Faced with a potential putsch, Farron leaves behind a party which faces a long fightby Miranda Green / June 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Nothing in his leadership of the Liberal Democrats became Tim Farron so ill as his leaving of it. Hustled into going by what looked to be the start of a putsch, he issued a lengthy farewell statement just as the full horror of the Grenfell Tower fire was sinking into the national consciousness.
The timing was not his choice, his team insists. The unexpectedly respectable Liberal Democrat showing on election night—50 per cent more MPs looks OK on one of the party’s infamous bar charts—should have meant a more measured handover. Farron can be proud that he has delivered 11 other MPs from whom to choose a successor, and they are no longer all white men. Jo Swinson has a good chance of becoming the first female Lib Dem leader.
But at some point, a departure had become inevitable. Some found Farron’s evangelical Christian beliefs incompatible with a role as figurehead for a party founded on principles of dignity and equality. Others (far fewer, I would guess) saw his stubborn defence of private religious faith as a courageous rejection of contemporary conformity. Either way, the “gay sex thing,” as politicos tend to call it, was damned confusing to voters and messed up the Lib Dem campaign.
Right back to David Steel, the Lib Dems and Liberals have been led by figures larger and more attractive than the party itself—think of Ashdown, Kennedy and pre-coalition Clegg. Being a standard-bearer for eccentric views, however important it is to defend someone’s right to hold them, just doesn’t cut it. But this alone does not explain how the Lib Dems ended up with an even lower vote share than in 2015, at 7.4 per cent down from 7.9 per cent.
An improved performance
Many misunderstand how well the Lib Dems did just to survive and slightly improve their performance in this election—the idea of replicating the Richmond Park by-election, with its hardcore Remain protest vote, in tens of seats during a general election was always fanciful. The fabled 48 per cent were never there for the taking, they had already drifted into acceptance, and the snap election came too soon to sell a “second referendum” pledge fashioned for a 2020 Brexit landscape.
Instead, a bizarrely polarised debate…