Should the Lib Dem leadership contest be short or long?

The Liberal Democrat Federal Board (FB), of which I’m a member, is meeting a week today to discuss the timetable for the Liberal Democrat leadership election.

The rules for the leadership contest are agreed by party conference but there is some leeway over what the Federal Board can decide on for the timescale. The rules set down a normal timescale of between 8 and 13 weeks.

The lower figure is as high as it is because once you allow for a nomination period and then time for a good number of hustings around the country, followed by enough time for people to vote after they’ve been to a hustings, you quickly get up to a goodly number of weeks. Especially when you leave time for the candidates to do campaigning other than going to hustings along with time to keep their day job as an MP ticking over.

But there’s still a fair amount of variation in the timing permitted, not to mention the question of exactly when that timetable kicks off.

Which leads to the question: should the Federal Board go for as quick a leadership election as possible or not?

Broadly speaking, the main argument in favour is ‘the next general election might be this year, so we need to get a move on’, while the main argument against is ‘the most successful party leaders are ones who are thoroughly put through their paces in an intense election contests – the warnings are there for us from Gordon Brown and Theresa May, for example’.

More time allows for more hustings to take place too, but also means more time for the party to be in a form of limbo without a new leader whilst the rest of politics gets on anyway.

What’s your preference?

29 responses to “Should the Lib Dem leadership contest be short or long?”

  1. A more important logistical issue is how as many members as possible can participate in hustings, given lack of access of many to public transport, ongoing rail disputes in various parts of the country etc. Some online element of ‘hustings’ seems needed.

    And given that what has brought Tim down is very much concerned with his handling of the media, the election process needs to ensure that contenders have an opportunity to demonstrate their competence at dealing with hostile media situations – that could perhaps include ‘portfolios’ of past interview experiences etc.

    Going back to your question – Tim’s resignation statement says that he will continue to serve as leader until the parliamentary recess starts – which is 20 July – at which point there would be a leadership election. There is only just enough time to fit an 8-week leadership election schedule in before the federal conference if the whole process does not start until the parliamentary recess.

    A 13-week schedule starting today 17 June takes us up to 16 September – the start of the federal conference – by which time the new leader needs to be in place.

    The only alternative approach as I see it is to make use of the federal conference to allow the contenders to present themselves to the members as part of the election process.

    It bothers me that you even asked the question!!

  2. Go long – not least as August falls in the middle and many people will be away. Although I guess a leader by party conference is necessary.

  3. Long. Most people have never seen anyone but VC perform. But I like the idea of a hustings at conference which could also boost attendance significantly.

  4. We need to have someone in place should there be an early election. So it looks like 10-11 weeks would be optimal.

  5. It is a contest we do not fully relate to because we have not been remotely informed!!

    The campaign concluded with positive representation and presentation of our gains.

    We now have all this in the midst of crisis in our country.

    Two routes are in my view available.

    One we pick a man of gravitas and strength who can seem both caring and empathetic too.

    That is only Norman Lamb in my view.

    We pick someone young, attractive , different. Jo Swinson, fine, but what of the coalition baggage that Norman can overide more because it was health he dealt with and metal health achievements are significant. Gender , and the agenda Jo has emphasised could do with her now showing greater substantive knowledge on various issues.

    I f we are to be audacious it should be Layla Moran .

    We need the party to understand this not rush it.

  6. As quickly as possible. This is for two reasons:

    1. Considering the current chaos in Downing Street, a new leader must be in place to plan for an Autumn snap election as quickly as possible.

    2. Brexit negotiations are likely not to go too well, and when the negotiations start going wrong we will need a leader in place to take forward the issue to the public as forcefully as possible.

    One thing to consider is the situation surrounding the Deputy Leader contest, of course.

  7. As long as possible would be the best option but I also think it’s essential to have a leader in place for conference so that would bring it in the middle of the time bracket.

    I like the suggestion I’ve heard of a media interview to be recorded by a journalist and put online as well as the usual hustings.

  8. As quickly as possible. Do we elect the Deputy Leader simultaneously?

    This is an election that many of us never asked for – coming at the worst possible time. It was certain party grandees (we now know there names) who pushed TF to resign against the wishes of many party members. For me it should be bright, dynamic Jo Swinson as leader with the gravitas of grandfatherly Vince Cable as Deputy.

    Given how upset I am with this turn of events, there are certain outcomes which would lead me to renounce my party membership.

  9. Neither long nor short. Surely we need a leader in place for the Conference and with all the technology around us that must achievable. I like the suggestion of a media interview (see Elaine W above).

    As for whether TF was right to resign has to be his decision but in my view he has made life difficult for himself by cherry picking OT passages as his view of biblical teaching. There’s lots in there that don’t stand up to modern human rights. Things have moved on thankfully.

    • Maybe TF does give certain OT passages more importance than I would/do. But so do many Jews and Roman Catholics, not to mention the views on the same subjects of orthodox Muslims, and how many of politicians of those faiths are harassed on the same grounds by the tabloids?

