Donald Macintyre's sketch: It won’t be the easiest day for Tim Farron...

At least he can take comfort in the wholehearted backing of Norman Lamb

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Indy Politics

Only in the Liberal Democrats. Understandably, Norman Lamb went through “internal torture”, as he explained on 22 September, before finally deciding to run for the leadership of a party which lost all but eight of its 56 seats.  And then he lost. This is not a winning streak. Yet he  made the whole experience sound like one of the most life enhancing of his career. He was “so glad” he had taken part in an “energetic” and “upbeat” contest.”

In many politicians this would be frankly incredible. But then, as he pointed out, “I certainly didn't choose the Liberal Democrats out of a sense of ruthless ambition” Lamb’s  speeches plod rather than soar. He even mixed up his final words, producing a strangely garbled construction: “That is our commitment. Nothing more is important than that.”

And yet the former coalition Care minister held the attention. When Lamb says he knows from his time in the health department that the £10bn promised by the government for the NHS is “not enough” and the social care  system will “crash” without urgent action, it doesn’t sound like partisan rhetoric. When he suggests “a right for local areas to raise additional funds for the NHS and care if they choose” or an independent non-partisan commission on the future of health services” it doesn’t sound like a pious platitude.

 

When, finally, with a solid ministerial record on mental health he expressed outrage at mentally ill patients being transported 200 miles from home and pledges “a personal mission to fight until every person suffering mental ill health has a right to get treatment on time.” you can’t help believing him.

Lamb warmly pledged Tim Farron his wholehearted backing on 22 September. But his supporters will find it ironic that it has now fallen to the more  left wing of the two candidates to try and lure those alienated by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership onto a putative centre ground - a task that could  have fallen more naturally to Lamb.

So not the easiest day for Farron, particularly as the afternoon’s video tribute to the late Charles Kennedy poignantly recalled the flair, judgment and passion of the party’s most electorally successful leader. Farron has it all to do when he speaks on 23 September.

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