The words ‘influence’ and ‘power’ don’t sit comfortably with the notion of the Liberal Democrats, yet from time to time, the party and its senior politicians make a real impact on the body politic. If I had compiled this list three years ago, Nick Clegg would not have been on it, Vince Cable would have been floundering in its nether regions and Chris Huhne would have been consigned to obscurity. But it’s a measure of how far the LibDems have come that some of their more talented parliamentary spokesmen can’t even make the Top 50 this year. Jo Swinson and Jeremy Browne, for example, just failed to make the cut, yet they are sure to play a big part in the party’s future.
The emergence of younger players like Danny Alexander - a complete unknown outside LibDem HQ – together with the continuing influence of old stagers like Shirley Williams make compiling a list such as this almost impossible. My four LibDem co-conspirators and I have enjoyed the challenge of compiling the list and are sure that not a single reader will agree with our rankings. But that’s the fun of it.
- Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Nick Clegg clings to the top spot by virtue of his position rather than his performance since becoming leader of the party less than a year ago. However, he has avoided the mistakes of previous leaders and doesn’t micro-manage. He realises he has to differentiate the LibDems from the two main parties to avoid further squeeze, and has therefore been more radical than his predecessors.
- Vince Cable
LibDem Treasury Spokesman
There’s no doubt that Cable is the most respected LibDem politician in the country – not just in his own party, either. He bitterly regretted not standing for the leadership and if anything happened to Clegg, he would surely be elected by acclamation.
- Chris Huhne
Home Affairs Spokesman
Urbane, charming and just a bit monochrome, Chris Huhne knows he has power and he wields it. He refused the lower profile position of Foreign Affairs spokesman and demanded to have Home Affairs. His narrow defeat by Clegg in the leadership election enabled him to stand his ground.
- Chris Rennard
Chief Executive, Liberal Democrats
Built his reputation as Head of Campaigns and winning seemingly hopeless by elections and marginal parliamentary seats. Lord Rennard is one of the great political campaigners of our age, yet his star is said to be on the wane after the last three lamentable by election performances in Crewe, Henley and Glasgow East. However, early tensions between him and Nick Clegg appear to have abated.
- Paddy Ashdown
Leader of the LibDems 1988-1999
It was Ashdown who led the LibDems to an electoral breakthrough in 1997 and for that reason alone he is revered by LibDems. He remains influential and was even rumoured to be thinking about seeking the Party’s Presidency. His sojourns in Bosnia and Kosovo mean he’s the only leading LibDem to have actually run a country since the days of Lloyd George, and for that reason alone he deserves his high ranking. Nowadays, he is quite active in the House of Lords, a chamber he is said to loathe.
- Charles Kennedy
Leader of the LibDems 1999-2006
The LibDems are still suffering from a collective guilt complex for what happened to Charles Kennedy. Their reputation as the ‘nice’ party disappeared in one fell swoop. Kennedy has adopted a low profile but is gradually adopting the mantle of ‘wise old sage’. He’s quick to defend himself if anyone criticizes his period as leader by reminding them of the electoral successes the party enjoyed under his stewardship.
- David Laws
Spokesman on Children, Schools & Families
Probably the most right wing LibDem MP in the Commons, he was the architect of the so-called Orange Book agenda, which encouraged the LibDems to adopt a low tax policy and free market solutions. Unpopular with the beard and sandals brigade at the time, Laws has won the day. A shy, sometimes awkward man, Laws is the David Willetts of the Liberal Democrats, with enough intelligence to fill two brains.
- Simon Hughes
Outgoing President of the Liberal Democrats
After twenty years as a leading player in LibDem politics – often described as the best leader they never had - Hughes’s star is now on the wane. In various leadership contests he was always the bridesmaid but never the bride. A party man to his core, Hughes never really acquired the aura of gravitas which leadership requires. His popularity within the party, however, remains undiminished.
- Danny Alexander
Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg
MPs do not normally make good chiefs of staff, but Danny Alexander wields enormous power and influence in the Clegg team, not least because he is in charge of writing the next LibDem manifesto. He also has a seat in Clegg’s frontbench team as Work & Pensions Spokesman. A rising star, even if he has no profile outside the party.
- Paul Marshall
Leading LibDem donor
Marshall is one of the LibDem’s biggest and most high profile donors. He founded Marshall Wace LLP, one of Britain’s most successful hedge funds. He funds the leading LibDem think tank Centre Forum and put the money up for the publication of the Orange Book, which set the agenda for a more laisser faire approach to economics. Has also chaired the LibDem Business Forum. Enjoys the limelight.
