Tim Farron has been the prohibitive favourite to be the next Lib Dem leader since May 8. Norman Lamb decided to run as well as well so it became a two-man battle. They each got roughly the same amount of ‘celebrity’ Lib Dem endorsements and many people looked at them to help make up their own minds.
I’m not one of them.
For you see, I’ve always been my own man. If someone tells me that I should do something then instinctively I try and go in the opposite direction. Considering I’m not exactly a rebel this is surprising but it is the way it is. So I decided to look at the two candidates but I decided not to vote for who I thought would be the best leader of the party but who I thought the electorate would be more impressed with and who would galvanise the grass roots of the party. This wasn’t about me but about the party as a whole.
It is no secret that I’m a Nick Clegg guy. I have been for the past several years and lets be honest here, I still am. Yet I clearly see that the party and the electorate have decided that it is time to move on so I can deal with that. Nick will always be one of my guys and even when I’m old and grey I’ll look back on Nick Clegg and see him as a thoroughly decent guy, who whilst he made mistakes, his actions helped make the country slightly more liberal and his legacy, whilst tarnished with the tuition fees and the crippling defeats will always have the silver lining of actually getting shit done. That is something no other leader of the party can say.
So on to the candidates and one one huge issue that I had to struggle with – Tim Farron’s Christianity. As some of you will know but most reading this won’t, I am the son of a now retired Methodist Superintendent minister. My views on the church are clear and they are made up of my own system of beliefs. I have no issue with anyone having any faith whatsoever, we are all fully entitled to belief in whatever we do (or don’t as the case maybe) so what issue do I have with Tim’s Christianity?
In an interview in The Guardian entitled, ‘Maybe God’s plan is for me to lose a bunch of elections and be humbled’ the very title goes to the very heart of my issue. The idea that someone out there who is all powerful has a divine plan for us all and therefore the idea that we aren’t in full control of our own lives is something that is so diametrically opposed to my own that I struggle to support him.
Later in the piece Tim says, ‘Well, God is sovereign. Dreadful things happen in this world, but that reminds us that we need a saviour. I don’t go round fixating that God has some major plan for me. Maybe his plan is for me to lose a bunch of elections and be humbled. God’s plan could be that some pretty brutal things happen to you. But the one thing I fall back on is that God’s overall plan is good.’
Tim doesn’t fixate upon any possible plan but he does believe in a plan. So whether Tim or Norman wins, he believes it is part of a higher plan and not because of the free will and thought of the Liberal Democrat membership. I really (and I mean really) struggle with this and I know many people believe in a plan and that God has our lives planned out for us but most of those people believe that God puts us in positions to make decisions for ourselves but the word sovereign doesn’t allow for that. If we are but mere pawns in a giant tapestry of human existence (and indeed that of all other species that God should he exist have no doubt created) then what is the point of life?
I asked Tim last night whether he would answer to God or to the electorate first and foremost? He replied that he answers first to his constituents. Yet what if his constituents say one thing and through the power of prayer, God tells him differently? That is the issue not with Christianity but in using the term sovereign to describe God. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing then surely anything he says through prayer would be the correct form of action? Therefore should he go with his constituents (should they be on the other side of the ledger) then he would be going against an all-powerful being. I really struggle with this.
My main issue though is if I two-bit nobody like me can read that interview and see issues then I’m sure plenty of smarter people than I can (and will) as well. You can’t have a sovereign being plotting out our lives but then say that he isn’t your first point of call. It just doesn’t add up.
Yet despite all this I will vote for Tim Farron when I open the ballot paper envelope that is sitting on my living room table.
The reason is simple, despite the likelihood that he is going to get grilled on this issue and he needs to formulate a much better answer that he seems to have at the moment, Tim is able to communicate far better than Norman Lamb and rightly or wrongly, this is a key part of being a part of being a political force in the digital era. Norman Lamb is clearly a smart man but every time I’ve seen him on TV it hasn’t been too far short of a car crash. Tim, whilst not being a TV natural, is extremely good face-to-face from all accounts and indeed has a stage presence about him. This gives him the nod in one key category.
In the other key category of being able to engage and enthuse with the activist base and the electorate then this is where Tim excels. His own electoral performance in his constituency is a clear example of this but also he seems better placed to be the front man.
A month or so ago I tweeted that Norman Lamb would be my choice over Tim Farron to be a minister but that Tim Farron would be my choice for leader, mainly because of the previous paragraph. The next leader has to be the best communicator we have and not only be able to win over the electorate, but more importantly win over the activist base and get them enthused and working again. There are plenty of liberals shying away and licking their wounds at the moment. The only way the party can recover is to get these people feeling as though we are still the radical liberal voice and that to get it, we need to work for it.
In cricket you don’t always have your best player as captain. So far this year we’ve seen a cricket World Cup and a New Zealand tour where Brendon McCullum has shown us that. He is a destructive player in the short-form and a very handy player in the long-form of the game but I see little doubt that Ross Taylor and particularly Ross Williamson are better batsmen and indeed Trent Boult may well be more important to the side but McCullum’s leadership has changed the way the cricketing world views New Zealand. The brand of cricket they have displayed is exciting and aggressive but all played with a smile on their faces, win or lose. McCullum is a captain and a leader but isn’t the best player they have. Tim Farron I believe is the same.
The Lib Dems don’t need the smartest or the most experienced guy in the room to lead them. They need the person who’ll get the best out of the resources they have and put the party in the best position to grow and recover. Being a leader isn’t about policy making but it is about being the face of the party. Being the person who people listen to and see on TV around election time. I think Tim has the edge here but his big lead comes in the form of appealing to the grass roots and the activist base.
You may well read this and wonder why I’m voting Tim when I clearly have big question marks surrounding him. Well I’ll have big question marks over whoever. I think Tim needs to find some better answers to some questions that he has faced and will continue to face regarding times where his faith will not sit neatly alongside the liberal viewpoint. I also think he also needs to improve his TV appeal. He is not bad but he’s not a natural. I know we’ve been spoilt by Nick, but if you look at any recent election in the digital era then apart from David Cameron’s performance this year (when people weren’t necessarily voting for him but more voting against the others) then the big winners in terms of vote share have all had people who were strong in front of the camera (Blair, Clegg, Sturgeon, Farage) so that is still a small issue but if he can get that activist base and the stay at home liberals out again (which I think he can) then that is why I think he’s the right man for the job at this current juncture.
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