How I learned to stop worrying and back Norman Lamb to be the next leader of the Lib Dems

It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve made my decision about who I plan to vote for to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats.

I’d be lying if I said I’d found this campaign exciting or involving, I haven’t.

And that was even  the reports of dirty tricks surfaced turning my disinterest into exasperation . It wouldn’t be a Lib Dem leadership campaign without them, it seems.

But I may be pissed off but I’m not stupid.

I realise that a political party without leadership doesn’t really exist and finding a new party leader is not a nice to have – it’s a bloody necessity.

Back in May, worn out the bruising general election I wrote a post about the issues that I wanted to see our new leader get to grips with which included: updating our structures and processes, tackling our woeful lack of diversity head-on, living our values and generally leading us to live up to the modern political party we all aspire to the Lib Dems being.

Looking back at that post this paragraph stuck out:

‘For a party that believes in equality, we need to much more to ensure that the voices of people of all ages, including younger members are not only effectively represented but respected and listened too as well.’

To misquote Whitney Houston, young people are our future. I want a leader who looks to solve the problems faced by future generations not just those who vote e.g. the over 65s. This means doing the right thing for the long term not short-term political gain.

All of these things and more have been in my mind at various times as I’ve wrestled (sometimes hourly) with the question of who should lead my party.

At times I’ve tripped over this aspect: if Tim Farron or Norman Lamb is the answer what is the question? And I have to be completely honest neither of them would be my first choice in an ideal world.

As someone who wants ultimately to represent people, probably as a member of Parliament, I want to serve under a strong female party leader not in my lifetime: within the next 10-15 years.

But this is politics and ideal worlds are for the birds.

I’ve done some deep-ish thinking about my party and it’s uncertain future since the election, summed up in my last post:

‘We are fighting for our political survival alright. As an American might say: yo’ shit just got real.

Political parties come and go. We Liberal Democrats have not earned an inalienable right to exist.

We need to justify our existence every day between now and the election. Or we might as well give up and go home…’

When you’re on death row as we are politically, choosing between one leadership candidate or another can feel like a luxury we can’t afford. Anyway, enough prevarication, I’ll try to sum up below how I’ve reached my decision.

Doing What’s Right for the Party vs satisfying yourself

When I blogged about the Lib Dem leadership I summarised the race as follows:-

‘The choice.. between Norman Lamb and Tim Farron has been presented in the media and in various places as a choice between continuity and change and charisma/communications skills vs credibility in government.’

Maybe it’s a hangover from representing just shy of 10,000 people as a local councillor in Reading but when I think about who to vote for doing the right thing for the collective hangs heavy on my shoulders. Initially, this is what made me think it had to be Tim.

It’s also been my biggest obstacle when trying to make up my mind about who to back as leader.

I feel responsible not least because people ask me fairly regularly for advice on who they should vote for to be our leader (like I have a clue?!)

In the desolate lands of Life After Coalition Politics Tim’s undoubted prowess as a campaigner and election winner stands glinting like an oasis in the desert.

It would be a hard-hearted person who, when faced with our almost total -wipeout at the last election did not feel the lure of Farron’s seductive promises to rebuild our base, to win back those lost Lib Dem citadels and highly prized seats we once held.

Watching Tim’s campaign video, launched this week traded heavily on his record in this regard. I summarised the Farron pitch as follows:-

To put it another way, Farron would be a leader who does what he says on the tin: campaign.

An area where I am in 100% agreement with Farron is on the overwhelming need to win elections.

If a political party doesn’t win elections it is reduced to a pressure group. As someone who has served as an elected representative I am acutely aware of the difference between winning and losing, being in power and in opposition. And yet after watching this festival of Focus leaflet delivery  I was left wondering:-

And so I found myself stuck, no further forward.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, with Tim’s campaign message freshest in my mind I went to Oxford to attend #LibDemPint as part of my

ongoing investigation into and support for #LibDemFightBack Lib Dem pint

It was the second time I’d heard Norman Lamb speak in this campaign and I felt he had improved markedly.

Leadership hopeful Norman Lamb speaking to members. Oxford, 24 June 2015.

Lib Dem leadership hopeful Norman Lamb speaking to members. Oxford, 24 June 2015.

