Tim Farron curries favour among the party faithful with his Rennard apology

 

While his leader attended a drinks reception seen as the unofficial gathering of the Lib Dem elite, Tim Farron sat down with his closest aides for a balti, washed down with Cobra beer, at Noori's Indian restaurant.

A short walk from the heart of the conference at the Hilton Metropole, the curry house provided a discreet hideaway on Friday evening. Later, after what onlookers said was a "convivial supper", Mr Farron was spotted "larking" around with his aides on the Brighton seafront.

The Lib Dem party president might have cause for such joviality. Mr Farron – and his leadership ambitions – was the talk of the parties and bars. While there was no suggestion that he and his aides were hatching a "curry house plot", it was clear that his response to the Rennard affair – "we screwed up" – has earned him more support among Lib Dem activists. In an interview with Channel 4 News on Friday evening, Mr Farron apologised to the alleged victims on behalf of the party – something that Mr Clegg has so far not done.

It was a conference notable for those missing from the scene: in any other year the party of the think tank CentreForum would have seen Lord Rennard holding forth on the latest Lib Dem by-election victory. Even after their estrangement, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce would have mingled with the guests, albeit on opposite sides of the room. But, despite the triumph in Eastleigh, members of the party elite appeared to stay away from the festivities.

Instead, there was a rebellious mood among the crowds. A handful of Lib Dem activists launched a postcard campaign urging women members to "Rock the Boat" and stand up to any sexual harassment. One woman activist noted that Mr Clegg had addressed the Rennard issue at a rally on Friday but added: "Was he only doing it because it was International Women's Day? It just felt a little bit too late."

Another young woman said she "admired" Mr Farron's "honesty and straightforwardness", and that Mr Clegg's handling of the Rennard allegations was a "watershed moment" in his leadership.

William Hill yesterday cut the odds on Mr Farron being the next Lib Dem leader to 2-1, with Mr Clegg at 7-4 to stand down before the next election.

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