Long before their electoral catastrophe in May, it seemed that Tim Farron was a dead cert to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. He remains the strong favourite, but over the past few weeks doubts have emerged.
This is partly the result of a spotlight being shone on his religious views. A committed Christian, the party president is suspected by some within his ranks to harbour a social conservatism that sits ill-at-ease with his wider proclamations about liberalism. His nuanced views on gay marriage and abortion, both derived from his faith, are at odds with some of his party.
But the main reason he is not yet assured of the crown is the performance and credentials of Norman Lamb, the other contender in the race. Mr Lamb is an authentic liberal, whose impressive ministerial record has been noted by most of the party’s 17,000 new members.
His commitment to raising the profile and budgetary provision of mental health, born of family experience, won deserved plaudits in the last parliament. Indeed Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, feted him as an exceptional minister.
His communication skills were evident when a Sunday newspaper made public his son’s run-in with a gangster: Mr Lamb’s brave and honest response to that story set an example others should follow. And on several issues, from drug laws to prison reform, he has already marked out a smart, reforming agenda genuinely distinct from other parties.
Philip Gould, the late Labour strategist, said one day in government was worth a thousand in opposition. Mr Farron, a phenomenal exponent of pavement politics, occasionally gives the impression that he prefers the comfort of opposition to the compromises of power. The same cannot be said of Mr Lamb, who has suddenly emerged both as a plausible leader and a champion of liberal values, at a time when Britain’s liberals are feeling lonely and low.Reuse content