Another day, another senior Liberal Democrat takes a pop at Tim Farron. After Farron publicly marked the party's leadership 'two out of ten' for its handling of the coalition, the knives have been out for him. Vince Cable is the latest senior figure to attack the former party president. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the Business Secretary said this remark by Farron 'wasn’t at all helpful’:
‘I mean, he’s a very good campaigning MP, but he’s never been in government and has never had to make difficult decisions and I think his credibility isn’t great. You know, he’s an entertaining speaker and has a bit of a fanclub. But I suspect he would not be seen as a very credible leader, at least now. Maybe in five, 10 years’ time, things are different.’
This comes after former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown's slap down told Radio 5 Live last week that Farron was a ‘a very able guy’ but ‘judgment is not his strong suit’:
‘I know Tim very well. He is a great campaigner, a good friend of mine. I think his well-known ambitions would probably be better served with a little more patience and a little more judgment.’
Farron's recent comments suggest he is, in Westminster parlance, ‘on manoeuvres’. Sensing that Nick Clegg’s leadership may be drawing to a close, Farron is distancing himself from those involved in the current government and preparing run as the anti-coalition candidate in the leadership contest he expects to follow the election. Farron isn't deluded — he is the bookies' favourite to be next Lib Dem leader. According to Ladbrokes, Farron is on 8/11 for the job, while Norman Lamb is on 5/1, Ed Davey 6/1 and Vince Cable 8/1.
Whether there is a leadership contest after the election or not depends on how many seats the Lib Dems lose. If Clegg manages to hold onto 30 seats or so, he is more likely to be safe as leader — and the door will remain open to another coalition with the Tories. But if the party loses more than half of its 50-odd MPs, the chances of a putsch will increase significantly. Farron is pinning his hopes on that the grassroots pinning the blame for the election result on those involved in the coalition — hence his disparaging remarks about the past five years.
There will undoubtedly be a stop Farron candidate in any future leadership contest. But Lib Dems risk tearing themselves apart over which direction represents the future of the party. Farron may have shaken the hands of a significant majority OF grassroots members but some will be aware that changing the party's course away from the Orange Book liberalism will risk returning them to opposition for a long time. Others sense that many Lib Dem members are yearning to return to their more left-wing roots. If the result is a bad one for the Lib Dems on May 7, the next six months could prove very bloody.