Ros Scott has announced that she will not be seeking re-election, which means that an election for the new president of our party will soon be upon us.
For those who were not at Conference and escaped being approached by supporters of various candidates for nominations, the two main contenders are Susan Kramer, the former MP for Richmond Park, and Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale. Both clearly have something positive to offer and I have no doubt are equally capable of serving with distinction and bringing real dignity to the role of president.
I don't know Susan as well as I know Tim, and on this blog I backed Tim's bid for deputy leader. There is no doubt we would have been particularly suited to that role. However, the role of president is entirely different and I'm not convinced it's the kind of job that can be easily combined with the duties of a full-time parliamentarian.
Lib Dem Voice have, predictably, been examining the role of president and polling party members on not only their likely choice to succeed Ros Scott but also what we actually want from our president. According to LDV, 48% of us want the president to "tour the country visiting party constituencies, listening to members and activists, and representing their views to the parliamentary party", while 28% are looking for "a behind-the-scenes figure, balancing the wishes of the membership and leadership". The president also has key roles in relation to fundraising, dealing with the media and increasing the party's profile.
I have no doubt that Tim, who is a confident and amusing platform speaker and comfortable with the media, would be particularly adept in regards the fundraising and publicity responsibilities. However, as an MP, is there any practical way he could realistically combine serving his constituents both in Westmorland and Westminster while touring the country, listening to activists? If anyone can, it's Tim, but this has always been a strong argument against MPs taking on the presidency and broadly speaking it's one I accept.
Besides, I have no desire for Tim Farron to be relegated to "a behind the scenes figure". He is too capable for that. That might sound like I am belittling the role of presidency; I am not, but Tim has the potential to fulfil a much greater role within the parliamentary party over the coming years. I believe he can be more effective in that respect if free from the obligations of being party president.
Susan Kramer, on the other hand, is too capable not to be a senior figure within the party. Since losing her seat in the General Election, she has been - like Lembit Opik - "an ordinary member". This is a travesty that urgently need rectifying. She has the experience and benefit of having worked within the parliamentary party, but will not be compromised as she will now be working outwith it. Not being an MP, she is freer to take up the kind of role that may require a sometimes constructively critical attitude towards the leadership. Susan has the character, personality and profile to succeed. She's also focused on empowering and increasing the membership.
Furthermore, I support wholeheartedly the campaign for gender balance. I'm not going to cast my vote purely on this basis, but this gives our party an opportunity to actually practice what it preaches and do something positive to address the embarrassing disparity between men and women in the party.
I've given this a lot of thought and I have decided that Susan Kramer would be the better choice for party president. Tim Farron is, of course, more than welcome to convince me otherwise!