My “It’s 8th May 2015” scenario-question to the Lib Dem party president candidates – Sal Brinton responds

by Stephen Tall on November 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the forthcoming election for the Lib Dem party presidency – the post about to be vacated by Tim Farron – between Sal Brinton, Daisy Cooper and Liz Lynne.

Here’s the question I said would ask all three of them (my post offers fuller background about why I’m asking it):

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?

All three have responded and I’m publishing their responses in full here today.

First up is Sal Brinton

sal brintonAny President who hasn’t thought through a full range of scenarios will be in for a shock, because one thing is clear at the moment – no-one knows what will happen on 7 May, not just to the Lib Dems but to all parties. Scenarios will include going into opposition; a further coalition; a rainbow coalition; fewer Lib Dem seats, (and perhaps less likely) more Lib Dem seats.

I would go back one step from Stephen’s scenario. It would be very disappointing if the Leader stepped aside before any contact with the President. It was evident from Labour’s experience with Gordon Brown (see Andrew Adonis book 5 Days in May) that they had not talked through together how to manage Gordon Brown’s departure, with the consequent chaos for them during that short period.

So, my 5 practical steps would be:-

1. Ensure that the parliamentary party has met at the first possible opportunity to elect (even on an acting basis) a Deputy Leader and a Chair – Sir Malcolm Bruce is standing down, and the new parliamentary party needs to elect its new chair.

2. Talk from early on Friday morning with the Leader as it becomes apparent what is happening, as well as talking with Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams, and the Chairs/Convenors of the state parties;

3. If the Leader will step down, talk through the timing of that, and what the formal arrangements will be for handover to his successor, and how decision making will work in the interim (see reference to Deputy Leader above), including reporting back to Federal and State committees. It will be important not to have a vacuum, as Labour have demonstrated with both Gordon Brown’s departure in 2010 and Johann Lamont’s departure just now;

4. Alongside this, there will be the formal arrangements that the party will undertake in any discussion about a future coalition, from the coalition negotiation team – the quadruple lock means that the parliamentary parties, Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee will be talking frequently as they did in 2010.

5. If there is a proposal to move to some form of coalition, the President will have to ensure that the arrangements are in place for a special Federal Conference to give the wider party the chance to debate and vote on the way forward.

We have the structures in place. We need a President who can use those structures to represent the party at a time when the press are at their most demanding, and the party asking what is happening. I’ve had experience of working with council group leaders, advising them on arrangements after both losing and winning control, and of having to give difficult messages both privately and to the press: it’s not easy, but the key is keeping to the task in hand, which will be making sure that the Liberal Democrats make the best of whatever the electorate choose on 7 May.