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Looking to the coming LD leadership contest and the potential relationship with CHUK

May 14th, 2019

A guest slot by The Golden Aspie

With the local elections just gone and the European Elections next week we are starting to see a ‘paradigm shift’ in our political landscape. The Conservatives are deeply fratricidal on who should lead them after the inevitability of Theresa’s May departure and what version of Conservatism they should follow. Labour are similarly divided although the chasm is between the Leadership on the one side and the PLP and Members on the other side as well as the ‘Leave’ North and ‘Remain’ South, regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s approach towards Brexit. Not withstanding this we only know that one main party leadership election is going to take place currently this year and that is for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrat Leadership Election will take place after the party has had its best showing at a local election ever with 704 net gains and the prospect of likely gains at the European Elections. There is also a possible by-election in the former LD seat of Brecon and Radnor if the recall petition against Chris Davies is successful. The new party leader will definitely inherit a party stronger than when Vince Cable became leader after Tim Farron in 2017.

The Rubicon Question for any New Leader of the Liberal Democrats is how to handle Change UK (CHUK) or the TIGers. Do they offer CHUK an electoral alliance as in 1981 when the Social Democrat Party and Liberal Party  was formed or do they try to destroy them as the TIGers set out to do to them in a memo sent out. One key thing is that the Liberal Democrat Leadership Election is done under the Single Transferable Vote so second preferences could be vital. 

Let us look at three main potential contenders and their positions on a potential alliance with CHUK/TIGers:

Jo Swinson – 1/2 with Ladbrokes

Jo Swinson is currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson. She is the most pluralist of the political contenders open to an alliance with CHUK. This has been seen with her sharing a platform at the Spring Lib Dem Conference in March with Anna Soubry and sharing a Facebook ‘Cup of Tea’ discussion with Heidi Allen.

These events discussed how British Politics needs to be fixed and how we need to see consensual politics replace adversarial politics.  Soubry, of course, served in the Coalition with Swinson. Heidi Allen has also noted on Twitter, the strong relationship she has with Swinson.

Swinson has also not ruled out joining another Coalition despite the Party being electorally burned for its Coalition with the Conservatives between 2010 – 2015. Swinson therefore is the most likely of the candidates in offering an electoral alliance to CHUK.

Strategically as well she knows that the electoral system punishes smaller parties and that  it is important for the LDs and CHUK to be part of an alliance for the General Election. You can infer from her speeches, from recent weeks that she is prepared to have conversations with CHUK regarding an electoral arrangement and potential realignment. It also seems that CHUK, may well prefer her. 

Ed Davey – 8/1 with Ladbrokes

Ed Davey is currently Home Affairs Spokesperson of the Party. He is unlikely, to win but his second preferences could well decide who does. Therefore, his position towards CHUK, needs to be looked. 

Davey has been the most tribal towards CHUK, compared to the dovish attitude of Swinson. After the memo by CHUK was leaked Davey accused CHUK of being superficial and not ‘actually put into practice what they espouse’. However this was before the LDs local election success, which has certainly changed the relationship. Dave has pushed the mantra that the LDs are the best remain party more vigorously than Swinson during the Euros campaign. 

But his position, shows that if there is going to be an alliance or political realignment between CHUK and LD’s it will be from a position of strength. 

 Davey is unlikely to win but the next leadership contender may need to pivot towards his position, to win it. Therefore, Davey has potential leverage on, who could win the leadership.

Layla Moran – 9/4 with Ladbrokes

Layla Moran is currently Education Spokesperson of the Party and is seen as the fresh voice of the party not tainted with the Coalition. Her position on CHUK is more nuanced than Swinson’s or Davey’s although she is open to pluralist politics, as seen in her encouraging local LD’s, and Greens to work together, in Oxfordshire where she is an MP.

Moran advocates pluralist politics like Swinson but her position on working with CHUK is less clear. She has shown regret at a Remain Alliance not being formed for the Euros.  She has retweeted a tweet from Julie Girling, a former Conservative MEP, who was going to run for CHUK who has now to vote LD in Euros.

This could be interpreted in a number of ways.  It can be seen as a bow across the rudders of CHUK or it can be seen as realism  that the LD’s will probably outpoll CHUK. Moran will need to be clear in where she stands, in terms of an electoral alliance with CHUK. 

Moran is unlikely to win the leadership on the first preferences unlike Swinson who possibly could. This means Moran will need to cultivate Davey’s voters to put her as second preference which may mean a need to be more tribal towards CHUK. 

        Conclusion

The Liberal Democrat Leadership Election will take on more of a political dimension because the LDs could be a ‘kingmaker’ in the next General Election, and this is more likely to happen if they work in alliance with CHUK, and to a smaller extent, the Greens. Therefore who they are likely to elect is going to need to know about the workings of Government, and working collaboratively, with other political parties.

This rules out Moran, as she has not been in Government and her inexperience will be a negative given the ‘paradigm shift’ of British Politics, at the moment. This does not mean that a joint Moran/Davey ticket, could not succeed. Nonetheless, knowing the majority of LD members believe in pluralist politics a tribal attitude towards CHUK, could turn off some LD members from voting such a ticket.

This leaves Swinson, as the only viable contender to be Leader of the Party under such circumstances. Swinson sees the bigger picture of the current undercurrent within British Politics, and is prepared to reach out to others. She has also got experience of being a Minister in Coalition, in which CHUK leaders, will not have (bar Soubry) and this must be seen as a positive. Experience and Pluralism, will be two key things for the next LD leader, and Swinson has both in abundance. But I would not rate, Swinson, as 75% chance, as suggested by the betting odds. I would say, 60-65% would be a fairer description, for Swinson getting the leadership.

The Golden Aspie

NB: We are likely to know, how such an alliance is likely to work between the LDs and CHUK, fairly soon. It is likely that any CHUK MEPs will be joining the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Europe Group which the LDs are already part of. The LDs will have been consulted on this, and it will be interesting to read the reaction of the LD leadership to this.