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What should liberals do in Buckingham?

September 4th, 2009 Posted in UK Politics by

nigel-farageNigel Farage’s decision to contest the seat of Buckingham at the next election poses a tactical problem for Liberal Democrats. Firstly, should the party continue to observe the established orthodoxy of standing aside for the Speaker? Secondly, if we do, how would we want liberal-minded voters in Buckingham to cast their ballot?

There’s no doubt that Farage has pulled off something of a coup. The bookies already have him at 4/1 to win the seat and he has a number of measurable advantages. Firstly, the seat is very true blue and if Farage can present himself as a de facto Tory, he may become the default choice for the many of the constituency’s Conservative voters. Secondly, although UKIP will be contesting hundreds of seats at the next election, it has very few that can be considered genuine targets – except this one.  Consequently, he might reasonably expect UKIP activists, canvassers and leafletters to descend on the seat in substantial numbers. Thirdly, it’s an area of the country in which UKIP perform pretty strongly – in the local elections in Buckinghamshire this year, they polled 13.5% of the overall vote. Finally, if Farage is effectively in a  two horse race against Bercow, he can style himself as the anti-Westminster, “send a message” candidate, which could well appeal to a jaded, cynical and disillusioned electorate.

This last point should give us pause for thought. From what I can discern of UKIP’s platform, they are not – to put it mildly – enthusiasts for domestic constitutional reform. In broad terms, their position is to withdraw from the EU in order to give MORE power to Westminster politicians like John Bercow. Those of us who think that cleaning up our politics means more than changing the personalities that sit on the green benches might have an opportunity in Buckingham to put a strong case for radical surgery of the whole Westminster system – in stark contrast to the conservatism advocated by Bercow and Farage.

Although this is true blue territory, the LibDems and Labour both polled about 20% of the vote last time. In a three cornered fight, a credible, mainstream, liberal candidate might even win.

18 Responses to “What should liberals do in Buckingham?”

  1. Ollie Cromwell Says:

    I depends if the Liberal Democrats want to risk being seen as a minor party like UKIP who do not feel the need to stand by the convention of not standing against the speaker.

  2. Why are we not standing against Bercow? « Moments of Clarity Says:

    […] Mark Littlewood seems to edge towards the same conclusion as me but for different reasons. First reason is simple; why shouldn’t we since Clegg was prepared to defy convention and call for Michael Martin’s resignation? Second is more focused around Farage and Bercow; pressed about his expenses and the vast amounts he has claimed, Farage looked far from convincing against a BBC interviewer. How this man can call himself a credible candidate for change and then claim £2 million in expenses himself is beyond me. Especially, as Caroline Lucas famously pointed out on Question Time, Farage doesn’t even actually do the job he is elected to do because he doesn’t believe in the European Union. […]

  3. Mark Littlewood Says:

    @ Ollie. I’m not sure why abiding by convention is a necessity for a party wishing to be mainstream. It may be prequisite for a party wishing to be conservative, but that’s not quite the same thing..

  4. Giles Freethink Says:

    It’s darned confusing, because Bercow is an anti-Conservative Tory chosen by Labour to annoy the Tories . . .

  5. plumbus Says:

    1st, surely this convention fits precisely with the private school/gentlemans club ethos that has strangled our politics for so long ?
    2nd, if we are serious democrats then we fight every election,everywhere & every time, under our own name. & yes that includes NI but thats another story.
    3rd, the GE in Buckinham, as it stands, will be an internal dispute between 2 wings of the Conservative party which will suit our “national” media just fine. They are already talking as though the Tories have won & which version of conservatism is the only valid question left.

  6. Stu Says:

    Meh, screw convention.

    Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes!


  7. Quaequam Blog! » Tory Dog Whistle Politics is Back! (did it ever really go away?) Says:

    […] this John Bercow business. There is an interesting debate to be had about how the Lib Dems should respond*, but for the Tories their recourse should be obvious for four reasons. Firstly, Bercow is a Tory […]

  8. Jack Elwood Says:

    I think we need to be realistic, as a Buckinghamshire resident (though not of that constituency) the chances of the Lib Dems taking it are quite clearly slim and none. Although Farage isn’t perfect by any means, hes preferable to Bercow and I think the more small party MPs that make it into the Commons the better to strengthen democracy. Save the Lib Dem treasury money and leave this as a two horse race.

  9. Ollie Cromwell Says:

    @Mark yes I get your point, I guess it just menas that throughout their history the Liberal Party and then the Lib Dem’s have been conservative. With regards to this convention at least.

