Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Should the Lib Dem president be neutral in leadership elections?

Simon Hughes has again voiced his support for Nick Clegg, this time in an article on Lib Dem Voice.

But shouldn't the party's president be above the fray? It is noticeable that Vince Cable has remained scrupulously neutral.

I suppose it comes down to a question I have asked before: What exactly is the Lib Dem president for? I have never been sure and I am not convinced that those holding the position have been either.

My time on the party's policy committee, where the president is an ex officio member, overlapped with the start of Simon Hughes's presidency. Far from acting as the party's elder statesman, he behaved as the delegate from Bermondsey - speaking on every issue and usually from a constituency point of view. Which only deepened my puzzlement about his role.

One of the reasons I shall be backing Ros Scott in the next presidential election is that she is not an MP and should find it easier to take a wider view.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

As they used to say at the start of the Six Million Dollar Man, we have the technology... why don't we spend 2008 having a debate about about party strategy and the role of the various official positions - including president - within it?

We can do this now in a way that needn't distract from other things. Presidential elections have generally been rather perfunctory affairs, let's try to make the next one different.

Paul Linford said...

In answer to your question, yes. But expecting Hughes to stay out of a leadership election was probably a bit like expecting Paddy to stay out of it.

Letters From A Tory said...

Fair question, but Simon Hughes has always liked a bit of limelight for himself so I would have been more surprised if he had remained silent.

Anders Hanson said...

I would agree that the president should stay out of it. But I think Simon's argument is that as he was allowed to declare last time (because he was a candidate) he should therefore be allowed to declare in future.

I think the issue is different for Paddy who has now been out of the leadership for some years. Likewise with David Steel. "Elder statesmen" should probably be allowed to declare.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

I take issue with what Anders says here, on a wider level.

I certainly agree that Paddy and David Steel have as much a right to endorse a candidate as any other member and am not particularly fussed which way Simon Hughes swings.

But I do lament the emphasis on endorsements in both this an the last leadership election. Like polls, they are about shutting down debate not opening it up and about encouraging people to ignore their own instincts and just plump for what the great and good think (or silent majority in the case of polls).

This push for endorsements has frequently descended into the bizarre. One PPC complained to me that he was essentially being bullied by the Clegg campaign to endorse their candidate on the grounds that they would then have a full "set" of target seat PPCs in the region. What does this achieve?

As a party that is supposed to be the enemy of ignorance and conformity we don't exactly practice what we preach in internal elections.

Meral Hussein Ece said...

All political parties use endorcements. What I have found bizarre is that you can only use them depending on what you're standing for. A lowly GLA would-be candidate can't use endorsements, nor can PPCs or MEPs. Its a joke, as candidates have found all sorts of ways round this. I think there are too many rules. At FE last month we discussed the role of the president, and there will now be proposals going to the Spring Federal Conference on this. So look forward to a debate!
Should the party president be able to declare? Why not? Theres nothing in the party rules, just 'past practice'.

Linda Jack said...

I am frankly bemused about who "should" be allowed and who "shouldn't" for goodness sake are we a liberal party or not????!!!!

Linda Jack said...

Oh and I agree with Meral, about time we turned our rules upsidedown. They are frankly nonsensical. As someone who anticipated being chucked off the Euro list for defying them and then wasn't, what are they for????!