- Shirley Williams
Former Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords
Although she no longer holds an official position Baroness Williams is seen as the Grandmother of the Liberal Democrats. She exerts huge influence on LibDem Peers, which was amply demonstrated in their stance on the Lisbon Treaty, which ran counter to that of the party leadership. After Nick Clegg and Charles Kennedy she is probably the LibDems’ most recognized face on TV.
- Norman Baker
The maverick’s maverick, Baker is seen as an obsessive, even by his party colleagues. He recently published a book asserting that Dr David Kelly was murdered. He’s viewed as the very antithesis of a team player, but is an effective media operator despite his less than matinee idol looks.
- Tom McNally
Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords
A genial figure, Lord McNally started political life as head of James Callaghan’s political office. Elected to the Commons in 1979 he defected to the SDP two years later. He was one of the key players in the overthrow of Charles Kennedy. He was elected leader of LibDem peers unopposed, succeeding Shirley Williams in 2004.
- Ed Davey
Foreign Affairs Spokesman
Davey has been seen as a rising star of the LibDems, but his star seems to be very much on the wane. His period as Foreign Affairs spokesman has been disastrous, with an ill-judged walkout from the Commons chamber, and it recently emerged that he only got the job because Chris Huhne turned it down. Still chairs the Campaigns & Communications Committee, but may be set for demotion in Clegg’s next reshuffle.
- Alex Carlile
Former LibDem MP
A former LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire (1983-97), Lord Carlile is now better known as the Government’s independent reviewer of anti terror legislation and a leading QC. He caused consternation among his LibDem colleagues by supporting the government’s line on 42 days detention for terror suspects. He successfully defended Paul Burrell against charges that he had stolen items from the estate of Princess Diana.
- Evan Harris
LibDem MP for Oxford West & Abingdon
One of the doughtiest LibDem campaigners, Harris is an inveterate ‘taker-upper’ of causes, the latest being the pro abortion campaign. Strangely for a LibDem, he is also a powerful advocate of animal experimentation. Another LibDem who finds the concept of collective responsibility a strange one, he returned to the LibDem front bench in 2005 after a two year period caring for his very ill girlfriend.
- Graham Watson
Leader of the LibDem MEPs
Graham Watson has been leader of Liberal ALDE Group in the European Parliament since 2002. Between 1983 and 1988 he was head of David Steel’s private office after which he went into banking with HSBC in London and Hong Kong. Watson is a firm advocate of the Europe wide campaigning rather than having separate national campaigns in European elections.
- Lembit Opik
Second only to Charles Kennedy in the entertainment stakes, Opik is currently attempting to be elected President of the LibDems, a powerful position in the party’s structure. His reputation has taken a beating over his on-off relationship with one of the Cheeky Girls. Opik’s huge ambition is masked by a willingness to act of the fool , something many LibDems are tiring of.
- Norman Lamb
A tenacious constituency campaigner, Lamb has established himself as a key player in the LibDem frontbench team. As his PPS, he was among the first to recognize there was a Charles Kennedy problem. As Trade & Industry spokesman he suffered a blow when the party rebuffed his plans to privatise parts of the Post Office, but he had the last laugh when he drove the policy through a year later.
- Julia Neuberger
Best known for her ‘Thought for the Day’ slots on the Today Programme, Rabbi and Baroness Julia Neuberger recently became part of Gordon Brown’s Government of All the Talents when he recruited her to advise on volunteering. Her book The Moral State We’re In received much critical acclaim.
- Anthony Lester
The co-founder of the anti discrimination think tank the Runnymede Trust, Lord Lester was also known as a close acolyte of Roy Jenkins. He joined Gordon Brown’s Government of All the Talents as an adviser on constitutional reform. He is better known as a human rights lawyer than a Liberal Democrat.
- Paul Burstow
Burstow spent two years as LibDem Health spokesman but was dropped by Charles Kennedy after the 2005 election. A year later he was elected Chief Whip by LibDems MPs following Ming Campbell’s election as LibDem leader. He has established a reputation for firmness in a party where whipping is considered as difficult as herding cats.
- David Shutt
LibDem Chief Whip in the House of Lords
A Life Peer since 2000, Lord Shutt figures prominently on this list not just because of his role as chief whip in the Lords. He is also chairman of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which has become a large provider of funds to the LibDems in recent years, to the tune of several millions of pounds.
