Will the next LibDem Leader have national ballot appeal?

Who are the Liberal Democrats? How far does their leader embody their party? In what way would their leader be a desirable UK Prime Minister?

As Liberal Democrats go to the polls to elect a leader these should be the questions members of the party have at the front and centre of their minds. These are the questions voters will ask. We need a leader who has manifold capacities to govern the country, providing sound leadership on a global stage into the next decade.

Many will not believe such a thing possible. Many unbelievers will be Liberal Democrats. But just think for a moment ‘What if…?’

Our country has lots of difficult crossroads to navigate simultaneously over the next five years and more. Brexit, climate change – flooding, drought, rising sea-levels will have to be managed. There is post-COVID-19 disaster recovery, mass unemployment, law and order, global recession, balance of payments deficit. Crime rises in the wake of rising unemployment. Desperation forces the hand of the destitute. Think 1980s. Fending off the break-up of the UK will be key. …A fact our Scottish party members are all too familiar with this past decade.

In the post-credit crunch era of the 2010 election, the nation did turn Liberal Democrat in some measure. We entered government with the Conservatives as a result. Crisis is opportunity, then – as now. We should be doing everything we can to answer the series of crises we face as a nation. Our first concern is which of our leadership candidates has the gift of statecraft.

We need a leader who will be an attractive prospect when up against Labour, Conservative and nationalist parties. It’s not hard. Vigorous profile, what we might call national ballot appeal, is first. Competence has to be there. Though the current PM arguably has significant ballot appeal over perceived competence. At least, that’s what the papers say. Decency is always a winner with the UK electorate. Local, regional and national ballot-appeal is what our next leader must have.

The price of Brexit has unfortunately been fissive secession. English nationalism has found its voice. The Brexit agenda spoke clearly in the 2019 election. Scotland’s nationalists have been doing the same and are arguably making headway. Nationalists in Wales are making the same noises. The logic of a united Ireland is an increasingly practical possibility as Mr Johnson’s Conservative government no longer needs Ulster Unionists, having breached the Red Wall in the 2019 election.

With Brexit, Liberal Democrats, and the country, have seen the collapse of the middle ground. Centralising tendencies at the poles of politics have been with us for some time. We need a Liberal Democrat leader who is a bridge-maker. – One who will draw our national political life back to the centre. We need to re-create the sweet-spot of open, decent, liberal democratic society. No nationalist, Labour or Conservative party will do that. It’s down to us. As we felt painfully in the 2019 election, if we choose unwisely we are lost.

* L M Sue-Too is a Liberal Democrat member in Lancaster & Morecambe.