Friday, 28 May 2010

Should the Lib Dem Deputy Leader be chosen by all members

With the resignation of Vince Cable as Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems in order to concentrate on his role as Secretary of State for Business, a new person needs to be elected to fill the post.

Traditionally, the Deputy Leader has been a relatively peripheral figure. With the Party struggling to get even the Leader noticed in the media, the Deputy has had a mainly Parliamentary focus - standing in for the Leader at PMQs on occasion and helping to organise MPs and peers. Vince changed that. He was and is achknowledged by the public as a major figure and a sage when it comes to all things financial. He added credibility and gravitas to aspects of the Party and very ably worked alongside Nick Clegg in the run up to and through the recent general election. Indeed, his face appeared next to Nick's on the cover of the manifesto and in much of the campaign literature.

But with five cabinet and many junior ministers, the role will now be of the senior backbench MP and, de facto, joint head (with the Party President) of the rubber chicken circuit.

So it is time, in my view, for a serious look at what we want this person to achieve.

As we have seen from the coalition negotiations and votes, the role of the Party President has become more vital and will no doubt remain so. I believe that Ros Scott is doing an excellent job of this.

The Deputy Leader needs to complement that role but can no longer be seen as a substitute for Nick Clegg. Instead, he or she will have to take on many of the tasks that the Leader used to perform - travelling the country, buoying the troops and helping to lead the development of policy.

So far there are two candidates for the role - Tim Farron who I have known since my time as a student Lib Dem and is one of the best speakers and campaigners that we have and Simon Hughes who I worked closely with during my time in Southwark and has been a ceaseless campaigner since he was elected in the early 1980s.

Given the huge change in the job, I think it is time to consider whether this post should continue to be chosen simply by a vote of MPs. Surely it is time to give the wider membership a chance to express our opinions and to make the vote an all-member ballot.


Dale said...

Yes... Particularly this time as the role is to be taken from a non-minister who will essentially be ensuring that our party remembers it's commitments aside from the government. Someone happy to speak up, I think Tim fits the bill having rebelled on issues on principle - the job is to ensure that his colleagues are willing to follow his lead!

Duncan said...

The counter-argument is as follows; both the party Leader and the party President have roles which involve representing the general membership (and the Deputy Leader does not automatically become the Leader if something happens) whereas the Deputy Leader's role has more to do with representing the parliamentary party. If the PP and the general membership would elect the same person then it is redundant to put the election to the general membership. If the PP and the general membership would elect different people then given the nature of the job it is better that the PP's desired candidate is the one chosen. In terms of checks and balances it is more desirable that those in key leadership roles are elected through different means.

I do not see a particular reason to change the system at this time.