In the build up to the rally where our new leader would be unveiled I was preoccupied by which music would be the best soundtrack:
— Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) July 16, 2015
As someone who voted for the losing candidate (not for the first time!) you might have expected me to be down in the dumps.
But, to quote Pulp (who I’ve been listening to a lot this week) Something Changed. In fact a lot did.
What just happened?
As I blogged a few weeks ago it was always pretty clear to me that Tim Farron would win. But there were two big things that happened that I did not predict.
One, the galvanizing, revivifying impact of Norman Lamb’s campaign on a frankly lacklustre contest, and secondly, the ability of the Labour party to completely implode whilst conducting their own leadership contest.
When Norman first threw his hat into the ring I must admit I didn’t think he had a hope in hell of garnering more than a handful of votes.
Heavily associated with the coalition (including Nick’s team), with a quiet demeanour and a low public profile I thought that he would struggle to make it out of the starting blocks and be a credible challenger to Tim.
But as I blogged last month, Norman got it right in so many ways that so many of us, least of all me, didn’t expect.
- His enormous energy + the serious and composed way in which he approached the contest – attending every hustings, visiting far-flung local parties – killed all suggestions that he was in the race as the fall guy to Tim’s homecoming hero.
- Norman’s ability to speak to and connect with members and his ability to capture a mood, coin a phrase: (‘our liberal age’ sticks in the mind).
- His ability to correctly identify the liberal issues we should absolutely be campaigning on – mental health, drugs reform and human rights.
- The way in which he spoke out forcefully against the lack of diversity in our party and our outdated structures led to him gaining huge respect from many.
- Finally his recognition that a political party is nothing if it is not a font for new ideas. All of these things were seriously impressive.
Not only that the combination of all the above proved incredibly effective in a way I think most commentators inside and outside the party expected.
I’ve written before that endorsements didn’t have a big impact on my decision, but I would have to demur slightly and say the wide array of senior Lib Dems across the spectrum who supported Norman was revealing and added weight there is no doubt.
Outside the party, the serious endorsements Norman attracted from unexpected voices such as The Economist only helped to solidify his appeal as the dark horse in this contest.
Thank you, Norman
But in the end, the real game changer was actually none of the above.
The signficant part of what happened was the transformational effect Norman’s campaign had on Tim’s campaign.
Bearing in mind Tim’s candidature was the biggest racing certainty in post-election Liberal Democrat politics and that he had an army of supporters before he even sent a single piece of campaign literature, by facing a strong opponent Tim was effectively prevented from running his own race by Norman.
By this I mean had there not been a serious contest Tim could probably have won this election fairly easily by campaigning on the things he wanted to campaign on and only speaking to his natural supporters.
By being challenged to a contest, Tim was forced to confront some uncomfortable questions on his voting record, sure, but for me the key thing was he was that Norman, involvement pushed Tim beyond his comfort zone.
In the end, Norman notched up 43.5% of total votes cast. This was a brilliant result against a popular candidate who had spent most of his political career gearing up for this moment.
That is 43.5% of party member who Tim will need to reach out to.
Some will be Nick Clegg supporters, some won’t be. Some will be new members, some will be longer in the tooth. Some will be fans of the Coalition, some not.
Either way, judging by Tim’s shift towards the centre during the campaign those of us who fear the Party being dragged to the left can take comfort from the fact that in this result Tim must acknowledge that the party contains many viewpoints of which social liberalism is only one. So Norman has done the party a great service.
And not only during the campaign.
Norman has tested Tim before the other parties get their chance. Our leader must be battle-hardened and battle ready. There is one thing all Labour leadership candidates and future Tory ones can agree on: they want to see an end to the Lib Dems and fast.
By challenging Tim, Norman helped us take that first step out of the Coalition bunker and we should thank him for it. The contest has brought out the best in Norman and Norman has brough the best out in Tim.
Let’s face it, this is not something Labour will be able to say after their contest has decided into the usual soulless grudge-match.
That other silver lining
Politics is getting weirder and wielder these days and I’m having to get used to expecting the unexpected.
I’ve written before about the thousands of new members joining the Lib Dems being not only a big surprise but also a huge consolation to all of us who bust a gut campaigning in the last election.
No-one said we would get a defunct Labour party into the bargain! To misquote Shakespeare for a minute Labour at the moment can be summed up as follows:
Sans leader. Sans message. Sans everything.
For all my fears that Tim might lead us further into the wilderness the disappearance of Labour from the political scene now looks like a realistic prospect.
I don’t think for a minute that Jeremy Corbyn will win.
The point is NONE of the candidates barring Liz Kendall look like winning at what really matters – beating the Tories at the next election- anytime soon. A
nd as everyone keeps saying who know a lot more about Labour politics than I do – Liz won’t win. In the absence of a sensible Labour party I am confident that we will continue to hoover up support not only from the centre but the left too.
Oh what a night!
Finally, I wanted to write a few words about the humongous event that was the rally last night and why it left me feeling wildly optimistic and not depressed about the future of the Liberal Democrats.
It may have been because I spent most of the night after the rally hanging out in the pub with our ridiculously impressive new members but I don’t think that was the sole reason.
In no particular order:-
1.Norman was and is a total rockstar
The fact that Norman, the bloke I voted for was amazingly humble and posed for a selfie when let’s face it all he probably wanted to do after the result was declared was go home and drown his sorrows is testament to the man.
[The sight of him with one of my heroines, the architect of Equal Marriage Lynne Featherstone made it a pretty great evening from the get go as far as I was concerned]
I look forward to seeing Norman take on a substantial role as advocate for some of our signature policies not least equity in mental health care. I would also like to see him working with party members behind the scenes to modernise and fix our outdated party structures.
