What happens in a Lib Dem leadership election?

Since the first of the great membership surges in 2015, which coincided with the last leadership election, we have enjoyed at least three further surges, taking the party to comfortably more than 100,000 members.  But as a result, fewer than half of our members actually took part in the passionate and sometimes heated contest between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb.

So, what happens in a Lib Dem leadership election?


After proposals to extend the range of possible candidates failed at last year’s Autumn Conference, the rules around candidates are unchanged – candidates must be sitting Lib Dem MPs in the House of Commons, who are nominated by their fellow MPs and backed by at least 200 members from at least 20 local parties. The nominations must all be in by the 7th June.  Candidates have until 16:00 on the 8th to withdraw after this time – at which point, the official candidates will be declared.


Again, after proposals to extend the franchise to supporters failed at last year’s Autumn Conference, in order to vote in the leadership election, you must be a member of the Lib Dems before midnight on the 7th June.  You’ll receive an online ballot on the 1st July, if you have given the party an email address; members without a known email address will have paper ballots issued on the 28th June.  If there are more than 2 candidates, voting will be by instant-runoff AV (so, ranked preference).


The ballot – both online and postal – will close at 15:00 on the 23rd July.  Votes will be verified and counted at HQ, and a winner will be announced the same evening.


At time of writing, ten hustings in ten regions have been organised, and more will likely be planned – you can find a full list here.  If you want to attend, make sure you use the RSVP link so the organisers ensure there’s enough space – in previous years people have ended up sitting in the aisles!  Previous contests have seen online Q&As and virtual hustings as well, and it’s easy to see how Lib Dem Newbies might end up hosting one, for instance, as might the Green Lib Dems and other affiliated organisations.


The contest is like a council or by-election campaign, without the geographical limit.  Each candidate will form a team, including an agent and campaign lead – these may well be familiar names.  As with a by-election, candidates will also have their own HQ groups on social media, and each will have a plan to get as many members voting for them as possible.  And just as the Electoral Commission releases the unredacted roll to valid candidates, all valid leadership candidates will receive full party membership lists at 16:01 on the 8th of June (once the deadline for withdrawing has passed) – so expect to receive calls, emails, letters and possibly even visits, as well as invitations to events near you.  

Members who were around for the Tim v Norman election will remember, perhaps with trepidation, how emotional that campaign became, in the ashes of the 2015 election.  The context of the contest to replace Vince couldn’t be more different, on the back of the best local elections in our history, a run of membership surges, an energised activist base, and – hopefully – a strong showing in the EU elections.  Whether you campaign, watch, or simply vote, enjoy the contest, and join me in raising a glass to Vince for the remarkable turnarounds we have enjoyed with him as leader.

* John Grout is a admin of the Lib Dem Newbies Facebook group and lives in Reading.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 26th May '19 - 11:23am

    The Chancellor’s interview on the Andrew Marr Show is very important, especially his statements on the role of Parliament over the next few months.

  • Charles Rothwell 26th May '19 - 12:54pm

    Anyone reading Tom Watson’s piece in “The Observer” this morning (expressing (once again) his despair at the (totally failed) “triangulation” strategy adopted by Corbyn and his Lexit entourage for the EP elections) must be wondering if the nation is not in for THREE leadership contests among all three UK-wide major parties in the coming months! If so, the Liberal Democrats must be in a marvellously advantageous position as the tectonic plates of UK politics are truly in flux!

  • Tony Greaves 26th May '19 - 1:16pm

    Not a lot really…

  • Am I alone in thinking that Ed vs Jo (two former Coalition Govt ministers who, essentially, agree with each other on most of the key issues) is not exactly the most exciting or inspiring of prospects? Leadership contests should be more than mutual love-ins!

  • Yeovil Yokel 26th May '19 - 3:11pm

    Well, Sean, what do you suggest? – forcing one of the newbies like Layla, Christine, Wera, or Jamie to stand just to make the leadership contest more “exciting”?

