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:



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