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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Why I am voting for Tim Farron for leader

I do not have a good record in my choice of candidates in Liberal Democrats leadership elections. Since I joined in 1978 I have only backed the winner once. That was Nick Clegg. Tim Farron, you have been warned.

To be honest, I have been torn in deciding who to vote for this time. I can see merits in both candidates. Norman Lamb is a substantial politician with a good record of achievement as a Minister behind him. His ability to comfortably hold his seat in North Norfolk in very challenging times shows that he is an effective campaigner who is capable of getting his message across and relating well to ordinary people. The party will do well to have him as leader and there is no doubt that he will make an impact.

The question mark for me though is whether Norman is able to change the narrative, to find a niche place in politics for the Liberal Democrats in the new Britain that the 2015 General Election has bequeathed us and to exploit it in a way that will rebuild support for the party.

This is a long term project but it is not one that we can take too much time over. There are 21 elected full time Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians left and 12 of us are up for election next year. Whoever wins this contest needs to make an immediate impact and get out there, to take the fight out into the country. The Lib Dem fight back has certainly begun but it needs to pick up speed and start to show results in the polls.

It is possible that this task is beyond both leadership candidates. It is possible too that either of them can accomplish it. But what has focussed my mind more than anything was the tragic death of Charles Kennedy. As a leader he had his shortcomings and his flaws, but he spoke human, he was able to communicate complex messages in a way that achieved wide understanding and acceptance and he was an effective campaigner who led us to our best election result since 1922.

It is my view that Tim Farron is best placed to do something similar. He too is an effective campaigner, he also speaks human and he understands that the best way to rebuild the party is out in the country, not in Westminster. It is my belief that of the two candidates in front of us, Tim has the best chance of changing the narrative quickly, of focussing on a couple of key issues and making them ours.

And of course Tim Farron is more likely to position the party, where I feel most comfortable, as an independent left of centre force that combines a commitment to social justice with a belief in empowering individuals and communities and in individual liberty and freedom.

For that reason I will be casting my vote for Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats and would urge others to do the same.
I am seriously concerned about Farron's position in relation to LGBT rights. He has voted against the anti-gay discrimination regulations ; abstained on third reading on the same sex marriage Bill and voted against a programme motion which would have enabled its opponents to held the legislation up indefinitely. Worse, he has squirmed and wriggled when asked to justify his position, which obviously comes from a relatively extreme form of Christianity.
I saw Tim's interview on Sunday Politics this morning and I thought he answered these questions well. I also think that subsequent votes which do conform with Liberal Democrat values support his explanation that he had opposed specific measures for wider reasons.

Nevertheless, Tim does need to think through the impression he creates when he takes these decisions, and that in many cases the finer arguments for his position can be lost in the symbolism of each vote. It is something we strive to do in the Assembly. Sometimes, the main message can be more important than the detailed argument.
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