“How many seconds in eternity?” an emperor asks a shepherd boy in a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
For many Liberal Democrat members, the only appropriate answer to offer the emperor is 6,206,400, the amount of seconds passing between nomination forms becoming available for prospective leadership candidates at 5pm on 15 June and the polls closing at 1pm on Wednesday, although for anyone involved in the campaign before nominations opened, the answer will be much higher.
I wrote way back in June that the “leadership election will define not only the short-to-medium-term direction of our party, but also of the wider liberal movement in the UK” and we now know that, following a resounding victory, that liberal charge will be led by Sir Ed Davey.
I played a small part in Layla Moran’s campaign, clocking up a little over 30 calculable hours (not including time spent on social media or following the hustings). Layla has been a fantastic Member of Parliament and leadership candidate, and still has a long and bright future ahead of her.
Of course I am disappointed Layla was unsuccessful, but regardless of my or indeed anyone else’s preference, the party must now unite behind Ed. But this is easier said than done.
While the conduct of the leadership campaign was tame compared with those of some other parties, and both candidates were courteous and respectful to each other (as you would expect parliamentary colleagues to be), there were still some disappointing moments. I am not going to dwell on them here, because that is not the point of this post, but there were a number of low-profile spats between supporters of the two candidates online which revealed minor divisions within the party and its campaigners. Those divisions will need to be addressed by Ed if the party is to fully unite behind his leadership.
One thing I do want to mention, briefly, is the reaction to Tim Farron’s comments in defence of JK Rowling and his reported donations. I like Tim. I (still) have a great deal of respect for his service to our party. But both incidents raised genuine questions which no one with any responsibility in the party seemed to want to do anything to address. Worse, Ed’s decision to keep putting Tim’s endorsements front-and-centre of his campaign after such a visible negative reaction has opened deep wounds with many LGBT+ members of the party which will take some time to heal.
But one way or another, heal they must. The election of our new leader must be the line we draw under the internal battles and, to quote Layla’s (sadly losing) slogan, move forward together. As Liberal Democrats our real political battles are not with each other but with anti-liberal forces.
For anyone following the leadership campaign it will have been clear that, whilst there may have been differences in the approach to our party’s past, both candidates’ policy ideas were broadly similar, and they agreed on almost everything that mattered. The main difference was in presentation, but with the right policy platform and the right message, any presentational issues can be quickly addressed going forward.
We must find a way to move beyond our mistakes during our time in coalition and losing the Brexit argument (twice). There are new challenges facing the country which we need to focus on. We must look beyond our own obsessions and move forward as a credible third party once again, and it is up to our new leader to be an enthusiastic and motivating voice for that change.
I believe Ed Davey can still do that, but he will need all of us, whoever we voted for, to unite behind him. The future of our party and our movement depends on it.
Alan is a columnist for Liberal Base and Liberal Democrat activist from Medway. He Tweets @alancollinspdb.