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5 May 2011

How hard is it for the Lib Dems to ditch Clegg?

What the party’s rule book tells us.

By George Eaton

Here’s the answer to a question that will be asked a lot over the next 48 hours: how hard is it for the Lib Dems to get rid of Clegg?

The rules state that a leadership election will be held when either 75 constituency parties submit a request for one, or when a vote of no confidence is passed by a majority of Lib Dem MPs.

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For those with a keen interest in such matters, here’s the relevant section from the party’s constitutions:

10.2 An election for the Leader shall be called upon:
(a) the Leader asking for an election;
(b) the death or incapacity of the Leader;
(c) the Leader ceasing to be a Member of the House of Commons (other than a temporary cessation by reason of a dissolution);
(d) the receipt by the President of the resignation of the Leader or of a declaration of intent to resign upon the election of a new Leader;
(e) a vote of no confidence in the Leader being passed by a majority of all Members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons;
(f) the receipt by the President of a requisition submitted by at least 75 Local Parties (including for this purpose, the Specified Associated Organisation or Organisations representing youth and/or students) following the decision of a quorate general meeting; or
(g) the first anniversary of the preceding general election being reached without an election being called under any of paragraphs (a) through (f), provided that:
(i) the Federal Executive may postpone such an election for no more than one year by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting; and
(ii) this paragraph (g)

Any leadership challenger must have the support of at least 10 per cent of the 57 Lib Dem MPs as well as the backing of 200 party members, spread across at least 20 constituency associations.

My sense is that we’re not at the stage where a leadership election is likely (as Olly Grender also argued earlier this week). We can expect several of the party’s MPs to speak out after the likely referendum defeat but, owing to the mendacious No to AV campaign, much of their anger will be directed at the Tories.

We’ll hear calls for Clegg to put clear yellow water between himself and the Conservatives but, as recent events have demonstrated, he’s doing that anyway.

In a recent article for Prospect, Charles Kennedy offered a good account of the mood in the parliamentary party. “Despite recent setbacks, the Lib Dems are a much more resilient bunch than we are usually given credit for. We wouldn’t have survived otherwise,” Kennedy said.

He added that “the real fortunes of the party will hinge on the economic prognosis in the third and fourth years of this parliament”.

Such stoicism is shared by the party at large.

UPDATE: Since a commenter asked me, here are the rules for Labour leadership elections. At least 20 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party is needed to initiate a challenge. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each candidate must have the support of 12.5 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP.