Regrettably, the executive of the Radical Association feel it has become necessary to issue a public statement on the events which led to the cancellation of the planned Q&A event with the candidates in the 2020 Lib Dem leadership election.
In an email sent out to our members on 9th August to announce the cancellation of the event, we said the following:
"The reason for the cancellation is that, due largely to the objections of one particular leadership campaign, it proved impossible to agree a chair for the Q&A event until less than 24 hours before the event, at which point notice to go ahead with the event would have been too short for the leadership campaigns to prepare for the session."
Following the publication of a statement on the Lib Dem website we feel obliged to set the record straight by providing more detail. We are extremely disappointed that the party did not make contact with us in any way to verify the facts prior to issuing their public statement.
However, for those unwilling to read the full chronological statement of events, our views in summary are that the event’s cancellation was caused primarily by the actions of Ed Davey’s leadership campaign who rejected numerous reasonable suggestions for a chair of the event.
This thereby made it impossible to agree upon a potential chair until around 4pm on 8th August, by which point there was less than 24 hours to go until the event and resulted in Layla Moran’s leadership campaign informing HQ that they did not feel it was reasonable to proceed with a previously unconfirmed event, which had not been publicised on the party website, at less than 24 hours notice.
We are deeply disappointed that the party has now issued a statement which fails to make clear which leadership campaign made it impossible to agree a chair until the day before the event was due to happen, whilst identifying Layla Moran’s campaign in a manner which could be - and on social media has been - interpreted as being responsible for the event not proceeding.
Wednesday 29th July to Friday 31st July
On 29th July our director was contacted by HQ to inform us of a likely cancellation of one of the Q&A events arranged for the Lib Dem leadership election. Given that we’d previously expressed interest in hosting such an event, HQ asked us whether we’d be interested in hosting a Q&A. We said we would and on 30th July we were formally offered the same slot (2pm on 9th August) as the Lib Dem Seekers of Sanctuary event which had been cancelled. We were asked who we’d propose to chair the event and informed that any chair would have to have not endorsed any leadership candidate and to watch HQ’s training video on the subject.
We responded on the same day with two initial suggestions for chair of the event. The first suggestion was our director who, whilst privately supporting Layla Moran in the election, had not made any formal endorsement of her, on the basis that polls had already opened and that finding a completely neutral chair at such a late stage would be challenging. The second suggestion was that the event be co-chaired by one person who was supporting Layla Moran and one person who was supporting Ed Davey. We also offered to provide both leadership campaigns with the full list of questions for the Q&A in advance so that there could not be any prospect of one candidate being asked unfair and impromptu questions during the event.
HQ informed us that they believed they could get both campaigns to agree to an event on those terms and asked us for formal names. We offered two names - our director and one of our exec members to be pro-Layla and pro-Ed co-chairs respectively. HQ then informed us that Ed Davey’s campaign had informed us that they were unhappy with the person we suggested as a pro-Ed co-chair but that Layla Moran’s team were happy with our suggestion for a co-chairs or with the idea of a completely neutral chair. We then suggested that Ed’s team could make a suggestion as to who the pro-Ed co-chair should be but also offered, on 31st July, a written statement and promise of fairness to reassure Ed Davey’s campaign team.
Saturday 1st August to Wednesday 5th August
On 2nd August we were informed by HQ that Ed Davey’s team were insisting upon a neutral chair (as was their right under the election rules) and asked for further suggestions. HQ also offered to try to source a chair in the event that we were unable to suggest anyone. We responded saying that we had a neutral individual in mind if necessary but also offered a name for another, public, Ed Davey supporter to be a co-chair alongside our director. We were then informed that Ed Davey’s team were “not keen” on the idea of co-chairs.
It was at this point that we first suggested James Baillie, a former chair of the Radical Association, as a neutral chair for the event. James Baillie is, in addition to being a longstanding Lib Dem member and activist, an experienced academic with professional experience of chairing panels and other Q&A-type events. He is also, alongside Natasha Chapman, behind a statement of points on ending overpolicing which both leadership campaigns had been asked to sign up to and, for that reason, was remaining publicly and privately neutral throughout the leadership campaign.
James has since issued a statement of his own about the cancelled Q&A which we urge people to read. The view of the Radical Association is that James Baille was treated very badly by Ed Davey’s leadership campaign throughout this process and was subjected to unfair attacks impugning his impartiality, integrity and professionalism without being offered any opportunity to respond.
Having proposed James Baillie as a neutral chair on 2nd August we waited until Tuesday 4th August without any indication from Ed Davey’s team, via HQ, as to whether they would consider him acceptable or not. We therefore wrote to Ed Davey’s team directly offering them the following options and asking them to reply by 5pm Thursday 6th August:
- Balanced co-chairs comprising our director and another executive member
- Balanced co-chairs comprising our director and an individual who had publicly endorsed Ed Davey
- Balanced co-chairs comprising our director and an Ed Davey supporter of his own campaign’s choice
- A neutral chair in the form of James Baillie
We also reiterated that we would submit all questions in advance to both leadership campaigns in writing so that they could be vetted by both campaigns to ensure impartiality. We did not receive a response to our written offer.
We did however receive, via Lib Dem HQ on 5th August, a suggestion from Ed Davey that HQ pick a Lord to chair the event. We were unwilling to accept a peer with no ties to our organisation so rejected this proposal but suggested that HQ approach an impartial New Statesman journalist, who had previously expressed a willingness to chair a leadership election event, about chairing our Q&A.
