The 3 Lib Dem party president candidates on what they’d do in my “It’s 8th May 2015” scenario

libby on the wall3A couple of weeks ago I asked all three candidates for the Lib Dem party presidency a deliberately provocative question:

It’s 8th May, 2015. The Lib Dems have lost some MPs but are still a force to be reckoned with in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg announces he will step aside to let a new leader take over. No single party has an overall majority. What will you do in the next 7 days to maximise Lib Dem influence and keep the party united?

As I wrote then:

My guess is all three will be reluctant to be drawn by the premise of the question (Lib Dems losing MPs, Nick quitting). Fair enough, that’s how politics works. You’re not allowed publicly to think through the Plans B, C and D you need to be thinking through, or the media will tear you to shreds. So I’m not necessarily expecting their real answer.

The reason I’m asking it to them is simple. That scenario, above, is the most likely one to play out in six months’ time, and I really want them to be thinking now about how they handle it. Their response will likely determine not only the success of their time as party president, but also how the party handles it.

To their credit, all three answered. Quick snippets from each below, but well worth reading in full what they said, I think.

Sal Brinton

sal brinton

I would go back one step from Stephen’s scenario. It would be very disappointing if the Leader stepped aside before any contact with the President. It was evident from Labour’s experience with Gordon Brown (see Andrew Adonis book 5 Days in May) that they had not talked through together how to manage Gordon Brown’s departure, with the consequent chaos for them during that short period.

So, my 5 practical steps would be:-

1. Ensure that the parliamentary party has met at the first possible opportunity to elect (even on an acting basis) a Deputy Leader and a Chair – Sir Malcolm Bruce is standing down, and the new parliamentary party needs to elect its new chair.

Read on…

Daisy Cooper

Daisy Cooper Glasgow 2014

In very practical terms, it’s vital that we have laid the groundwork in advance of 8th May in order that we can act quickly and deliver an outcome that is right for the country and which delivers on the principles of our party. Below, I have set out my immediate priorities for the 8th May and the preparatory work that would be required.

On 8th May, my immediate priorities as President would be to:

• Engage fully with the members. In advance of the 8th May I would put in place mechanisms for consultation and two-way communication with members. I would ensure that if the Parliamentary Parties and FE agree to an arrangement with other parties that agreement will have to be approved by a Special Conference or all-member ballot in accordance with the “Triple Lock”. I will insist that amendments properly tabled to a draft Coalition Agreement are debated and voted on by the Conference.

Read on…

Liz Lynne

liz lynne

In the first seven days I will have to make sure that the constitution is adhered to in every way. As required by the constitution I would have to be the public face of the Party explaining to people outside the Party what the situation is regarding both the leadership question and any coalition talks.

Apart from safeguarding the constitution I believe in those first seven days my main task will be to keep the Party in the country informed of what is going on and make sure constituent parts of the Party are consulted widely. Part of this consultation has to be with the regional and state party chairs. I would already have put a mechanism in place so that constituency chairs and their members could also have a way in to the process in order for them to give their views to the reference group.

Read on…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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10 Comments

  • matt (Bristol) 7th Nov '14 - 3:03pm

    What astonished me when I first read this is how much Sal Brinton (the candidate alleged by those who claim to know these things better than I to be closest to the leadership) accepted the premise of the question without any preamble or disclaimer.

    Otherwise, I don’t think this shifts perceptions of the 2 candidates as ‘insiders’ and one as ‘outsider, but maybe lacking in experience’, one bit, fascinating as the nuances of language are.

  • David Allen 7th Nov '14 - 6:06pm

    In 2010, Gordon Brown stayed on while coalition negotiations were proceeding. Had he resigned at that stage, it would have shown that Labour had no interest in the possibility of remaining in government. All Labour’s attention would have inevitably shifted focus to the forthcoming leadership contest. Meanwhile, a leaderless Labour Party would have had no means of making a coalition agreement. Gordon did us a considerable service by temporarily keeping two Coalition options in play and thus giving us more leverage with the Conservatives – not that we made good use of that leverage.

