Tim Farron was a great Leader of our Party. He should be proud of his achievements in just 2 years in terms of increased numbers of members, councillors and MPs
Before answering the question of the day for us Lib Dems I just want to reflect for a few moments on our current and soon to be ex-Leader, Tim Farron.
I voted for Tim in the last election. It was a close call but I saw many strong characteristics in Tim just a few more than I saw in Norman. For me, however, the final choice was one of proximity. I live and campaign in the North West and so does he. I would have been happy, though, whichever of the candidates had been elected and would have worked solidly with them. Indeed circumstances caused me to work most closely with Norman as I became the Lib Dem spokes on Health & Social Care at the LGA.
It is a disgrace that Tim’s religious views became the object of such intensity that he thinks it obscures, and crucially will obscure, his political campaigning. I have known Tim for many years. I am not a Christian or hold any religious faith. Tim has known this and has never tried to convert me and has never tried to prove his politics via his faith or vice versa. It may well be that some of his more fervent policies such as caring for refugees and environmentalism stem from his religious faith. However I hold exactly the same views on these and almost every other issue without that faith background.
It is a sad reflection of our times that journalists seek to concentrate on prurient delving into sexual issues than concentrate on big picture stories. If Tim’s religion had caused him to say and do things which were incompatible with liberalism and the concepts enshrined in our Party’s constitution he should never have become our Leader. BUT they are not. Tim is a man of great integrity. He simply would not have joined our Party unless he did believe in those basic concepts.
So let’s turn to the runners and riders. Again I can honestly say that I don’t care who our next Leader is not because I am disinterested in the choices but because I am absolutely confident that any of them will be a great Leader and build on the improvements in membership, councillor and MP numbers that is Tim’s legacy. I have already told one of the potential candidates that if they choose to stand I will quickly, publicly and energetically support them. But if they do not stand I will absolutely understand the reasons for that and assist another candidate.
So let’s look at the runners and riders in turn. For reasons of strict neutrality I am doing it alphabetically:
Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable. Vince is a man of huge gravitas and humanity. He can equally dance across the ballroom floor or across the economic statistics which a Shadow Chancellor or Leader has to deal with. There is no doubt in my mind that he is very much respected by both commentators and public alike. He was the only politician who warned us of the finance downturn to come pre 2007. As BIS Secretary he pushed manufacturing onto the agenda after years of decline in which Tory and Labour Government alike thought that trickle down from the city of London would solve all our problems.
Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey. I have known Ed longer than most. In fact he met his wife as a member of a Housing Policy Group which he and I chaired. He was a Post Office Minister when I acted as an adviser to them but it was as Environment Secretary that he made his mark. He understood the importance of both local and global actions on climate change supporting both the Paris Agreement and a concordat with the Local Government Association for which I was the LGA signatory. He too has a fierce intellect and understanding of the way that Government and the World work. He can, and does, talk about many issues with passion but it is the crucial area of the environment that is his passion.
Norman Lamb would probably be offered a sainthood by most of people in the NHS who I meet. He understands the need for cultural change in the organisation that he defends to the hilt on a daily basis. But he knows that defending is not enough. He established the independent commission on the funding of NHS and social care which led him to propose the very popular policy of increasing income tax by 1% to provide £6.1 billion. However despite the pressures on the NHS he suggested that most of this should be spent on public health and social care. Come to think of it I first really worked with him when he was Post Office Minister as well!
Jo Swinson is the final contender and just to complete my work with the Post Office she too was a Post Office Minister when I worked for them! Some people underestimate her because of her friendly style and lovely personality. That is their biggest mistake. Jo is one clever woman who would take forward our causes in terms of gender equality with a vengeance but is in no way a one-trick pony. I have heard her speak on a number of subjects with particularly strong views on the business and commercial sectors which will feature so clearly in coming months as the Government botches and bungles our exit from the EU.
I suspect that over the next few days we will all know who is going to stand. I haven’t a clue who will win partly because I don’t know our membership as well as I did. At the time of our last leadership election we had about 50,000 members. Now we have well over 100,000. I would be delighted to arrange hustings meetings in Liverpool for any and all of these four fine people although I will quickly make my own preference known.
I hope that the election will be conducted with the same grace and good will as the one in 2015. And I hope that just as we did in 2015 we rapidly fall in behind the new leader to add even more councillors to our tally in the short term and MPs to our Parliamentary Party in the long-term.