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Thursday, June 16, 2005


This is not a snub

Thanks to Will Howells for drawing my attention to the news that the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party elected a new chairman yesterday.

Paul Holmes, MP for Chesterfield, defeated the incumbent Matthew Taylor by 36 votes to 23 (59 of the 61 eligible MPs voted). The significance of this vote is that Taylor is close to party leader Charles Kennedy, whereas Holmes is perhaps the most militant of the 'Beveridge' group of left-wing MPs.

Only two media appear to have picked up this story so far, the Scotsman and ePolitix.

Scotsman's initial report last night suggested that the vote was nothing more than the party's backbenchers flexing their muscles.

Mr Taylor, the Truro and St Austell MP, said: "The Parliamentary party had a clear choice to make. They have decided to follow the route of the Conservative and Labour parties in choosing a backbench representative to chair their meetings.

"With a much larger Parliamentary party it was inevitable that sooner or later we would choose this route and with a large new intake of MPs I am not surprised that this change has taken place.

"We now have to reflect on how to build an effective team across the whole of the Parliamentary party and ensure that no unnecessary division between backbench and frontbench develops."
Despite this spin, however, it is clear that rumours have begun circulating to the effect that this election may have a more ideological significance. A second report from the Scotsman this morning was ominously titled Kennedy Denies Being Undermined by MPs' Vote:

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy today denied his authority had been undermined after MPs dumped his choice as parliamentary party chairman.

Mr Kennedy had wanted Matthew Taylor to keep the key job. But he was beaten by Paul Holmes in a vote of MPs last night.

The Liberal Democrat leader insisted the vote was not about him. But he acknowledged he had wanted Mr Taylor to stay on. He had called for a period of stability after the election...

At a press conference called to highlight the party’s pensions plans, Mr Kennedy added: "To be honest I don’t think this has got anything to do with perceived intellectual differences within the parliamentary party of the Liberal Democrats."
ePolitix's report this evening - titled Kennedy plays down Taylor snub - continues in a similar vein:

Charles Kennedy denies his authority has been undermined following the rejection by MPs of his choice of parliamentary party chairman.

The Liberal Democrat leader said his MPs' surprise decision to sack Matthew Taylor this week was not a revolt against the direction he wants to take the party in.

The Commons group of Lib Dems chose to install Chesterfield MP Paul Holmes by 36 votes to 23, despite Kennedy making his preference for Taylor known.

Taylor had held the role since 2003 and was named chairman in Kennedy's post-election frontbench reshuffle, subject to party approval.

As a close ally of party leader, he chaired Kennedy's 1999 leadership election campaign, and authored the Lib Dem election manifesto. The vote was widely seen as a snub against an expected attempt to shift the party to the right.
It will be interesting see whether Kennedy's damage limitation exercise will work or whether there will be further coverage in tomorrow morning's press.

Why only 61 eligible voters?
There have been only 61 Liberal Democrat MPs since the death of Patsy Calton.
Of course, how stupid of me!
the Guardian is now covering it too. At least on their website.
A number of other media have now reported the story; the Guardian, the Independent, and the Glasgow Herald.

The Guardian report appears the most accurate, from what I have heard from my own sources. Phil Willis originally intended to stand against Taylor for chairman (with Paul Holmes as his campaign manager), but was persuaded to stand down with the offer of a job chairing an inquiry into the management of the parliamentary party. Holmes decided to run anyway and won comfortably.

The contest was not ideologically-motivated, despite the involvement of the Beveridge Group. Apart from anything else, Matthew Taylor is not an 'Orange Book' author.

The rebellion was the result of backbench dissatisfaction with the way the general election campaign was run and the inactivity since the election, and the widespread feeling among backbenchers that they are being kept in the dark.
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