Setting the election timetable

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2007

Tonight, I think most of us are catching our breaths following the resignation of Ming Campbell as Lib Dem leader.

Though there had been a growing inevitability about it all in the last few days, the speed with which his resignation was brought about was surprising. It’s entirely to Ming’s credit that he foreclosed on the growing speculation before it started seriously to destabilise the party.

The speculation will swiftly turn to what happens next. At this stage, I have only one plea: no swift leadership election.

Whatever follows next needs to be both a contest of ideas, as well as of personality. And that takes time. It is unreasonable to expect whichever candidates emerge to be able both to get a leadership campaign up-and-running, and to be able to think through the ideas they would wish to bring to the job.

The last contest succeeded in being both too short and too long: too much time spent skirting round individual issues, not enough time for any of the candidates to spell out the party’s ‘narrative’.

Vince Cable spoke tonight about having a new leader in place by the new year. That strikes me as far too abbreviated a timetable. As both the Tory and Labour leadership races proved, there is merit in taking the time for the public to become familiar with the candidates, and – let’s be honest – in the media attention which accompanies a contest, and which will disappear as soon as it’s concluded.

Ming’s decision swiftly to end the leadership uncertainty shows the party has learned some lessons from the slow, agonising downfall of his predecessor. Let’s remember the other lesson, too: that, as Vince said earlier today in a different context, “it is absolutely foolish to rush into decisions with major long-term implications.”

UPDATE: the Federal Executive has ruled the new leader will be announced on 17th December. This is, in my view, a very poor decision, which will mean news of the Lib Dem leadership result will be submerged in the pre-Christmas rush, and that the leader will disappear from view for a couple of weeks after his/her election, instead of hitting the ground running.

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Why do you think the leader would want to hit the ground running just after a gruelling election campaign? We’ll hit the ground running in the new year. Go Chris!

by Laurence Boyce on October 15, 2007 at 9:26 pm. Reply #

The timetable is perfectly good, it would be nice to have a new leader in the new year. I am looking forward to the leadership contest. At the end of it, whoever is elected I reckon will make a real impact.

by Geoffrey Payne on October 15, 2007 at 9:32 pm. Reply #

Disagree Stephen about December 17th. Christmas really doesn’t count anymore when my co-op was selling mince pies on September 5th with a sell by date of 4th November! Indeed an astute leader could go for two launches – Dec 17th and an early January, ‘let’s get going’ campaign.

by Martin Land on October 15, 2007 at 9:42 pm. Reply #

I’m concerned that the ballot papers go out so early in the process. It means that members start voting before the candidates have had time to make their case fully or get round hustings, so press recognition of names becomes too big a factor.

by Ian Campion-Smith on October 15, 2007 at 9:53 pm. Reply #

“It is unreasonable to expect whichever candidates emerge to be able both to get a leadership campaign up-and-running, and to be able to think through the ideas they would wish to bring to the job.”

I think they may have been doing that for some time!

by Duncan on October 15, 2007 at 10:17 pm. Reply #

I agree with you, Stephen – this rush will do no-one any good, and smacks of either panic or an attempt to bounce the party.

How about a new poll on LDV asking when the leadership election should be?

Or just calling for a vote of no confidence in the Federal Executive? 😉

by Alex Wilcock on October 15, 2007 at 10:27 pm. Reply #

We need a leader who is able to think quickly on their feet and make an impact rapidly. Let’s hope this timetable gets us that person.

by Phil W on October 15, 2007 at 10:36 pm. Reply #

I agree that we need time to listen to the candidates. We’re already being bounced into a contest between Chris and Nick – I’d like to see someone else in the frame, and a proper discussion of ideas.

by anng on October 15, 2007 at 10:45 pm. Reply #

Not being an expert on the Party constitution – though I’m sure some reading this are – how much are we boxed in by the existing rules and timetable for when there’s no leader?

Personally, I’d prefer a longer campaign with the close of nominations before Xmas, and the ballot papers going out in the New Year for an announcement at the end of January/beginning of February.

by Nick Barlow on October 15, 2007 at 10:49 pm. Reply #

I cant believe anyone is seriously wishing for a leadership campaign that drags on til February.

The thought fills me with horror.

If they are any good they will make an impact in 6 weeks. If they are ambitious they will have been doing so for months already…

by Ed on October 15, 2007 at 11:19 pm. Reply #

The coterie around David Laws at the end of his standing ovation at Brighton suggests Huhne and Clegg getting a run for their money.

by Andrew Houseley on October 15, 2007 at 11:37 pm. Reply #

The question of speeding up the election timetable was put at the Federal Executive, but we were told that we could not change this as it’d been agreed at Party Conference.

by Meral Ece on October 16, 2007 at 12:27 am. Reply #

Stephen, you are spot on. This is a missed opportunity. A longer election period would have allowed for a more detailed debate about where we go from here, plus given candidates greater exposure with the public at large. Not having the result in the New Year, but just before Xmas is simply foolish.

by Paul P on October 16, 2007 at 12:45 am. Reply #

You guys wanting a lengthy contest must be nuts. Quite frankly, I’d prefer no contest at all. I wish the MPs would just conclude a stitch-up, and then present us with a choice of one.

by Laurence Boyce on October 16, 2007 at 1:21 am. Reply #

Whoever wins, Laurence, I’ll be disappointed if you don’t immediately call for their resignation.

