Top 50 most influential Liberal Democrats: 50-26
25 (+1) Steve Webb
Work & pensions spokesman
Deeply cerebral, Webb was tipped as a possible leadership candidate, but decided instead to back Nick Clegg. He made his reputations as a pensions and social security expert, but when he moved to the environment brief he almost disappeared from public view. Since his return to the work & pensions brief he has appeared more at home. Heavily into new media and blogging, Webb is seen very much as following the Simon Hughes tradition of grassroots political campaigning.
24 (-12) Norman Baker
The maverick’s maverick, Baker is seen as an obsessive, even by his party colleagues. He recently published a book asserting that Dr David Kelly was murdered. He’s viewed as the very antithesis of a team player, but is an effective media operator despite his less than matinee idol looks. Some think he is getting a reputation as a rent-a-quote, a reputation which was burnished during the MPs’ expenses scandal when he seemed to have a view on every case of misdoing. He is said to be very unpopular with MPs, including those on his own side.
23 (-15) Simon Hughes
Energy & climate change spokesman
After twenty years as a leading player in Lib Dem politics – often described as the best leader they never had – Hughes’s star is now very much on the wane. In various leadership contests he was always the bridesmaid but never the bride. A party man to his core, Hughes never really acquired the aura of gravitas which leadership requires. His popularity within the party, however, remains undiminished. He has failed to make an impact in his new job as energy & climate change spokesman and can’t resist popping up on the media speaking about issues other than his own policy area.
22 (+1) Lord Shutt
Lib Dem Chief Whip in the House of Lords
A Life Peer since 2000, David Shutt figures prominently on this list not just because of his role as chief whip in the Lords. He is also chairman of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which has become a large provider of funds to the Lib Dems in recent years, to the tune of several millions of pounds. This means that in the year of a general election his influence becomes all the greater.
21 (+7) Lynne Featherstone
Equality & youth spokesman
Feisty and telegenic, Lynne Featherstone was a leading cheerleader for Chris Huhne and as a consequence has been somewhat sidelined by Nick Clegg. She is one of the Lib Dems’ foremost bloggers and a doughty constituency campaigner, having overturned a Labour majority of more than 10,000. She was appointed last year to chair the party’s technology board and is a firm advocate of the advantages of new media campaigning. In a party with comparatively few leading women, she deserves more prominence.
20 (+2) Paul Burstow
Burstow spent two years as Lib Dem health spokesman but was dropped by Charles Kennedy after the 2005 election. A year later he was elected Chief Whip by Lib Dems MPs following Ming Campbell’s election as Lib Dem leader. He has established a reputation for firmness in a party where whipping is considered as difficult as herding cats.
19 (-6) Charles Kennedy
Leader of the Lib Dems 1999-2006
The Lib Dems are still suffering from a collective guilt complex for what happened to Charles Kennedy. Their reputation as the ‘nice’ party disappeared in one fell swoop. Kennedy has adopted a low profile but is gradually adopting the mantle of ‘wise old sage’. He’s quick to defend himself if anyone criticises his period as leader by reminding them of the electoral successes the party enjoyed under his stewardship. Any return to the front bench now seems unlikely.
18 (+7) Duncan Brack
Chair, Conference Committee
Former Lib Dem policy director Brack is one of the few Lib Dems who everybody seems not only to like but also to respect. He was for a number of years a senior policy director at Chatham House and more recently was behind the Reinventing the State book, which challenged the more liberal economic position of the Orange Book crowd. His position as chair of the Lib Dem Conference Committee means he exerts huge power, due to its policymaking role. He edits the Journal of Liberal History. Is tipped to become a Lib Dem peer after the election.
17 (+4) Anthony Lester
Lib Dem peer
The co-founder of the anti discrimination think tank the Runnymede Trust, Lord Lester was also known as a close acolyte of Roy Jenkins. He joined Gordon Brown’s Government of All the Talents as an adviser on constitutional reform. He is better known as a human rights lawyer than a Liberal Democrat.
16 (NEW) Richard Allan
The former MP for Sheffield Hallam, who stood down from Westminster in 2005, enjoys Clegg’s ear and has been a constant source of advice and support throughout his leadership. Previously at Cisco and now working for Facebook, Allan is not expected to play any formal advisory role between now and the election but is said to speak to Clegg several times a week. He was appointed by the government to take part in a review of government IT.
15 (-4) Baroness Williams
Former Leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords
Although she no longer holds an official position, Shirley Williams is seen as the Grandmother of the Liberal Democrats. She exerts huge influence on Lib Dem peers, which was amply demonstrated in their stance on the Lisbon Treaty, which ran counter to that of the party leadership. After Nick Clegg and Charles Kennedy she is probably the Lib Dems’ most recognised face on TV. Her recently published memoirs will give her further media prominence.
14 (+2) Evan Harris
Lib Dem MP for Oxford West & Abingdon
One of the doughtiest Lib Dem campaigners, Harris is an inveterate ‘taker-upper’ of causes, the latest being the pro-abortion campaign. Strangely for a Lib Dem, he is also a powerful advocate of animal experimentation. Another Lib Dem who finds the concept of collective responsibility a strange one, he returned to the Lib Dem front bench in 2005 after a two year period caring for his very ill girlfriend. He is the party’s spokesman on science, but ought to given a more prominent campaigning role.
