Each year I convene three panels to compile lists of the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, the Top 100 People on the Left and the Top 100 People on the Right. Each list is published to coincide with the three party conferences. This is the ninth year I’ve been doing this and although I thought that last year’s lists saw an unprecedented degree of change from the previous year, 2016’s are maintaining the momentum. Politics is getting ever more frenetic.
The Liberal Democrats have at least met the challenge I set them in 2015: of remaining relevant enough to warrant their inclusion in this exercise. Although they still seem stuck on 8 to 9 per cent in the polls, the EU referendum result, and Tim Farron’s immediate and instinctive reaction to it, gave them more publicity, another 20,000 or so members and a marked improvement in their local government by-election performance.
After 19 new entries in last year’s Liberal Democrat list, there are 15 new ones, or re-entries, this year. Much of this is due to the firming-up of the leader’s organization – this time last year Farron was a brand new leader, and hadn’t sorted out his office or his advisers. So many of the changes are due to new appointments – notably his widely-respected chief of staff Ben Williams, the highest new entry at number 5 – or to members of his leadership campaign team fading out. A raft of new appointments at party HQ have brought a new energy and professionalism to what was a distinctly battered operation, and the highly competent party president Sal Brinton has overseen an overhaul of the party’s byzantine committee structure.
Still, the Lib Dems lack stars recognizable in the outside world; most of the names here will be familiar only to party activists. Alongside Farron, Nick Clegg – now clawing back a little of the respect he used to have thanks to his expertise on EU matters – and Norman Lamb, plus old warhorses Paddy Ashdown and Vince Cable, are about the only Lib Dems who get any national coverage. There are other good performers, many now in the House of Lords, such as Susan Kramer and Lynne Featherstone, or Scottish leader Willie Rennie or London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon, but along with the party as a whole, they struggle to be noticed. Welsh leader Kirsty Williams finds herself in the odd, though influential, position of occupying a ministerial post in the Welsh government as part of a coalition between Labour and – herself, as the only surviving Liberal Democrat in the Welsh Assembly.
Labour’s long-drawn-out implosion and UKIP’s disintegration may offer opportunities to the Liberal Democrats over the next twelve months. It’s too early to say they’ve recovered from electoral wipe-out in 2015 – but at least they seem to have hit bottom.
1. (-) Tim Farron
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
One of the more challenging jobs in British politics at the moment. Finding it difficult to get media traction but very popular with the LibDem grassroots. With Labour imploding there are now huge opportunities for the LibDems if Farron can exploit them.
2. (-) Sal Brinton
President of the Liberal Democrats
Brinton has an increasingly high media profile and is a reassuring presence for the LibDem grassroots.
3. (-1) Nick Clegg
Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats
With the publication of his new book and his return to the front bench as Europe Spokesman, expect to hear much more from the former Deputy Prime Minister over the next 12 months.
4. (-1) Norman Lamb
A quieter year for Lamb, who is increasingly concentrating on mental health policy.
5. (NEW) Ben Williams
Chief of Staff to Tim Farron
Acts as Tim Farron’s eyes and ears and gatekeeper.
6. (+1) Willie Rennie
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Avoiding wipeout in the Scottish Parliament elections in May counted as success in LibDem terms. Much of this was due to Rennie’s unexpectedly good performances in the TV debates.
7. (-1) Kirsty Williams
Former Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
She stood down from the leadership in Wales after losing all the LibDem seats in the Welsh Assembly apart from her own. She is now the only LibDem in a position of power, having accepted a place in the Welsh Executive Cabinet.
8. (+5) Lord Newby
Lib Dem Leader in the House of Lords
Newby has just been elected LibDem leader in the Lords, having previously acted as chief whip.
9. (+17) Alastair Carmichael
Former Scottish Secretary, MP for Orkney & Shetland
Carmichael has recovered from being accused of electoral malpractice and has now one of Tim Farron’s inner circle. A wise old owl figure.
10. (-1) Lynne Featherstone
Lib Dem Peer & Spokesperson on Energy & Climate Change
Popular with activists, a stellar record as a minister on issues like gay marriage and FGM. Kept up her profile with her book on equal marriage, EQUAL EVER AFTER
11. (+3) Caroline Pidgeon AM
Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London
Bright, funny, sassy, intelligent, she fought an excellent campaign for London mayor even if she didn’t get the result she deserved.
