It feels like an age since I was knocking on doors in the pouring rain in the final hour before polls closed, then hearing the shock of the exit poll on the car radio heading home to a hairdryer and somewhat less bedraggled attire for the count. Yet here we are just a few days later, embarking on an election for leader of the Liberal Democrats.
I went to see Tim on Wednesday afternoon to tell him I thought he should definitely stay on, and I was excited at the prospect of putting myself forward to be Deputy Leader. I was stunned when he told me he would be resigning that evening.
Listening to Tim’s dignified statement, outlining the personal turmoil he felt during the election, I can’t fault him for deciding to step down, but I feel very sad that it came to this. Tim has done so much for our party. In the devastating aftermath of the 2015 election, to build a record membership and increase MPs by 50% in just 2 years is a massive achievement. Just as important, is that we now have our most diverse Parliamentary Party ever. We owe Tim a massive debt of gratitude.
Since his shock announcement, I have been overwhelmed by so many lovely messages from people I know, and from many members I have not yet met, encouraging me to stand for leader. I am touched and flattered that you look to me – and I am determined to play a key role in our party’s leadership.
Being the leader of a political party is a unique and all-encompassing job, even more than the roles of MP and Minister that I have undertaken before. It should not be done simply to achieve status, to make a point, or to please others.
When Theresa May called the snap election, my instincts immediately told me that I should stand to win back East Dunbartonshire: it felt right. Every fibre of my being was up for it, my clarity of purpose was intense – to stop a divisive second independence referendum, to halt an extreme Brexit, and to get back to the job I have loved most out of all the things I’ve done.
When Tim resigned, my instincts told me that the best way I can serve the party at the moment is still as Deputy Leader. Over the years I’ve learned I should trust my instincts.
My reflections and conversations about a range of factors have confirmed my conviction that the right role for me now is Deputy Leader.
Four weeks ago today, I ran a marathon. Training for and running marathons teaches you a lot about planning, perseverance, and resilience. Creating lasting political change is a marathon, not a sprint.
Feminist that I am, I have of course wondered what a bloke in my position would do. It’s obvious. Most blokes in my shoes would run for leader like a shot. It’s true that my many years of encouraging women to have the confidence to go for that exciting new role have taught me that women often don’t go for things when they should. But just as often I have observed men going for the promotion when they shouldn’t. Just because a man would do it, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I have consistently fought against stereotypes and structures that impose a choice on someone, rather than allowing them to make up their own mind.
At almost every juncture in our party’s history people have been willing to write off the Liberal Democrats – and they have been proved wrong. This election we were told we were a spent force on the verge of annihilation. Instead we increased the number and diversity of our MPs.
British politics needs a progressive, liberal voice to speak for the millions of people across the country who share our values of tolerance, fairness and freedom. I am determined to continue to represent those values and I hope you will support me in doing so.