Liberal Democrat Leadership Updates

I added some updates at the bottom of my previous post, but as it seems to be drawing a lot of hits and some who read it earlier may not see the additions, I decided to also put them here as a separate post.

Firstly, as another example of something you won’t see in Australian politics, I recommend you check out the blog of Lynne Featherstone, who is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green (gotta love the names of their electorates). She gives a daily report of her perspective as the leadership events came to a head, from the Friday when she stated openly that she couldn’t support the leader anymore, to the Saturday when she detailed the process where she came to sign a statement of MPs saying they would not work under Charles Kennedy anymore, the Sunday where she commented on his resignation and Monday where she writes of being lobbied by the camps of the (likely) three contestants, and lists her key questions for them. Imagine an Australian MP doing that around leadership or any other contentious issue within their party! (although before I get too gushy, she doesn’t seem to have a comment facility)

A second candidate for the Lib Dems leadership has been confirmed, with Mark Oaten announcing he is running. As I mentioned above, the suggestion that Menzies Campbell is an intermin or stop-gap leader is being floated. Oaten is 41 and seen as one of the economic liberals (or ‘to the right’ if you prefer such terms). I still expect Simon Hughes will put his hand up in the next day or so as well, although Campbell would still be seen as a clear favourite. With over 70 000 party members eligible to vote, and a campaign stretching over nearly two months, onc can’t be certain however.

People who are interested in following the contest should probably just keep an eye on the homepage of The Independent. From some of the articles, the difficulty of stopping the campaign turning nasty is still being tested, not just with references to people’s age, but also with insinuations about who was or wasn’t part of the knifing of Kennedy (although as I said above, I think he’d been on borrowed time for a while). The reference to the age of candidates is yet another echo of Australian Democrat troubles from the past. In our leadership contest in 2001 Natasha Stott Despoja was being portrayed as too young and inexperienced by some of her opponents and Meg Less raised the suggestion that people were attacking her for being too old (mind you, she was the only person I heard say it, but I guess somebody else could have). This sort of thing starts to look pretty unedifying to the average voter if it goes on too long.

And to provide commentary from British media that isn’t The Independent, I found this piece in The Guardian of interest. It not only argues for a genuine contest for leadership, but suggests that the process itself would be valuable “because the party has large issues to address and a debate between different approaches would clarify and help to resolve them with an authority that nothing else would.” I can only imagine how Australian political commentators would assess such a contest (once they’d finished mocking the concept of letting members vote for the leader) – probably just with cheap shots about how it showed the party doesn’t know what it stands for.

One other feature of members being able to vote for the leader is how that might combine with the fact that people (including said members) are these days also able to blog or post comments online. For anyone keen to get a sense of the issues at the member level, I’ve given a sample of some posts from a few different Lib Dem members websites: a member in Devon, another from a former candidate in West Lothian, a current member of the Welsh Assembly (it’s worth following this guy’s site if you’re interested in Welsh politics and how devolution is progressing), plus this one and this one and this one from some other members.

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  1. Thanks Andrew for some really interesting links on the LibDems. I’ve also been following the Canadian election – not looking too good for the Liberals there. Since the conservative parties joined up, they look like getting in again – with only the ‘progressive’ vote now split between the Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and Bloc Quebecois. Such are the perils of first-past-the-post elecoral systems. It seems though that voluntary voting adds some uncertainty – I notice their electoral analysis is nowhere as sophisticated as Australia – thanks to those like Antony Green!

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  3. If politics is a greasy pole, as Charles Kennedy has sadly discovered, then his obvious successor, Simon Hughes, now needs to seize that pole with a very firm grip.

    Hughes is respected in all quarters as decent, compassionate, urbane, witty, intelligent, principled and also vastly experienced.

    More to the point, for the future of the Lib Dems, he is hugely popular with the public.

    For all his personal qualities, that easy affection which people from all walks of life offer him is the most significant reason why he is the right man to lead them into a share of Government later this year.

    After half a generation of a “New Labour” experiment that has ended up looking as clueless and lacklustre as the dying and dreary Conservative administration it replaced, Britain is long overdue the freshness and vitality that has always characterised the bulk of the Liberal Democrat policy canon.

    That’s why the Lib Dem membership owe it to the country to choose the man whose electability offers them the best chance of a serious role in Government that has beckoned many times but hitherto remained tantalisingly just out of reach.

    In short: cometh the hour, cometh Mr Hughes.

  4. It is good that Lynne is blogging, she’s also just part of a very active LibDem blog ‘scene’, which includes at least one more MP and at least one ex-MP (who stood down at the last election and blogged throughout his tenure as an MP). At the least they help keep members in touch with goings on at Westminster :)

    Another feature of the UK LibDem blogs at the moment seems to be Yolly, I see they managed to spam even an Australian blog… (quite how they think this will help this contender I don’t know).

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