Coffee House

The runners and riders for deputy leader of the Lib Dems

20 December 2013

12:50 PM

20 December 2013

12:50 PM

The election of the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party is hardly hold the front page stuff. However, whoever wins the contest, triggered this week by Simon Hughes’ surprise elevation to ministerial office, will give us a good indication as to where the party currently sees itself.

The election is decided by a vote of Lib Dem MPs, as that is who the deputy leader is there to represent, and can only be contested by those who are not ministers. Coaltion has forced the Lib Dems to look at where they stand ideologically, and who the MPs select as their deputy leader will give a strong indication of their ‘spiritual’ positioning.

A left-wing candidate would show a determination of the party to keep themselves within touching distance of Labour. A win for a more Orange Book candidate, like Jeremy Browne, would certainly be a major victory for that wing of the party, solidifying their position at the top of the Lib Dems.

Disappointingly the Speccie’s Steerpike has revealed a lack of support for Browne, who is my preferred candidate. There are other former ministers very much in the reckoning though, particularly Sir Nick Harvey and Mike Moore.


Harvey, a strong runner in this contest, was said to have turned downed a return to government as the party’s chief whip at the last reshuffle, on the grounds that he did not want to lose his public voice. The deputy leadership would certainly give him that.

Moore is popular among colleagues, and team Clegg. Many felt he was harshly treated when he was a surprise cabinet casualty, sacked as Scottish Secretary, and so I’m sure he could drum up support if he wanted it.

As well as ideological issues to settle, the Lib Dems are still trying to get more women into prominent roles. A senior Lib Dem source tells me that there is a ‘strong case for a woman’ to take the role, and others agree. The options here are, depressingly, rather limited. Jo Swinson is a minister, and is being covered on maternity leave by Jenny Willott, counting them both out.

The women MPs who are out office are Tessa Munt, Annette Brooke and Sarah Teather, and Lorely Burt. Brooke is standing down at the next election, and Teather is unpopular and isolated amongst parliamentary colleagues, leaving Munt and Burt as the outstanding candidates.

While Munt has avoided placing herself too keenly in one wing of the Lib Dems, she would probably keep social liberals happy while not offending the orange bookers too greatly. However, she is currently PPS to Vince Cable, and that’s a key factor against her.

This election is massively about the internal politics of the Lib Dems. As another well placed source put it, it’s ‘about the politics of the big four or five,’ and why would Clegg’s team allow someone close to Cable into the role, when they’ve “spent 18 months putting him in his box”? Given that the winner is also likely to be able to make a strong bid for the leadership next time around ‘if you’re Danny [Alexander], do you put in someone good?’

Lorely Burt is good, and has already chaired the parliamentary party. She has a wafer thin majority, and the extra profile and space to criticise the Conservatives the role would provide may well help her election campaign. ‘If I was putting money on, I’d put it on Lorely’ says my source. Indeed, they believe that she will be ‘proposed and seconded by some very important people’.

As is so often the case with seemingly insignificant skirmishes, the Lib Dem deputy leadership contest is a proxy for ongoing clashes amongst bigger beasts.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • crosscop

    Will the next Deputy be expected to grovel to the Muslim colonists and tell them they should lead us – that we should have a Muslim Prime Minister – as Hughes did?

  • The_greyhound

    Chris Huhne’s out now.

  • drydamol1


    Vince Cable has made the astonishing statement further
    cuts will damage our Social fabric .Surely Cam and Osborne haven’t been passing
    the coke round .If he cannot recognise the untold misery and deprivation
    already created its time he retired .

    Nothing to do with his contribution for a better Britain
    that he introduced it easier to be sacked by an Employer and the Libdems staunch commitment to
    draconian Tory Policy as long as they got their agendas promoted .

    His and Clegg’s opposition to a Tory Immigration Cap for 2014 only shows that they
    are slowly trying to divorce themselves from the Tories now the damage is done
    .Todays statement that there is no evidence that shows Immigration has a
    detrimental effect on Britain is something from a delusional man going nowhere
    .800,000 British jobs only advertised abroad ,leaving our unemployed uninformed
    is surely detrimental to our Economy and social cohesion .

    But at present all Politicians are using the tried and
    tested method of Ignorance ,waffle about anything except the issues still fresh
    in the Publics mind ,Atos Assessments and deaths caused ,Bedroom Tax ,Workfare
    ,Benefit Sanctions ,Poverty – food banks
    and the Draconian unnecessary Austerity measures cutting services to the bone
    .We suffer these immoral policies and will not let them go away ,ignore them by
    all means but they have spelt the Death Knell for a not fit for purpose
    coalition .

  • Alexsandr

    who cares? the limp dumps will be toast in 2015. good riddance.

  • CharlietheChump

    Not front page, not any page news and not worth a blog page either.

  • brossen99

    This is the key Lib-Dem contribution to the government once sent the link to Tim Farron on fb and twitter then he blocked me perhaps in a vain attempt to pretend it was never written ?

  • swatnan

    Its bound to be Jo Swinson; she can attract the younger and more sensible people to the Lib Dems. Hughes was frankly a turn off. They can keep the place open for her until she gets back from maternity leave; its a non-job anyway and has little relevance.

    • Tim Reed

      “…its a non-job anyway and has little relevance.”

      Ideally suited to Jo Swinson, then.

      • Redrose82

        It will be more of a non job after the general election – I mean there would have to be more than one MP in order that there be a deputy.

    • Smithersjones2013

      its a non-job anyway and has little relevance

      Isn’t that true of every Libdem role? For example Clegg would be better utilised if he was made the Downing Street bathroom cleaner..

  • rtj1211

    Do be sure that Tessa Munt is firm in her contractual terms, notably compensation payments, if she ever agrees to appear on the Today Programme…….

  • HookesLaw

    It is a remarkable sign of the times and indeed an example of the dearth of left-wing ‘talent’ that there are more plausible candidates for deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat Party than there are for the shadow chancellorship of the exchequer.