Why postponing the leadership is a good decision setting a new challenge to those who wish to lead us.

Why postponing the leadership is a good decision setting a new challenge to those who wish to lead us.

Not only do I agree with the difficult decision to postpone the leadership election, I believe also that it is an opportunity to set a challenge to those wishing to lead us.

Declare your intention this year, pull together a team around you and set out your vision for Britain, our party and our philosophy in a book or manifesto. Tell us about it at Spring Conference and hustings so that we can elect you and give us time to debate and fine tune the vision by Autumn Conference. Build on the vision and build the party by leading for as long as Charles or Paddy.

Since December I have been concerned that we were rushing to select our next leader too soon. Before Covid-19 many of us were in a state of shock with the populist Johnson’s election victory, his majority, and his Cabinet of Brexiteers. A subsequent leadership election was always going to be defined by Brexit and the failure of our Remain or People’s Vote strategy, and the perceived failures of the Stop Brexit era. An era that has now gone, Corbyn has gone, conservatism is dead and replaced by populism.

An election during these challenging times as the country pulls together to resist the Coronavirus risks alienating or even angering the public if we are seen as too self-indulgent and too political. Even fellow Lib Dems have questioned campaigning or online meetings at this time and have gone silent. The media holds our party and our politicians to a much higher standard than the Tories and Labour. I think a leadership election now would be turned against us.

The world now faces its biggest challenge for decades, bigger than the financial crisis, with some describing it as equivalent to WW2. A year from now will Johnson be riding a wave of popular sentiment like Churchill? Or will the electorate be turning against him as we reflect on the toll the crisis has taken on our communities and loved ones? Will voters be in favour of more central control and authoritarianism, or less? Will the mood be for more state control of the economy or less? Will the culture of work and commuting have changed and throw new perspective on climate change? A year from now what will be the style and direction of Labour under its new leader? How will the fallout from the Salmond acquittal affect the SNP?

Professor Sir John Curtice analysis of the election highlighted our failure to articulate what we stand for whereas everyone knows we are against Brexit. There are many voices in the Liberal Democrats who believe that we need to reaffirm our values and set out our philosophy. Let’s take our time to find a leader for the long term, like Paddy or Charles, with an aim and a vision to lead and build the party for 10 years.

* Tim Murray is Vice Chair, Wealden Liberal Democrats and Vice Chair, Campaigns, South East Region

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16 Comments

  • Johnny McDermott 29th Mar '20 - 9:17am

    The public won’t notice if we don’t have an election any more than if we do. The opponents will joke, electing in crisis or longest running jibes, either way: we will fade away, in at least 5 different directions, for each possible candidate. We alienate the public, or new members, by having no platform at all to join. Or 5 alternate ones.

    We’ll be in a period of reflection, still, as Labour have been taken in a new direction for a year. Folly.

  • I disagree. Most of the general public won’t notice a Lib Dem leadership election, particularly at a time like this. They barely notice Labour.

    But we need to put in place a leader with legitimacy and a mandate to carry us forward as the current crisis fades. Next May is way too long to wait.

  • Nigel Hardy 29th Mar '20 - 1:31pm

    I’m not sure the public are that interested in us at the moment, and couldn’t care a fig. For the moment the Tories are polling high for messing up big time in absence of a decent opposition party.

    However, it is the right decision to defer the leadership so that we can focus on this the biggest crisis for generations. To hold the leadership contest now would distract us.

  • Paul Barker 29th Mar '20 - 6:05pm

    I couldnt agree more, the delay gives us all time to think & perhaps time to get some hint of what comes next.

    Right now we are in a” Wartime/Rally round The Flag” moment with The Tories/Government getting more than half the Vote, that will not last. If we want a sense of where Our Party is then we would be better looking at the Pre-Virus Polls when three quarters had us clustering around 10%. Right now everybody but The Conservatives are being squeezed but thats temporary.

    The Tories have TWO massive crises to get through & its not clear that Labour have escaped the track of long, slow retreat. Lets try to be ready for the coming Decade.

  • Having a permanent leader rather than an acting leader is no guarantee of additional media coverage. For the first 20 months of Vince Cables leadership he had negligible media coverage. It was only after the hugely successful May 2019 local elections that he received significant coverage.

  • Nigel Jones 29th Mar '20 - 9:44pm

    I agree with the postponement, not because of media coverage but because we need our MPs to think, discuss with us and the public and develop themselves. There is a huge difference between being a spokesperson on a couple of policy areas in Parliament and having to communicate on almost everything to members and to the general public. The big issues any leader must be good at summarising are inequality,(which must be joined up thinking on a range of policy areas), the economy, environment, local government, and international affairs. It takes time to master all these.

  • André Browne 29th Mar '20 - 11:37pm

    I feel that we should have elected our leader in line with the planned schedule.
    The process of electing or leader will help us clarify and project our values and principles more effectively than any navel-gazing. Having an elected leader will add credibility to the party. The acting leaders are doing a fine job but a leader’s guidance of the party and pronouncements on our behalf will inevitably have more authority than theirs by virtue of him or her having been elected.
    I hope the party can find a way to take advantage of the delayed leadership election but I can’t see one that outweighs those of having a leader in place to be a mouthpiece for liberal policies in the difficult times ahead for our country.

  • Kevin White 30th Mar '20 - 9:17am

    A bad decision. Running roughshod over the constitution. Preposterous to argue that the public will think poorly of us for holding a leadership election. The current 7% opinion poll rating is not going to go up with the present acting “leadership”.

