Liberal Democrat leadership contenders Tim Farron and Norman Lamb have conceded that the post-election party has too few MPs to shadow the government.
The former leader Charles Kennedy, who died earlier this month, introduced a Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet, but he had more than 60 MPs after the 2001 general election. Last month, the Lib Dems were reduced to just eight MPs, down from 57 in 2010, having been badly scarred by their time in coalition government.
Mr Farron said: “We don’t bother shadowing every single department – a waste of time and resources. You spend time concentrating on issues like housing, climate change, Europe and human rights that are going to be topical and we want to have a lead position on.”
Mr Lamb added that the party’s remaining MPs needed to get out and talk to voters around the country. He said: “Spending much time here [Parliament] in the current circumstances would be a total waste of our time.”
On Wednesday and before this weekend’s allegations of dirty tricks by members of Mr Lamb’s camp, the two men undertook a joint hustings with The Independent on Sunday. Both looked exhausted by a crammed hustings schedule across the country – Mr Farron was speaking in Oxford the previous night, while Mr Lamb got home after midnight after a whistlestop tour of northern Lib Dem branches.
Mr Farron said that he would be a “tart” to the media if he won, to ensure the Lib Dems’ policies were covered. “Our great threat these next five years is not the derision we’ve had in the last five, but the risk that people will be disinterested in us if we’re not careful.”
Mr Lamb, a former health minister, argued that during their troubled time in the coalition his reputation had been “enhanced” by his work on mental health and by policies such as introducing a waiting-time standard.
He said: “I make no apologies for stepping up to the plate and being a minister in government. Ultimately you have to ask yourself the question: what is the point of all this if you don’t actually do things in government?”Reuse content