  10. A new leader in place in time for the Autumn Conference.
    Perhaps with a race for the deputy at the same time ?

  11. At the moment what I’ve seen suggests the crazy situation of electing the Deputy Leader in the Commons first. That can’t stand. You can’t choose a Deputy in the Commons to balance and supplement the Leader if you don’t know who the Leader is. Besides, some candidates for Deputy might be candidates for Leader – and if the leadership contest is close between two candidates who get on well together, there is a case for the narrow loser being Deputy.

    I’ve always disliked the idea of a ticket because the winner of the leadership contest might well want to have someone from an opposing camp in a Deputy role. A simultaneous election without a ticket would mean choosing the Deputy in the Commons in ignorance of who the Leader would be. The Deputy election has to follow the other.

    As for the length of the contest, last time round there were some complaints that the timescale was too short, but it seemed to work pretty well. Apart from tests of specific abilities as my fellow Noncomformist radical suggests, which need not take much time at all, there was enough time to get a good idea of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. If there are four candidates instead of two, though, that could make it seem more rushed. There is a need to make sure we’re not caught unprepared by another snap election, though my guess is it’ll be next year. Do constitutional factors mean that the contest can’t start until Tim formally steps down? Might there not be a way round that?

  12. I think that the full 13 weeks should be taken, but should start the day after announcement of the new Deputy Leader. Ideally these 2 positions should be filled the other way round (Leader first) as whoever goes forward to take the Deputy Leader position would, in my understanding, take themselves out of the running for Leader.

    I think that a new party leader would need to be announced about a week before conference to give them preparation time for conference itself, and to provide the extra opportunity into the media news cycle, potentially giving us more exposure in the press of conference itself?

  13. In practice there will be little difference whether long or short campaign because we are into summer holidays. Summer is not a good time for hustings and leadership elections. Most people will be away.
    I share John Innes’s frustration at the timing of TF’s resignation and the way the party has managed it. The timing was wrong even with the looming threat of the new general election in autumn.
    Norman Lamb ran against Tim Farron the last time and lost. If elected now and then routinely savaged by the media, like Farron was (and there are signs that might happen) we may dip further in the polls and the wider party leadership may loose the trust of the rank and file (as has happened with Labour). This is also a danger if Swinson, Cable or any of the new intake get elected. Our returning MPs have the coalition baggage and the new ones are untested and inexperienced. Maybe we should be looking to broaden the field by including the House of Lords members.

    • Which rules, if any, lay down in the Federal Constitution/by tradition define the eligible group of potential candidates? e.g HoC, HoL, other nation State-level elected Members?
      Many thanks

  14. Okay.
    Assuming there is going to be a parliamentary recess this year, then if starting from next weekend. Then 12 weeks roughly will be just in time for conference. Which should be okay.

    What is really worrying me is that whoever is elected needs to “jump” straight in. Get their face known. And be ready for a GE.
    Maybe running this election publicly over the summer could allow the public not just members to get to know all the candidates. But this would need to be handled carefully.

  15. Short!

    We need to be ready to fight a general election as soon as possible. That won’t be easy if we are in the middle of a Leadership election.

    Not ideal – but what is?

  16. The new leader should ideally be in place for the Autumn Conference but I realise that is cutting things fine.

  17. Go long, all candidates must present their platforms during the conference. Then do the elections based on that. This way both candidates have time to prepare sound platform and the people have enough time to decide on both.

  18. We should elect new Leader in time for Party Conf. Hustings there would require ballot to start later – otherwise people not attending would be unable to get feedback on performance there. Then we would not have a Leader until October and the opportunity of Party Conf springboard for Leader would be lost. However, nominations should be opened within a week of Exec meeting – to lengthen the opportunity for hustings and campaigning. Moreover, Dep Leader should be elected either after or alongside Leader election. There should be an opportunity for someone to run for Leader but then be elected as Deputy.

  19. Jo Swinson apparently doesn`t want the job. Norman Lamb did a brilliant job as minister in the coalition and that was recognised when he escaped the 2015 bloodbath. But the total shambles the country is currently in, and which shows signs of getting worse, requires urgent action from LibDems – not a protracted procedure driven election. My view is that we should set protocol temporarily to one side and invite our only really heavy hitter – Vince Cable – to take over by acclamation until a) after yet another general election b) 2yrs to see if Brexit collapses altogether c)2020 when we should have had a general election if May hadn`t been such a weekling Whichever comes first. During this time our new MPs & maybe Jo & others can calmly consider their options & ambitions, gain experience and hopefully turn into another Macron

  20. Surely the process to choose a successor can begin prior to July 20, with the aim of putting the new leader in place at Conference? It should allow final hustings meetings in first full week of September, ballots to be returned by early in the second week, and an announcement on the eve of conference.

  21. As a newish, though old, member – if you see what I mean, I can’t believe we’re still talking about hustings when our general election comms relies heavily on social media. Surely this can be done without candidates madly dashing around the country? What percentage of the membership attends hustings or Conference anyway? Let’s reach out in new ways. And let’s do it fastish too.

    Let’s face it, whilst we stick to MPs only there’s not going to be a huge slate. We risk looking like a dinosaur in terms of time and communication.

    • Loobyloo: there will be at least two online hustings. I’m not sure I follow your parallel with the general election, as that involves both online and offline campaigning, so hustings which test out face to face campaigning skills along with online campaigning seem a good mix. Look after all what happened to Theresa May in the general election with her lack of offline campaigning skills.

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