Should the Lib Dem president be neutral in leadership elections?

by Stephen Tall on December 14, 2007

That’s the question Jonathan Calder asked on his Liberal England blog, following Simon Hughes’s endorsement of Nick Clegg on Lib Dem Voice this week. His piece sparked a lively comments thread, and has even prompted a story in today’s Pandora column in The Independent:

Simon Hughes has found himself on the receiving end of bitter cat-calls from Liberal Democrats after wading in with his views about the current leadership contest. This week Hughes posted some comments on the political website Lib Dem Voice, in which he came out strongly in support for the candidacy of Nick Clegg. …

Hughes’s comments have provoked fury among party officials who say that, as the party’s president, he really shouldn’t be seen to be taking sides so publicly. So far, other so-called Lib Dem grandees, including the acting leader Vince Cable and former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, have been maintaining dignified silences about their preferred choices. Although no one from Hughes’s office would comment about the uproar, supporters for both Clegg and his opponent Chris Huhne are said to be furious with the comments.

One of the likely candidates to replace Hughes as president when he stands down next year, Baroness Scott, says she would have kept her trap shut. “It is entirely a matter for the president but, personally, I wouldn’t have done it,” she tells me. “The job of the president is to act as a mouthpiece for the members. If, for example, there was a problem with the election, the president would not be seen as independent.”

For the record, Simon’s piece was submitted by Nick Clegg’s campaign team for LDV’s regular ‘Leadership Platform’ slot; so it would be a little surprising if his supporters actually were furious.