Sunday, January 08, 2006

Restoring Trust

The next task of the Liberal Democrats has to be to restore trust especially in light of the latest opinion poll:

a) in the party members

b) in the general public

c) in the press (if we ever had any anyway)

For the party members many feel that 33 (the highest published figure) of their number, who happen to have been elected to the House of Commons, have taken away their democratic right to choose the party leader. Now that may not seem a lot but we were the first party to give that right to every member from the full slate of candidates. And we are the only UK-wide party to ensure that every vote does count as those elections are by AV.

What the party members need to restore trust is therefore an election not a coronation of Sir Menzies Campbell or anyone else. The fear is that the MPs taketh away, anoint, they might just taketh away again when they feel fit. Therefore while not my first choice as an alternative is not fellow blogger John Hemming I applaud his openness about his campaign to stand and make an election of it.

The general public see us now as a bunch of back stabbers in it for personal gain. I'm fortunate to point out that my loyalty stretched long into the debacle when many around me were losing their heads. However, many of our MPs may be considered with suspicion from now on. Plus when I next stand as a candidate how will my candour, openness and honesty, things which Lib Dem candidates have long prided themselves on, be viewed by my electorate.

We are not a nasty party. We are the most transparent of all the mainstream party. Our policy is voted on in open debates, by ordinary members, not behind closed doors and rolled out only to be show cased and rubber stamped.

Therefore we need our next leader to get their A team, frontbench spokespeople, and B team of backbenchers all pulling behind them. Yes there are differences of opinions in the party that is what leads to interesting debate and radical ideas. We should not shy away from that but as we have in the past through dialogue reach a consensus of opinion to take forward and present to the voting public. Therefore part of Meeting the Challenge is how we can become an increasingly successful, growing and responsive parliamentary party while at the same time keeping the membership engaged.

The trust is the press may not even have existed but we need to gain that within the media after the events of the last week. They may misprint, distort or even leave out what we tell them, but the one word that was on their lips during every interview I have seen has been the word lie. Simon Hughes had one of the best rebuffs by saying he tends to stick by and help his friends.

So therefore we have a major trust obstacle at the moment. We are going to back out there saying that we can form the next government therefore, with all due respect to Sir Menzies Campbell, I do not feel that we are right to elect as a leader we propose to be the next Prime Minster somebody who is liable to retire as leader within the first few years after the next General election. If Blair and Brown face difficulties this parliament might well go full term to May 2010, when Ming will be just weeks shy of his 69th birthday. I respect him as an elder statesman; I know he will be a fine caretaker leader while the leadership issue is being settled. My concern is would I feel uncomfortable standing on doorsteps with our next General Election manifesto saying that Ming will be carrying out all of these promises.

To be taken seriously as a party our leader must be somebody the press can see as the next Prime Minster. With Ming the press will carry on the year on year debate they have had with Charles recently when will he go, who is to follow, this does not bode well for establishing trust with the press, who can affect our trust with the electorate and the rank and file members of the party.

Therefore we need a contest. We need to look at internal mechanisms in the party. And controversially, especially for a Lib Dem in Scotland, I say we need someone other that Sir Menzies Campbell to be the next leader of our party to become the first Liberal Democrat Prime Minister after the next General Election.


Paul said...

On Saturday morning, before Charles had resigned, some of our local Lib Dems discussed who might replace him. There were two quite distinct schools of thought:

Some people thought that what the party needs is a "caretaker" leader for the short- to medium-term. A "safe pair of hands" to guide the party through the difficult months ahead. Someone with experience and gravitas. (As you might expect, Ming Campbell was suggested.)

Others however said that the party needs to "skip a generation" and elect a young, energetic leader who can take the party through to the next General Election and beyond. (Nick Clegg's name was mentioned, as an example.)

If there is to be an election rather than a coronation, I suggest that it needs to be framed in terms of these alternatives. If the line-up is Campbell, Hughes and Hemming, I'm not sure that fits the bill.

Susanne said...

With all the hype about the Meeting the Challenge conference on Saturday, wonder how many party activists will now turn up from outside London.
Expect the leadship contenders will all be there determined to have their say.
Envisage the event will be more lively than originally predicted


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