  • Richard Underhill 26th May '19 - 4:03pm

    Roy Jenkins demonstrated the importance of the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
    In the 1975 referendum he said that it would be difficult to take Tony Benn seriously as an economic minister. Roy Jenkins was on the winning side in 1975, Tony Benn was on the losing side, although he had let the genie out of the bottle in the UK’s first referendum, on any subject.
    We might cast a glance at Ireland’s divorce referendum on Friday 24/5/19.
    Previous Chancellors who have progressed to Prime Minister include
    Winston Spencer Churchill (unsuccessful in his own view and in Roy Jenkins’ view), James Callaghan, who also had other important jobs prior to being PM, and
    Harold MacMillan, who changed his view on the Suez crisis and went on to win a general election with a majority in 1959.
    Today’s Chancellor has not announced that he is standing for the Tory leadership,
    but he has not confirmed that he is not standing.
    “Don’t hold your breath” is an implicit threat to any leadership candidate who declines to accept the Chancellor’s financial advice.
    Hammond has been an insider throughout the process and can demonstrate that he knows his numbers on a wide variety of issues.
    He wants to talk to all the main candidates one to one.
    No deal is a very bad idea.
    Tax cuts would be premature (Raab?)
    Corporation tax is already the lowest in the G20.
    Some more spending would be possible once Brexit has been sorted.
    Parliament is important.

  • @Yeovil Yokel:
    Admittedly, from the limited pool of MPs that we currently have, it’s difficult to see an obvious alternative choice. Layla could have been a genuine “fresh start” candidate, without any “baggage” from the coalition years, but I understand her reasons for ruling herself out on this occasion. As for any of the other “newbie” MPs who you mention, if they were willing, they could at least make the contest a little more competitive and help to ensure that the two favourites are properly tested.

  • Jamie Stone would make a refreshing change as Leader with a human touch and a great rather mischievous sense of humour – a great contrast to the two so called obvious candidates who I’m afraid leave me underwhelmed and would have very little popular appeal.

  • Laurence Cox 26th May '19 - 4:58pm

    @Sean Hagan
    Be careful what you wish for. If ChangeUK MPs were to decide to join the Lib Dems, we might have Chuka Umunna on the ballot paper!


  • @Sean – Wiser people than me have (by which I mean, Mark Pack has) pointed out that when the main candidates largely agree on policy, like Clegg and Huhne did, they tend to spend the campaign emphasising the differences. So it’ll be interesting to see how Jo and Ed position themselves, assuming they do both run. I’d love to live in a timeline where Christine and Layla both stood, as I think they’d both make absolutely stonking leaders, but as Yeovil Yokel says, we can hardly force them. When Vince was coronated, I was mightily annoyed at the PLDP for none of them standing against them, and Layla’s reasons for not standing this time are absolutely fair, just disappointing for those like us who think she’d be great. That said, any of the likely candidates would make a good leader, so we shouldn’t complain too much!

  • For clarity under the leadership rules, one official husting has to be entirely online – others may be held partially online. I hope HQ will stream as many as possible and invite questions etc. from those watching online.

  • I remember Tim versus Norman as being a polite affair. The two candidates showed respect for one another. There were dirty tricks by two guys working for Norman, quickly stopped (and Steel against Pardoe for the Liberal leadership was not free of dirty tricks). People cared a lot in 2015 because it seemed to represent a watershed for a bruised party.

    I agree at this stage the contest doesn’t look exciting, though that could change. Both candidates are valuable people to have as MPs, but haven’t convinced me as leaders. I’m sorry Layla isn’t standing and Christine Jardine also seems to have what it takes. Jo would offer more passion, but perhaps more dropped bricks. Ed’s record in government is mainly impressive, but includes an apparent breach of a promise on not subsidising nuclear power. The main difference on polics and tactics seems to be that Jo wants to co-operate with ChangeUK (if their EU failure convinces them they should co-operate with us rather than trying to shove us aside), while Ed is a ChangeUK-sceptic.

    I just looked at the hustings and as with the party reform consultations, there’s nothing in the East of England. OK, the region lacks a natural centre, but we have strength and many members in Herts, Chelmsford and Cambridge(shire), while a London meeting that ends at 10 pm will raise travel issues for some East of England members.

  • David Millar 1st Jun '19 - 8:27am

    I’d like to attend the Lib Dem hustings in Bath this afternoon and so does my wife. I am a member but she isn’t. Will she be allowed in?

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