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Will we have three new faces next time?

August 31st, 2005

Blair, Howard and Kennedy
It could be all change at the next election

The focus of British political gamblers over the months since the General Election has been on the next Conservative leader. There is a market on the next Labour leader (and the deputy too), along with betting on when Tony Blair will resign as Prime Minister and Labour leader.

There is no market as yet on the Liberal Democrat leadership, where there are two interesting questions: when will Charles Kennedy go, and who will replace him?

Though the next General Election will certainly see a new Conservative leader, and Tony Blair is very likely to have stepped down, it’s an open question whether Kennedy will still be at the head of the Lib Dems in 2009 or 2010. After winning the best third-party result in 70 years, he is hardly disqualified from fighting a third election. However, having been an MP since the age of 23, and with a young family, he may decide not to continue beyond, say, the conclusion of the party’s policy review.

With many political journalists not well-connected (or just not very interested) in Liberal Democrat circles, reading what press coverage there is of a potential leadership contest often gives a misleading impression of the likely candidates. Unlikely to be in serious contention, for instance, are party president Simon Hughes (a popular figure within the party but not seen as focused and organised enough for the leadership), treasury spokesman Vincent Cable, deputy leader Menzies Campbell (at 62 and 64 respectively, not regarded as long-term choices), or home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten (though often promoted by the press as the leader of the party’s right, he is seen across the ideological range as having quite shallow roots in the party).

More likely contenders would be work and pensions spokesman David Laws from the right of the party, trade and industry spokesman Norman Lamb from the centre-right, and education spokesman Edward Davey from the centre-left – if there were to be a leadership election during this parliament. On the other hand, some in the party – even if they are not Kennedy fans – will be taking into their calculations the calibre of the Liberal Democrat MPs newly elected this year. Fans of Nick Clegg or Susan Kramer would probably prefer a leadership vacancy to be deferred until after the next election, rather than see their favourites have to sit it out as first-term MPs.

Even with the date of a leadership change uncertain, this would be an interesting market for betting – both on the date of the change and on who the next leader will be. During the last parliament, Betfair had a market on which combination of Blair, Duncan-Smith and Kennedy would still be leaders at the 2005 General Election. Once a new Tory leader has been elected, this would be a good one to have back.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.






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