Tim Farron: The next leader of the Lib Dems?

With membership falling fast since the last election, the party’s president has positioned himself far to the left of  Nick Clegg

Tim Farron had a lonely moment as he queued up to vote on Tuesday evening.

It came at the end of one of those parliamentary days when the opposition leader, Ed Miliband selects the topic on which MPs will speak and vote, and Government whips rally their troops to make very sure that whatever he proposes is rejected.

Labour’s chosen topic was the so-called “bedroom tax”. At 7pm, Labour MPs trooped into the “Aye” lobby to vote in favour of scrapping this innovation with immediate effect.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrat MPs filled the ‘No’ lobby. But Farron, who is President of the Liberal Democrat party, went uncomfortably where only one other Lib Dem MP, Andrew George, dared tread – into the ‘Aye’ lobby with Labour.

“My flesh crawled a little bit as I went through the lobby with them, because they have no alternative to the mess we’re in,” he said. “The removal of the spare bedroom subsidy is a symptom of a series of diseases that were caused by the Labour Party.”

He says that he has no objection to the principle that recipients should be denied housing benefit for occupying rooms they do not need – but argues the way it has been implemented has hit the incomes of people with very little money, and no realistic chance of moving to smaller properties. He argues that the penalty should only apply to tenants who have had a reasonable offer of somewhere smaller and turned it down.

In September, he was in open opposition to Nick Clegg on another issue, when he voted against his leader in favour of reintroducing the 50p tax rate at party conference.

Farron’s role in these sensitive issues has not endeared him to the Liberal Democrat high command. After the bedroom tax vote this week, one figure very high up the party, put it this way: “Which bit of the sanctimonious, god-bothering, treacherous little shit is there not to like?”

Any hope Tim Farron may once have entertained that Nick Clegg might invite him to take up ministerial office has long disappeared. However, the current opinion polls suggest that unless the public mood shifts, in 2015 there will either be a Labour government or a Labour led coalition. That result would almost certainly cause Nick Clegg to resign, triggering a leadership election, in which the party President is likely to be the favourite candidate of party activists who never liked being hitched to the Tories.

Unusually, Farron’s conversion to religion came after he had become involved in politics. His first political act, if it can be called that, was to join Shelter at 14, inspired by a rerun of Ken Loach’s classic TV drama Cathy Come Home. He joined the Liberal Democrats at 16, and became a Christian at 18. His current roles include the vice-presidency of the cross party Christians in Parliament.

There are policy areas where Christianity and left-wing liberalism sit together well, and others where they make an unhappy combination. For Farron the practising Christian, there is no dilemma in battling for the interest of the poor, or advocating high taxes for the rich, but he has had a trickier time when some issues that concern sex have come before Parliament.

When he was running against Simon Hughes for the post of deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2010, the gay rights organisation Stonewall calculated that Farron had missed all but three of the votes that affected gay equality during his first five years as an MP, and in the ones for which he was present, he did not vote in the way Stonewall would have preferred.

In February this year, when the Commons voted to legalise gay marriage, the main vote was followed by another, on the procedure for getting the legislation through Commons, during which 55 MPs, mostly from the right of the Tory party, voted for a procedural motion that would have lengthened the time for the legislation to become law. Tim Farron was one of the 55. He argued more time was needed to consult and pacify the bill’s opponents, particularly those with religious objections.

These issues will come back if he is a candidate in a leadership election, but may not prove as big an obstacle to success for him as the shrinking of the Liberal Democrat party. The party has lost more than a third of its members since it went into coalition with the Conservatives. It would seem logical to assume that most of those who left did not like being in a Tory-led coalition, while those who remain do not mind, which suggests that by positioning himself on the left, Tim Farron has pitched his appeal to an audience that has been walking out in disgust.

He says that is not so. The “anecdotal” evidence he has gleaned from his constituency visits is that the party base is much as it was, only smaller. “Your average activist is an environmental, social liberal. If anything, the people who have stayed with the party are hard core: and you know what hard-core liberal democrats are like,” he said.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWe have created an infogaphic that looks back over the previous incarnations of the Doctor
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
Sport
Romelu Lukaku scores during Everton's 3-0 win over Arsenal last season
LIVEFollow all the action as Everton take on Arsenal in the final Premier League game of the day
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition