Sal Brinton writes… What you need to know about the leadership election

You can tell that we are in the middle of a Leadership Election. All the Lib Dem social media forums are buzzing, rumours abound, and there are plenty of discussions going on about the next Leader of the party.

As President I have to remain completely neutral in any Leadership contest because I represent all 104,000 of you to the Leader. I am very aware that many thousands of you will never have been through a Leadership Election before, so I thought it might be worth an attempt at explaining our processes.

Any candidate has to get at least 10% of our MPs to support them by 5 July, and thereafter get nominated by 200 paid up members from at least 20 local parties or official party bodies (Specified Associated Organisations such as Young Liberals, Lib Dem Women etc ‘SAOs’). These nominations must be submitted by 20 July when nominations close.

At the moment, the nomination forms have only just been circulated to the MPs, so anyone planning on standing is now going to have to come out to the membership to get your nomination.

Any candidates will have teams round the country asking for your support, so don’t be surprised if you get a request. 200 nominations doesn’t sound a great number, but speaking as someone who has had to get those nominations in twice for the Presidential elections, it isn’t as easy as it sounds! Remember, you can only nominate one candidate. 

There will be a series of official Leadership hustings around the country (they are currently being arranged, so watch out for details near you), as well as some online or streamed events. In the last Leadership Election these hustings were very popular, as well as the SAOs who may also have social media Q&As with the candidates.In the event that there is only one nominated candidate we will discuss with them continuing with some of these dates as Meet the New Leader events.

There has been some comment about some of our MPs deciding not to stand. Standing for, and being Leader of, any political party is an all consuming job which has to be run in tandem with their role as a constituency MP, let alone any family commitments. Please don’t be too critical of those who decide not too run, not matter how much you want them too. For example, both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson have been very clear about why being Leader is just not right for them at the moment, especially as they have young children. I can remember juggling with being Mum to primary age children, holding down a job and being a parliamentary candidate in South East Cambridgeshire – and all of those were within 10 miles of each other! Our Leaders have to give up much more than any of us can imagine, and travel frequently at weekends all over the country as well as being available for the media day and night.

Finally, there are rules about the candidates and their teams not denigrating their opponents. In a party that stands for tolerance and openness, I think that should apply to us too. There’s fair questioning and criticism where you disagree. I’m not talking about that. It’s the sort of abuse that we’ve all seen on social media. I believe that none of us should attack other members for their views about the leadership. Let’s disagree well.

I’m looking forward to working with whoever our new Leader is, and to hear their vision at our Autumn Conference. See you there!

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I just hope we do get a contest and hustings, and questions. It’s looking horribly like a coronation at the moment, and despite what some articles on this site say, that would be terrible.

  • Bit of a moot point this as we are getting a coronation.

  • Are you able to explain to members what exactly happened and who exactly spoke to our current leader before he decided to stand down?

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '17 - 12:11am

    Is the leadership election not being cancelled? Isn’t the “coronation” going ahead?

    There seems to be a lot of panic in the radical pro EU wing of the party about Vince’s pro-compromise statements, but he is still broadly liberal. Let’s not see resignations from the party over this. Liberals of the world, unite! 🙂

  • James Baillie 29th Jun '17 - 12:52am

    Eddie – whether resignations from the party happen is not in the gift of the radical wing, it’s dependent on the leadership. If Vince wants to keep the radicals on board, the ball’s in his court to reassure us that he’s prepared to be the leader of a genuinely pro-EU party that backs freedom of movement and is fully in favour of the closest possible relationship with the EU.

  • Graham Evans 29th Jun '17 - 7:13am

    @ James Baillie: If Freedom of Movement is so important to you, perhaps you should explain what it means to you. For instance do you think the existing regulations on the deportation of EU nationals who have done little or no work in this country should be enforced? Do you think that the population of new entrant countries to the EU should immediately have the same immigration rights as existing member states? And do you think that the FoM rights of EU members should be extended to for instance Commonwealth countries? Also, how extensive should be the right of a UK resident to bring in family members from abroad such as child brides or adult children? On a related topic, do you think that we should follow the example of other EU countries and more strongly link work-related social security support to NI contributions?

  • Graham Evans 29th Jun '17 - 7:17am

    @ Sal Brinton You say that in the last leadership election the hustings were very popular. If that is the case, why did so few members actually bother to vote? In the event of an election, what steps are you taking to ensure the turnout is much higher than the pathetic turnout of the last election?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 29th Jun '17 - 7:29am

    I would like to offer to sign the nomination form of *any* MP who now decides to stand as a second candidate in this contest, thereby ensuring that we have a real contest, not a coronation.
    It’s not that I have any strong objection to the idea of Vince Cable being leader, it’s just that it’s so important for members to have a choice. The hustings around the country provide a vital opportunity for us all to have a much needed discussion about our vision for the future.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jun '17 - 8:19am

    @Catherine Jane Crosland “it’s so important for members to have a choice”
    A contest also raises the media profile of the party and the candidates, gives those outside an opportunity to see the range of views within the party, and gives the winner a mandate for their vision for their party.
    But, it needs to be a meaningful contest between candidates who want the job.
    Given the apparent presumption that Vince Cable will have the job for 3 years and then Jo Swinson will lead the party into the next general election (Fixed Term Parliament Act permitting!), then it does not look like any contest now would be a genuine one.
    That could be a problem for rebuilding the party. Alternatively, it might make Cable an ideal referee while the wings of the party thrash out a way forward democratically at conferences and in committees.

  • Another fine mess we are getting into!

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '17 - 9:28am

    I remember collecting signatures for the re-nomination of Tim Farron as President. Comments on his youth and inexperience would be unseemly (as with Ronald Reagan). David Steel has managed to live down the “Boy David” tag which attached to him after his bye-election win and before he announced his intention to retire from the House of Lords by making use of his own legislation.
    Ming Campbell, a Scottish barrister, and a liberal’s Liberal, was elected in a contest, but seemed to suffer from comments in the press which may have derived from young turks who are no longer Members of the Commons, or perhaps from their staff?
    One MP from a rival opposition party overlooked what Ming was planning to say about pensions and rudely interrupted “Declare your interest!” to widespread laughter and widespread reportage. Anyone who has canvassed the general electorate should be able to collect signatures from our own party at conferences or hustings or in their own local party. Vince Cable is an outstanding candidate, well able to handle the main issue/s which are the economy and the risks associated with the unfortunate decision/s to cut ourselves off from our main trading partners.

  • Graham Evans 29th Jun '17 - 9:29am

    @Catherine Jane Crosland: “The hustings around the country provide a vital opportunity for us all to have a much needed discussion about our vision for the future.”

    No they don’t. They just give people the opportunity to sound off the same opinions as they express in these blogs.

  • Richard Whelan 29th Jun '17 - 9:42am


    If Vince Cable is the only nominee when nominations close on 20th July does he automatically become leader or does he have to go forward for an affirmative vote to party members against ‘Re-Open Nominations’ knowing that if the ‘Re-Open Nominations’ option wins the leadership contest will have to be re-run.

    Please explain what happens in this eventually as I think I am right in saying that this would be the first time since the party was founded in 1988 that this would have happened.

  • Wanted, candidates for post of leader of the Lib Dems. A no-win, no-gratitude, all-grief opportunity.

    Applicants must be prepared to be shredded by the Tory and Labour national press, and grilled endlessly on personal issues by broadcasters. Either that, or ignored by both as irrelevant.

    The successful candidate will be expected to perform miracles with the party’s fortunes. And still be condemned by noisy sections of the party for whom nothing short of a landslide Lib Dem victory in an GE would be enough. And who would still find fault afterwards.

    The successful candidate must be prepared to face loud calls to resign, whatever the outcome of the next GE.
    And then to be criticised loudly for ‘giving in’ to those calls.

    In return, the successful candidate can expect also to be targeted by Tory/Labour campaigns with deep pockets in his/her own constituency, eager to unseat them at the next GE. And to have to juggle national party demands with duties to constituents. Oh, and fit family life in somewhere.

