With four would-be candidates in the field to replace Tim Farron as Liberal Democrat President, each requiring the signatures of 200 different* conference reps and around 2,500 conference reps officially recorded in the party’s records** that means nearly 1-in-3 reps have to nominate a candidate for all four to stand.
That 1-in-3 proportion is a high one, so no surprise that there is chatter aplenty that some of the field are struggling to get their full set of signatures. No surprise too that there is some concern amongst Liberal Democrat members that they won’t all be able to stand, depriving members of choice on the ballot paper.***
However, the high hurdle is a good thing for this contest.
The reason is simple: all four candidates are saying fairly similar things about what they want to do to improve internal party communications and relations between the centre and grassroots.
The battle to get enough nomination signatures is a good test of whether they’ve really got skills necessary to do this.
It doesn’t test all the skills a good President will need by any means, but it does test how good, imaginative and persistent they are at communicating with a key group of party activists.
How many different channels can they effectively use? How imaginative are they beyond a couple of broad brush general communications? Can they enthuse others to become personal advocates and carry the message to others they don’t reach directly?
The list of questions goes on – and if a candidate fails them, then they’ve not got part of what it takes to be a good President who understands that good communications is more than the occasional despatch of a bland message to an incomplete list and who can act on that understanding.
So if one or more of them doesn’t get the 200? Far better we discover that now than after they get into office.
UPDATE: After writing this post, I saw the news about one candidate’s signature collection being disrupted by a serious family illness in the last couple of days. That is of course an exception to the general point above.
* The party’s rules are not as explicit that people can only sign one candidate’s nomination papers as they are for the party leadership election rules. However, this is how the rules are being interpreted by those running the election, and the justification for it looks solid. Plus the politics of a candidate appealing this decision because they can’t get 200 unique signatures would be catastrophic for their campaign.
** According to the figures given in the run-up to and during the OMOV debate. This is significantly less than the theoretical maximum number of conference reps but is based on the number recorded in the party’s membership records – which are those used for authenticating nomination forms.
*** As party conference voted for the principle of OMOV, the threshold will need changing anyway by the time of the next contest as ‘federal conference reps’ will no longer exist. The post that is, not the people.