13 (+20) Tavish Scott
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats
Scott was elected leader of the Scottish Lib Dems a year ago and faces an uphill struggle to make the party’s voice heard north of the border. He served in the Lab/Lib Scottish Executive as minister for transport prior to May 2007. A confident media performer he is very much a ‘steady as she goes’ man.
12 (27) Polly MacKenzie
Chief political adviser to Nick Clegg
One of the Lib Dems’ brightest young talents, Polly Mackenzie was Clegg’s chief of staff when he was Home Affairs spokesman and resigned her post to be part of his leadership campaign team. She has great influence over policy and writes most of Nick Clegg’s important speeches. Party bigwigs are encouraging her to stand for Parliament.
11 (NEW) Lord Oakeshott
Spokesman for the Treasury, and Work and Pensions
A close ally of Chris Huhne, Lord Oakeshott is an economist by training, having once worked for the Kenyan Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. Professionally, he now invests in commercial property for pension funds, charities and investment trusts. He was a special adviser to the late Roy Jenkins between 1972-76, and also had a stint as a city councillor in Oxford before becoming a peer in 2000. He is the Lords’ equivalent of Norman Baker and always has an eye for a headline. He is easily the most omnipresent Lib Dem peer in the media. Although perhaps that is not saying much.
10 (-5) Paddy Ashdown
Leader of the Lib Dems 1988-1999
It was Ashdown who led the Lib Dems to an electoral breakthrough in 1997 and for that reason alone he is revered by Lib Dems. He remains influential and was even rumoured to be thinking about seeking the Party’s presidency. His sojourns in Bosnia and Kosovo mean he’s the only leading Lib Dem to have actually run a country since the days of Lloyd George, and for that reason alone he deserves his high ranking. Nowadays, he is quite active in the House of Lords, a chamber he is said to loathe. His memoirs, published in April, were well reviewed.
9 (+4) Tom McNally
Leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords
A genial figure, Lord McNally started political life as head of James Callaghan’s political office. Elected to the Commons in 1979 he defected to the SDP two years later. He was one of the key players in the overthrow of Charles Kennedy. He was elected leader of Lib Dem peers unopposed, succeeding Shirley Williams in 2004. He has overseen a quiet rise in the influence of Lib Dem peers within the party.
8 (+41) John Sharkey
Strategic advisor to Nick Clegg
John Sharkey was part of the Saatchi & Saatchi team which advised Margaret Thatcher during the 1987 general election campaign. He is very much a man who acts in the shadows, but is important enough to have an ‘in tray’ in the Leader’s office. He’s tasked with advising Clegg on how to break the two party stranglehold – so far to little effect. He rose to become joint Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi with special responsibility for the Turkish government’s preparation of its case for entry into the European Union. His role has now been formalised and he will be a key player in the months leading up to the general election.
7 (NEW) Baroness Scott
Liberal Democrat president
Elected as party president in late 2008 with a substantial majority, Baroness Scott also had the support of a large number of the party’s big-hitters. With many years’ experience working in local government, Scott is also a vice-president of the LGA, and pledged to ensure that the party remained ‘a genuinely grass-roots movement’. Her campaign for the presidency was a model of grass roots activity and she is pledges to represent the ordinary party member at the top of the party.
6 (+1) David Laws
Spokesman on children, schools & families
Probably the most right-wing Lib Dem MP in the Commons, he was the architect of the so-called Orange Book agenda, which encouraged the Lib Dems to adopt a low tax policy and free market solutions. Unpopular with the beard and sandals brigade at the time, Laws has won the day. A shy and private man, Laws is the David Willetts of the Liberal Democrats, with enough intelligence to fill two brains.
5 (+4) Danny Alexander
Chief of staff to Nick Clegg
Although a little vapid and bromidic in media appearances and on the stump, Alexander wields a huge amount of power behind closed doors – enjoying significant influence over Clegg and his inner circle. He has also started to gain a media presence and may well become one of the party’s faces of the future if he has a successful general election. He is in charge of the party’s manifesto preparations.
4 (New) Chris Fox
The newly appointed Chief Executive is shaking up Cowley Street. He has overseen dramatic personnel changes in his few months in post and is taking a particularly close interest in the party’s online profile. His charm and humour belie a steely determination to reform the party. With 30 years’ experience in the private sector he brings a level of corporate savvy which the party has long been in need of.
3 (-) Chris Huhne
Home affairs spokesman
Urbane, charming and just a bit monochrome, Chris Huhne knows he has power and he wields it. Surprisingly poorly backed by his own MPs in the party’s leadership contest, which he lost to Clegg, Huhne is as intellectually formidable as he is ambitious.
2 (-1) Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Nick Clegg has had a good year. The expenses scandal saw him really come into his own for the first time, and the party’s poll ratings enjoyed a brief bounce. An ill-advised and indiscreet conversation with aide Danny Alexander MP, on a domestic flight, overheard by a journalist hardly made Clegg appear statesmanlike – something he is still yet to cultivate – but the past six months have been gaffe-free and people around the leader say the last year has seen him grow hugely in confidence.
1 (+1) Vince Cable
Lib Dem Treasury spokesman
Cable remains the most respected Lib Dem politician in the country – not just in his own party, either. If anything happened to Clegg, he would surely be elected by acclamation. Clegg, for his part, has encouraged Cable’s rising profile, as the bee-keeper-cum-dancer has proven time and time again he is the most effective person in the Commons at landing the most damaging blows on the Chancellor and the PM. For this reason he trumps his own leader as the party’s most influential voice.