    In 2015, the Lib Dems will face two equally unpalatable alternatives if they hold (or share in holding) the balance of power. If Clegg immediately resigns, the party will be left unable to negotiate with another. We might (for example) see the SNP, with no more members than ourselves, winning a place in coalition goverment simply because they had a leader in place who could shake hands on a deal. If on the other hand Clegg hangs on while negotiations proceed, he could make a coalition deal which proved unacceptable to his successor.

    There is a way to avoid these two unpalatable alternatives, and that is to elect a new leader now.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Nov '14 - 6:52pm

    It is perfectly possible that Clegg might lose his seat and with Bruce stepping down that leaves us with no parliamentary leader. What then? Do we count back on leaders or deputy leaders? Seems we need to lay down a lengthy line of succession now.

    Not really impressed by any of the candidate’s answers. Least of all Liz Lynne’s emphasis on the bureaucracy rather than practicality.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 7th Nov '14 - 7:33pm

    The local election results in Sheffield Hallam throughout this parliament do not suggest there is any real possibility of Nick Clegg not being re-elected.

    Ed Milliband is probably at greater risk!

  • Roger Roberts 8th Nov '14 - 8:48am

    Seems that everyone has forgotten the 100 plus Lib Dem members of the House of Lords ! What part will they/we have in any discussions and decisions ?

  • If there is a drop in the number of Lb Dem MPs and a sharp drop in electoral support, I cannot think that it would be wise, expedient or seemly to tout for a further coalition. By May 8, the coalition will have run its course; we have offered the prospect of coalition as an alternative approach to government. If Lib Dems suffer disproportionate loss, particularly in comparison to the coalition partner, this cannot but be taken as at least a provisional judgement on the idea of coalition.

    I agree with David Allen that if Nick Clegg stood down on May 10, that without a recognised and party elected leader, negotiations on a coalition would be scuppered. The best that could be agreed upon would be a very limited (5 months maximum) agreement. I disagree that this would necessarily be such a bad thing.

    In 2010, we would have been widely blamed and extensively ridiculed if we had turned our backs on coalition. In 2015, in the wake of losses and having already demonstrated a full term of coalition, it would not be easy for our opponents to make such criticism stick.

  • David Evans 8th Nov '14 - 11:32am

    David Allen. You have summed up Nick’s strategy for personal survival perfectly. Cling on to a few seats. Hope no party gets an overall majority. Give away anthing to get a coalition deal. Stay in government. Remain as leader. Personal place in history booked. End of Lib Dems ensured.

  • Chris Burden 8th Nov '14 - 9:25pm

    @David Evans 8th Nov ’14 – 11:32am

    Help! The Nightmare Scenario . . . . because all too plausible.

  • Nigel Jones 11th Nov '14 - 8:25pm

    Although I have not decided yet who to vote for, I am impressed that Daisy Cooper makes it quite clear she wants a conference which can have some input to the details of a coalition agreement, by means of debating possible amendments to anything that is presented to us. I am also impressed by her mention of the need to take time to do it properly; we should learn from the mistakes of 2010 and not do the same as we did then, whether or not the leader resigns. Not only do we need to do more to change the way the country does politics, there is room for improvement in the way our party does it too.

  • Julian Tisi 12th Nov '14 - 2:38am

    @ Nigel Jones
    Funny enough it’s for exactly the same reason that I’m worried most by her answer. I disagree with you about 2010 – we were far better prepared than Labour or the Tories. Had the negotiations dragged on for weeks it would have given hung parliaments and coalition government generally a bad name – in the long term this would have been fatal to any future potential Lib Dem inclusion in any government. Of course we have to have a special conference as we did in 2010, follow the constitution and the triple lock – no one is disputing that – but in 2015 as in 2010, time and clear leadership will be of the essence. For that reason, Daisy once again shows her inexperience.

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