Political

Lib Dem leadership contest: MPs to stay out of contest and why you should pay attention to ex-staff

A usual part of leadership contests, in the Liberal Democrats and elsewhere, is the tallying up of how many MP endorsements each candidate has secured.

It can be a necessary part of the battle to get on the ballot paper. Mark Oaten‘s short-lived bid to become the Liberal Democrat leader in 2006 foundered on this.

It can also be a guide to popularity and a factor in the result. Indeed, it was looking like MP endorsements could play an important role in the 2019 Lib Dem leadership contest because, as I reported after the first hustings, a widespread view amongst members so far is that Edward Davey and Jo Swinson have not distinguished themselves from each other very much. MPs can be key to helping voters therefore make a choice. If you know and rate an MP and their judgement, then in turn what they think of two people each of whom they have worked with closely is a useful piece of information.

However, as Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael has explained, the rest of the party’s MPs have decided to do the minimum required to ensure both Swinson and Davey are nominated and then stay neutral in public about their views on their relative merits.

He said:

As all MPs are happy to work with either Jo or Ed as leader our role should be to facilitate a vote amongst the members. We will do this by agreeing that two MPs will nominate Jo (Tom Brake and Christine Jardine) and that two of us will nominate Ed (Wera Hobhouse and Jamie Stone).

In nominating in this way they act on behalf of us all in saying that we will work with whoever the membership should choose and that they should make the choice.

Members wanting to know what those who know the candidates best think of them will have to look elsewhere for information.

One particular factor I’ll be looking out for is what former staff say. Not only because how junior colleagues are treated at work is a good insight into your character (a test Theresa May failed badly) but also because the knock-on impact of a leader on the party organisation via its staff can be very significant:

UPDATE: Thanks to those who have pointed out this article isn’t quite right as some MPs have endorsed candidates. Rather, the nominations were done in a minimalistic way to avoid two camps and, as Alistair Carmichael went on to say, “Of course some parliamentary colleagues will want to make their preference known in the course of the campaign (Vince, as outgoing leader will not, nor will I as chief whip) but that is quite apart from the nomination process”.

The 2019 Lib Dem leadership election is being covered by me both in podcast form with Stephen Tall in Never Mind The Bar Charts (subscribe here) and in email newsletter form with Liberal Democrat Newswireย (sign up here).

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