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Vince Cable or Tim Farron for next leader? I’m not too sure about that…

So the members of Lib Dem Voice have spoken and the write up today on the websites says that they want either Vince Cable or Tim Farron to be the next leader once Nick Clegg stands aside whenever that may be.

I don’t get this. I really don’t. Vince Cable would be a fantastic leader but he is also 69 and whilst that shouldn’t be an issue does anyone remember what the public thought of – to give him his full name – Sir Walter Menzies “Ming” Campbell when he took up the leadership and he was only 64 at the time? The likelihood is that Nick Clegg will lead the party into the next election so that’ll be another three years so Vince would be 72 by this point. Vince is without a doubt one of the most respected Lib Dems around and if you did a poll amongst members on ‘who do you think is the smartest Lib Dem?’ then I’d put significant money of Vince being in the top three at least. However at 72 surely his opportunity would have passed?

Next up we have the darling of the Lib Dem twitterati in Tim Farron. I have nothing against Tim Farron but I don’t get the love that he appears to have amongst the membership. I get the feeling it is because is doesn’t have a ministerial role and therefore has more leeway to speak his own mind compared to others but also is very much interactive with the twittersphere. He arguably uses twitter more than any Lib Dem MP with only Julian Huppert really being in the mix. The accessibility of Tim Farron is part of the reason people like him but is that a good enough to believe that he would be a good leader?

He put his name to a letter regarding the ‘prayer can heal’ issue but that got a lot of people upset but he backed away from his comments quirk sharpish and it blew over. Then he also put his name to the piece about why accreditation is vital for Autumn Conference. These are deeply unpopular issues and ones that he has successfully been able to not take the hit that others would surely have done.

For the first time in our lifetimes we have Liberal Democrat Ministers in cabinet and these people will have gained an extraordinary amount of knowledge from this. This knowledge will surely help the Lib Dems going forward but looking around the names in the cabinet I’m not sure any of these people would get the membership – let alone the electorate as a whole – excited. Danny Alexander, Ed Davey and Michael Moore all have cabinet positions but none of them are going to be the next leader of the party. They just aren’t.

So now we are searching around to find other names who could step up and first and foremost unite the party. Unity is without a doubt the most important aim of the next leader whenever they take over. The Lib Dems are fractured and bringing home some of the natural liberals who have either defected to Labour or the Greens or just left party politics altogether would surely be the A1 goal for the next person.

I haven’t hidden my admiration of Jo Swinson. I think she’s intelligent and speaks well and I would be surprised if she is not the second person on the list of people ready to step up to cabinet (David Laws is surely the first) but it is another name who has impressed me more and more as the months go on. I know he’s only been an MP for a couple of years but Julian Huppert really speaks to me as a liberal who sways towards Green issues as a large part of my politics. You never hear a bad word about him and I don’t think he’d be torn to shreds by the media or by any opposition leader.

Sadly we all know that politics is important but in this day and age personality has a larger part to play than it did in the past. John Major would struggle to win an election in this day and age and the reason Nick Clegg was doing so well in the polls in 2010 before the other parties flexed their financial and media muscles was primarily that he spoke well and people looked at him and thought they could trust him. Being adapt at public speaking – certainly with the Prime Ministerial Debates – has changed the game significantly.

The next leader will need to be trusted, respected, liked and be able to withstand a barrage from the media and the general public. That has long been the case but now if you don’t have those things then the likelihood of winning is greatly diminished. Margaret Thatcher was hated by great swathes of the nation but she was respected enough by the other part of the country to continue winning. These days fewer and fewer people are entrenched into the party that they would vote for so there are more votes up for grabs in any election time.

So the Lib Dems need to find someone who can hit all those points. Not exactly an easy job but whilst I love Vince and respect Tim I don’t see either of them as the man. Vince would be respected but would a 72 year-old really want to take on that role and Tim for me tries too hard to be all things to all men (and women). Here is the full results from the members survey on Lib Dem Voice:

28% – Vince Cable
21% – Tim Farron
6% – Jo Swinson
5% – David Laws
4% – Edward Davey
4% – Simon Hughes
4% – Steve Webb
3% – Chris Huhne
2% – Danny Alexander
2% – Norman Lamb
2% – Lynne Featherstone
1% – Michael Moore
5% – Other (please specify)
13% – Don’t know / No opinion

Jo has long been my horse in this race but Julian is starting to really pick up steam. The rest of the list shows a couple of men who’d be brilliant but sadly other issues will make it highly unlikely they can (or would even want) the job in David Laws and Simon Hughes.

Picking a leader is not an easy job but it is one of the most important. Labour made the error of Ed Miliband over his brother two years ago and whilst the polls say it wasn’t a bad decision today. I still can’t see Ed standing up to the pressure of a General Election campaign. When it comes down to it I think a lot of people would struggle to vote a man into the top elected office in the land who in your heart of hearts you know isn’t even the most capable of doing the job within his own family.

One day the Lib Dems will cross this bridge but I don’t think it’ll be before the 2015 Election so in a way this 1,159 word (to date) ramble is pretty pointless because many things could change between now and then.

Still it gave me something to do…

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  1. Jack Jack

    Julian is an incredible MP and a great guy but he is, as you say, a new MP (without the previous political experience that Nick Clegg had), and in my opinion seems more like a hard-working cause campaigner than a Clegg-style eloquent speaker. It’s tempting to say that we need more of this kind of thing in politics but unfortunately it is undeniable that the public wants statesmanship, at least to an extent.

    Jo Swinson, agree with above commenters – will a Scottish MP even be eligible after the divide? And if there is no divide, would she survive boundary changes? We are, unfortunately, probably going to wait and see which MPs survive the next election before predicting these kind of things. I don’t share the view of the doom-sayers predicting wipe-out, but it’s definitely true that shifting electoral calculus means we are going to lose some great MPs, almost certainly.

  2. Steve Bolter Steve Bolter

    I was surprised that Julian Huppert was not on the list of suggestions, but the perhaps as an East of Englander I have seen more of him in action than those from other regions.
    Julian has had a life outside politics, having been a research chemist.

    I put him down under Other. I wonder how much of the 5% he obtained.

  3. actru actru

    Why not be different- and have three leaders? They will have a majority!
    Seriously- Nick should be quite good at it, in two years!!

    • neilmonnery neilmonnery

      Julian – No they haven’t. I think Jo would be a serious candidate and for a party who promotes diversity it is a shame that we have no female or people from ethnic backgrounds in the cabinet.

    • neilmonnery neilmonnery

      Jo isn’t done just yet. Boundary changes are part of the game but I wouldn’t rule her out of it just yet. What we saw in 2010 is that politics were different from constituency to constituency. Lib Dems could lose 1000s of votes somewhere but in the neighbouring constituency they would gain 1000s.

      Good piece Lon – Jo has always been the person I saw as a step away from what we have and giving the membership a real boost that we are returning to our roots. Julian though has really impressed but you are right – I have yet to see him do it under testing circumstances.

      Andrew – I think Jo has a surprising amount of support and I wonder if she would be interested.

  4. Dave Jones Dave Jones

    Jo will not be an MP after the election. The boundary changes are too bad for her. Huppert is alright but if you are saying Tim is all things to all people so is he. Huppert is exactly the same. Tim will be the next leader and he’ll be a good one. I’d suggest you speak to him at length. I was a sceptic before!

  5. I said Vince if it were pre-election and Jo if after. I really think moving away from White Middle Class Males (even if only slightly) would be a good move… Of course, I’m assuming Scotland remains in the Union for Jo to get the job!

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