  • John Barrett 29th Jun '17 - 10:22am

    Richard Whelan – If that is the case, somebody needs to come up with an alternative quickly, or we will be seen as a laughing stock, and rightly so.

    The thought that we could be in a position where only one MP wants to be party leader and the membership reject the only candidate on offer, resulting in the re-opening of nominations, to provide an election where there might be no candidates.

    Monty Python could not do better.

    Only in our party could this ever be contemplated, even as a possibility.

    Would someone who knows, please tell me this is not so.

  • Duncan Brack 29th Jun '17 - 10:36am

    Richard Whelan: I can give you the same answer I gave you when you asked the same question on the thread underneath Ed Davey’s article! – no, there is no provision for a reopen nominations option, so if Vince is the only candidate nominated by 20 July, he becomes leader.

  • Ronald Murray 29th Jun '17 - 11:05am

    I think it is essential we have a choice in the leadership election. Rather than some worthy just getting in unopposed. We have to have a vibrant radical leader dedicated to removing this Tory Plutocracy and help bring back democracy to the people of this country. Politics are at the lowest ebb at the moment to have such a useless PM is unacceptable promoting horrible policies to benefit the millionaires cabinet. We must be seen as a radical alternative to the Conservatives and Labour for a free society. Tim Farron should have never been forced to resign it simply makes us look stupid.
    What about Alistair Carmichael MP for leader we have always had good leaders from Scotland and it would annoy the SNP.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Jun '17 - 1:42pm

    Thank you for this explanation Sal but I’m disappointed in the last sentence. Lib Dems believe in devolving power to the lowest level possible so why don’t we do this in our own party? I would like our new leader to consult and discuss with members before coming up with a vision for the party. It seems illiberal to me to wait for them to impose their view on us, especially if, as increasingly looks likely, we will only have one candidate for the position.
    Please, therefore, instead of hustings that are already being arranged can we have discussions between members and the new leader, deputy leader and any MPs that are available, based on the results of Your Liberal Britain to see in which direction the party members want to go. The policy working group I’m on had one meeting before the election and the assumption was made that we wouldn’t be able to spend much on our proposals because of austerity. We mustn’t be shackled like this, letting the Tories or Labour set our agenda.
    Once we have a vision of the sort of society we want to have we must embody it in co-ordinated policies. I believe Economic Liberals have a different stance from that of the Tories but those of us that lean towards Social Liberalism are afraid that they don’t. Please can we sort this muddle out because if we don’t fears of the party being “hijacked” will prevail over the courageous policy making our country needs.
    The autumn conference can then vote on the proposed stance that emerges from these discussions so the various policy groups can develop policies that are just as detailed and costed as we Lib Dems like to see. The only difference will be that they have a common vision for a better future.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Jun '17 - 2:12pm

    Catherine ,

    I feel, as you, that the similarity in views on the EU, etc., of Norman and Sir Vince, means the absenting of himself of the former , the crowning of the latter, is an oddity caused by the mean spirited approach to anyone who holds views in keeping with the mainstream of public opinion, and does not bode well for the electoral chances of this party currently.

    Labour , faults included, Corbyn too, have woken up to pragmatism, and shown radicalism also, and are on a winning streak.

    It is not something derided here, successful elsewhere, centrism, that is causing our poor ratings, it is intransigence.

    I want both radicalism and moderation.

    In my view the Liberal Democrats , are , and could very easily re group as, in the electoral scene, the Radical Moderates.

    It is knowing when and on what to be radical, or moderate.

    And , here is the truly radical thought.

    When and on what to be , both .

  • Richard Whelan 29th Jun '17 - 2:15pm


    Thank you for your reply and sorry Duncan I didn’t see your reply on the previous thread.

    The leadership of our party does seem to be a poisoned chalice. It seems that Vince is the only one who is prepared to put his head above the parapet.

    Let us see what happens.