by Paul Griffiths on October 16, 2007 at 5:42 am. Reply #

I won’t be voting for a party of backstabbers now even though i have voted all my life for them. They are an ageist set of psuedo Tories. Goodby Tories mark three.and good riddance. By the way all my family voted for you will be thinking twice now.

by Eileen Allen on October 16, 2007 at 8:47 am. Reply #

But you would vote for a party that under Ming lost half its vote and was rudderless Eileen? good thinking.

by Big Mak on October 16, 2007 at 9:22 am. Reply #

I think a long election campaign – 2 months – is about right. This Party looks like it needs a debate about its values. In 2005 I was put off voting LD because it looked opportunistic. Ming Campbell’s speech at the conference – clearly too late – helped at least put the word Liberal back in the frame, and define what it meant in the policy areas. The excellent publications (Orange Book, Britain after Blair) have also helped this for me. Now we need a process that puts some of this excellent thinking and clarity out into the public domain. This campaign will hopefully do this.

by GIles on October 16, 2007 at 11:00 am. Reply #

Hi Eileen,

The ageism thing is in no small part a media fabrication. Sadly it was down to competence. Menzies Campbell was (and hopefully will be again) an amazing shadow foreign secretary, but he didn’t have the right skill set for the leadership.

I hope you’ll give our new leader, when elected, a chance.


by Rob F on October 16, 2007 at 11:05 am. Reply #

Giles how can you talk about out putting the word Liberal back in the frame and then go on to praise the Orange book? The Orange book would be rejected by Cameron as being too stridently Right wing- it is completely Ill-Liberal in every respect. Ok you’ve come to your senses since 2005 (when presumably you voted Tory?) . Please don’t try and foist Tory Orange book policy on those of us who have stuck with the party through thick and thin.

by John Crowthorne on October 16, 2007 at 11:10 am. Reply #

Eileen, it sounds like you have been reading the newspapers, which have all painted this as backstabbing, when Ming very much seems to have resigned by his own free choice. Further, he has been hounded not by the party, but by the media, ever since his election, because he was too old.

Now that the next election won’t be until 2009, Ming has done exactly the sensible thing and resigned to give a new leader time to bed in before the election. Otherwise, he would be fighting an election at 69 going on 70, which really is too old.

by sanbikinoraion on October 16, 2007 at 3:14 pm. Reply #

Meral – when was a leadership election timetable agreed at party conference? I don’t recall it but I could easily have missed it having not been to any since 2005.

by Hywel Morgan on October 16, 2007 at 4:25 pm. Reply #

Hywel (22) – I’m not an expert on this (the FE is one party committee I am not on!) but I am pretty certain the constitution provides that after every leadership election the FE reviews the rules and any constitutional changes are agreed by conference. In this case this happened, I am pretty certain, in September 2006 – though I must confess I wasn’t really paying it a lot of attention at the time…

John Crowthorne (20) – genuinely, I think you should take another look at the Orange Book. The criticism you make is true of basically one or two chapters only – most notably David Laws’ argument for a social insurance model of health provision. But it isn’t at all true of (for example) the chapters in it by Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg or Steve Webb. They were a much more eclectic group of contributions, genuinely promoting thinking in various areas.

Other books, with editors from a different ideological direction, are also worth a look – most notably ‘Reinventing the State’ published at party conference this year – arguably a much better stab at it than the Orange Book or Britain after Blair.

by Jeremy Hargreaves on October 16, 2007 at 4:47 pm. Reply #

I’m not sure it’s even fair to say that Laws’ social insurance model of health service provision is “fundamentally illiberal in every way”, Jeremy – Canada is a highly liberal country and does quite well with its universal social insurance.

I think that we’re better off here with the NHS, but we should be able to make the distinction between “I don’t agree with that” (e.g. painting Westminster purple) and fundamentally illiberal (e.g. opposing liberalisation of alcohol or minor drug laws).

by Peter Bancroft on October 16, 2007 at 5:18 pm. Reply #

Thanks Jeremy – 2006 conference could have passed anything without me noticing really 🙂 I was just surprised at the suggestion that it was a very rigid timetable

The party website used to have a useful archive of what had been passed at previous conferences which seems to have been expunged 🙁

by Hywel Morgan on October 16, 2007 at 8:20 pm. Reply #

Hi John

No, I didn’t vote Tory, and have not since 1992. But I do need a decent consistent platform to follow, that maybe follows a political principle to its logical ends, rather than grabbing whatever might be popular or appropriate to the moment and situation. I don’t see what is so ill-liberal about the Orange book, or its successor – and some (most) of the impressive thinkers (like Vince Cable) in your party contribute towards it. I can’t summarize it here, but I doubt very much that Tories would be able to go along with its broad aims, which are more redistributive and sensibly pro-European than I tend to read in Conservative literature.

The “thick and thin” comment worries me – is there no place for voters who have needed persuading to come to your side – is it just a case of “we’ve been here for ages, so just accept our views?”. I would have thought that the one party to put a sensible value on purely tribal loyalty rather than a reasoned adherence to policy positions should be this one.

All in a friendly questioning spirit.

by GIles on October 16, 2007 at 9:57 pm. Reply #

Apparently (only just spotted this in the members forum) the FE were actually meeting as the news broke so were able to take the decision!

Such an astonishing coincidence I can’t be bothered to make a conspiracy theory out of it 🙂

by Hywel Morgan on October 16, 2007 at 10:20 pm. Reply #

Hywel you haven’t been to Conference since 2005? I can beat you – Llandudno 1976 – and I don’t miss the experience at all!

by Martin Land on October 16, 2007 at 11:14 pm. Reply #

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