I should begin this piece by saying that if you are looking for reliable information on what’s going inside of the Lib Dems, the Daily Mail is not the best place to initiate your search. However, yesterday there was an article in said publication that declared the next leadership contest within the party done and dusted, merely a coronation for the Rt Hon Farron. Granted, it did mention in the headline that Tim would be leader following a “Lib Dem election wipeout” that the article takes as a given. In fact thinking about it just a little bit, that was obviously the whole reason they wrote it in the first place, in order to splash “Lib Dem election wipeout” somewhere.
However, it does raise an interesting point. Should Nick Clegg decide not to be leader anymore sometime in the near future, does Farron have it locked down? It’s sort of become one of these unquestioned bits of received Westminster wisdom that this will take place, along the lines of the Greens not picking up any more seats in May, or Dennis Skinner living forever. So let’s have an objective look at the facts.
Farron is popular amongst activists and is seen as someone who would be good at rallying the troops should May go rather more badly than expected. He’s identifiably and very obviously northern, likes football, hates Thatcher, so ticks a lot of political boxes. Also, this idea many have about him as some raving left-winger is mostly invention. For a start, he’s a devoted Christian and he’s much more pragmatic than he sometimes comes across. If he were to become leader, Farron would seek to keep the party together by appealing to all sides of it, including the Orange Book one.
Perhaps that’s where this idea of Farron as automatic leader in waiting begins to become really unstuck. The Social Liberal Forum, essentially the organised left of the party, seem to have (whisper it) rather gone off Farron. For reasons I cannot understand myself, but I have had it said to me enough times by SLF’ers to believe it is the case. “The man is dead to us,” one senior figure told me at autumn conference in 2014. If the organisation that does the thinking for the left of the party doesn’t like him, and he’s the left-wing candidate, surely that doesn’t bode well for him. Particularly as the left of the party is a lot smaller than you might think – lots of them left after Con-Lib came into effect, remember?
Actually, it is as hard to say who the next leader of the Lib Dems will be as it is to know who the next leader of any of the parties might be. Chuka Umunna v Andy Burnam? Boris v Theresa May? And who the hell would take over UKIP if Farage decided to walk away? Then there’s the Greens…moving swiftly on….
I guess like everything else in party politics, we’ll just have to wait and see what the voters have to say.