I’m not a cynical person by nature. Wait no, that is a lie. I’m extremely cynical and when bleary eyed this morning I sat there on the sofa and saw the news that Tim Farron had decided to quit before the General Election, I was caught up in mixed emotions. First of all I was tired (that had nothing to do with the news, I was just tired) then I was kinda pissed off and then I started wondering whether it was actually true.
I’ll tell you why I have some issues with the truth of this confession. First of all, the timing. If he had decided to quit a month or so before polling day then surely he then walks away swiftly after the result is known. He doesn’t wait until the Grenfell Tower Fire and squeezes out the news in a very hastefully arranged press announcement. That doesn’t add up at all. Either he’s a pretty awful man and wanted to wait for a tragedy to happen so he could sneak out his news or he had no plans to quit that day. Fair to say that I don’t think he’s a pretty awful man so I’ll go for option B on that one.
The timing of his resignation hasn’t had enough scrutiny within the party. It was fucking repulsive. Repugnant if you will. How dare at a time of such an incident do the party allow their leader to publicly resign and take some of the focus away from the real news that day. We all get angry when governments try and sneak out bad news on days when it might be buried and we did that. The party should be ashamed.
So what other things could have changed Tim Farron’s mind after the General Election result? Could the fact Nick Clegg lost his seat have played a part? The former leader and Deputy Prime Minister went out in the great Corbynista wave where all Lib Dems in Labour facing seats got swept aside as voters flocked to the Labour party. Was he the reason Tim decided to leave or possibly stay on?
Time heals all wounds to some degree and while it is fair to say many people will never forgive the former MP for Sheffield Hallam, it is also not untrue to say his toxicity had been slowly receding. He had found a second wind as the European spokesman for the party in this post EU Referendum world in which we live and those who are firmly opposed to Brexit seemingly had a very positive opinion of him. Did Farron see the writing on the wall that the membership (and maybe the electorate) actually preferred Clegg to him and therefore wanted to go and when Clegg went down, Farron saw he had a clearer path to staying on?
Who knows (well at least one person does but that person is not me) but it is certainly something worth thinking about. If Tim Farron had decided to quit weeks in advance of the General Election then the obvious point to resign would be the morning after. Instead he came out and praised the fact we had increased our representation in parliament by 50% compared to the 2015 debacle. So something must have changed and the obvious thing to point at and question is the fact Nick Clegg wasn’t an MP any more.
If we take him at his word though that he decided to walk away in the early days of the campaign then that doesn’t paint him in a good light either. Had he left a fortnight into the campaign, it would have allowed the party a month to put someone else in the spotlight and interim leader. Logically that would have been Nick Clegg but it obviously may not have been. It could have been Norman Lamb.
If a change had happened though it should be done like a band-aid. You pull it off quickly, deal with the stinging and then get on with it. I have written about Tim’s performances in the media during the campaign and they were mixed. Couple of stinkers but also a couple of good ones. He was certainly far better than the Prime Minister (although I admit, that is a pretty low bar) but maybe the damage had already been done.
The party had all the momentum early but it ground to a halt when talking about the gay sex issue and it was something we all knew was going to be something the party (and Tim) had to nip in the bud. The fact they (and he) did not just knee-capped the campaign and when the decision to move away from hope and towards scare tactics happened, it was game set and match for the party to ever hit the 30-40 MP mark that some (maybe many) thought was possible on April 18 when the General Election was called. Was Farron damaged goods or was the party? That is a great question.
When he only just held on to his seat despite the usual boost that party leaders get, that says a lot. Norman Lamb managed to hold on in North Norfolk despite facing real Brexit related challenges. Tom Brake held off the Tories yet again in Carshalton & Wallington. Stephen Lloyd was able to wrestle back Eastbourne despite it being a leave area. Tim Farron is (and I still say is) a very popular constituency MP but he nearly lost. This has to be down in some degree to his performance as leader of the party.
Maybe had he quit in early May then the party would have been able to wrestle back some of that momentum. I don’t think any party leader should not want to carry on with the job certainly relatively early on in the campaign. Look at Paul Nuttall for example. I do think Tim gave everything but if your heart isn’t deep down in it then people can see that.
I have serious doubts as to whether Tim decided to quit two weeks into the campaign. The timeline just doesn’t fit with how he acted post June 8. If he’s speaking the truth and he knew he was going post General Election and still quit in the Grenfell Tower aftermath then that is not a good look and not a good legacy to leave. People talk about things leaving a bad taste in the mouth, if that is how it went down then bloody hell, that looks terrible.
Lastly he said that his job was to save the party and that it still exists and is moving forward. Well it does still exist but whether it is moving forward is still very much up in the air. The country is clearly veering towards two-party politics once again (more so than two years ago) due to the fact so many LD/Con battles have seen the party move into third behind Labour. Depressingly I don’t see any real recovery unless Brexit is an utter disaster.
Until Jeremy Corbyn gets his chance then the country will want to see what he can do. The next General Election (whenever it will be) will surely see more of a Labour surge and due to the lack of tactical voting prowess of many voters, that will lead to even fewer Lib Dem MPs.
The future’s bright, The future’s orange says a popular advertising slogan. For the Lib Dems though this does not feel accurate at the moment.
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