Update on Liberal Democrat leadership contest

About 6 weeks ago I wrote about the Liberal Democrat leadership contest in the UK (click here if you want to read it). I lauded the process of the membership choosing the leader, and the value of having a debate about the future of the party amongst party members. That process is nearly over. The result is being announced this Thursday at 3pm UK time.
Peter Black, a Liberal Democrat member of the Welsh Parliament, suggests the result is too close to call. Simon Hughes is probably more my style, but I predict a win for Menzies Campbell. The other contestant, Chris Huhne, has done very well given he is such a newcomer to the House of Commons but is still seen as having a real chance. However, I’d still be surprised if he pulled it off. However, the beauty of member ballots is you can never be sure.

I am fairly sure the voting system in the leader ballot is preferential rather than the dismal first past the psot system, which makes picking the winner even harder, as it seems unlikely that any of the three candidates will get a majority in their right.

It has been an amazing time lately for that party. The leadership contest occured because the former leader resigned after admiting to a serious alcohol problem that he had repeatedly denied in the past. I thought the biggest challenge they had to overcome was the need to avoid having public spats with each other during the leadership contest. Instead, they endured a stereotypical British tabloid ‘rent boy’ scandal striking one of the original leadership contenders (now withdrawn from the contest), followed by a ‘sorry for being misleading in my statements about whether I might sometimes have had sex with other men’ scandal with another leadership contestant.

Despite all this negative publiclity, the party still had an amazing by-election triumph a couple of weeks ago in the seat of Dunfermline & West Fife, taking the safe seat from the Labour Party in the electorate adjoining the one represented by Labour’s PM in waiting Gordon Brown. This suggests they are still well placed to build on their support, whoever is the new leader. Issues such as their tax and foreign affairs policies seem to have been the subject of some debate during the leadership contest, but it appears to me mainly a matter of different views on what to emphasise, rather than diametrically opposed views amongst the leadership candidates.

If you want to read a fairly extensive article on the three leadership contestants and some of the key aspects of the Liberal Democrats, have a look at this piece in The Guardian.

I have had more than one person suggest to me that maybe the Australian Democrats shouldn’t have stopped at the ‘Leader who drinks alcohol’ media scandal, but should try the ‘rent boy’ and ‘OK I’m not gay but I am bisexual’ publicity stunts too as a way of increasing the party’s support. While it does seem to have somehow worked for our UK counterparts, I’m not sure there are any volunteers here for being the subject of the required breathless media beat-ups. I could certainly do without any more of that type of distorted publiclity.

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  1. Andrew

    If you vote for yourself, does that mean the count will be unanimous and get full support from the rest of the party-meaning you.

  2. Pc Police,

    Are you suggesting that Andrew is the only member of the Dems left?

    Indeed if you are, go and get a reality check.

    The Democrats still have a broad dedicated membership base despite all the musings of the media and pundits claiming that they are dead.

    The Dems have in fact fielded a full list of candidates for the SA state election including 4 upper house candidates. If that is dead, what is alive and kicking?

  3. Max
    It was a joke no harm intended. However seeing you asked!!

    The party is not alive and kicking because it has taken too much of a left turn in its political beliefs and that field is crowded with the greens and the alp.

    The Dems have essential become an extension of the AlP these and no matter what you say that is how it is perceived in the wider world.

    It wants to continue that path, be my guest but don’t blame me when it will have no representation after the next election.

    Take the warning in the spirit they are intended.

    Take a look at Andrew’s chattering on this blog and then please tell me how it’s any different from any of the other lefties around the traps.

  4. Andrew,

    It will be interesting to see how a re-energised Conservative party will affect the Lib-Dems showing at the next election (not due until 2009). If David Cameron’s current support continues, I suspect they will probably lose a substantial number of seats. By then, I would also expect their foreign policy position (which in 2005 revolved mainly around their opposition to the Iraqi war) to be less distinguishable from that of the larger parties. Also, as you would appreciate, the nature of by-elections is that incumbent parties suffer – I think the recent result is a further demonstration of that principle, rather than a watershed moment for the party. I’d look forward to others’ views.

    Other than the publicity (good or otherwise), do you draw any other lessons from the generally bigger role the Lib-Dems play in politics in the UK as compared to the Dems in Australia? What are your expectations regarding the Dems performance at the next election? Assuming the departure of John Howard, do you see a halt to the recent decline in the electoral success of the party?


  5. I must say that both PC and Max are not quite right on the health of the party, though they each have a valid point. The party is not dead, but it is foolish to pretend it is healthy. I’m not a member any more – after 10 yrs and even running in the last election. My personal view is that the party should pack up shop with dignity and merge with the other centrist parties of which there are a burgeoning number, as the ‘Liberal Democrats’ of Australia.

    When Labor was in power we had plenty of dissilusioned Labor people joining us – now they go to the Greens, which is just a Labor ‘go left’ cheer squad. We had Greg Barnes, but no general rank and file movement from the Liberals. So this is where PC touches on the truth – the ‘left’ is too small and crowded. And now that the economic transformation to a free market etc. is complete, there is no longer a place for our old Keynesian policies – no one now understands them. We needed to transform into a more ‘liberal’ party and redefine our role as a party of liberalism and humanism in what is so far an age of ideological and religious extremes.

    Also, re the LibDems. I’ve said this before, but their success is due to their extraordinary energy from local membership and issues. By contrast the Dems are top-heavy. Of course, I note that in Australia populations are more mobile (ABS stats), meaning less ability to build local support. LibDems also have 700,000 members.

    Even the conservatives, from what I understand, elect their leader. By contrast, in Australia only the Dems do this and get pilloried every time for daring to involve members. Oz is just so different – far more elite in its politics (and ironically more egalitarian in its rhetoric). Only insiders need apply.

  6. AP While you make some sense the only problem is you have to remove the current mob from the party as they are all part of the problem. However as you also probalby know AP hanging by the fingernials to power is the only common trait shared by all pollies of every persuasion (in fact most people) so rome will have to burn before the dem neros go.

  7. Nero tried to kill his mother with a collapsing barge, and then had her stabbed when she swam away.

    I think that’s more serious than rent boys and alcohol. And far less entertaining in my book.

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