Thursday 6th August to Friday 7th August
By Friday 7th August the deadline we had given to Ed Davey’s team had passed and we had received no formal communication from them as to what objections they had to our proposals. Our executive then began discussing what we would do if the event had to be cancelled and what explanation we should give to our members. Our director was told by HQ that the journalist in question was unavailable so we therefore approached another New Statesman journalist about chairing the event but it transpired that he too was willing but unavailable.
We were then contacted by HQ late on the afternoon of 7th August who informed us that they’d heard from Ed Davey’s team we were planning to cancel the event if we couldn’t agree a chair with them. We were informed that the Returning Officer would prefer us, in those circumstances, not to assign blame in any public statement we made.
We were also informed, in the same email, that Ed Davey’s team were happy to go ahead if we could source a neutral chair and suggested three names which they felt would meet their criteria. Unfortunately, of the names suggested, two were known to us as supporters of Ed Davey in the leadership election and the other was known to us as a supporter of Layla Moran.
We communicated this to HQ and pointed out that no one had given us any reason as to why our suggestion of James Baillie as a neutral chair was unacceptable. HQ’s response was that Ed Davey’s team had sent them a screenshot that “very much suggest[ed]” he wasn’t neutral.
We were never shown what this screenshot was and were therefore unable to respond. However, we trusted, and still do trust, James’s integrity and professionalism. He publicly stated his neutrality at the start of the 2020 leadership campaign and assured us that this had not changed. Given his professional experience at being a neutral chair we did not at the time, and still do not, see any reason why he could have been deemed biased or partial. We were also, and still are, disappointed that neither we nor James were given the opportunity to respond to the screenshot given to HQ by Ed Davey’s team.
By this point it was a Friday evening and less than 36 hours until the Q&A was due to take place. Further correspondence with HQ that evening informed us that Ed Davey’s team wouldn’t agree to the event unless they had a chair they were happy with. We were told that this was possibly because they were being asked “to step into a more hostile audience than they [were] used to”. HQ also suggested a further list of names as potential chairs (which included at least one individual who had publicly endorsed Ed Davey).
Saturday 8th August to Sunday 9th August
After reviewing the list of names a final attempt was made to secure a chair by approaching one of these individuals whom we considered to be acceptable both from the point of view of neutrality and from the point of view of being suitably in tune with the views of the Radical Association. By 8th August, the day before the Q&A was scheduled, this individual had confirmed their willingness to be a backup chair only in the event we couldn’t find anyone else (as to do the event would have meant cancelling their pre-arranged plans for that day).
With the clock ticking we then approached another individual to be our chair for the event - an individual whom we had previously discounted during our discussion with HQ on the grounds of them being known to us as a Layla Moran supporter - but whom HQ had assured us would be acceptable to Ed Davey’s team. At around 3pm on 8th August, we were able to inform HQ that we were able to proceed with the event on the basis that we had both a potential chair and a backup chair in the event that the person we asked was unable to do it. HQ then told us they were publishing the event on the party website and that they were contacting both leadership campaigns to confirm their attendance.
However, by 4pm we received confirmation that the event could not go ahead as, due to the late confirmation, Layla Moran’s team were unwilling to proceed with an event when they would have less than 24 hours’ notice to prepare for it. This was deeply disappointing to us but did not feel unreasonable under the circumstances.
The following day, Sunday 9th August, we informed our members of the cancellation of the event.
We are confident that the above account is an accurate and fair one, as well as one which covers all the key events that transpired since we were first invited by HQ to host a Q&A event.
We would like to conclude by emphasising the following:
- We approached this entire process in good faith on the basis that we were excited to host a Q&A for our members and wanted to do the best job we could of it.
- Our biggest regret from the entire process is that the many excellent questions submitted by our members, several of which have not been asked anywhere else during this leadership campaign could not be answered. We have published the list of questions in a Google Document online in order to rebut any suggestion that we intended to conduct a biased event.
- We consider the cause of the cancellation of the event to be primarily the consequence of Ed Davey’s leadership campaign. This is on the basis that they proved slow to respond to suggestions, refused to communicate with us directly, and that they rejected several reasonable suggestions including that of an experienced chair who was publicly and privately neutral, as well as the opportunity to vet the list of questions themselves prior to the event.
- We do not consider it unreasonable for Layla Moran’s leadership campaign to have declined to proceed with a Q&A, on a day on which other hustings were already happening, due to it being confirmed at less than 24 hours notice. We also note that Layla Moran’s team showed, from the beginning, complete openness and willingness to agree to any reasonable format for chairing the event.
- Given that various other leadership election hustings and Q&As have been held with chairs who were, to varying degrees, committed supporters of one candidate or another, we feel as though Ed Davey’s campaign were trying to hold the Radical Association to a standard which they had not insisted upon for any other event.
- HQ’s statement on the cancellation of the Q&A is, in our eyes, fundamentally misleading as to the events which transpired. We are disappointed that HQ did not contact us prior to issuing their statement.
- It should also be noted that, contrary to HQ’s statement, although the Young Liberals kindly allowed us to submit our questions to their own hustings, they ended up having more than enough questions from their own members and therefore do not appear to have used any of the questions we submitted. This is, of course, perfectly reasonable on the part of the Young Liberals and they still have our gratitude.
- We consider the treatment of James Baillie in particular to have been utterly unacceptable. Whilst it is perfectly within the rights of a leadership campaign to object to a suggestion for an event chair, we do not consider it acceptable for a leadership campaign to baselessly accuse someone of bias and intended partiality to party headquarters, particularly when he was not given any opportunity to respond. The fact that several supporters of Ed Davey’s leadership campaign have doubled down on this on social media following the cancellation of the event has been extremely disappointing but should not be blamed on Ed Davey himself.
It is the intention of the Radical Association executive that this statement will draw this matter to a close.