by Stephen Tall on September 11, 2010
Ros Scott’s announcement that she is standing down from the position of party president has come as a surprise to Lib Dem members.
First, because it has become almost traditional for party presidents to serve two terms — Ros’s three predecessors, Simon Hughes, Lord Dholakia and Lord Maclennan all served two terms each, unchallenged. Secondly, because Ros herself is popular among the party’s grassroots. Though her authority took something of a knock during the MPs’ expenses scandal, the Voice’s most recent survey of party members showed she had a very good net effectiveness rating of +30%.
And, thirdly, because nominations for the post of party president opened on 1st September. If, as seems likely, Ros decided some time ago not to stand for a second term, why did she not make her decision known early enough for potential candidates to start limbering up for a campaign? As it is, anyone wishing to stand for the post has now only just over two weeks — nominations close on 29th September — to attain the nominations of 200 Federal Conference Representatives from a minimum of 20 different Local Parties to be eligible to stand. Easy enough for well-known parliamentary candidates (probably): a lot tougher for an ‘outside’ candidate.
This suggests Ros (and by extension the party leadership) has a preferred candidate in mind. Perhaps I’m reading too much into her phrase that “what we need now is a strong media performer and tough campaigner”; but the moment I read that I assumed she had in mind Tim Farron.
Tim recently stood against Simon Hughes for the post of deputy leader of the parliamentary party in the House of Commons (usually abbreviated, technically inaccurately, to the title of deputy leader) after Vince Cable vacated the position upon entering government. Though he was defeated by Simon, Tim was clearly setting down a marker for his future leadership ambitions within the party. Identified as a social liberal (centre-left, if you must) within the Lib Dems, he is a noted platform speaker, and achieved a quite remarkable general election result, winning 60% of the vote in Westmorland and Lonsdale on an 11% swing, in what used to be a safe Conservative seat.
The early smart money, then, is on Tim. But of course there are other possibilities. If Paddy Ashdown were to stand he would surely walk it; though it’s far from clear he would wish to subject himself to another round of the ‘rubber muesli’ circuit — and, in any case, if he were to seek office, surely a role in government would be more appealing? Another former leader might also be a possibility: Charles Kennedy. Having seemingly not defected to Labour, might he look for a return to the limelight? One fly in the ointment here were he to be minded to stand: Charles served two terms as party president in the 1990s, making it constitutionally uncertain if he would be eligible to stand for election again.
Are there others from the party’s parliamentary ranks, current or recent, who Lib Dem Voice readers would like to see stand for the post? Or perhaps you think (notwithstanding the shortened nominations timetable) that the next party president should come from beyond the ranks of the Lib Dem parliamentary party: whether from local government, or simply a party activist with ideas and energy?
Let us know what you think below. And, more importantly, tell us what you think should be the chief aims of whoever stands for the presidency, given this is the first time there will have been an election for the post with the Lib Dems involved in government.