Runners and Riders – Liberal Democrat Leadership Election

By Lizzy Tomlin, Account Manager

The Leader of the Party has resigned and a leadership election has been triggered, due to end on the week commencing 22 July 2019. An exciting six week contest has begun… yes, the Liberal Democrat leadership contest.

The Conservative Party leadership contest is already turning into a long and drawn-out process, and the nominations have not even opened yet. More excitingly (I admit this is disputable), nominations for the Liberal Democrats’ leadership election close today, with the new Leader due to be appointed on 23 July. Unlike the Tories, with their cast of thousands, only two Lib Dem candidates have put their names forward – although there is of course a smaller pool of MPs for the Party to choose from.

Lib Dem leadership elections use the Alternative Vote system (what else), with all Lib Dem Party Members entitled to vote under a one member, one vote system. Nominees must be an MP, have the backing of at least 10% of the Parliamentary Party (one other MP) and be supported by at least 200 members spread across at least 20 different local parties.

A few months ago, a change in the Party’s leadership would have gone largely unnoticed, however the recent resurgence of the Lib Dems at the Local Elections, European Elections and in the polls have put the Party back in the spotlight. The recent break-away from Change UK has also positioned the Lib Dems as a credible, well-established Party voters can support as an alternative to the divided Conservative and Labour Parties.

The new Leader of the Party will therefore be elected to an empowered position and have crucial decisions to make in the first days and months of their leadership. There will be pressure to maintain the momentum gained last month and decisions to be made on whether to accept former Change UK MPs such as Chuka Umunna into the party or form an alliance with the newly independent MPs.

Two MPs have announced they are running for the leadership; Jo Swinson and Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey. Both support remaining in the EU and are arguably standing on similar platforms – compared to the polarised views of Tory leadership candidates. Both have experience working in Government as Ministers during the Coalition; both lost their seats in 2015 and were re-elected in 2017; and both are running on pro-environment tickets.

So, in differentiating themselves from the traditional Parties, we may witness an amicable contest with agreement on core policy priorities and a united membership behind whoever emerges as the new Leader. However, it also means the membership will be faced with a tough decision and where the two candidates differ slightly have been explored below.

Jo Swinson

Bookies odds: 1/7 (source: BETFRED)

Key policies

  • Build an economy that puts people and the planet first;
  • Harness the technological revolution for Britain’s future; and
  • Rally a movement to stand up for liberal values and against the forces of populism and nationalism.

Jo Swinson is currently Deputy Leader of the Party and has long been touted as the future Leader. She was expected to take the helm in 2017, but decided not to seek the leadership, giving Cable a clear path to victory. She has had impressive performances on national TV in recent weeks, appearing on Question Time and the Andrew Marr Show, demonstrating she has the ability to communicate to the electorate on camera and lead the Party. A young woman (she is still under 40, despite first being elected to Parliament over 14 years ago) she marks a stark difference to previous Leaders of the Party who have all have been white males, and she appeals to the Party’s new Members and MPs.

Swinson has called for a ‘fundamental rethinking’ of the economy, with a focus on wellbeing over growth – echoing New Zealand’s recent announcement it will put well-being over economic pressures. Compared to Davey, she has been warmer to the idea of a partnership with other Parties, calling on supporters of Change UK and the Greens to work with the Lib Dems, but shying away from using the term ‘coalition’.

Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey

Bookies odds: 9/2 (source: BETFRED)

Key policies:

  • Decarbonise capitalism;
  • Champion liberal values and expose the deceptions of the new far right;
  • Fight to stop Brexit; and
  • Keep the LibDems “back in the game”

Despite Swinson putting the environment towards the top of her priorities, Davey has sought to position himself as the ‘green’ candidate. As former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, he is calling for the UK to “de-carbonise capitalism” and has announced more radical policies including an end to internal flights in the UK. As a former Cabinet Minister, with a knighthood, he can present himself as a statesman, and appeals to more traditional members within the Party. However, whether his green policies are enough to win support of the Party’s new membership is uncertain.

Davey has confirmed there was “no way” he would guide the Lib Dems into a Coalition, similar to that formed in 2010, if the Party proved the kingmakers at the next General Election. He echoed Swinson’s views that the Lib Dems could not be in coalition with a Corbyn-led Government and went further by stating the Party also has nothing in common with the Tory Party when they’re promoting a hard Brexit. On working with Change UK MPs, Davey stated that he knows some of them and was never convinced they were sustainable as a Party, and has been less amenable to a partnership with the break-away MPs.

The Lib Dem contest may not dominate the airwaves like the Conservatives over the next six weeks, but the winner will inherit a party with brighter prospects than in many years. Both candidates have it all to play for.

Get in Touch

Lizzy Tomlin

Account Manager

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