  • David Allen 29th Jun '17 - 3:25pm

    Back in 2015 Norman Lamb was seen to be the candidate who would stick closer to coalition politics, Tim Farron as the candidate who would make a clearer break with the past. The fact that Farron won an internal election gave him a much stronger mandate to make that break without constant recrimination from those who did not agree.

    Now in 2017 we see a prospective leader being derided and sniped at from one side for being too weakly pro-Europe – while from the other side of this party, cries ring out for the Lib Dems to move away from their supposed “obsession with Brexit”! If we don’t have a real contest, there is a much greater risk of continuing disunity. When our leader makes a telling point against our opponents, expect our opponents to retorrt that he is just a one-man-band who doesn’t even speak for his party.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but, somehow we need a proper contest.

  • Geoff English 29th Jun '17 - 4:27pm

    It looks like we are heading for a coronation and that through a long drawn out constitutional process -the worst of all solutions. Mostly the members of the parliamentary party are ruling themselves out so unless one of those can be persuaded to change their mind, no contest. Tom Brake now looks the most likely potential candidate to rival Vince- true he has already said no, but I thought without adding the overwhelming reasons for refusing to go for it that some others have made. When he said no he did not necessarily know how everybody else would react. He would provide an authentic and rather different voice to a debate. I suspect Vince would still win, but we would have had a genuine debate. So why not go for it, Tom -no ties!

    Of course I can hear all the hilarity about a Brake-Cable contest, but it would be memorable and all publicity would be welcome.

  • Serious question here. Does Vince really want this job?

    It’s over a week since he said he was running for leader and there is nothing, not a word, on his website about his leadership campaign. Indeed it largely features an advert for his book and refers to him as MP for Twickenham (nothing about his relection).

    It certainly doesn’t suggest someone who had geared up to fight a leadership contest.

  • A lot of rather naïve comments, here!
    We have to face the fact that, although we gained a few seats, we have only 12 MPs and most of them do not want to lead the party for one understandable reason or another, either family reasons, or because they are still to find their coat peg at the Commons!
    I assume that Sal has written this is such neutral terms because Vince’s nomination has not yet been received: as she says, it takes time to collect the necessary signatures. Once that is done, however, we should be grateful that we have an eminent former cabinet minister willing to take on the job, whatever slight differences of policy we have with him. I have seen some *very* unfair characterisations of his views in recent days.

    Maybe someone is secretly (why?!) scrambling for signatures, other than Vince? But it would be helpful indeed if any MPs who do NOT wish to run (and have not already said so) were to rule themselves out *immediately*, so that the party committees can do the sensible thing, cancel the (three month!) election process, and get this period of uncertainty over with, so we can all move on with a capable economist, Parliamentarian and media performer at the helm.
    AIUI, Close of Nominations is currently 20 July. It is simply ridiculous to wait another three weeks hoping for a nomination if everyone knows it will not arrive.

  • nvelope2003 30th Jun '17 - 3:41pm

    Only a small number of party members and activists have any interest in a leadership election and virtually no members of the public. An election would cost a lot of money which could be better spent in other ways. There are no real issues which are so crucial that further debate is essential because it has all been gone over thousands of times already to the extent that most people are sick and tired of it. At this rate there will not be a party to lead and not many people will respond to appeals for financial support.

  • i would have liked Sal to have said somethibg regarding what happened to Tim.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Roland
    Attach an Apple Air Tag to your sign, whilst it won’t stop the sign being removed, you stand a good chance of locating where it’s been taken to…...
  • John Marriott
    @Peter Martin Under PR I reckon that, with their current opinion poll rating of around 12%, the Lib Dems might expect to get around 78 seats at Westminster. @...
  • David Blake
    Many years ago, my girlfriend at the time was living in a flat owned by the local Conservatives. One weekend all the power went out. The fusebox was in the ba...
  • Tom Hannigan
    The 3 main parties in Ireland frequently nominate more than one candidate in our multi seat constituencies which can have 3,4 or 5 seats. It depends on what you...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Andrew, You seem to be somewhat contradictory on your "solidarity fund". Whatever you want to call it it will mean that if someone moves to Germany fro...