|Sir Malcolm Bruce: new deputy leader of the |
Liberal Democrats in the Commons
Not for the first time, I have failed to correctly predict how the vote would go. My money was on Lorely Burt, so it's just as well I'm not a betting man.
It seems a curious coincidence that, on the day the Liberal Democrats announce that Christine Jardine has been selected as the PPC for Sir Malcolm's seat, he should be chosen to be - in real terms, given the status and media recognition that comes with the role - the deputy leader of the party. No doubt this decision on the part of our MPs is in recognition of Sir Malcolm's incredible service to the party over the previous few decades and the esteem in which he is held by his colleagues. It is, in many ways, particularly fitting that he should have the opportunity to finish his parliamentary career as deputy leader.
I have always liked Malcolm Bruce, who has so often been the voice of no-nonsense, pragmatic liberalism. And while I am more than happy with someone of his abilities, passion, experience and self-evident dedication assuming the role of deputy leader, I do wonder if it was the right move given the party's current circumstances.
If we're being honest, it's a retrograde step. The party is in a difficult situation and a longer-term approach is needed. Much as Sir Malcolm Bruce has had a distinguished political career, we must look to the future. It's time to take some risks. It's time to build. It's time for someone like Lorely Burt to be able to step up, to show some leadership, to boost her profile and that of other women MPs. Sir Malcolm won't be staying on beyond the next election, when a new leader will have to be chosen in the aftermath of the result. Not only have our MPs not considered the longer-term picture, they've also overlooked the need for continuity. It doesn't help to have more deputy leaders in four years than the average South American republic has presidents.
In opting for Sir Malcolm, albeit for entirely understandable reasons, the Liberal Democrats have missed some key opportunities, not least in regards our public image. Indeed, there will not be a similar opportunity to reach out more in advance of the General Election. I suspect if he hadn't been standing down, most would have seen him as a rather odd choice and for me that logic still stands. Clearly there should be an internal conversation about what the role of deputy leader entails - unlike Party President, this shouldn't be something whose role can essentially be determined by the office bearer. It certainly shouldn't be seen as a gift for long-service.
Also, we need to take a serious look at our internal structure. For how much longer can the Liberal Democrats afford not to have a deputy leader of the federal party elected by the membership? We claim to be the most openly democratic party in the UK, and yet the electorate for tonight's vote was a mere 56.
These of course are significant issues, and I hope in the next few years democracy is widened and a new role of federal deputy leader created. In the meantime, I'd like to congratulate Sir Malcolm Bruce and wish him every success in his new role.