The darling of the Liberal Democrats’ grassroots, Tim Farron, will be handed the party’s high-profile foreign affairs brief for the general election, boosting his hopes of succeeding Nick Clegg as party leader.
Mr Farron, who was party president until last month, has positioned himself to the left of the party leadership since it entered the Coalition in 2010. This has seen his stock rise among activists who worried that the party is seen as too close to the Tories.
The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale in the Lake District is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Mr Clegg, who could resign if the party loses many of its 56 seats in the May election. A strong campaigner, Mr Farron is believed to think he would be the right person to rebuild the party should it lose more than 20-25 seats.
But many of Mr Farron’s parliamentary colleagues have been angered by the way he has distanced himself from the Coalition.
“This appointment will fuel his ambition, which some think is unrealistic,” said one senior Lib Dem. “Some would doubt his knowledge of foreign affairs.”
The Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, who chairs the parliamentary party’s international affairs committee, was expected to win the foreign affairs brief. It is understood that he will take on international development, rather than the Lib Dems' minister in that department, Baroness Northover.
The Lib Dems do not have ministers in every Whitehall department. Those without a Lib Dem minister include Defence and Culture, Media, and Sport.
It is understood the announcement will confirm that Sir Nick Harvey, who was sacked as Armed Forces Minister in 2012, has accepted the defence portfolio.
One party source said the announcement was due had been delayed for 24 hours because some MPs had “taken their bat and ball home” over the appointments.