Party Presidency: the challenges for the incoming President

So, we know how to run, we’ve taken a look at the history of the post and, last week, I offered some thoughts as to the skills required. Today, I’d like to dust off the old crystal ball, and look at what might be the possible challenges when candidate X takes over the reins on 1 January.

Party Presidents tend to be most successful when they are either bake to work closely with the Leader, or when the Leader simply allows them to get on with their work without interference. Admittedly, the job of Party management is one that tends to be left to the President as being too much like hard work, except when there’s a media element, but a combination of new Leader and new President offers the scope for conflict. A new President will have to establish themselves potentially during the honeymoon period of a new Leader, and both will want to prove to members that they were worth voting for. Establishing a role will be key in the run-up to next year’s Spring Conferences.

Preparing the Party to fight a General Election can be expected to be at the heart of any business plan, given that (unless we have an unscheduled one this year) there must be one in the 2020-22 period. Is the Party really fit for purpose in an age when instant decisions are possible and, occasionally, essential. We’ve had a governance review recently, and whilst I for one am not convinced that it really addressed the Party’s most urgent needs, another one would feel too much like navel-gazing. Whatever, designing a plan and delivering it will be critical, and the first year will set the tone.

The rumoured candidates thus far are all non-Parliamentarians and, whichever of them wins, finding elbow room amongst MPs and Peers will be important, if only to establish credibility both beyond the Party and within it. The power of the Party Presidency is almost entirely soft in nature, reliant on building relationships, influencing the debate and maintaining order and discipline, and using those levers is much harder if you’re not taken seriously by the Parliamentary Parties and key Committee officers.

I’ve previously mentioned the plethora of meetings and events that the President is expected to attend, and one of the reasons why Parliamentarians have always held the position since 1990 is that, put simply, they’re generally in London during the week, where most committee meetings take place and Party HQ is. And yes, there’s a budget, but it’s hard to envisage it stretching to accommodation in the nation’s capital on top of the usual travel and accommodation costs. So, finding ways of doing the job, perhaps by devolving authority further, might be necessary.

But perhaps the biggest challenge will be to work across the Party, and beyond, to cement our credibility as a national political party. The existential threat that is The Independent Group, is a clear and present danger to the Liberal Democrats, and the President will be a key figure in ensuring that we remain relevant and effective. No political party has a right to survive, and in order to do so, the members will need a strong voice to protect their interests. We’ve seen in recent days how a Leader can move too quickly (or too slowly!) for their supporters, and the President needs to be able to intervene quickly if they are concerned.

So, not a job for the faint of heart. But someone will come forward, and we’ll hopefully have a contest of ideas rather than simple popularity. And we’ll be covering it all, here at Liberal Democrat Voice…

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5 Comments

  • David Warren 4th Mar '19 - 2:09pm

    Who are the rumoured candidates for party president? I am dying to know.

  • David Becket 4th Mar '19 - 2:57pm

    With 6 months to go before nominations campaigning should have started. Name recognition is one of the problems a candidate has to face, and the sooner the names get out there the better.

  • Richard O'Neill 5th Mar '19 - 12:52pm

    Without any disrespect to the previous incumbents, I would like to see the party president take on a national role as the champion of members (and I think all the parties could benefit from such a role) even if it crosses swords with the leader’s stated position at times. Pluralism can be beneficial.

    A sort of “tribune of the plebs” could take a more populist view of the situation. Sadly almost all parties appear to take members for granted, talking at then rather than listening to their views and formulating policy accordingly. One of the initial attractions of Corbyn was that he appeared to represent the members of his party in contrast to Blair. Now he seems just as autocratic as May in his leadership style.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Mar '19 - 1:25pm

    The role of the President is an internal one, while the leader deals with external ones though this is a bit simplistic. The Supporters’ scheme will take up their time as we enlarge our base. It will entail juggling competing demands with an emphasis on harmony and growth. I see TIG as an opportunity, not an existential threat Mark.

  • Steve Comer 6th Mar '19 - 1:48pm

    I’m concerned about the comments about the post being London-centric. It should not be, and we must ensure that candidates from outside the capital are able to do the job if elected.
    Given the current state of the Party I would like to see someone who is not from the “Westminster bubble” as President, and ideally someone with experience either in one of the devolved assemblies or in local government. We need someone who understands integrated campaigning in the run up to the General Election.

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