The Establishment's boy is Tim Farron,MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, a man with a zest for life and the energy of at least 20 normal people. His capacity for work is enormous. You can tell that he's popular because he turned a wafer thin majority in 2005 into a whomping one in 2010, taking 60% of the vote. I know people who have worked for him and they think he is brilliant. Having said that, I will not be voting for him despite his general competence and pleasantness.
The first is that I don't believe that you can effectively represent the grassroots of the Party to the leadership from inside the Commons bubble. I could live with a peer as President, but not, under any circumstances at this time, any MP. Not even Simon if he was going to go for it. In Scotland I saw the entire power of the Party disappear into Holyrood and I don't think that's been healthy and I don't want to see it at Federal level. Equilibrium up here has been restored a bit, but not enough, out of Government and we're going to have to be vigilant to ensure that the leadership actually listens to what the Party has to say.
Now I'm not saying that the Party and our MPs and Ministers should be at each other's throats. Far from it. I wrote some friendly advice to our new ministers just after the coalition was formed. In the main, I think they've tried to do the sorts of things I outlined. As I said at the time:
Our party is not one that just blindly obeys its leaders. That will never change and nor should it. Part of being a liberal is understanding and relishing in diversity and debate. That's not always easy for leaders to deal with and it won't always be possible for them to find the energy to inspire. The party and the ministers will need to have a bit of give and take on both sides. I was glad to see that there has been proper thought to how to maintain the relationships within the coalition - similar thoght needs to be given in how to ensure that relationships between the ministers and the party stay as cordial and mutually supportive as possible.It's to avoid the sort of cycle of grumpiness and suspicion that happened in Scotland that I really think we need to have someone who is genuinely outside the bubble having an open and honest dialogue with our ministers and leadership team, giving a perspective that they may not have thought of.
Next up is Jason Zadrozny, again someone with the drive and vision to turn Ashfield, near where I used to live, from a safe Labour seat to one where the Liberal Democrats came within a tiny whisper of victory. I've never met him - we'd moved back up here by the time he started to work his magic on Ashfield, but he's clearly established himself as a skilled campaigner. I don't know what he'd be like as a representative, though. Would he present the feedback from the Party well or be absorbed into the Bubble's hive mind? And, it has to be said, given the lack of women at a senior level in the Party, with only 2 out of 20 ministers being female, do we need another man replacing a woman as President? Not, I would suggest, when there are good women putting themselves forward.
One is Susan Kramer who so annoyingly lost out to Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park in May. She's great - I became a fan of her's when she campaigned to be Mayor of London and she's impressed me many times since. And it's the London bit that's the problem for me. The Party is pretty London-centric. It's an inevitable consequence of having meetings in London at 6pm on a weekday night. We have the same issue in Edinburgh. We need to find ways of ensuring that people outside the capital are able to attain high office within the Party.
That leads us to the fourth candidate, Yorkshire's Jennie Rigg. Ok, so she hasn't been in the Party since she was in nappies, but in the years she has been around, she's impressed a lot of people with her intelligence, her plain speaking and her originality. One of the reasons I've always loved her blog is because I think it explains what we're about to ordinary people who have no interest in politics. She has the intellectual rigour of having achieved a law degree combined with real, tough life experience. You only need to read her blog to see that she gets what life is like. She is completely where the Party is at on the subject of things like welfare - have a look at this recent post on benefit "fraud" and tax "evasion" Then go and look back at the way she tailored posts to people during the election, telling them why they, with their concerns, should vote Liberal Democrat.
Please could you bear with me and do two things for me:
Firstly, have a read of this post in which she sets out her reasons for standing:
Secondly, if you are going to Conference please make a point of finding Jennie - which won't be difficult because she'll probably be trying to find you too - and spend some time talking to her about your aspirations for Party and what you want to see happen. Listen to how she would help take your ideas forward and consider signing her nomination form.
I really think that Jennie, with her skills and background, could be a fantastic asset to the Party's leadership team.