What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

August 18, 2006

Another Lib Dem election?

Election fever is in the air once again. Well, a mild temperature perhaps, as today's Lib Dem News carries an advert announcing 'Election of President of the Liberal Democrats, 2007-08': nominations open in a fortnight, 4th September, and close on 27th September.

The post was last up for grabs in 2004, when there was a Simon Hughes-Lembit Opik face-off. I was one of the 24,333 (71%) members who chose Simon as President for 2005-06, in an election which saw a pretty healthy 47% turn-out.

Prior to that, you have to go back a decade, to 1994, to find the previous contested election for the post of President, when 54% voted for Bob MacLennan in a three-way fight with Don Foster and Martin Thomas.

Two years before, in 1992, a certain Charles Kennedy (who he?) bested Martin Thomas, winning 70% of the vote, to successfully defend his position - the last time an incumbent President faced a challenge. He'd triumphed in 1990, topping the poll with a frankly rather embarrassing 82% in another three-way contest.

The first President (then of the Social and Liberal Democrats), of course, was Ian (now Sir Ian) Wrigglesworth, who gained 50% in the 1988 election, defeating Des Wilson and Gwynoro Jones. The turn-out then was a whopping 71%. (As I'd just started at Big School, I can only surmise the ballot co-incided with the leadership election; unless Presidential elections were much more of a Big Deal in those days.)

Will Simon be re-elected unopposed?

Or will the long-forgotten tradition of challenging an incumbent re-assert itself? And, if so, who might be the runners and riders? Names in the frame so far include: Matthew Taylor, Lembit (again), David Heath, Malcolm Bruce and Paddy.

But if we're going to have an election, please can a woman be persuaded to stand? Three blokes contested the leadership this year, while another three blokes contested the deputy leadership. In the eight all-member elections the Lib Dems have held, only one woman (Jackie Ballard) has ever stood. We have far too many talented and high-profile women these days to allow that unglorious track record to persist.

Six weeks until we know for sure either way. If the Presidency is contested, the all-member ballot will take place between 11th October and 3rd November.

PS: you can find details of the results of the Lib Dems' all-member ballots here.


Neil said...

I hope someone does challenge Simon. I also voted for him at the last presidental election and voted for him when he challenged Charles in 1999 for party leader.

I met Simon on the train after a night out and he was a pleasant man speaking to me until my stop.

Since then I have been very disappointed with his proformance.

In May 2004 (prior to the London Mayoral elections) I heard him speak and I was not impressed. Sadly Lembit wasn't a match for Simon, so I had to vote for Simon in the presidental election.

Since then I think Simon has done the party no good in the media, especially wiith his early (and maybe necessary) attack against Ming.

I get the impression that Simon is bitter that the party has rejected him twice for the party leadership and is content on upsetting things until he gets his own way and becomes leader.

Like you I believe a woman should stand. I like Lynne Featherstone, but I know she is quite loyal to Simon and wont challenge. Someone from the youth side eg Jo Swinson would be good.

Alex Wilcock said...

I agree that Simon really hasn't done a good job in the Presidency. I think the job needs a better idea of what it's for - in theory, it's the deputy leader of the party in the country, while the MPs elect a deputy for the party in Parliament. In practice, it's been all over the place (not something Simon is qualified to fix).

Lynne, Jo or Susan all spring to mind as talented figures...

Two factual notes: my first all-member ballot was in 1988, and the Presidential election did indeed coincide with the Leadership, explaining the high turnout.

You should also take note of the astoundingly low turnout from about the mid-1990s to early 2000s, being 0%. Several Presidents stood unchallenged not just for re-election, but for initial election. I have a feeling Bob was the first of those unchallenged for re-election; I remember backing Don first time round, but Bob thoroughly won me over, and I think that was a fairly widespread feeling among those who had dealings with him, so I wasn't surprised no-one wanted to stand against him. However, getting the job in the first place without a choice is more dubious. As one of those Presidents who served two terms and never faced a vote was Diana Maddock, you're not quite correct to say that "In the eight all-member elections the Lib Dems have held, only one woman (Jackie Ballard) has ever stood". Diana stood for an all-member ballot; there just wasn't one, so she won it anyway.

Will said...

I'd like to see a contested election, and I'd like to see a woman stand. I'd also like to see non-Parliamentarians on the ballot. Despite the democratic nature of the party, it's a fact of nature that power concentrates itself amongst the MPs and it would be good to have a senior elected post in the party representing members and activists rather than Members of Parliament.

Anonymous said...

I think Simon's has performed poorly as party president - what happened to his unrealistic (as ever with him) pledge for our membership to overtake labour's?

Anonymous said...

Could someone persuade for instance Susan Kramer or Jenny Willott to stand?

The Cat said...

If it's a parliamentarian, I'd go for Jo Swinson or Matthew Taylor from the Commons; what about our Shirl as the nostalgic (& high profile) choice from the Lords?

Any suggestions on non-parliamentarians? Someone like Rabi Martins might be good.

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