My reflections on what I heard are as follows:-

Lamb is right about the issues we should be campaigning on this Parliament

Mental health, improving educational outcomes for all children particularly the poorest, prison and drugs reform. These are issues on which we can set out distinctive liberal positions and where we can put clear blue water between us and the other parties.

Not only this, we can point to things in government we Liberal Democrats delivered, such as:-

and:

Lamb is right we have to rebuild not just our electoral base but our ideas too

As I was listening to Norman Lamb speak in Oxford speak I was conscious that he was appealing to me intellectually and I liked the feeling.

Yes, politics is about gut feelings but that is not all. I am someone who thinks a lot about politics. Thinking is important to me.

Lamb said :

Ideas are important in politics.

A political party that has run out of ideas has run out of road.

Coming out of a a five year government where a good deal of our policies were put into action and in the case of the raising of the Income Tax threshold purloined by other parties (Tories!) we need to replenish our stock of ideas in order to have something to sell the public.

This statement goes hand in hand with the next bit about campaigning. I also liked what Lamb had to say about appealing to a whole swathe of progressive voters by avoiding the straightjacket of tribalism:

Lamb is right that campaigning alone won’t win us back our lost seats

I follow lots of Lib Dems and talk to lots of Lib Dems and occasionally someone says to me ‘if only we’d put more resources in x seat’ we would have won or ‘we need to get back to delivering x number of Focus leaflets’.

As someone who campaigned for a period of several months in one of the best organised seats anywhere – Oxford West & Abingdon – with one of the best Connect contact rates in the country I don’t buy this argument.

Do I think that Simon Hughes and others would have held their seats if I and other activists had helped? No I don’t. The votes just weren’t there for us this time. So when Norman Lamb said:-

I couldn’t help but agree. For me this was one of the unanswered questions in Tim Farron’s campaign video.

Politics is about willing to get your hands dirty not watching from the sidelines.

Political parties are agents for change. If you’re worried someone or something you vote for might win, stick to signing petitions on 38 Degrees.

Other stuff I liked in no particular order

Lamb’s demonstrable liberal instincts typified by his focus on the rights of the individual:

Lamb’s explicit pitch to young people – a group completely marginalised and overlooked by other political parties.

His acknowledgement that our record on diversity is a disgrace and must be changed:

‘We are the least diverse party’ says @normanlamb to an audience with majority of middle-aged white men.

— Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) June 24, 2015

After Norman Lamb finished speaking I caught up with a number of new Lib Dem members.

What struck me was their willingness to challenge orthodoxies both in the way we have traditionally campaigned in elections and how we have approached policy-making.

My thoughts crystallized as I rode the train back to Reading.  reading an article I stumped upon this article by Ian Birrell published in the Guardian which shed doubt on Tim Farron’s voting record:-

‘And what of [Tim Farron] dubious record on lesbian and gay equality? He has missed, abstained and even voted against important legal landmarks. Although Farron voted in favour of gay marriage, the campaign group Stonewall, reviewing his first five years in parliament, said he failed to support their position on significant votes. Lib Dems have the right to ask if Farron’s religious fervour would be a help or hindrance to their party’s salvation The same lack of liberalism can be seen in Farron’s support for higher income taxes and protectionist economic policies. This may impress some party activists, but there is no more future for the Lib Dems as a pale imitation Labour party than as chummy colleagues of the Conservatives. His opponent is not overburdened with charisma, but Lamb at least seems to be fashioning a liberal stance on criminal justice and drug reform.’

A couple of times during the past week I’ve imagined life under a Farron leadership.

The word that always springs to mind is traditional. Tim is a nice bloke. That was never in question. But this is a leadership contest not a school prize-giving.

Six things that stopped me voting for Tim Farron to be leader*

  1. I see Tim Farron as the leading representative of the establishment wing in the Lib Dems.
  2. I  worry about his longer term strategy to create a permanent and substantial space for the liberalism in our Parliament.
  3. I for one don’t look back fondly to the days under a Charles Kennedy leadership and do not want to return to one.
  4. I don’t hanker after a soft left alternative vision.
  5. I’m not convinced his choice of issues on which to campaign are the right ones or that they resonate enough with the public. See Stephen Tall for a good analysis of this.
  6. I do wonder what Tim wants to achieve beyond being leader of the Liberal Democrats.

