Liberal Democrat leadership election postponed until 2021

I’ve written the following for the party website, reporting on the Federal Board meeting held this evening:

Not only are we going through what could become the country’s biggest crisis since 1945, but we’re also entering a very new world that will persist once the immediate crisis is over.

I’m proud of what we have achieved so far by championing NHS workers and pressing the Government on issues such as offering a better deal to the self-employed.

Throughout our history, we have always put the national interest first.

Our Federal Board has decided that we will hold off starting the leadership election, kicking it off instead just after the May 2021 elections so that we can focus on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

The main factors behind this decision were:

  • At a time when coronavirus is dominating both public and private lives, we didn’t want to be inward-looking and focusing on internal party matters;
  • Being a leadership candidate and running a leadership campaign takes considerable energy and attention – things we’d rather were focused on coronavirus at the moment;
  • May next year currently appears likely to be the first period clear of other obstacles to running a contest through to conclusion successfully: there’s the current coronavirus surge to get past, then there’s likely to be continued restrictions especially during the risky winter-flu period, and then we get into the run-up to the 2021 elections. When originally looking at the timings, the Board received many very strong representations that people up for election didn’t want a leadership election that clashed with the run-up to a set of May elections;
  • The rules for the election, set down by party conference, require at least nine weeks for the contest, so it’s not possible to do a ‘snap election’ in just a few days in a gap between the above;
  • Around 1 in 10 party members can’t be reached by the party via email and it would be wrong to exclude them from a contest; and
  • The Board decided on balance it is better to have certainty over when the election will be rather than the organisation every week not being able to plan ahead and long-term because we don’t know when the leadership election will start.

Of course, if there is a dramatic change in circumstances, it would be churlish of the Board to say ‘we’ve already decided so we’re not listening’.

I explained more about the reasoning in an interview with the Lib Dem Podcast which you can listen to here.

You can also always contact me on president@libdems.org.uk.

We know that coronavirus will have many implications for our society, public services, economy and day-to-day lives.

It will also have important implications for how we operate as a political party. In particular, even when current lockdown restrictions are relaxed, we still be living in a world where for months, if not years, to come it is possible lockdowns will have to be reintroduced at short notice.

That risk will hang over us all until we have a vaccine or effective and widespread treatment.

The Board therefore also started to address how the work of the Lib Dem HQ operation needs to adjust.

But it isn’t only the Board and the party centrally which needs to adjust to this new reality.

It’s a new reality that will require every part of the party to adjust too. If you are involved in running any other part of the party and have not yet started thinking this through, I hope you and your colleagues can start soon.

We also finished the appointments to the Party Bodies Review Group, with Steffan Aquarone, Flo Clucas and Bess Mayhew joining Tim Pickstone.

Amongst its roles is to undertake a strategic review of party bodies, the way they operate and how they interrelate with the rest of our organisation. Though, of course, this work will not be at the forefront of minds at the moment, this is going to be an important piece of work to ensure we build a broad and healthy movement to fight for our values.

One point to emphasise is that as we approach and then get into the next winter, there’s going to be a significant risk of another coronavirus surge and so a return to lockdowns. Plus there is a huge round of elections coming up next May – big enough originally and now with all this May’s elections added. So to minimise the risks of clashing with another lockdown, and to avoid clashing with those May elections, is what gets us to a contest starting in May next year.

As mentioned above, I’ve also done a podcast interview going into more detail about the decision and the reasons for it:


8 responses to “Liberal Democrat leadership election postponed until 2021”

  1. While I completely agree with the decision to defer the leadership contest surely to goodness we are not saddling Ed Davey with the title Joint Interim Leader for another year or so? With due – and genuine – respect to you, Mark, I think we will seriously demean Ed and the Party if we stick rigidly to the constitutional position. Please please cut through the red tape and appoint Ed as Leader pending next year’s election.

  2. We need clear titles for the outside world. No-one outside the Party understands or cares about the finer points of our internal democracy. Can we not them tell that Ed is the Leader until we are able to hold a Leadership election? That needn’t be accompanied by a change of responsibilities for the two of you. I am sure you could make it work as you do now.

  3. Not long ago and after a disappointing GE, Vince Cable (initially reluctantly, but with good grace) realised that in leadership terms there really wasn’t anybody else. He led with distinction until the right moment came to hand over – in this case, to someone younger and female.

    Of course our situation now is hugely complicated by the coronavirus, and as Mark has rightly said the possibility that it (or an equally risky successor) will come back. But I don’t think that changes much except election timing. Sir Ed Davey is leading well and has good support; why not do the same again ?

    Whether Sir Ed would choose to stand in May 2021 I don’t know, but at least for the moment the accusations of “You’ve had an awful lot of leaders recently” will die back. And, if things are working OK (which with Mark’s help they are), there is a lot to be said for that old-fashioned virtue Continuity.

  4. Ed is now de-facto Leader (against my wishes) so, go on Mark, declare it so..!!
    The positive side is that Churchill lost the election after the war because there was an air in the country of needing a new face for new times.. That will be the case after this pandemic is over, there will be a call for a GE, and bumbling Boris will be moved aside. A resurgent Labour party with their, by then, established leader will form the next Govt, but WE will be eclipsed(again) unless we have our new leader in place before the May ’21 super-election.
    Yes we need to postpone our leadership election, but we should do what is best for the country; and that is to have the Liberal Democrat Party on a firm footing, so that we can work with Labour next Spring to rout the ‘one nation’ Tories, introduce electoral reform, a programme to address climate change, investment in renewables, land value tax, investment in local govt and devolution of powers… and so on.
    With our new Leader in place ahead of the super-election, we will be best placed to fight the campaign vigorously. If we don’t then we are saying(or the media will be saying for us) ‘don’t vote for us – we are going to be busy over the next couple of months with internal matters – until our new leader is in place we can’t be sure which way we will be leaning’.
    Postponement for a year will be a disaster.. I might just cancel my membership..

  5. My view for what it’s worth is that we are living in exceptional times which require us to make decisions in a totally different way. We are where we are and like it or not Ed Davey acting leader needs to become Ed Davey Leader. There are others who would have been in the frame and Ed needs to take that into account. At a local level we operate as the Lib Dem Focus Team with one of the team being the lead member, why not a similar arrangement at a national level? Ed as Leader of a national Lib Dem Team?
    One of the issues at the moment is that the UK has adopted by stealth a Presidential system. We need to get back back to having a Prime Minister who heads up a Cabinet Team. By us adopting Ed Davey as the Leader of a national Lib Dem Team we send out a distinctive message.
    We need to broaden what we are doing to hold the Tories to account, yes the self employed needed a champion but there are other groups which are getting a raw deal from Boris Johnson’s Tories. What about renters? What about the not so resilient communities? In my Ward the better off areas are resilient and out there helping but in the not so well off areas that is not the case. They are suffering from the cuts to our NHS, and Local Government. The safety net is more or less non existent.

  6. Mark,

    My feelings are that you and Ed need to define your separate roles as publicly as you can. The simplest arrangement is to make it clear that on matters outside te Party, Ed is defacto leader while for matters internal to the Party, you and Ed are very much co-leaders. This could be important since in the face of the CoVid 19 epidemic, you may have to decide to flout official Party standing orders.

    At some point, though restrictions will still be very necessary, there will come a sense of emerging from the epidemic. Meetings, official or other, and conferences will not be possible, but there will be a need for forums of debate. These will have to be on-line and decisions will be needed to ratify their status in ways that had never been envisaged by Party standing orders.

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