While the media has been focused on the Labour leadership contest, the Liberal Democrats are also shuffling closer to choosing their new leader. The ballot papers are being sent out tomorrow and the winner will be announced three weeks from now. The Libs have a choice between Norman Lamb, the former care minister who is energetically defending the Lib Dem’s record in office, and Tim Farron, the party’s former president who is arguing a lot needs to change.
Farron and Lamb appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show today for a gentle debate, both admitting there was ‘not a lot’ they disagree on. Both defended the Liberal Democrats’ decision to enter into coalition with the Tories. Lamb said:
‘The political stability the coalition provided got the country through a very difficult period. I think we were novices against a ruthless Tory machine but I think we did the right thing.’
Farron said he wouldn’t rule out going back into coalition with the Conservatives, or anyone else. ‘Surely if you're involved in politics and you don't want power, you should be ashamed of yourself,’ he said. The only controversy in this contest has been over accusations that Lamb’s campaign team engaged in negative polling, asking Liberal Democrat members what they knew about Farron’s faith. Lamb said such behaviour had been ‘unacceptable’:
‘They should not have done it and as soon as I saw Tim I apologised to him. I don't want the campaign to be fought in this way - this campaign has to be about ideas and our competing merits.’
Essentially, the decision Liberal Democrats have to make is dictated by how big of a mistake they think it was going into coalition. Farron argued the party has to ‘re-establish its integrity in a big way’ while Lamb admitted he was proud that the party had agreed to ‘get their hands dirty’ in coalition. Those who see no upside to the coalition years will back Farron, while moderates will be tempted by Lamb.
Farron remains the favourite to win the contest, not least because it's the party’s natural inclination to swing away from the centre ground after their catastrophic election performance. According to the bookies, the odds of Farron being the next leader are 1/12, compared to 6/1 per cent for Lamb.
On the morning after the general election, a senior Liberal Democrat told me he believed the upcoming leadership contest would be a straight fight between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb — with Farron winning. With three weeks to go, it appears that barring any shocks, this will be the result.