Three reasons why the Lib Dems remain a political force to be reckoned with.
Nick Clegg’s resignation was seen by many as the necessary next step to distance the party in the voters’ minds from their Conservative coalition partners and begin anew. The Lib Dems have lost a lot of voters and it’s clear that after a four year run in Government, they can no longer claim to be the “party of protest”, especially given the rise of minority parties such as UKIP, the SNP and Greens and the fact they
only managed to hold just eight of their 57 seats in the May General Election.
Increased influence in the House of Lords
Ironically though, the Party will now have more influence in the upper chamber as a result, after plans to appoint more Lib Dem peers were revealed. This is particularly irksome to the Conservatives, whose peers are reliant on the support of crossbenchers to outnumber their opposition.
What the Party now needs is nothing less than a miracle to restore their former glory. What they have received is a new leader in the form of Tim Farron, Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale. The former Lib Dem president beat his rival Norman Lamb by 56.5% to 43.5% on a turnout of just 56%, promising to revive the worn out spirit of party activists, in order to reclaim the party’s spot as the third most popular in British politics.
Supported by party big beasts Menzies Campbell and Paddy Ashdown, Lamb was the centre-right, establishment backed candidate. He is the first “Orange Book” Lib Dem to have lost a Democrat leadership election in the party, or the former Liberal and SDP parties. Now that Farron has defeated Lamb, is the Orange Book dream dead in the water?
A chance to ‘occupy’ the centre-left as Labour searches its soul
It’s a safe bet that the Party will be moving from the centre right and back over to the left, given Farron’s well know predilection for issues such as human rights, housing and welfare. He has already reached out to Labour’s interim leader Harriet Harman after 184 Labour MPs abstained from voting on the Government’s Welfare Bill stating: “Labour must join us in providing opposition to this Government’s plans”.
A growing membership and an army of activists
So what next for the Lib Dems? The Party is clearly not a spent force. Membership has surged by 30% since the General Election, with more than 15,000 new recruits. Its powerbase in the Lords ensures Lib Dem MPs must be carefully courted to ensure legislation is not impeded. There is also the possibility that if Labour MP and leadership hopeful Jeremey Corbyn gets elected, the Liberal Democrat party might become a home for disaffected Labour moderates. This would be a huge coup for Farron, much like Douglas Carswell’s defection from the Conservatives to UKIP was for Nigel Farage.
Regardless, with Farron determinedly steering the Lib Dem machine leftward and the Labour party seriously considering Jeremy Corbyn MP as a future leader, the Conservative will be breathing a big sigh of relief. After all, they will be the only serious choice for voters on the right or who want some differentiation from the new “leftist” realignment that is forming.