12. (+3) Tom Brake
Lib Dem Chief Whip
Brake is popular in the party, if somewhat charismatically challenged. But he herds the LibDem cats well and is trusted.
13. (+4) Baroness Susan Kramer
Lib Dem Peer & Economics Spokesman
Was seen as a good minister at the Department of Transport and has a good profile in her new economics portfolio. Her public persona belies a wickedly cheeky sense of humour.
14. (+2) Baroness Kate Parminter
Lib Dem Deputy Leader in the Lords
One half of a LibDem power couple (married to Clegg donor/adviser Neil Sherlock) she is a popular member of the LibDem House of Lords leadership team. She also shadows DEFRA.
15. (RE-ENTRY) Mike German
Party Treasurer & DWP Spokesman in the House of Lords
Former leader of the LibDems in the Welsh Assembly, he is said to have become very close to Tim Farron and is also responsible for the money side of the party.
16. (+3) Sir Vincent Cable
Former Lib Dem Business Secretary
Kept up a high media profile in the last twelve months and clearly determined to continue to play a leading role in the promotion of LibDemmery. Still handicapped by his reputation for not being a team player, burnished in the Clegg and Laws books.
17. (+1) Paddy Ashdown
Former Lib Dem leader
Still recovering from the 2015 election shambles he remains an important figure behind the scenes and still maintains a high media profile.
18. (NEW) Phil Reilly
Director of Communications for the Liberal Democrats
All round nice guy, Reilly has made the transition from being one of Nick Clegg’s Press team to taking on the whole comms role for Tim Farron. Devout West Ham fan.
19. (+12) Tim Gordon
Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats
Some say he’s more of a Financial Director than a Chief Executive, but whatever he is, he’s doing a great job holding the LibDems’ financial head above water.
20. (NEW) Shaun Roberts
Director of Campaigns & Elections
21. (-1) Duncan Brack
Vice Chair Lib Dem Policy Committee
22. (+1) Mark Pack
Editor, LibDem Newswire
23. (-1) David Laws
Former LibDem Schools Minister
24. (+16) Caron Lindsay
Co-editor of LibDem Voice
25. (NEW) Chris White
Member, Party Executive & Councillor
26. (+18) James Gurling
Chair, Campaigns and Communications Committee
27. (NEW) Giles Derrington
Head, Parliamentary Advisory Unit, Liberal Democrats
28. (+1) Dorothy Thornhill
LibDem mayor of Watford, new peer
29. (-2) Jo Swinson
Former Business minister
30. (NEW) Robin Teverson
31. (-6) Sir Simon Hughes
Former deputy leader of the Lib Dems
32. (NEW) Rumi Verjee
33. (+9) Mark Williams
Lib Dems’ only Welsh MP, vice-chairman of the parliamentary campaigns team
34. (-13) Catherine Bearder
Member of the European Parliament
35. (RE-ENTRY) James McGrory
Co-Director, Open Britain, former Press Secretary to Nick Clegg
36. (NEW) Laura Davies
Director of People, Liberal Democrats
37. (-1) Menzies Campbell
Former leader of the LibDems, LibDem peer
38. (NEW) Tim Pickstone
Chief Executive, Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
39. (-31) Greg Mulholland
Chair of the Parliamentary Campaigns Team
40. (-1) Jonathan Oates
Former Director of Communications to Nick Clegg, LibDem peer
41. (-31) Ben Rich
Former chief of staff to Tim Farron
42. (-2) John Pugh
MP for Southport, Education spokesperson
43. (NEW) Daisy Cooper
Parliamentary Candidate, St Albans
44. (NEW) Prateek Buch
Federal Policy Committee Member, former Director of the Social Liberal Forum
45. (NEW) John Leech
Former Member of Parliament for Manchester, Withington
46. (+41) Jim Wallace
Outgoing Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords
47. (+1) Maajid Nawaz
Director of the Quilliam Foundation, former LibDem PPC
48. (-2) Sarah Ludford
LibDem Peer, former MEP
49. (NEW) Daisy Benson
Parliamentary Candidate for Yeovil
50. (-5) Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Leader of the LibDems on the LGA