Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Why I will #VoteLayla

Another year, another leadership election, another leadership election blog. Indeed, my first blogpost since last year's election. (I've purposefully not read that, or the 2015 one, before writing this - I shall do a compare and contrast afterwards!)

Last year, I voted for Jo, although had Layla stood my decision would have been more difficult. In the final analysis, I would probably still have voted for Jo at point. Likewise, had Daisy stood this time, my decision would have been equally difficult: I think Daisy is hugely impressive for what she has done in St Albans and that she definitely has the makings to be a future leader (a fact tacitly recognised by one of my friends who waspishly said "young cardinals vote for old popes" when they learned that she was backing Ed in this campaign.)

Personally, I would have liked a three (or more!) cornered contest which could have provided for more debate about the party's direction, rather than contest of personalities (or, for some, of who they disliked least). Wera's campaign never really took off, though, and so we are where we are.

It would be easy to characterise this contest as a re-run of last time: a young, charismatic women with media nous versus a middle aged, serious man with cabinet experience. But that would be a lazy analysis for two key reasons: Jo had more experience, having first been elected in 2005, and the fact that she wasn't a cabinet minister is down to Clegg's failure to promote her (or any woman) to cabinet. Indeed, if I recall correctly, one of her roles did entitle her to attend cabinet. The other reason is that Jo and Ed were much closer both politically and in their approach to the coalition than Layla and Ed have been. This contest is, in many ways, much more like that of 2015: a coalition sceptic against a coalition knight*.

Policy is made by members (although, of course, the leader can influence that) but it needs to be sold by the leader. Laying aside feverish press reports of Layla wanting to take us to the left of Labour (she actually said we should be more "radical" than Labour - hear, hear, I say!), for me the key difference is one of presentation. And in leadership elections this is one of the deciding factors for me: who, in my judgement, is going to get media cut through, and build a relationship with the public?

A perk of being involved in politics is getting to see and meet MPs in the flesh but millions of "ordinary" people don't have this privilege. I remember the first time I saw Ed in person, at a conference fringe in, I think, 2012, I was impressed at how warm and engaging he was in person. I have since met him and always found him friendly and humorous. But my prior experience as an armchair supporter was not one of someone who excited me or left a particularly lasting impression - and in this election he has been worryingly prickly when asked about the coalition, both in hustings internally, and in the media externally.

My first impression of Layla wasn't great either - she spoke at conference rally and seemed somewhat robotic reading from the autocue... but later the same week in an Education debate, she spoke with passion and conviction. Since, I have seen her bring that passion to other topics - and when I see her on television that passion still shines through. It is this Layla that people will see - indeed, it is this Layla that people have been seeing throughout this leadership election, with hundreds of media appearances.

As well as passion, Layla also has a compassion for people. When several members of the LGBT+ Exec left the party last year in the wake of Phillip Lee being admitted, Layla made a point of coming to the pub in Bournemouth to sit with them and listen to their reasons and to check they were okay. She has empathy in spades, and that will be a valuable tool in connecting with the public and selling a revitalised Lib Dem brand.

Which brings us on to her vision for us to be radical: advancing Liberal values whilst connecting with the concerns of that fabled beast, the "real voter"... of course many people are interested in the bread and butter issues, and want easy policy solutions that will make their lives better, but people also want to feel like they understand what you stand for: and that's where taking distinctive Liberal positions comes in - like Paddy on Hong Kong or Charles on Iraq. Now, as so often before, those issues are in the fields of civil liberties and human rights, and we must not be afraid of them. This contrasts with Ed's approach which has been to major on policy solutions rather than values - for me it needs both.

And finally (and this is where I think I may be echoing something I said last year), the party is changing, but we have much still to do to make it truly representative of the country at large. One of Jo's legacies, though, is a parliamentary party (in the Commons) which is more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality than ever. In many ways, Layla embodies that diversity: a pansexual woman with Palestinian heritage (although she downplays this latter element, acutely aware that she passes as white) - electing her as leader would would reinforce that our commitment to equality did not begin and end with Jo.

Once this contest is over (and there's still a month to go) we will all have to come together again and fight for the future of the party. I hope that if Layla wins the party establishment, who have largely backed Ed, will respect that and engage constructively with her and the membership - just as I will support Ed if he wins. That's not to say there won't be moments when I'm critical - whoever wins. Indeed, Liberals should always be critical of leaders: hero worship doesn't come easy to us. I already don't agree with everything Layla says or argues for...

This is the fourth Lib Dem leadership election I've voted in - my previous three votes were for Charles, Tim, and Jo. All had their flaws, all of which proved, ultimately, fatal - but given the choices again, with the knowledge I had at the time, I would make the same decisions: leaders are the public face of the party, they need to set the tone, and they need to get cut through. For me, Layla meets those criteria, and more:

Layla has the vision, the passion, and the compassion we need if we are to stand a chance of getting out of the business as usual rut and rebuilding the Lib Dems as a party of Liberal values with real-life solutions to the problems faced by individuals and communities across the country.

OK, so Lamb wasn't a knight at the time, please forgive my use of poetic licence.
**Please accept my apologies for inconsistently in referring to Charles, Jo, Paddy, Ed and Layla but contrarily to Clegg and Lamb. I think, though, that those are reasonably common usages in the party.