  • james thellusson 30th Mar '20 - 9:34am

    While Rome burned Nero played the fiddle.
    While Labour elect a new face, we elect to gaze at our navels. At a time of public need, we’ve chosen private quarantine.
    This is the strategy of the jellyfish happy to let the current take it wherever the tide dictates.

  • Charles Smith 30th Mar '20 - 12:25pm

    Nigel Farage has said that the European Union will not be able to come back from the coronavirus crisis that has ravaged the bloc. Italy and Spain are both the hardest hit countries in the world, surpassing even China where the virus originated. Despite pleas from Brussels, EU member-states have struggled to agree a joint economic response to the shock.
    https://worldabcnews.com/farage-boasts-brexit-timing-saved-uk-from-being-tied-to-eu-collapse-amid-coronavirus-chaos-world-news/

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Mar '20 - 12:56pm

    @Charles Smith
    As Mandy Rice Davies is alleged to have said “Well he would say that wouldn’t he?”

    Have you noticed much of a joint economic response from the states within that federal republic the USA? And the USA is leading the list of countries in terms of number of confirmed cases. See https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries and also https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2020/mar/29/coronavirus-map-of-the-us-latest-cases-state-by-state

  • Rory O'Brien 30th Mar '20 - 1:07pm

    What a craven policy; what a abdication of responsibility. Here is the country in a national crisis and the LibDems say “Let’s leave it up to Boris and keep quiet; now is not the time to draw attention to ourselves”.
    YES IT IS. Now is the time for a leader who leads and points out when this Government lies an U-turns on policy. It is desperately needed to have LibDem opinions on the radio and TV which point out how matters could be improved.
    Since the election I have felt the party sliding into national irrelevance. This latest policy confirms it.

  • Johnny McDermott 30th Mar '20 - 2:32pm

    It sounds a lot like you think we should lie low for a year, Paul Barker? I get the logic, slow build – but that isn’t postponing anything. Instead it’s holding a contest for a year and a half. I don’t need to (though will obviously listen) hear 2 more stalls, I’ve considered the 3 main contenders in my view and decided. I may change my mind. It’s highly unlikely – but I might. So this only seems to serve 4 candidates that now have plenty of time to build *their* profile, not *our* profile.

    As for 20 months of negligible Sir Vince coverage – I’d suggest a tendency to stick with a losing hand perhaps flows through this party. I don’t know, I imagine that won’t go down well, but I think Sir Vince did this party a huge disservice with his Michael Howard like ‘long goodbye’ at a time the party needed decisive leadership. “Only after Euros he got…” so in other words, he fluked it. None of his own doing guaranteed increased exposure, but the fact we were the natural party of remain (which, I believe, was Tim Farron’s decision, ONE day after the largest democratic exercise in our country’s history.)

  • Johnny McDermott 30th Mar '20 - 2:34pm

    Waiting to see ‘what comes next/ in the next year’. What the future holds? These are the actions of observers. We are participants. We predict as best we can and try to get ahead. Labour – most likely – goes to Starmer, but let’s stay ready for a Corbyn lite surge now he’s ‘won the argument’ on spending. Of course, he hasn’t, and despite astronomical sums, we are looking at a lengthy depression, and truly grim times. Johnson may survive this (politically, I wish him well physically), but he will be weakened. This is a warning. A more vicious disease (or had this been a weapon) would have devastated the heart of government. We need to “Hold them to account”, and we cannot do that with 5 different leaders slowly setting out stalls and Starmer (probably) swings a little right and mops up, and Rory Stewart takes his pick of the former Tories and those unenamoured with him.
    Or we plan for RLB/ Corbyn and what we do there (who do we work with). This is why we need strong relationships with Labour, SNP, moderate Tories, the old prog alliance… which requires: yup! One leader, not 5. Though, easily some of those 5 can take on these roles, Jo Swinson, as much as I miss some attributes now, did a good job of demolishing bridges. Ed can heal them. Can the other candidates say the same? Shall we discuss that now or in 14 months?

    I want to be politically active, not survive, passively for another year under these incompetents and sycophants… not to mention the ideologically obsessed north and south. No progress can be made on any issues as these blocks encumber us and better relations ease them… and none of that happens without…

    Charles Smith is right – ironically Brexit was a strengthening and unifying force. Now it’s “done” that unity fails. The virus is just what exposes it. See Wolfgang Streeck for the ‘Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism’… it was predicted (I believe accurately) the EU is on borrowed time, thanks to tying the new gold standard (Euro) to the political project. I only hope the latter survives the Eurozone’s collapse, (if?) when it comes. So – notions of rejoining should not make up the basis on any campaign. Not realistically. They have much to get through, and no time for another round of “Non! Non! Non!”

  • Denis Loretto 30th Mar '20 - 3:49pm

    “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”
    “Bxxxer all” says Tim Murray. “But at least I can’t be blamed for anything”.
    For heaven’s sake give Ed Davey the title he needs throughout this appalling crisis and let him continue to show the leadership he is already doing albeit shackled by the ridiculous “Joint Interim Leader” moniker.

  • David Garlick 30th Mar '20 - 8:24pm

    Don’t agree Tim.
    A year of navel watching whilst the public struggle wont be a good idea. If the Campaign is not to be seen as ‘the Lib Dems don’t care’ it cannot now start for many months. I wanted it done quickly but I accept the logic of waiting. Fire the starting gun too early and you will negate any benefit of postponement and incur the wrath of the public. (Led by the ant LD tabloids of course.).

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