution.

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