Where I am now.
So it looks like the Lib Dem leadership race will come down to a choice between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb.
In that event, I am strongly inclined to back Farron. Both men are admirable individuals and, as someone whose struggled with depression in past, Lamb’s work on mental illness is one for which I feel a great deal of personal gratitude. However, Farron seems like the leader we need at the moment.
We have gone from being part of the government to an opposition party with less than 2% of the MPs. We are therefore no longer in a position to demand attention from the media; we need a leader they will want to cover. Farron’s gifts as a communicator fit that bill. He has a similar ability to Nigel Farage to deliver the party line while appearing to be just talking his mind. That means, if I had to guess, there’s an 80% chance I’ll wind up voting for Farron.
However, the choice would be easier were it not for three concerns:
1. Equal marriage
There’s no getting around the fact that for someone wanting to be leader of a liberal party having abstained on equal marriage and voted to delay its passage is awkward. Equality is a cultural touchstone for the kind of cosmopolitan voters the party needs to win in order to rebuild itself as a cultural force. So being perceived to be less than fully committed to it is potentially very damaging.
Now Farron has an explanation for these votes. While I find it unpersuasive as a piece of policy analysis – fears of churches being forced to conduct same sex marriages are in my modestly legally trained opinion ludicrously overblown – it’s an effective refutation of the notion that he is a secret opponent of gay rights.
However, the very fact that he might potentially have to explain this is a problem. As Ronald Reagan said “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”. If Farron has to defend himself against this charge then that’s a distraction, and there’s always the risk some voters remember the accusation but not the refutation.
I’d therefore be more comfortable voting for Farron, if he has a plan to avoid having to repeatedly explain his record.
2. Differentiation from Labour
Farron is (to put the issue far more crudely than it deserves to be) on the left of the party. That means to (be equally crude) under his leadership we’d be likely to adopt an economic policy more closely resembling Labour’s. In that event we need to have an answer of what we are offering that is distinct enough from Labour to justify gambling a vote on a party with just 8 MPs.
Unfortunately, the answer probably can’t be the obvious things: civil liberties, electoral reform, being more ardent on Europe and the environment. They may be important but the group of voters who seem them as such is probably relatively narrow. What else if Farron going to offer to broaden our appeal.
3. Nuclear power
One of the ways the Party was improved by being in Coalition was that it precipitated us shedding our longstanding opposition to Nuclear Power. For a party that takes climate change seriously, it was simply not viable to be opposing the source of up to 70% of the UK’s low carbon electricity.
Some of Farron’s past statements on the issue make me concerned that under his leadership, we would revert from our new sensible position to our old incoherent one.
Where I want to be
I’ve mostly sold myself on Farron as the next leader. I invite any of his supporters who are reading this to see if they can get me the rest of the way.
Can you tell me if your guy knows how he’ll avoid being bogged down explaining his positions on gay rights and how he’ll make us distinct from Labour? Or alternatively, do you think I’m wrong to be worried about these things?
An encouraging response from the man himself:
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) May 17, 2015