The Lib Dem Leadership election: Can we please now just get on with it?

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There may originally have been good reason not to proceed with the Lib Dem leadership election this spring at the height of the uncertainty as to how the Covid-19 pandemic was going to progress,but with hindsight it was quite wrong to announce a postponement of twelve months or more.

For the whole of this year so far, Ed Davey has been able to speak only as “interim co-leader”and as a result the impact of the Lib Dem contribution to reasoned critique of the government’s performance has been significantly diminished, as has the effectiveness of our input to proposals for radical policy change as our society and our economy recover from lockdown. In this time of national crisis we are missing the clear Liberal voice of an elected Party Leader able to speak and negotiate with authority on behalf of the whole party.

The Federal Board should please decide at its next meeting to hold the leadership election just as soon as it is possible to put in place the arrangements necessary for virtual hustings and for a robust voting system.

I am told that the Federal Conference committee is well on the way to finding a way to hold the Autumn Party Conference virtually, including software to enable votes on-line. If those conference logistics can be handled, it should also be quite feasible to arrange for a series of virtual Leadership hustings, for a robust combination of electronic and postal voting,and for the distribution of manifestos by post and email as usual. Why not give the candidates a say in the structure and detailed regulations of the campaign to allay any concerns that the novel format could favour any one candidate over another? And why not maintain a traditional feature of past leadership campaigns by giving some virtual events a regional or a specific policy focus ?

There should be no need  for the whole thing to take more than three or an absolute maximum of four weeks. If it is not possible to start until after the summer, why not look at  integrating the virtual party conference weekend into the campaign ?

Yes, a small HQ staff team will need to be tasked with getting this organised; yes,this will involve expense, but it should be less expensive than over-long past traditional campaigns.

Let’s please now get on with it,so that the party can regain momentum under whichever leader is elected !

* Duncan Greenland first joined the then Liberal Party while at university over 50 years ago. He has served as Chair of the Federal Finance and Administration Committee and as a councillor in Camden. He is a member of the Lib Dem Business and Entrepreneurs Network.

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  • Richard Easter 8th May '20 - 4:37pm

    One of my main concerns is that we have a narrative being set in large parts of the media, where the opposition to government isn’t Labour – let alone the Lib Dems, but very very well off libertarian types calling for lock down end and massive public sector cuts after it – be it tech CEOs, foreign billionaires, backbench Tories and newspaper columnists.

    This is awful for democracy. We have two strands of right wing – the Boris boys, and the libertarian loons – with Starmer trying to play it cautiously to avoid being accused of undermining the country (which Labour MPs – including those working on front lines in health and social care, and trade unions have been).

    It does not do the Lib Dems any good to have practically no airtime and little ability to contribute to the debate. A leadership election is needed, and needed urgently – so the party gains some sort of relevence. It is not healthy for national democracy at all. Ashdown, Kennedy and Clegg whatever people thought of them – were all well known figures – and people did have some idea what they stood for.

    Ed Davey is an interim leader – and for that matter has a negative rating according to a poll in the New European. This helps no one.


  • According to the Federal Constitution, Ed Davey’s current position as Leader of our party is neither “interim” nor “co-“. He and the President “… jointly assume the responsibilities of Leader of the Party …”. If Party members believe that his position is being diminished, then they should not encourage this further by the way that they describe him.

    Yes, the Lib Dems are capable of organising an election at the present time. But would it be wise to do so? The mistakes of the Government in managing the Coronavirus pandemic are becoming increasingly apparent, and Labour is becoming increeasingly effective at pointing them out. According to the Election Rules, the election process must take between nine and thirteen weeks. For that period, most of the press reporting of the Party will be on the leadership campaign, not our views on the current situation. Ed Davey will be completely unable to speak for the Party while he is also a candidate.

    For these reasons, I believe that the Federal Board made the right decision in delaying the Leadersip Election for a fixed period. Holding a Leadership election in the current environment would not only reflect badly on the party, but also on the individual candidates within their constituencies.

  • As someone who joined the old Liberal Party in the mid-1960’s – and has witnessed all the various highs and lows of Lib/Lib Dem fortunes – I can’t recall a single period when we received virtually zero media coverage , until the current barren spell.

    Whether it was the Jeremy Thorpe affair of the late-70s, the unsettling period of the post Lib/SDP merger in the late-80s, or even the heated arguments re the coalition with the Tories and the 2015 election disaster, the media has always had something to say about us – even if it wasn’t always very nice – UNTIL NOW.