*But I accept that he will probably win, and comfortably.

Returning to my comments at the start of this post, this election campaign has not set my world on fire.

Neither of the two candidates are my first choice – they are not so much best of a bad bunch as virtually the last men standing – when I say this I don’t mean this as a slight on either, I’m just being honest.

Things that had little or no impact on my decision:

  1. Endorsements
  2. Campaign team members
  3. How candidates voted on Tuition Fees
  4. Social media campaigns of either candidate
  5. Lib Dem Voice articles

That said, I’ve thought carefully about my choice. I’m backing Norman Lamb. norman2 Am I worried about the future of my party? Hell, yes.

Have I backed the wrong horse? Probably.

Have I put country before Party? I hope so.

I’m spectacularly crap at backing eventual winners in leadership contests. I don’t really care just hope liberalism wins for all our sakes. — Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) June 22, 2015

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7 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying and back Norman Lamb to be the next leader of the Lib Dems

  1. I’ve come to the same conclusion. We need careful in depth review of how we campaign and we need to be clear about what we stand for. Tim is a truly wonderful campaigner but Norman is more measured and seems to have more depth re policy and principles. It will be a small parliamentary group forvthe next few years. Hope there will be a significant role for both and they will all pull together.

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  2. Wow you certainly put some effort into that Daisy!

    Christianity would certainly concern me in the form you describe. That’s no surprise, me being a pagan. I’d definitely have concerns if I thought somebody was going to limit what the party was going to do purely because of their Christianity, or in fact any religion.

    Fortunately, I think we’ve got two excellent candidates, neither of whom are going to do that – whether it’s Tim’s Christianity or Norman’s Quaker roots. Both of them abstained on the third reading of the bill of gay marriage, and both have explained their reasons for doing so.

    On the Guardian article, I think it’s a bit out of date on taxation – Tim’s already moved from a position of 50p in the pound for the top rate down to 45p. Then again, I found the whole article quite negative towards Tim, and very confused on its definition of liberalism. I think we ought to be promoting the positive things about both candidates. There’s a good rebuttal to the Guardian article which can be read here:

    http://www.nickbarlow.com/blog/?p=4464&cpage=1#comment-278486

    As for me, I’m not a #normtrooper (although I know a duck who is 😉 ). I note most of the establishment politicians (Paddy today, Shirley previously and others) are supporting Norman as the establishment candidate.

    Instead, I’ve joined the #rebelalliance and am supporting Tim to give us back that radical edge we so desperately need, and his range of ideas, as he outlined at the IPPC today:

    http://timfarron.co.uk/en/article/2015/1091661/ippr-speech-from-tim-farron-the-case-for-the-liberal-democrats

    Best wishes – Simon

    PS: Don’t feed the ducks!!! 🙂

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  3. I agree with quite a lot of what you say there, Daisy, although I have come to a different conclusion about who is the best leader.

    On the day that Paddy has come out for Norman, along with most of our former ministers, I think the idea that Tim is ‘the establishment candidate’ is rather odd though!

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  4. Pingback: Why I’m still struggling to decide on the leadership question… | Stream of Consciousness

  5. Have to echo others’ querying Tim as the establishment candidate. Why on earth did you think that?

    Tim has also championed a festival of ideas to really engage all members in a rebuilding of our stock of ideas. I this this bottom up approach is spot on.

    Personally, I think Lamb’s focus in terms of issues is far too narrow. We really need to focus on a liberal approach to public services and to poverty. And Tim, when I’ve seen him speak, has such a passion and vision on this – particularly education and tackling poverty.

    I have no concept of what Norman stands for on public services outside of healthcare and TBH he should be able to impress on that given his brief for most of the last 8 years has been health.

    Tim isn’t just a campaigner and I am convinced he will engage the public on issues that matter most to them. And not just healthcare.

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  6. Pingback: Who should it be, Tim Farron or Norman Lamb? Where do they stand on Britain’s place in Europe? | ALDE Patry Individual Members U.K.

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