After being left with just eight MPs, the Liberal Democrats will have to pull off a monumental task to avoid extinction. Tim Farron is the only man who can do that job.
Youthful energetic vigour: only Tim Farron has the vision and charisma necessary to reach out and save the party from oblivion. (Photo: Tim2Lead)
With the news being dominated by the rigor mortis-inducing cretinous pile of effluent that is the Labour leadership candidates, little attention has been paid to the even more crucial battle between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb for leadership of the Lib Dems. The road to rebuilding the party is long and fraught with difficulties; to navigate it requires a leader with vision, courage, but above all, the personal charisma to reach out to voters who abandoned the Lib Dems. The party is full of good people and good ideas, but there is only one man for the job – that man is Tim Farron.
Ideologically speaking, there isn’t much that separates Tim Farron and his rival Norman Lamb. Farron has set out his stall as the more left, green and socially liberal candidate while Lamb, being a former health minister in the coalition, is seen by many as the staunch defender of centre-right Youthful energetic vigour: only Tim Farron has the vision and charisma necessary to reach out and save the party from oblivion. (Photo: Tim2Lead)” target=”_blank”>“orange book” liberalism. This is the problem. While I would normally associate my brand of politics as being closer to Mr Lamb, I recognise that the electorate don’t want more coalition politics. The Lib Dems, and indeed Mr Lamb, have a coalition record of which they can be proud, repeatedly putting country before party, and taking necessary but unpopular hits to counteract the Tories’ increasingly rightward direction. However, this was not rewarded by the electorate in May. Too many voters felt that the party had betrayed its liberal principles, not only by getting into bed with the party we had been fighting for the last century, but by also reneging on a few, but crucially, high-profile promises. The Lib Dems need a fresh start (which staunch coalition defender Lamb cannot provide) and become the centrist/slightly left-of-centre energetic insurgency that we once were; people want a strong liberal alternative and with Labour in the doldrums, only Tim can provide it.
It’s a shame when personality has such a strong role to play in politics; as much as we wish it wasn’t true, we cannot deny its power in reaching out beyond the grass roots so we must take this factor into consideration when deciding who should be the next leader. On this measure, Tim Farron wins too. Norman Lamb, while he was a principled and pragmatic health minister, comes across as a sober Whitehall politico. Mr Farron on the other hand, helped by his distance from the coalition, has a sense of youthful vigour and charisma, exactly what is necessary to overcome the party’s tainted image and reach out to new people, overturning their misgivings. No better place can Mr Farron’s “down to earth-ness” be evidenced than on Twitter – 93% of his tweets were replies to ordinary people interacting with him, compared to 23% for all MPs and 11% for cabinet and shadow cabinet politicians – little things count. In essence, any leader of the Liberal Democrats needs energy, energy to champion the unfashionable causes which few parties seem to: the case for staying in the EU, the benefits of immigration, the need for more social housing, and the case for civil liberties against a government that is acting too rashly and a Labour party that seems all too merry to tag along. Mr Farron is the only one that has that energy and conviction.
Some have cited Mr Farron’s strong Christian beliefs and his supposedly illiberal voting record as cause for concern; he abstained on voting for gay rights and voted in favour of making abortions harder to get. They need not be so worried. While it sounds terrible, these facts won’t matter too much – other more pertinent issues and a new set of manifesto proposals will be at the forefront of public debate in 2020 and people are unlikely to be overly concerned about Mr Farron’s voting record of almost 10 years ago. Farron has already repeatedly distanced himself from those actions, saying, “Put simply, there were a couple of amendments that were about the protection of essentially religious minorities, conscience protections… I definitely regret it, if people have misread that and think that means I’m lukewarm on equal marriage.” When asked if he would take the same decision again, he responded, “No, I would vote for equal marriage.” I am confident that should Tim Farron become leader, he will be able to effectively reassure voters and the party faithful that his faith will be kept separate from his politics. And for those who believe that these instances somehow make him illiberal, one only need look at the rest of his voting record, having voted against the coalition’s bedroom tax and the trebling of tuition fees. This, coupled with his rejection of Thatcherism, demonstrates a liberal agenda which has attracted the support of The Guardian and The Independent to name but a few. Illiberal? Nonsense. It is clear that this has not put off the party as it is already united behind him – in a recent Liberal Democrat Voice poll, 71% of party members polled backed Farron. Now more than ever, the party needs to be united as one – infighting and rivalry will only be the final nail in the coffin.
The Lib Dem fightback is well under way – more than 10,000 people have joined the party since its defeat in May. However, to continue that momentum, the party must pick very carefully which direction it wants to head in. On the verge of irrelevancy and extinction, this choice has an urgency and importance never felt before. It’s time for Tim to step up to the plate and lead. Only he can rekindle the party’s lost passion and reach out to a wider audience, championing the causes which will define the party as the strong liberal voice this country so desperately needs. The party has come through many scares before; in the fifties and sixties, and in the late eighties/early nineties, and like then, the party will rebuild. But in politics, survival cannot be taken for granted, and that is why now more than ever, we need a visionary leader – that leader is Tim.