Trust our voters to choose our leader

I chair the Federal Committee that designed the structures for the Supporter Scheme. My committee members worked incredibly hard on these discussions, reading long reports and complex spreadsheets and interpreting data to come to the best decisions for this new project. On almost everything we reached consensus views. The one area where there was no consensus was the most controversial question – whether these new supporters should be allowed to vote in Party Leadership elections.

I absolutely understand why this is a difficult issue. There are good, sensible reasons to pause and worry. I was very against the idea at first but, after a lot of thought, I changed my mind. I now, personally, think we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

At a General Election, many voters are temporarily hypnotised by the media into thinking they are voting for the next Prime Minister. They forget that they are a voter of Anytown, and are voting for Anytown’s MP. Instead, they get caught up in ‘who do I prefer as Prime Minister’? They vote for the Party they want to see in Government. 

This narrative often causes a big squeeze on our Party’s vote. That’s why we need all our leaflets, to remind people that their vote decides who represents their area in Parliament. But it’s impossible to stop people from looking at Party Leaders as the people they are voting for. 

This is the heart of why I think supporters voting for Leader is sensible. We need a Leader who inspires our members, who understands our Party and has good internal leadership. But we also need our Leader to appeal to our voters. To be someone who they are inspired by and with whom they feel a sense of connection. It’s not enough to be a Lib Dem Leader who inspires internally. They must inspire our voters too.

I know that this all feels risky. I have learned through the research we have done that “safe” is not an absolute.

But what damage could a troll do if we gave them the choice between Ed Davey, Layla Moran and Jo Swinson as our next leader (if rumours prove to be true)? How do you wreck that? Three excellent candidates to choose from. Members and MPs will still be the only ones who can get candidates onto the ballot paper. So long as we all take those nominating duties seriously, the system stays secure. Jeremy Corbyn is Labour’s Leader because Labour MPs put him there for Momentum to vote in. 

Ultimately, this is about trust. It’s always scary to trust people you don’t know. So I’m thinking of my clerical team in my constituency. My deliverers. My poster sites and donors. The lovely couple who come to social events but don’t like joining things. I am happy to let them have a say in who leads us.

This is scary, but it’s also exciting. Trusting our voters to help us make decisions on who leads us is a big step, but it’s an important one.

Miranda Roberts is Chair of the Federal People Development Committee, but this article is from her in a personal capacity and does not represent the view of the committee. You can find the decisions made by FPDC here

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14 Comments

  • In some ways this comes back to the value of openness, are we turned in on ourselves or are we facing outwards ?

  • Tom MacLean 12th Mar '19 - 2:37pm

    I left the Lib Dems as a member in 2010.The decision to go into coilition ended my 35 year association with the party.Nick Cleggs betrayal of students in 2010 was shabby in my view.Another reason I quit the party.After the Austerity filled half decade of coilition the party was rightly routed.While the outgoing Lib Dem ministers got knighthoods the country got food banks. Child poverty and homelessness.So I am a tentative supporter these days.I’ve yet to see the radical changes needed in the party.

    I do hope that the changes needed will happen.

  • David Evans 12th Mar '19 - 3:42pm

    Miranda, you say “Trust our voters to choose our leader”, but how can you possibly know that they are our voters?

    I’m sorry, but your piece comes over as yet another in a series of articles on LDV to persuade conference attendees to do what the party establishment want, by painting the most naively optimistic picture possible.

  • chris moore 12th Mar '19 - 4:28pm

    You say, “Trust our voters to choose our leader”,

    But actually what that means is “trust our members and registered supporters to choose our leader.” A very different matter.

    Get it right, please.

  • James Baillie 12th Mar '19 - 4:31pm

    “Ultimately, this is about trust.”

    It is about trust, but not quite in the way Miranda suggests. It’s about whether we trust a central party office that has been shifty at best and actively evasive at worst regarding the necessary vetting and hoped for purpose of these reforms, and has been unwilling to have serious discussions, despite these topics being raised publicly here and in other forums, about the necessary changes needed to ensure that internal democracy is an engaged, two-way, discursive process rather than a flimsy veneer to try and pull people in (which seems unlikely to work in any case).

