I had determined to stay out of the leadership election.
Part of that was undoubtedly because, to be honest, I’m still really sad that we don’t have Jo any more.
I really didn’t want to have this contest and there was nothing about it that inspired me.
I was going to sit back with the popcorn and decide when I got my ballot paper.
It was quite an uncomfortable feeling. I have gone into most elections in my life knowing instinctively how I was going to vote. There was that awful time back in the 90s when I was faced with a choice of only Labour or Conservative when I had to cross my fingers behind my back and vote Labour, but not without any spark of hope that life was going to get any better.
This is how it is for a fair proportion of the electorate most of the time. For many of those, struggling even before the pandemic hit, there is a massive disconnect between their battle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head and their elected representatives. They really feel that nobody understands, nobody is listening and nobody will do anything to help them.
When the outlook is cloudy and misty, you need sunshine to burn off the gloom and bring renewal and regeneration.
That is as true for the party as it is for the country.
With her positive, collaborative, hopeful message, Layla has won not just my vote, but my active support. She has a bold and confident vision to rebuild and reshape this country to make it fairer, to value the wellbeing and mental health of its citizens and to make sure we do our bit to save the planet from the immediate threat of the climate emergency.
Good leaders spell out what they and their parties stand for, allowing people to grasp the ideas, embrace change and move forward together.
So, as I enter the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I want to make my vision for our country clear. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, I want to champion a more compassionate and cooperative United Kingdom that gives every person and our planet a chance to thrive.
It’s a vision that will appeal not only to party members, but to those who are not our supporters yet.
This party has always done best when it has stood up unequivocally for the values set out in the preamble to our constitution. Our best results have come when we have been at our most liberal and progressive, when we stood up for the gurkhas, for Hong Kong citizens, against the Iraq War. When we have done the right thing and been brave enough to make the right calls. We do worst when we equivocate and get nervous about expressing our values too loudly in case they upset the Daily Mail.
We have nothing to fear by articulating a strong, progressive, liberal message when we are facing the Conservatives. Layla has shown that she can do that in her own seat:
I have no doubt that Layla will make the right calls on these key issues and will stand with those whose rights and liberties are threatened by a government that sees human rights as an inconvenience.
Taking on the forces of populism and nationalism on one hand and a Labour Party with authoritarian instincts on the other requires charisma, empathy, creativity and courage. Layla has all of those qualities in abundance.
She has experience of working cross party on things like the People’s Vote campaign which she was involved with from the start.
Part of the reason that her vision is resonating so strongly with so many people across the party is that she listened to so many of them. Layla Listens isn’t just about cute alliteration. Her programme of events and subsequently Zoom calls with over 200 local parties helped inform her thinking about what needed to change in the way we do things. For me, one of the most important things is her emphasis on the importance of local government:
We need to ensure that our local government base is fully tied in with the party’s decisions. There is a lot the parliamentary team can learn from many of our council groups!
The number of times, even in the last few months, when our councillors have just not been thought about when key decisions are made is really embarrassing. At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, a lot of what we were saying nationally about building a community task force hadn’t been run by them and caused them problems. That sort of inclusion has to be instinctive.
The realpolitik of coalition
I have no doubt that we achieved some good things in our five years in coalition with the Conservatives. Same sex marriage, cutting taxes for the lowest paid, directing more funds to disadvantaged kids in school, getting the Conservatives to agree to invest in renewables against their usual (not better) judgement.
On our watch, we got through the 0.7% of GDP international aid target, hosted international summits on promoting the rights of women and girls internationally and legislated against Female Genital Mutilation.
We should be very proud of not just those things, but the things we stopped – things like the “rape clause” and 2 child limit and limiting Housing Benefit for young people. We can see from the terrible things the Tories with indecent haste when they won a majority how we had held them back.
Do we get the credit for that? Nope. Is that fair? Nope. But it is reality.
I think that at some point in the future, our role in that Government will be more valued than it is now. But that time has not yet come.
No explanations of collective responsibility will work when someone who voted to seriously curb benefits for sick and disabled people or to cut £31 million from carers’ benefits or to cut housing benefit for people with more bedrooms than they were deemed to need is confronted with that fact. We need to acknowledge that voting in favour of these things was a break with our values and that makes it difficult to defend.
Anyone who was part of that coalition government is going to be quizzed on their specific voting record and their explanations are not going to cut through. This will harm us because the progressive voters we need to support us will be harder to persuade to do g so. It’s not fair, but it is how things are.
This is not the only qualifying factor for a new leader, but we have in Layla an excellent candidate who comes without that voting record.
When you are challenging for the leadership of the fourth biggest party in Parliament, getting media cut-through is difficult, but Layla has done it well and often.
As a highlander, I was pretty impressed with her understanding of Scottish politics in this interview with the P and J:
Within Scotland, in the Highlands in particular, there’s a feeling that the SNP are far too focused on the central belt, that they are far too Edinburgh focused.
“The Liberal Democrat value of localism is the answer to that because it would allow the power to be given to the communities to do the things the way they want to do them.
“We are bottom up and trust people with their own power
For me, being governed from Edinburgh is every bit as bad as being governed from London. The more local power and less centralisation the better.
Here, she highlights the issue of low pay for key workers:
We know that the priority of key workers across the country during this crisis is keeping others well, safe and supplied. My research shows that 1.8 million key workers are not earning the real living wage and I believe they deserve so much better than this.
“So many of these workers came into this crisis undervalued and underpaid. They are many of the same people who bore the brunt of the last crisis. Many of those are women and Bame. We want to ensure that as we emerge from this current crisis history does not repeat itself again. As we move forward from this crisis, the Government must stop undervaluing these heroes
More than ever, we need a leader who always sounds fresh and interesting, who can articulate a compelling vision of the compassionate, liberal society we all believe in.
Everything I have seen from Layla so far convinces me that she is the best person to be leader.
I love her hopeful campaign video:
So, damn you, Layla. I had planned to spend my Summer in the garden reading novels.
Now I’ll be getting my nose to the campaign grindstone.
I hope that all of you reading this will join me.