The General Election saw the Liberal Democrats face one of the worst nights in their long history. Polling day saw the party lose 48 of their 56 seats seats in the House of Commons, reducing them to fourth place with a meagre eight seats, the same number as Northern Ireland’s DUP. By lunchtime on May 9th, Nick Clegg had resigned his leadership. Now the party must find a new leader, in the hopes that they will be able to recover from this year’s results.
Nevertheless, there is hope for the party. In the month since the election, party membership has increased by over 11,000, to, as of writing, 61,456.
Tim Farron is one of these two MP’s, the other being the former Minister of State for Care and Support, Norman Lamb. The current MP for the constituency of Westmoreland and Lonsdale, Farron served as the President of the party between 2011 and 2014, and has been a strident supporter of free speech. Alongside this, he was also one of the few Liberal Democrat MP’s to vote against a rise in tuition fees, citing a vote in favour as a loss of integrity. In his own words: “You must not only keep your word but be seen to keep your word.”
We were fortunate enough to get in touch with Tim Farron in order to ask him a few questions relating to his views on the party, and the leadership bid. The results are below.
Why do you believe that you are the most suitable candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats?
TF: I believe that this party not only can be saved but must be saved. This is why I am putting myself forward to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrat. I have the skills needed to rebuild our party from the grassroots up.
Over the past few weeks we have seen increased calls for voting reform – what are your personal views on the subject? I support changing our voting system to make it fairer and make sure that everyone’s vote counts the same. We also need to allow 16 year olds the right to vote.
What are your thoughts on the outgoing leader, Nick Clegg, and the decisions he has made over the last five years in the coalition?
TF: I think that Nick has been a brilliant leader and history will be incredibly kind to him. We went into coalition with our eyes open, and while I may disagree with one or two things we did, nevertheless I think we did the right thing going into government. I’m very proud of him. He went in doing the right thing by the country knowing it was going to damage him personally.
Why did you originally join the Liberal Democrats and what do they stand for today?
TF: My 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. I joined the Liberal Democrats at 16. I believe we stand for fairness, equality, tolerance and internationalism.
As party leader, how would you ensure the Liberal Democrats differentiate themselves and hold their own against the other parties?
TF: I think we need to set out an undiluted liberal message. Saying what we believe and what we stand for.
The loss of seats may have been a knock-back for the party but, with an increase of over 12,000 members since the election, how does the party plan to continue imparting liberal values in British politics over the next few years?
TF: Underneath the shock from last week’s results is something powerful and determined. And the more than 11,000 members who have joined the party since election night give us reason for hope.
But if we are to rebuild, we have to learn the lessons from 7 May. We need to understand why we failed to communicate both our genuine achievements in coalition and our hopes for the future. We need to look at our election campaign and consider where it worked and where it didn’t – and how we campaign from now on with such a tiny parliamentary party. We need to be clear what is the point of the liberal Democrats in a tougher, more complicated political world.
These are processes which of course need to involve the entire party, and will stretch well beyond the leadership campaign. The Autumn Conference will be a key opportunity to debate these issues. But the leadership contest gives people a chance to discuss and think about them over the next two months.
The next leader of the Liberal Democrats will be announced on the 16th July.
Theo Stone and Jessica Stanier, Online Features Editors