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Seventy-one percent Feb 09

As Rob mentions, Simon Hughes got a whopping 71% in the election for party president eighteen months ago. While this is indeed evidence that members have been happy to vote for him in the past, I don’t think it can be extrapolated to the current leadership election – and I write as one of those voters.

There are several reasons Simon did so well in 2004. Only weeks earlier, he had been the party’s London mayoral candidate and the presidency somewhat made up for his less than great showing there. There was a significant “Stop Lembit” vote (ironically in the latest election there seems to be a significant “Stop Simon” vote). Plus, people genuinely thought he would make a good president.

There are several reasons why Simon will not do so well in 2006. First off, of course, this is an election for a different post. Plenty of people who were happy to see Simon as president did not want him, or expect him, to be a future leader. Some of us who had first-hand experience of said mayoral campaign were less than impressed and it exhibited the gimmickry with which Simon has been characterised since. But, most of all, Simon has asked to be judged on his record, and his record as president is pretty woeful.

He pledged that by the end of his term of office the LibDem’s membership would exceed that of Labour. Fair enough, he hasn’t left office yet, but there is no sign of us making any significant move towards this. This is the sort of grand talk – see his declaration on Sky News that we should win 100 seats in the next general election – that can come back to bite. I recall Simon also promising a youth branch at every university. Has this been achieved? No. What steps has Simon taken to make it happen? None that I’m aware of.

Then there was this from his presidential acceptance speech in 2004:

“I now plan immediately to set up a new ‘Target Labour’ unit to maximise our chances of winning seats from Labour as well.”

I certainly don’t remember that happening. I assumed I would have heard if it had as Simon’s manifesto promised to “improve communication all year round.”

The gimmicks haven’t gone away either. Simon decided unilaterally to appoint “deputy presidents” – how wonderfully democratic – to speak on certain issues. LibDem Youth & Students had to fight to have their chair recognised as the youth spokesperson, although given that there is a UK-level youth spokesperson in the Commons, the need for the role was never clear.

Now, none of this precludes Simon for being leader. With the right people around him, keeping him organised, curbing some his urges, he could do well. It is, however, why I can’t give him my first preference, and why many of the others who supported him for the presidency can’t either (and wouldn’t support him for a second term as president).

When Simon stood for the presidency in 2004, his campaign in Scotland was chaired by Archie Kirkwood. He is backing Ming Campbell for the leadership. His campaign in England was chaired by Sandra Gidley. She is backing Chris Huhne.

2 Responses

  1. On the money Will. Yes, surrounded by the right people Simon could be an okay leader, but why not elect them instead and cut out the middle man? Plus, the fact is that he DOESN’T surround himself with the right people. It is a question of judgement.

  2. 2
    Adam Sheldon 

    Well-phrased and fair. I too have been surprised and disappointed by the lack of sparkle during Simon’s term as President: I had hoped he’d make up for Charlie’s indolence, as he had a point to prove. Morethan one, after being defeated in 1999 and also at the Mayoral Election. Not to say I’m wild about Ming or Chris, for differing reasons; but sadly, owing to his stumbling since the turn of the year, Simon won’t now be getting a lot of first preferences he ought to have been able to count on from like-minded members.