Page last updated at 20:12 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

Challenges ahead for new leader

By Brian Meechan
BBC Wales political reporter

Kirsty Williams, congratulated by Veronica German, from her campaign team
Kirsty Williams will need to improve the Lib Dems' position in the Senedd

It's been a gruelling few months for both candidates in the battle to lead the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Regardless of the result, history would be made. For the first time, a major political party in Wales was to be led by a woman.

In the event, the Brecon and Radnorshire assembly member, Kirsty Williams, beat the Cardiff central AM, Jenny Randerson, with 60% of the vote.

But as both seasoned campaigners know, the leadership battle may be over but the work now begins.

Kirsty Williams must face a number of challenges in her new role.

Her defeated opponent, Jenny Randerson, said the campaign had "re-engaged our membership" and more than 100 people have signed up to the party over the past couple of months.

Building up that membership and, crucially, boosting the party's coffers will be high on the new leader's list of priorities. That's the holy grail, of course, for every party.

Kirsty Williams believes her message of change will attract new recruits.

The 37-year-old employed modern tactics during her campaign including social networking sites, internet messaging feeds and video sharing websites.

Harnessing these techniques during her leadership may help increase membership particularly amongst younger people.

Kirsty Williams
Kirsty Williams rejected claims that she wasn't a "strategic thinker"

It may also contribute to another of her pledges of having a clearer message and communicating it better.

Improving communications is a key factor in another challenge facing the new leader.

The Liberal Democrats also need to improve their campaigning, according to Kirsty Williams. The success of that will be measured, ultimately, in election results.

The new leader faces an early test in the European elections in June next year. The Lib Dems have never had an Welsh MEP.

This year's council elections brought some success for the party, with the Lib Dems now playing a part in the administration of over half of the local authorities in Wales.

Kirsty Williams says the party's lost sight of its historic commitment to introducing proportional representation in local government. She intends that to change.

The Lib Dems doubled the number of MPs they have in Wales at the last general election but that was when the party was loudly proclaiming its opposition to Iraq. That position is unlikely to have the political force next time around. So Kirsty Williams will need to find a way to build on the successes of 2005.

One of the most pressing issues for the new leader is how to improve on the Lib Dems position in the Welsh Assembly.

The party's stagnated since 1999 with only six AMs.

Jenny Randerson AM
Jenny Randerson was annoyed at being accused of being too focused on Cardiff

The defeated leadership candidate, Jenny Randerson, pledged to double that over the next two elections. Kirsty Williams hasn't signed up to that but the party will expect a significant improvement in future ballots.

Increasing the number of assembly members will be important if the Lib Dems want to return to power.

The more they have, the stronger the voice they have in coalition negotiations.

Kirsty Williams was against plans for the so-called rainbow coalition, which would have taken the Lib Dems into power with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives.

Her critics say she helped wreck the deal and damaged the party. According to Kirsty Williams, she was voicing concerns that were shared by a number of Liberal Democrats.

As leader, she says she will talk to all the major parties but any coalition deal would have to be based on Lib Dem values.

The acrimony surrounding the aborted coalition negotiations again reared its head in this leadership campaign.

There were other tensions between the two camps.

Kirsty Williams rejected claims that she wasn't a "strategic thinker" and that she would have too much on her plate, with three small children, to be the leader.

Jenny Randerson was annoyed at being accused of being too focused on Cardiff as well as comments about her age.

Following Kirsty Williams' victory, the message from both AMs was that they would work closely together from here on in.

Healing any rifts and uniting her assembly group behind her will be another issue facing the newly elected leader.

With only six Liberal Democrat AMs, her party members will expect no less.



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