Finally, I make a decision on party president
Until the current party president vote, I have never been completely undecided in a Liberal Democrat internal election before. Normally I don’t need a campaign to help me decide as I know straightaway who I want to vote for or won’t under any circumstances vote for. It’s like party committee elections, I always start with the top preferences and the bottom preferences, it’s only the middle that I find hardest. But this time, it has taken me to the final week for me to make up my mind, and now I have finally voted. So how did I make my decision?
I knew early on that I wouldn’t vote for Chandila Fernando. Firstly, I do want a president who has a good number of years experience in the party. To be able to do the job of president well you have to know know about and understand the quirks of the party, why it functions the way it does and who the key people are. You can only get that from many years of experience working both at a local level and on the national stage, and as a relatively recent convert to the party’s cause Chandila doesn’t have that.
I also disagree with him on some of his core pledges. I believe that membership is vital to the future of the party, and although I agree that there should be some form of registered supporter to draw people in, I wouldn’t want to see it replace full party membership. I also don’t agree with him that the party needs a rebrand. The party may have kept the same logo for ten years, (although even that isn’t strictly true), but you don’t rebrand simply because you haven’t done it for years when your rivals have. You only rebrand if your current brand is ineffective or doesn’t communicate the image you want. Look at companies like Coca Cola and Virgin. They haven’t rebranded for a long time and that’s because the brand they have is strong.
However despite these disagreements, it is clear that Chandila is clearly very talented and having been wowed by his sister Chamali when she stood to be the London Mayoral candidate, I have decided it must be a Fernando family trait. I am not sure what role there is that is right for him, but the party has to make use of his clear ability and way of thinking of new ideas.
So after discounting Chandila Fernando, I was left with two candidates that I struggled to decide between.
Lembit Opik was my instinctive choice. He is very good at motivating and enthusing party members, he has been a student activist, a local councillor and now an MP, he is an instinctive Liberal Democrat, he is a genuinely nice bloke, he does have new ideas and suggestions for different ways of doing things, (although he didn’t articulate that well in the campaign), and he does have a good record of doing the anoraky bit of the president’s job well as a member of the Federal Executive.
My big doubts were the ones that everyone will have. Is he seen too negatively by the public, is he too much of a joker, will making him president be seen as the Lib Dems endorsing his colourful personal life, and has he time to be president and be MP for Montgomeryshire. I also have some doubts from my experiences of working for the Welsh Liberal Democrats, where I didn’t always agree with the stances he took as party leader.
The other option of course is Ros Scott. When I realised Ros was standing I just couldn’t see how she would win. After all, for your average armchair members she is a complete unknown, and those members tend to vote for the one they have heard of. But Ros Scott’s campaign has been brilliant. She has travelled all over the country meeting as many members as she can, produced good literature, really made her presence felt at conference and produced an excellent website. You would never know that so many of the people on her campaign team were also on Nick Clegg’s as the quality of the campaign is much better. Ros is also very personable, she is articulate and intelligent, she has wide experience of the different parts of the party having also been a local party activist, a local councillor and now a peer, but she also doesn’t have to spend time trying to defend a constituency.
I admit I struggle to think of many negatives for Ros, other than that she is probably more establishment than Lembit and is therefore perhaps less likely to tell the party leadership what they need to hear when they act as the link between the membership and the leadership.
I spent so long trying to make decision, I asked other members what they thought, I looked at each candidate’s list of supporters (and found people on both sides whose opinions and judgement I value), and I went to the hustings at this weekend’s Yorkshire & the Humber Regional Conference, but all that did was remind me of the good in both Ros and Lembit and that I would be happy with either of them as president. So in the end it came back to my instinctive first choice and I have voted for Lembit. The one thing that probably really finally tipped it in his favour is his comment about president being the ideal job for him. It is, and I hope he does it well.