    The party leadership have, sadly, done little to gain people’s trust that that the risk mentioned will be well handled. I pretty clearly and publicly said in September (https://www.libdemvoice.org/will-party-reforms-really-lead-to-more-democracy-58582.html) the concerns I had about this. It appears nobody in HQ thought they needed to deign to answer those sorts of concerns, something I suspect supporters of these changes may come to regret at conference.

  • chris moore 12th Mar '19 - 4:31pm

    Likewise, you say, “I absolutely understand why this is a difficult issue. There are good, sensible reasons to pause and worry. I was very against the idea at first but, after a lot of thought, I changed my mind. I now, personally, think we should feel the fear and do it anyway.”

    Why do we need therapy-speak? It’s not a question of “fear” or “difficulty” or “worry”.

    It’s just that the proclaimed benefits of the supporters’ scheme do not stack up.

  • @chrismoore. With respect, I think it possible that therapy is exactly what the party needs at this point in its history. I take the view that turning these decisions over to a wider electorate that included supporters has considerably more upside than downside. Shame that more decisions are not taken by the broader party, rather than the few hundred who can get to conferences at far flung locations.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Mar '19 - 6:35pm

    If there had been a leadership election I would have voted for Vince Cable.
    He has not yet been on Top Gear in a reasonably fast car, so go for it Vince.
    He listed his car history in the Sunday Times this week, including trying a DB9 (not, sadly, a DB10).
    There was a car that offered speed and value for money.
    The VW Corrado was the only car I ever loved. A corrado is a wind, but not a zephyr. The supercharger means smooth delivery of power. Overtake in second and stay there. Get the VR6.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Corrado#/media/File:Corrado_rear.jpg

  • David Evershed 12th Mar '19 - 8:19pm

    There are no barriers to supporters of the Lib Dems becoming members.

    Having to administer a separate supporter group with different rules is too much bureaucracy for a small party to withstand at local, regional and central level.

    We would better spend our time converting supporters into members.

  • Sorry Miranda. This just won’t fly. There are simply no safeguards that anyone can believe will work. If you accept the proposal to include supporters in votes for leader then you are handing the party leadership over to any group that ruthlessly targets our supporters scheme. Look what momentum has done to the Labour Party. How can you possibly think that our under resourced and overworked staff can possibly do the job of vetting supporters, when they can’t even keep the membership records up-to-date. Our local party membership is still showing someone who has been dead for nearly 2 years as an active member.
    I shall vote to establish a supporters scheme. I will vote against allowing non-MPs as candidates for leader and non-members as voters in the leadership election. I suggest, yet again, that if people want to vote in our leadership elections, there is a perfectly simple way to do so. Join the party.

  • chris moore 13th Mar '19 - 7:58am

    Chris Cory 12th Mar ’19 – 5:34pm Hi Chris, you say,
    @chrismoore. With respect, I think it possible that therapy is exactly what the party needs at this point in its history. I take the view that turning these decisions over to a wider electorate that included supporters has considerably more upside than downside. Shame that more decisions are not taken by the broader party, rather than the few hundred who can get to conferences at far flung locations.

    Personally, I think the last thing we need is to turn inward and start navel-gazing. Thaat won’t win over any voters, to put it mildly.

    I’m in favor of a supporters’ scheme: But it’s a small plus; that’s all. The fact that this has been sold as some sort of transformation of the Lib Dems’ fortunes merely shows how unrealistic and bereft of ideas leadership is.

    What we do need is a change of leadership. That’s crystal clear!

    And although I’m a Remainer, I also agree with Libdemer that we need to rapidly build bridges with all our lost Leave supporters. ( First small step: the excellent Stephen Lloyd to take the Lib Dem whip again. Very depressing that he’s not currently part of the Lib Dem parliamentary party.)

    BTW It ‘s perfectly posible to be liberal and a Leaver. i can see several good liberal arguments against a distant, supra-national government. We have become intolerant on this issues. We need to broaden our minds.

  • “How can you possibly think that our under resourced and overworked staff can possibly do the job of vetting supporters, when they can’t even keep the membership records up-to-date. Our local party membership is still showing someone who has been dead for nearly 2 years as an active member.”

    I do hope you’ll be making that point in a speech in a couple of days, Mick.

  • Mick Taylor 13th Mar '19 - 5:29pm

    Only if I get called…

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