What You Can Get Away With » On Lib Dems and leadership

I left a comment last week on Jennie Rigg’s post about potential leaders of the Liberal Democrats that I wanted to expand on.

Jennie was looking at the potential candidates for next leader of the Liberal Democrats, and one thing that comes up from her survey is that the party isn’t exactly overwhelmed with leadership contenders. What I wonder is if this is a result of what the party expects from Parliamentary candidates and MPs, effectively limiting the pool of leadership candidates by preventing potential candidates from even jumping the first hurdle – being an MP – long before any of the others come in to play.

I’m not going to name names (because that would probably start a whole other discussion) but at many party events, conferences etc, I’ve been struck by the talent and abilities of people in the party who aren’t MPs, and clearly aren’t planning to become one. It’s my opinion that many of these people would not just make great MPs, they’d be assets in senior leadership positions. However, because they’re not going to be in Parliament, those talents rarely get seen beyond a small area. Why is it, though, that these people don’t choose to go for Parliament?

As I said on Jennie’s post, one major problem is that to become a Parliamentary candidate for the party – particularly in a winnable seat – you are expected to put in a large amount of time and effort across a number of areas. As has been pointed out by the Campaign for Gender Balance and others, this is huge disincentive to stand for many people. Unless you get lucky and win selection in one of the party’s very small (and probably reducing) number of safe seats, then you effectively have to give up whatever career you already have to devote yourself to trying to get elected. While there are some exceptions who have given up almost everything and gone for it, I think others prefer taking an easier path. That’s not to say that their decision is wrong, but in the overall scheme of things, it could go towards explaining why Jennie’s survey comes up with so few candidates.

(And this post isn’t special pleading – I’ve got no desire to become an MP, as hooting like an idiot in the House of Commons isn’t my idea of a rewarding career)

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3 comments untill now

  1. I’d quite like to be an MP, but I haven’t even gone for selection yet, although people keep telling me I should. I haven’t got the time, money or energy to devote to running for office while holding down two jobs and bringing up a child *shrug* If I could afford to give up work and do it full time then I might go for it, but I can’t, and I saw what trying to combine campaigning with fulltime work did for the last candidate in our constituency, who is a bloody awesome lady, and got completely burnt out.

  2. [...] 5. On Lib Dems and leadership by Nick Barlow on What you can get away with. Why too many talented party members don’t try and become MPs: the sheer bloody madness of life as a candidate. [...]

  3. I would expect that most Lib Dems feel like you about MPs “hooting like an idiot in the House of Commons”. Who, other than an idiot, could possibly want to be tarred with that brush?

    Taking this line of reasoning a bit further, I know an ex Lib Dem MP who stood down from an entirely winnable seat at the last election. One of the reasons he gave was that he was unhappy at being regularly congratulated as one of the few MPs who was clearly not tainted by the expenses scandal. He also pointed out that being an MP meant living in a goldfish bowl, under constant scrutiny by the press and the public, and that’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

    Fortunately for us there was no shortage of candidates to replace him and we retained the seat, but there were few places in the country where that could have happened and sadly there will be even fewer next time round.