“It’s 8th May, 2015.” My scenario-question to the Lib Dem candidates for party president

by Stephen Tall on October 23, 2014

I’m genuinely undecided who to vote for in the election for Lib Dem party president. I know a little, not a lot, of each of the three candidates: Sal Brinton, Daisy Cooper and Liz Lynne.

At the hustings event I attended, there was little of substance to separate them, with the exception of all-women short-lists (Sal and Liz opposed; Daisy open to them), but in any case that isn’t a decision made by the party president.

Much of it, then, comes down to personality: who do I think will be best able to help guide the party through what is likely to be a shit-storm next year? Here’s the thing (or things)…

In the next 12 months, the Lib Dems are almost certain to have the worst general election result since 1970 (when we lost half our MPs); have to decide what we do in the event of a hung Parliament (if anything, and if we have a choice); and hold a leadership contest.

Oh, and start the process — hard if we’re in opposition, harder still if we remain in government — of re-building a party that, bar a few dozen far-flung outposts dotted around the country, has been scythed down. Oh, and also the minor matter, too, of learning the lessons of our first taste of government for a century.

During this time, the next party president will be the sole point of continuity for the Lib Dems (as I noted here). Nick Clegg probably won’t be leader this time next year. The deputy leader certainly won’t even be an MP this time next year (Malcolm Bruce is retiring) and nor will the chief whip (the ‘deputy deputy leader’, Don Foster, is also standing down).

I know liberals are constitutionally obliged to gripe about our leader, whoever it is. It’s in our DNA to hate being led. But we all need our boundaries, as Supernanny would say, to help us think in an orderly way and get along with the other children. For at least a time, it may be only the party president has the authority to set those limits for the Lib Dems.

That’s the cheerful backdrop to the scenario-question I’m asking all three candidates:

It’s 8th May, 2015. The Lib Dems have lost some MPs but are still a force to be reckoned with in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg announces he will step aside to let a new leader take over. No single party has an overall majority. What will you do in the next 7 days to maximise Lib Dem influence and keep the party united?

My guess is all three will be reluctant to be drawn by the premise of the question (Lib Dems losing MPs, Nick quitting). Fair enough, that’s how politics works. You’re not allowed publicly to think through the Plans B, C and D you need to be thinking through, or the media will tear you to shreds. So I’m not necessarily expecting their real answer.

The reason I’m asking it to them is simple. That scenario, above, is the most likely one to play out in six months’ time, and I really want them to be thinking now about how they handle it. Their response will likely determine not only the success of their time as party president, but also how the party handles it.

I’ll publish the replies here once I’ve received them or by 4th November (whichever is sooner).