This is the first in a series looking at the runners and riders in post-election leadership contests. I’ll be looking at the other three parties over the next few weeks. This is the first election after which there could be scenarios where all four party leaders are replaced within months. I’d say the LibDems are the party most likely to see an immediate change. Unless the Libdems get more than 40 seats and renew a coalition with the Conservatives, I can’t see many scenarios which involve Nick Clegg staying on. In addition, it’s entirely possible that he could lose his Sheffield Hallam seat. If he does, it’s very difficult for him to lead the LibDems in any coaltion negotiations. Who would do that is a matter for speculation since his deputy isn’t even standing again. I would imagine Vince Cable would lay claim to doing this, as the senior MP left, but it could be very messy indeed. The LibDems haven’t, so far as I know, got any mechanism for electing a leader very quickly, so it may be that their MPs have to elect a temporary parlimentary leader pending a proper leadership election.
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADERSHIP ELECTION RULES
The Liberal Democrat members elect the United Kingdom Liberal Democrat Leader and the Members of Parliament elect the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader. Under the federal constitution of the Liberal Democrats the leader is required to be a member of the House of Commons. In the event that the leader dies, resigns or loses his or her seat in Parliament, the deputy leader serves as interim leader until a leadership election takes place. Liberal Democrat leadership elections use the Alternative Vote system, the single-winner version of the Single Transferable Vote, assuming there are more than two candidates.
LIKELY RUNNERS & RIDERS
The runners and rides in such a leadership election will clearly depend on who is re-elected on May 7th. From the current crop of MPs, these are the ones I expect to consider standing…
Age: 71 (72 on 9 May)
Constituency: MP for Twickenham since 1997
Ministerial Office: Secretary of State for Business 2010-15
For: Popular among LibDem members, seen as the keeper of the LibDem flame in government, hugely ambitious
Against: Age (declined to stand in 2007 because he said he was too old), hangdog demeanour, ego.
Verdict: If he decides to stand (and he will, won’t he?) he will be seen as the man to beat, but his opponents will point to his age and make compariosn to the last time the LibDems selected an ageing statesman as leader.
Constituency: MP for North Norfolk since 2001, which he won at the third time of asking
Ministerial Office: PPS to Nick Clegg, Minister for Post Office Reform, Minister for Social Care
For: Seen as hugely competent, proven constituency campaigner, on the sensible wing of the LibDems, good record as a minister, likeable
Against: Seen as close to Clegg’s style of Orange Book politics, slightly Eurosceptic.
Verdict: His best chance is if the LibDems are more or less wiped out. Liked by virtually everyone, he would be a unifying figure, if not very exciting. However, he’s tenacious and isn’t easily shaken in the face of adversity. Exudes competence, but it would take a lot for the left of the LibDems to support him.
Constituency: Westmorland & Lonsdale
Ministerial Office: None
For: Charismatic, popular with activists, good turn of phrase, hits the conference g-spot, well connected with local parties
Against: Lack of top flight experience, refusal to accept ministerial office, unpopular with senior colleagues, seen as disloyal and too ambitious
Verdict: For Vince Cable to accuse Tim Farron of being presumptuous in his ambition says a lot about how OTT Tim Farron is seen to have gone in setting out his stall for a post Clegg environment. However, there’s nothing wrong with ambition in a politician, it’s just how you channel it. His two years as party president means that he’s plugged into all the local parties. His best chance will come if the LibDems get under 20 seats.
Constituency: MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey since 2005
Ministerial Office: Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2010-15
For: Successful tenure as Chief Secretary, increasingly high media profile, high priest of Orange Bookery
Against: Highly likely to lose his seat, seen as too close to George Osborne, too close to Nick Clegg, unfairly viewed as slightly aloof, high priest of Organge Bookery
Verdict: Alexander’s best chance of succeeding Nick Clegg is if the LibDems retain most of their seats and Nick Clegg decides half way through the next Parliament he has had enough. The chances of either happening are slight. His main challenge is to hold his seat. If he does so, he will undoubtedly be a candidate for the succession. A losing one.
Constituency: MP for East Dunbartonshire since 2005
Ministerial Office: Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Business
For: Bright, chirpy, media friendly, popular with activists
Against: Almost certain to lose her seat, few know what she really believes in
Verdict: If the LibDems wanted to signal a shift to the next generation, Jo Swinson could be a good option. But sadly, this is almost academic as this higly popular politician is virtually certain to be drowned in the SNP surge.
Constituency: MP for Kingston & Surbiton since 1992
Ministerial Office: Minister at the Department of Business 2010-2013, Secretary of State of Energy & Climate Change 2013-15
For: Solid, dependable, has appeal across the party, a uniting force
Against: Unexciting and perhaps a little boring, overseen a pro-nuclear energy policy, seen as insufficiently green by some LibDems
Verdict: He declared his candidacy on my LBC show recently, much to my surprise, and he would be a strong candidate. At the moment I’d say he was the third favourite behind Cable & Farron, although the betting markets have Norman Lamb ahead of him. He needs a bit of a charisma injection, but if he can get some high profile support, he could pull through.
Constituency: MP for Thornbury & Yate since 2010, LibDem MP for Northavon 1997-2010
Ministerial Office: Minister for Pensions 2010-15
For: Solid, clever, able to get his head round seemingly impossible policy issues
Against: Never escaped his policy wonk image, one trick pensions pony, unfairly seen as boring and a plodder
Verdict: Steve Webb is said to be far more ambitious than he lets on and although some may be surprised if he stands for the leadership, he could emerge as the candidate of the left and if Tim Farron implodes, Webb could be a very serious contender.
Constituency: MP for Yeovil since 2001
Ministerial Office: Chief Secretary to the Treasury May 2010, Minister of State for Schools 2013-15
For: Clever, media friendly, sensible
Against: The expenses scandal, perhaps too cerebral, not seen as a ‘man of the people’.
Verdict: If it hadn’t been for his resignation as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I’d venture to say that he would have been the best performing LibDem Cabinet Minister and in an ideal position to succeed Nick Clegg. But it wasn’t to be. I’d be astonished if he was a candidate but the possibility is there, so he belongs on this list. If it were up to me, he’d be on eo fthe favourites.
Constituency: MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark since 1983
Ministerial Office: Minister of State for Justice 2014-15
For: Popular in the party, especially on the left, adapted to ministerial office better than most thought he would, effective on the media
Against: Serial failure as a leadership candidate, too disorganised, a little holier than thou, maybe a unifying force after an apocalypse
Verdict: He might be tempted to run again in the event of an apocalypse, despite his age. That’s assuming he holds his seat. He would be fishing in the same lake as Tim Farron and Steve Webb. His biggest appeal would be as a unity candidate.
I can’t see there being any other candidates beyond this select group. So who would win? I still think Vince Cable and Tim Farron are the two favourites, with Ed Davey and Norman Lamb. In any election you have to bear in mind the electoral system and the electorate, which in this case are LibDem members, all 44,000 of them. They are significantly to the left of the LibDem Parliamentary Party, and this is yet another reason why Cable and Farron must be considered favourites. In my view, if Vince Cable runs, he wins. If he doesn’t Tim Farron wins, unless during the campaign he self combusts. That would leave room for Ed Davey or Norman Lamb to come from behind.
If I were a LibDem, I’d vote for Norman Lamb. Not sure he’d welcome my endorsement though!