Some party rebellions are good for the leader

A report from the Lib Dem party conference, as the second day begins

Saturday at Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham was the scene for two party rebellions to surface - one opposed by the party leadership and one likely to bring the leadership benefits.

The one opposed by the party leadership was the push by Evan Harris and the Social Liberal Forum to get a health motion restored to the conference agenda. There will be both a Q&A session and a "topical discussion" slot, but they also wanted a conventional motion and vote. Despite a rather poor speech from Simon Hughes opposing this attempt, it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority. The point though has still been made - and many Liberal Democrat peers will take it as a clear sign that they should stick to their guns in pushing for further amendments to the health bill as it goes through conference.

Peers featured in another rebellion, albeit one that was talked about rather than present at conference. For a group of Lib Dem peers actually oppose the government's plans to introduce elections for the House of Lords, starting in 2015.

Saturday afternoon's motion on Lords reform saw a particularly powerful intervention from former party leader Ming Cambpell, whose constituency is the successor to that held by Asquith, Liberal leader when the party secured the first major round of Lords reform a century ago. He bluntly told conference that he could not see how a Liberal Democrat could oppose elections and that, in the words of Nelson, they should do their duty to the country.

That is a theme I returned to in my own speech in the debate, pointing out that there is a clue in the party's name. We are not the Liberal Hereditaries or the Liberal Appointees For Life, but the Liberal Democrats.

Yet there is a benefit for the party leadership in the resistance of some Lib Dem peers. Political pundits go on endlessly about how leaders should have "Clause 4 moments" when they pick a fight with parts of their own parties. In this case, the reluctant peers have handily offered themselves up in opposition to Nick Clegg and democrats, providing an easy route for the Deputy Prime Minister to garner the benefits of a Clause 4 moment without its usual pains.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.