Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Congratulations to Malcolm Bruce, commiserations to Lorely Burt

Liberal Democrat MPs yesterday elected Sir Malcolm Bruce as deputy leader of the party in succession to Simon Hughes who relinquished the post on his translation into government.

I have mixed feelings about this. I gave him my first preference (when he was just plain Malcolm Bruce) in the leadership election which saw Charles Kennedy triumphant. I saw him as a more serious candidate than the others, especially in view of his business experience. Subsequent events would seem to have vindicated my decision.

However, Lorely Burt - a graduate of Swansea University, by the way - was also in business at the time of her election to the Commons. Electing her to the deputy leadership would have signalled that women are not disadvantaged within the party and, in view of Sir Malcolm's decision not to contest Gordon at the next general election, would also have been a more forward-looking move.

What seems to have told against Lorely is that she was favoured by Liberal Democrat ministers. In the peculiar circumstances of the coalition, the deputy leader has come to be seen as an unofficial "shop steward" for the back-benchers, and perhaps the majority of the latter believe that Sir Malcolm will be more prepared to hold ministers to account. His vigorous opposition to Alex Salmond's SNP may have been a factor, too.

In the end, Sir Malcolm's majority was just two votes. There is a movement among rank-and-file members to have the deputy leader appointed on the same basis as the leader and I would not be surprised to see a motion along those lines at the 2014 AGM.

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