My sandal-wearing, yoghurt weaving, beardy secret life exposed!

The readers of The Times must think I’m a right old Liberal stereotype, thanks to Mary Ann Sieghart:

You have to read these comments through the prism of the typical Lib Dem member. In general, Conservatives adore their leader, Labour activists tolerate him and Lib Dems would rather he didn’t exist. As James Graham writes on his Lib Dem Quaequam blog, “Like most sensible people, I see party leaders as a necessary evil.” In a Utopian world, Lib Dems would be like the Greens, with nobody allowed to tell them what to do.

That’s certainly what I wrote, but I like to think I was making a slightly more nuanced point than that. To continue the quote:

[Leaders] are necessary because you need a figurehead and you need someone in the driving seat; it is far better to have someone do this with a clear mandate than pretend you don’t have leaders in the way that the Green Party does and have lots of unelected demagogues jostling like cats in a sack. But they are bad because the leader themselves invariably develops a bunker mindset and even in a party such as the Lib Dems which has non-conformism and the importance of the individual flowing through its collective veins, a cult of personality invariably develops.

My point wasn’t that the Green Party doesn’t have leaders, but that it does and pretends not to. My experience of the Greens, based on personal observation and the testimony of lots of ex-members is that the factional feuding within the party is intense with lots of individuals trying the pull the party in different directions. Having anarcho-syndicalist Derek Wall at the top of the tree one minute and glamour-puss realo Caroline Lucas there the next isn’t not having a leader, it’s changing the captain partway through the voyage.

So yes, I suppose I would quite like to live in an ideal world where leadership wasn’t necessary, but I can’t see it ever working in practice. The Green Party is proof of that, not a refutation.

Thanks for the plug though Mary, and I agree with much of what you have to say. Although you might have pissed off a lot of Lib Dems by implying that I am ‘typical’.


  1. It’s true that I too wear sandals..they just have very high heels!

    I tried, with a group of friends at University, to put on a play, as a collective without having a leader; it didn’t work and it all went a bit factional…just like the Greens.

  2. So as liberals we want power to be dispersed but also to be accountable? Usually these two imperatives don’t come into conflict, but in this case I suppose a single party leader is a reasonable compromise in liberal terms (even aside from the practical demands of contemporary politics). Having a single identifiable and accountable person with whom the buck stops is far preferable to the tyranny of formlessness that I’ve seen in the Green party and other very self-consciously radical groups.

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