- Julia Goldsworthy
Local Government Spokesman
Seen by Ming Campbell as a future leader, Goldsworthy has enjoyed a meteoric rise since her surprising victory in Falmouth & Camborne in 2005. Appointed number two to Vince Cable by Campbell, she was promoted to her current position when Nick Clegg took over the leadership. Said by some to be not quite so nice as she looks.
- Duncan Brack
Chair, Conference Committee
Former LibDem Policy Director Brack is one of the few LibDems who everybody seems not only to like but also respect. He was for a number of years a senior policy director at Chatham House and more recently was behind the Reinventing the State book, which challenged the more liberal economic position of the Orange Book crowd. His position as Chair of the LibDem Conference Committee means he exerts huge power, due to its policymaking role. He edits the Journal of Liberal History.
- Steve Webb
Deeply cerebral, Webb was tipped as a possible leadership candidate a year ago, but decided instead to back Nick Clegg. He made his reputations as a pensions and social security expert, but since his move to the environment brief has disappeared from public view. Heavily into new media and blogging, Webb is seen very much as following the Simon Hughes tradition of grassroots political campaigning.
- Polly MacKenzie
Chief Political Adviser to Nick Clegg
One of the LibDems’ brightest young talents, Polly Mackenzie was Clegg’s Chief of Staff when he was Home Affairs Spokesman and resigned her post to be part of his leadership campaign team. She has great influence over policy and writes most of Nick Clegg’s important speeches. Party bigwigs are encouraging her to stand for Parliament.
- Lynne Featherstone
Equality & Youth Spokesman
Feisty and telegenic, Lynne Featherstone was a leading cheerleader for Chris Huhne and as a consequence has been somewhat sidelined by Nick Clegg. She is one of the LibDems’s leading bloggers and a doughty constituency campaigner, having overturned a Labour majority of more than 10,000. In a party with comparatively few leading women, she deserves more prominence.
- Jonathan Oates
Liberal Democrat outgoing Director of Communications
Jonny Oates quits his post as LibDem Communications Director after the LibDem conference, but is expected to retain a great deal of influence in the Cowley Street HQ. Suave and debonair, he has tried to refashion the whole LibDem communications structure with some success. A former party agent in Kingston.
- Andrew Duff MEP
The LibDems’ most pro European politician, Duff has been an MEP for East Anglia since 1999. He was elected leader of the LibDem European Parliamentary Party in January 2007. Duff has impressed friend and foe alike in coping with a pronounced stutter.
- Hannah Gardiner
Press officer to Nick Clegg
Joined the LibDem press team as Head of Media from a high profile job with the Association of Chief Police Officers. She had previously worked for the Home Office and the Prison Service. As soon as nick Clegg became leader Gardiner took on the role of the Leader’s Press Secretary. She is a former girlfriend of Ed Davey.
- Mike Smithson
Mike Smithson has established his website, PoliticalBetting.com as one of the most respected and visited political websites on the net. Never shy about his LibDem history and credentials he is a shrewd observer of the political scene. So successful has he been at political betting that he has given up full time work to devote himself to his site.
- Tavish Scott
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats
Scott was elected leader of the Scottish LibDems three weeks ago and faces an uphill struggle to make the party’s voice heard north of the border. He served in the Lab/Lib Scottish Executive as Minister for Transport prior to May 2007.
- Sir Menzies Campbell
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, 2006-7
When Ming Campbell resigned the LibDem leadership ten months ago he more or less bowed out of internal LibDem politics. His lasting influence lies in the internal party reforms he set in motion, particularly in the operation of the Party HQ in Cowley Street. He remains a popular figure on the media on foreign policy issues, and his memoirs published earlier this year were far more gossipy than many had expected.
- Mike German
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Very much on his way out, Mike German has led the Welsh LibDems since 1999. However, his leadership has proved to be controversial and unpopular since the bad Assembly election results in May 2007, and he has faced calls for him to step down.
- Mark Pack
Head of Innovations, LibDem HQ
Mark Pack is the man charged with developing the Liberal Democrat presence on the internet. A constant hive of activity, he is also behind the successful Liberal Democrat Voice blog, on which he plays the part of attack dog, with a constant stream of blogposts highlighting scandals in other parties. He has recently overseen a revamp of the LibDems’ national website.
