Sir Malcolm Bruce to stand for Lib Dem Deputy Leader post?

by Stephen Tall on January 19, 2014

It had seemed almost certain that this month’s Deputy Leader contest – triggered by Simon Hughes’s decision to resign the post to become Justice Minister in the Coalition – would be between Solihull MP Lorely Burt and Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle.

However, there’s an intriguing suggestion in today’s Independent that Gordon MP Sir Malcolm Bruce (who’s retiring from the Commons at the 2015 election) will also throw his hat into the ring:

Lib Dem MPs are planning to vote next week in the party’s deputy leadership election. Lorely Burt, the MP for Solihull, is being urged to use the contest as a platform for enhancing the status of women in the party. Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is standing down as an MP at the next election, is planning to announce his candidacy this week. Senior figures are concerned that, with Mr Clegg focusing on government, the party is in need of a “strong and safe pair of hands” to see the Lib Dems through what is being described as one of the most dangerous and unstable periods in its recent history.

“There has been a lot of frustration with Clegg’s leadership in the Lords,” added a senior Liberal Democrat peer. “There is a view that the party needs someone like Sir Malcolm Bruce … to distract the Deputy Prime Minister from the advice he is being given by special advisers and party officials.”

The electorate for the post of Deputy Leader is restricted to MPs (party members vote for Party President). Announcing her candidacy on he website earlier in January, Lorely Burt said she had received 24 nominations, with 29 votes needed to win outright.

Other than the party’s wish to ensure one of its seven women MPs has a leadership role, there is another important consideration: the post will give whoever holds it increased media profile. It would be a surprise if MPs chose to give that opportunity to an MP who’s retiring rather than an MP who’s defending a marginal seat.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.