Oh and continuing to champion a more diverse party.
2. Tim agrees with Nick on some important stuff
The lot of ex-party leaders is often not a happy one.
Well at least that’s how it seems to work in the Labour and Tory parties.
Not us! Not only was Nick in the house last night (and it was hardly surprising to see him clapping and smiling at the right moments) In our media-driven age that’s what we all expect these days.
What I’m talking about is the fact that Tim was very deliberately – at least from where I was standing, in that hot, sweaty hall in Islington – channelling Nick throughout his speech.
Bearing in mind thousands of people recently joined our party not least because the things Nick said and did in government this was a clever mood.
But it also revealed a deeper point – maybe Nick and Tim have more in common than people think.
They are both liberals. They both care about creating a fairer society. What’s so strange about that?
— Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) July 16, 2015
If Nick was about anything it was about this: not allowing accident of birth to be the key determinate on the success of a person’s success or failure.
The Pupil Premium was the thing that Nick has always cited as his proudest achievement in government.
And during the cold, hard years of Coalition when I was going out knocking on doors and regularly getting the door slammed in my face fo Tuition Fees it was knowing things like the fact that Lib Dems were focussing public spending on things like helping the poorest kids that kept me going.
So it was good to hear Tim not only praising Nick but talking about the things that Nick and thousands of us still really care about.
But there were subtler points I noticed too. This line in Tim’s speech shone through like a beacon:- ‘We are in politics to get stuff done. We got stuff done.’
So many times, offline as well as offline, people take it upon themselves to slag off the Lib Dem record in government and our reasons for going into government. I don’t buy it. In fact I reject their revisionism utterly.
We went into government for the right reasons and as Nick Clegg said recently intentions matter in politics. I also get fed up when people attempt to rewrite history and suggest that Lib Dem members did not want to go into coalition.
Whatever members may feel now as a consequence of being in Coalition and the loss of support that followed, at the time, when the question was posed Liberal Democrats voted by a clear majority at a Special Conference in 2010 to support going into coalition.
Tim’s restatement of the core purpose of a political party as a vehicle to do things was from my perspective therefore very bloody important for him to say.
Sure, we don’t want to be in government for a while. We need a period in opposition, to listen more to the public and to get back to winning ways.
But as Tim said none of us got involved in the Lib Dems as a good career move – either now or when I joined (2004). We got involved or at least people like me did to change things.
And for all of us who, over a five year period put ourselves on the frontline – not least scores of councillors and MPs many of whom lost their seats – and got a kicking for our troubles – we need to hear that what we did was for the right reasons.
That campaigning for the Lib Dems meant something then and it means something now.
Politics with a purpose is what #LibDemFightBack must be about.
And so Tim’s recognition, public restatement of the fact that not only were Lib Dems in government we did things, we got stuff done – was really important. And really appreciated.
And maybe at last it was the response I an effective response to those of us who have expressed fears that Tim lacks substance.
Finally, I’m sure I’m not the only one who recognised a lot of Nick in the bit towards the end of Tim’s barnstorming speech aimed at people outside the party.
If you care about human rights join us.
if you think you shouldn’t have your emails snooped on join us.
if you think everyone deserves a decent home join us.
if you think its wrong to demonise immigrants, the young, the poor, foreigners, Brussels, the English, the Scots…join us.
If you are fed up of self-satisfied politicians ambitious for themselves and unambitious for their country… then guess what? You are a liberal. Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition. So join us, join us today.
As I said on Radio 5Live (21 minutes in!) this morning it wasn’t so much what Tim said that was different it was the way he said it. Simple. Plain. To the point.
Liberalism that does what it says on the tin. Well, it works for me!
2. Tim’s right. Winning in politics IS everything
This was the central plank of Tim’s speech and for good reason.
It’s absolutely what we need to focus on now. Today. Tomorrow and the day after.
You win seats because it gives you the power in politics to do things and most importantly to change things.
“You can’t change lives from second place” says new Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, telling his party to win elections https://t.co/K8RNvCty4V
— Sky News Tonight (@SkyNewsTonight) July 16, 2015
On a related point, Tim was absolutely right to urge members to ‘pick a ward, any ward!’ and to win it.’ Clawing our way back to power, from the bottom up.
That’s what I did. The Farron way is the way to win council seats. As Tim rightly said it’s not rocket-science. It takes belief and shoe-leather.
I beat Labour in a ward that hadn’t changed hands for decades. From that platform we went on to win more council seats, to defeat the Labour leader of my local council in Reading and also to build the biggest student branch in the country.
The tragedy of the past few years in government has been recruiting members and meeting activists who have never experienced winning. I was lucky. I won my first election within a year of becoming active and it totally and completely changed the direction of not only my politics but my life.
Winning is everything and it’s something that most of us – some of us – have never experienced that needs to change.
Yesterday’s phenomenal council by-election results which saw Lib Dems take seats of Labour and Tories and win with big swings are just a taster of what we can achieve and what we will achieve I think in the coming years.
I started this post by musing about music choices. I should have guessed that Tim, a football-supporting northerner would have picked New Order. World in Motion, however was a good and left-field choice.
I’ve attached the lyrics below because I think they are particularly poignant:-
Express yourself, create the space
You know you can win, don’t give up the chase
Beat the man, take him on
You never give up, its one on one
(Express yourself) It’s one on one
(Express yourself) It’s one on one
(Express yourself) You can’t be wrong
(Express yourself) When something’s good its never gone
Loves got the world in motion and I know what we can do
Loves got the world in motion and I can’t believe its true
Now is the time, let everyone see
You never give up, that’s how it should be
Don’t get caught, make your own play
Express yourself, don’t give it away