- Greg Simpson
Director of Policy & Research, LibDem HQ
His easy-going persona belies a sharp political brain which has seen him rise steadily through the party’s ranks at Cowley Street with previous posts including Foreign Affairs adviser to Ming Campbell and Speechwriter for Charles Kennedy. He left Kennedy’s office weeks before the latter’s resignation to head up the party’s research unit.
- John Shipley
Leader, Newcastle City Council
Newcastle is one of the largest local authorities run by the LibDems. Shipley has led the transformation of the LibDems’ electoral fortunes in the city and is in much demand as a speaker, as LibDems in other parts of the country seek to learn the lessons of the Newcastle experience.
- Alison Suttie
Deputy Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg
As head of Nick Clegg’s Private Office, Suttie holds real power and is the real gatekeeper to the LibDem leader. Like Sue Nye in Gordon Brown’s office, she controls who gets to see Clegg and who doesn’t. Suttie and Clegg go back a long way as she worked for him when he was an MEP. She was one of the few people from Ming Campbell’s office who were retained. Clegg places huge faith and trust in her.
- Stephen Tall
Editor, Liberal Democrat Voice Blog
Tall rose to prominence in 2006 when he was voted Liberal Democrat Blogger of the Year. Since then he has developed a reputation as a smooth talking LibDem political pundit . Until May this year he was a leading LibDem councillor in Oxford, where he works as a University fundraiser.
- Dorothy Thornhill
Mayor of Watford
Dorothy Thornhill overcame tough opposition to become the first directly LibDem mayor in 2002 and she was re-elected in 2006. Watford is a target seat for the LibDems at the next election and her tenure as mayor will prove crucial to their fortunes.
- Navnit Dholakia
Former President of the Liberal Democrats
Lord Dholakia remains one of the most popular LibDem Peers. His period as Party president (1999-2004) saw the Party expand its local government base and he was crucial in binding the different parts of the party together. His influence in the House of Lords , where he is Deputy LibDem Leader, is growing and he is seen as a likely successor to Lord McNally as LibDem Leader.
- James Kempton
Leader of Islington Council
Islington is a key area for the LibDems as they hope to displace Labour MP Emily Thornberry. Kempton is one of the LibDems’ youngest council leaders and is undoubtedly a rising star in the Party, which is short of them in local government.
- Sarah Teather
Spokesman on Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
A sparky media performer, Sarah Teather has never really matched up to her potential following her famous by election win in Brent East in 2003. Her star is on the wane, at least in part due to the fact that her seat disappears at the next election and she is tipped to lose the new seat of Brent Central to the incumbent Labour MP Dawn Butler.
- David Howarth
Shadow Solicitor General
David Howarth is one of the Party’s leading thinkers on constitutional issues and has led the campaign for Fixed Term Parliaments. A leading acolyte of Chris Huhne, he also firmly opposes closer ties with the Labour Party. He is one of the three editors of the left-leaning Reinventing the State book.
- Sandi Toksvig
The LibDems don’t have many celebrity supporters, but Toksvig is perhaps the most prominent and influential. It was rumoured that she might stand for Parliament last year. She regularly chairs events for the party and helps raise funds.
- Brian Paddick
LibDem Candidate for Mayor of London
Paddick had a baptism of fire in the London mayoral election. He complained about the lack of support from LibDem HQ and made himself unpopular in the process. Rumours of a peerage have emerged and if used properly by Clegg, he could become a senior party figure. He is, however, said to be disillusioned by his treatment.
- Richard Grayson
Former Liberal Democrat Director of Policy
If there were a league table for nice LibDems, Richard Grayson would top it. An accomplished historian, Grayson is still one of the party’s most influential policy figures, despite quitting his post as Director of Policy many years ago. A prominent opponent of the so-called Orange Book tendency, he is one of the three inspirations behind the left of centre ‘Reinventing the State’ group of LibDems.
- John Sharkey
PR to Nick Clegg
John Sharkey was part of the Saatchi & Saatchi team which advised Margaret Thatcher during the 1987 general election campaign. He is very much a man who acts in the shadows, but is important enough to have an ‘in tray’ in the Leader’s office. He’s tasked with advising Clegg on how to break the two party stranglehold – so far to little effect. He rose to become joint Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi with special responsibility for the Turkish government's preparation of its case for entry into the European Union,
- David Steel
Leader of the Liberal Party 1976-88
Although no longer active in party politics, Lord Steel plays a grandfatherly role in the Liberal Democrats. If he says something, they listen. His influence on the party is primarily in Scotland, where he spent four years as Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament. Nowadays he is a regular attender in the House of Lords.