This afternoon, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats will be announced.
Spoiler: My vote was for Tim Farron.
Not a lot of people know that, as I have been quiet on the matter: not just here, but also on social media where I tend to do more writing these days when I occasionally get dragged into a debate on some contentious issue or other.
And, in some ways, there have been contentious elements to this election campaign. Not from the candidates, but from some of those around them. Thankfully, this has (by and large) played out in closed groups on Facebook rather than as a pitched battle in the wider media.
Of course, after an election in which we garnered just 8 % of votes and were left with just 8 MPs, there has been less media interest that there might otherwise have. Whilst the Labour Party candidates will have multiple TV hustings – our coverage has been comfined to just one slot on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, individual appearances on Question Time and Any Questions and a smattering of profiles and endorsements in The New Statesman, Economist, and the Guardian and Independent group newspapers.
The reason for my quietness was simple: as a local Membership Officer dealing with hundreds of new members, I did not wish to be seen to be taking sides. So I opted early on to play a neutral role – in members' newsletters and in our Facebook group, I sought to present both candidates equally. In personal conversations I would be more open – I wasn’t keeping it a complete secret – but would be at pains to present the relative merits and drawbacks of both candidates.
And they do both have merit – Norman Lamb is an astute, measured, principled man to whom I am probably closer politically. His role in putting mental health issues on the agenda in government, in the party and, indeed, in the election campaign should never be understated. His advocacy of assisted dying and reform of drug policy are also key issues on which we agree – and which the Liberal Democrats should be seizing whilst carving out liberal electoral ground for ourselves. In a world where there is a perception of little or no difference between parties, such policies stand out.
But, of course, policy is made by conference based either on motions submitted by members and local parties or papers proposed by the Federal Policy Committee. Whilst the leader can influence priorities and prominence, he (or, at some future point, she) cannot determine it – and, indeed, Norman was largely reflecting party positions in his pronouncements.
Tim’s strengths are in presentation and motivation. As Party President he spent years seeking to enthuse members and rally the troops in difficult circumstances. His down to earth, no-nonsense style resonates with members and the public alike. Where Norman is quiet and thoughtful, Tim is more of a rabble rouser.
And that was the key for my decision. Ultimately we need someone who can make the most of the limited opportunities that we will have in the Commons and the Media – and who will engage and encourage the membership. Tim’s livewire approach is, for me, the one that is most likely to succeed.