Are leadership elections just beauty contests?

The answer is, I think, that they can be.

Thinking back to the leadership referendum one of the arguments of the “no” side was that if we adopted a leader elections would inevitably be boiled down to questions of personality over politics. The focus would be on the qualities of candidates stripping away the political, strategic and electoral meat.

Certainly it tends to be the refrain of losing candidates who aren’t as popular as winning candidates that it as all “just” a “popularity contest” (see Ken Livingstone at the moment). Well, yes, elections are contests of popularity, political popularity.

Only down the line tribalists think that the quality of the candidate is irrelevant in an election because you do actually get a person along with the manifesto and they can be energetic, dishonest, funny, stupid, or whatever. So if the job involves actually doing things then you want someone who can do them well.

However, if the only thing that gets discussed in the election are the candidates CVs that’s a very hollow choice we’ll end up making. If we aren’t discussing a vision of how we go from a strategy of retaining our single MP to winning a dozen then we’re wasting our time. If we aren’t discussing how we become a truly national party, or how we fit our key environmental policies within the context of our manifesto then all we’re doing is discussing salesmen (or women).

Two years ago the deputy leader election between Adrian Ramsay and Derek Wall was, in m view which I outlined at the time, extremely healthy that focused on political strategy. Derek and Adrian had very different views of what the party was about which meant members had a real choice to make not just between capable activists but between political programmes. This made it a far more meaningful election than a simple beauty contest.

I hope we can follow the example from two years ago, but more so, in ensuring that we are talking specifics about our politics, our strategies and our party as well as the relative merits of the candidates swimsuits.

NB: If these elections are beauty contests though it means there can only be one winner, Suffolk councillor, and all round good bloke, Graham Elliot. The video gets good about one minute in.

Leave a comment


  1. weggis

     /  22/05/2012

    “Are leadership elections just beauty contests?”


  2. Elliot Folan

     /  22/05/2012

    Graham for leader!

  3. Chris

     /  13/03/2015

    Oh ask him if he declare all interest in voting ?

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