Tuesday 2 July 2019 4:04 am

DEBATE: Does it really matter who becomes the next leader of the Liberal Democrats?

and Ben Kelly

Does it really matter who becomes the next leader of the Liberal Democrats?

Alex Deane, a Conservative commentator, says YES.

It is all too easy in British political life to write a party off – and it’s usually wrong. I know Tories who thought in the Blair heyday that they’d never be in power again.

But things change, and the party that seems to be standing still today can be the alternative turned to tomorrow.

As the recent European elections showed all too clearly, real value still remains in the Liberal Democrat brand. The party has increasingly distanced itself from the tuition fees doublecross, and benefits from a clear position on Brexit plus a professional (albeit potty-mouthed) political structure, complete with membership and get-out-the-vote systems on the ground.

Nick Clegg went from pootling along in fringe politics to being deputy prime minister; and the parliamentary arithmetic makes a similar result just as likely – or even more likely – after the next election.

So no matter how poor their current output and representatives may be, and even if you wouldn’t dream of voting for them, alas, it certainly matters who leads the Lib Dems.

Ben Kelly, a commentator for Reaction, says NO.

It doesn’t really matter who the next Liberal Democrat leader is, because the party’s recent resurgence is nothing to do with personality. It wasn’t Vince Cable’s charm winning back voters. Rather, the success was built on attracting moderates made homeless by a far-left Labour party and a Tory party lost in Brexit mania.

Neither Ed Davey nor Jo Swinson are exciting politicians or compelling speakers. They can’t match the “star power” of Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, or compete with the Jeremy Corbyn personality cult.

But policy matters far more than personality in maintaining momentum, and in any case the candidates barely disagree on anything.

The Lib Dems can continue to exploit favourable political circumstances by adopting a moderate, pro-market, socially liberal agenda – and both candidates promise a shift in that direction.

Whether those circumstances last is entirely down to the new Prime Minister, and little to do with who becomes the next Lib Dem leader.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.