    I can only conclude that the media are using the fact that we haven’t got a ‘proper Leader’ as an ‘official excuse’ to allow them to ignore us. THIS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE.

  • Chris Miller 9th May '20 - 10:00am

    Would the rules allow for an actual interim leader to take over during an election campaign, freeing the candidates to just campaign, or could they be changed to permit that without anyone needing to congregate together in the real?

  • Creating a situation in which the leader and the party have the confidence to offer a serious critique of government action – forget about laughing at the gaffes and the incompetence of ministers. This should not be left to a handful of minority media outlets. It is actually in the national interest to make it clear that things could and should be done differently.

  • Even in the 1980s with only 7 MPs David Owen was constantly on the news so clearly our communication are failing. A leadership election late summer or autumn would at least restore a modicum of coverage. Also why are we tho only party talking about cancelling party conference.

  • Delaying the leadership election until after Labour’s was the right decision – we’d have had even less publicity when there was another show in town – but delaying it for so long was not. We should have the election this summer, allowing the new leader to make the keynote speech to September’s (virtual) Conference.

  • suzanne fletcher 9th May '20 - 12:13pm

    I don’t think it will make any difference at all in our media coverage over months, just over the weeks, maybe the run up, actual result, and a few weeks after that. Our ratings in the poll need to be taken heed of in strategy but there is no election happening soon.
    I don’t think we are leaderless at all, Ed Davey is doing and saying things a leader ought to be, seems to be in touch with the PM and such ( for that is worth!). No bad thing that a “leader” cannot act without it being properly agreed with another co-leader, we can all think of examples where such would have been helpful in the past. In the meantime Layla is raising her and the party profile too with her campaigning.
    so I see no rush.
    On the other hand, “the summer” has little relevance as people will not be away on holiday and nothing is going to stop more than it is already, so if we are having an election no need to wait till summer is over.
    In the meantime we have had 2 “visits” from MPs ( Ed and Layala) in the NE. unprecedented! we would only get one if we had a leader !!

  • David Garlick 9th May '20 - 12:19pm

    If we cannot get this completed and soon then our ability to cope in a crisis looks very doubtful.

  • Liberal Neil 9th May '20 - 3:08pm

    @Simon Pike If we currently have two joint Leaders then they are, by definition, co-Leaders.

    If they are serving as Leaders for a limited period of time until the next leadership election is held then they are, by definition, interim.

    It is therefore correct to describe Ed Davey as an interim co-Leader.

    Because there has been no election he has no mandate to give him the authority to move the party forward in the way an elected Leader has.

    (This is not a criticism of Ed, it is simply the reality of the situation. I am pretty sure he would like the opportunity to win a mandate as soon as possible.)

  • Absolutely. Come on, let the party show some spirit and drive. Just do it, and fiddle to this committee and that. This too important to get caught up in our overloaded bureaucracy.

  • Paul Barker 9th May '20 - 8:17pm

    I can remember lots of times when We have received virtually no Publicity. TheSDP did very well in terms of Coverage until Argentina invaded The Falklands, after that nothing, till the Election was called.
    Right now Labour are getting very little coverage as well, possibly a welcome change for them.
    A Leadership Election is one of the very few circumstances in which We are usually guaranteed some coverage, to have under present conditions would be to throw that opportunity away.
    When will Normal Politics resume ? No-one knows.

  • Galen Milne 15th May '20 - 6:08pm

    I agree. We are now more used to online communication so the idea that a few members turning up to any gusting meetings is in some way “the only way” is nonsense. Let us proceed and decide by August.

  • marcstevens 16th May '20 - 7:26pm

    I would like nothing less than for the party to get on with it but unfortunately your market obsessed OBs and their ilk have other ideas. That’s why we will see a very dirty campaign to try and stop Layla, the strongest Social Liberal candidate.

  • Richard Underhill 17th May '20 - 6:36pm

    marcstevens 16th May ’20 – 7:26pm
    She is also the greenest.

  • Alex Macfie 17th May '20 - 7:48pm

    Could people please take off the tinfoil hats? There is no conspiracy to delay the leadership election to install or keep out any particular candidate. I’m undecided about whom to support in an election that has not even been called yet, with my main criterion being no connection with the Coalition. What I am sure about is that it would not be practical or beneficial for us to hold a leadership election at the moment. We should wait until something approaching political normalcy resumes and we’ll actually benefit from the extra publicity that we’d normally get from a leadership election (currently limited, as shown by the lack of media interest shown in Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader).

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