  10. Angela Harbutt Says:

    I like the idea of a viable third candidate standing against the two tories. There is a very distinct possibility that a reasonable proportion of liberal/anti-sleaze voters will actually want a choice in the matter and Burcow/Farage do not offer much choice. I certainly think that a candidate that can highlight the hypocrisy of Farage/Burcow (neither of whom represent a “new face” of clean politics) would provide a valuable addition to the debate. There is also the chance that the rightwing vote gets split amongst these two leaving a viable third candidate a reasonable (if still tough) chance.Whether that is a Lib Dem candidate or a more general “clean up politics” candidate is probably a matter for the party HQ. But I am sure the local party could endorse a third candidate even if they were advised by HQ not to field an official candidate. If I were a Lib Dem supporter in Burcows seat I would offer my services to a liberal candidate if no Liberal Democrat candidate was fielded. I for one hope someone steps up to the challenge.

  11. Anton Howes Says:

    Isn’t Farage fairly liberal, particularly when compared with the rest of his party? He’d certainly be a very libertarian MP.
    I’d have thought that from an ideological perspective that’s a no-brainer.

    But yes, convention or no convention?

  12. Jack Elwood Says:


    Not to mention the fact that he obviously wouldn’t have to deal with party whips and won’t be anywhere near as marginalised as the other libertarian leaning MPs.

  13. Mark Littlewood Says:

    I’m actually of the view that Nigel Farage is a classical liberal, in very many ways.

    But he’s hardly a constitutional radical. His basic policy is to revert the UK’s constitution to where it was in 1972. And that everything that’s happened since has been bad.

    If Buckingham mattered because of liberal issues like freedom of speech, nannying on lifestyle issues, the database state etc., then Farage would be a very compelling candidate for radical liberals.

    But Buckingham doesn’t matter for those reasons. It matters because of our own domestic constitutional catastrophes.

    If democratic constitutional reformers believe that a straight choice between Farage and Bercow is a fair, clear and conclusive one for the Buckingham electorate, then I truly despair.

    If the party doesn’t fight this seat (and it should), we must at least strive to find a liberal, reforming candidate to put on the ballot paper.

  14. UKIP Treasurer resigns « Agent Orange Says:

    […] but a vote for Farage certainly isn’t a vote to clean up politics. It does then improve the case for putting a proper sleaze-busting liberal on the ballot-paper in […]

  15. burkesworks Says:

    “Convention”? What “convention”, exactly? I posted here about previous General Election contests involving a sitting Speaker, and I noticed that Labour and the forerunners to what are now the Lib Dems had no such compunction about obeying “convention” and running candidates. It’s not as if the examples I gave are taken from ancient history either.

    Run a LibDem candidate and give the voters of Buckingham that option. Chances are they won’t win, knowing the electoral make-up of the constituency – but more chance than not running at all.

  16. David Evershed Says:

    The Buckingham constituency Liberal Democrats have put forward an emergency motion at the Federal Conference to create an honorary constituency for the Speaker. This will allow all main parties to put forward a candidate in the Buckingham constituency at the next general election or at least for the Liberal Democrats to do so.

    The motion is as follows:

    SEPTEMBER 2009

    Submitted by Buckingham Local Party


    Conference notes that the election of John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons means that he must stand as a non-partisan candidate for his constituency in every general election which occurs during his tenure as Speaker.

    Conference further notes that:

    A. if the main parties follow the Parliamentary convention of not standing against the Speaker, thousands of voters who would have voted for one of these parties will be denied their democratic right to vote for the party of their choice in the next and subsequent general elections;
    B. at the forthcoming general election, the convention is unlikely to be respected by all the UK parties, especially those with no current representation in the House of Commons.

    Conference notes with dismay that, nearly half a century after Jeremy Thorpe joined in proposing a bill to give the Speaker an honorary constituency, electors are still being effectively disenfranchised by an outdated convention.

    Conference therefore urges:
    1. the Government to add to the constitutional renewal bill a provision which would automatically appoint the Speaker as MP for an honorary constituency, freeing his former constituents to exercise their democratic right to vote for the party of their choice; and
    2. Liberal Democrat decision-makers at all levels to ensure that, if this reform is not in place by the time of the general election, a Liberal Democrat candidate will stand in the Speaker’s constituency to enable voters to make a true and unfettered democratic choice at the ballot box.


  17. Quaequam Blog! » Taking risks is about more than stunts Says:

    […] David Marquand’s idea about self-organising elections to the Lords (my response here) and Mark Littlewood’s idea about fielding a candidate in Buckingham (my response here). I’m really not trying to be difficult, so I will try to lay out what sort […]

  18. Taking risks is about more than stunts  Says:

    […] David Marquand’s idea about self-organising elections to the Lords (my response here) and Mark Littlewood’s idea about fielding a candidate in Buckingham (my response here). I’m really not trying to be difficult, so I will try to lay out what sort […]