I wasn’t going to write an article on this subject. But somehow, it was staring me in the face; the following is the product of necessity.
Yesterday afternoon, Tim Farron was elected the fifth leader of the Liberal Democrats (if you discount interim leaders). As a self-avowed member of the Orange Book wing, some might expect me to mourn. Yes, I probably would have preferred Norman had become leader, but I’m not particularly gutted. I can see why Tim was elected. I was tempted to list his positive traits here, but you all know what they are.
The big fear about Tim for a lot of people who joined because of Clegg and/or the Orange Book isn’t his religious faith, nor his overly leftish tendencies, nor his track record on gay rights issues. It’s that he might take the party back to being basically a campaigning charity with a small parliamentary wing. Some of the things he said during the leaders campaign played up to these worries: the classic being very recently, when he said everyone who worked at HQ should go and work at a charity or NGO so as to learn how to campaign. This statement mostly made me realise that Tim must have only ever had surface contact with what is known as the “voluntary sector” – Lib Dems have pretty much nothing to learn from such a venture. Any of the central operations of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems, even at their lowest ebbs, surpass every NGO campaigning group by exponential amounts. That isn’t meant as a compliment to party machines, incidentally, if you can read between the lines here.
Having got all that off my chest, I don’t think Tim will do anything as daft as make everyone who currently works for the Liberal Democrats go and do three months at Unlock Democracy. And I remain hopeful that Farron won’t allow the party to go backwards; for everything he said that made me slightly wince during the leadership campaign, he never slagged off Nick, nor did he disavow the Coalition, at any point. This gives me hope in the possibilities for his leadership.
The most compelling reason to welcome Tim Farron as the new leader of the Lib Dems is simple yet depressing: the party faces an existential crisis and its very survival is at stake. Having someone as never say die as Tim in such a situation is probably crucial. The most important thing for the party is that it continues to exist for the time being. Opportunities will come the Lib Dems way, particularly with the Labour Party trying very, very hard to kill itself at present. Someone wise once said that the good things in politics are never as good as they first appear; nor are the bad things quite as bleak as they initially seem. But you have to be in it to win it, someone less articulate also told us all once. So good luck, Tim. Keep the party alive, please.