The Sack Race Of Political Leadership


Political leaders are a bit like football managers these days. Put simply, they don’t get much time to achieve results. Just look at the last ten years here in the UK. Gordon Brown went from Stalin to Mr Bean and following a general election loss, was sent into early retirement. David Cameron did a bit better but losing the EU referendum put paid to his plans to complete a full second term. Theresa May was axed after disaster at the polls in the Summer of 2019 and the knives are already out for her successor. Labour ditched Ed Miliband after his defeat in 2015 and Corbyn went the same way last year. 

My party – the Liberal Democrats – has had four leaders in five years. Now, we must look to small parties like the Greens to find a bit of consistency in the Leadership department. Looking further afield, the Australians have turned the sack race into an art form. Kevin Rudd won a landslide Federal Election victory in 2007 but a dip in poll ratings led to his replacement by Julia Gillard. Rudd returned three years later and toppled Gillard in a leadership ballot, only to lose the immediate general election. 

But this has not always been the political norm. In the post war period, the likes of Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson all survived defeats at the polls. Churchill and Wilson even managed to return to Downing Street for a second spell. Our predecessor party, the Liberals, also had leaders who remained and fought for more than one general election. Examples include Clement Davies, Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. 

I have no view on the regularity of leadership elections of other parties, but I do have a strong view on the Liberal Democrats. We aren’t likely to have another General Election until 2024 and I believe we need to work hard now to ensure we perform well then. This requires a leader in place for the full parliamentary session. 

As things stand, a 2024 hung parliament is not an impossibility. Ed Davey has raised this and how he would handle relations with the Labour Party in that situation. Achieving a favoured outcome for the Liberal Democrats is going to require a fairly complex set of negotiations and the building of relationships over a period of time. We also need to develop a comprehensive policy platform for a post-Covid world. For those reasons we Liberal Democrats would be well advised to get behind our leader and work with him to change the face of UK politics. We do that by campaigning hard on the ground to win more council seats, which in turn can result in greater representation in parliament next time. A period of stability is what we need now. Let’s leave the sack race to our opponents. 

David is a member of Horsham Liberal Democrats.