Reposted from 13 July 2015
If you wanted to pick one example to illustrate how badly the pollsters got this year’s general election results wrong, you only need look at one party. Not the Conservatives’ shock majority, nor the SNP’s almost-clean sweep. Not Labour going backwards in their heartlands or even UKIP halving their number of MPs. No, for the best example of how they screwed up you need to look at the Lib Dems. After five years as the junior coalition partners, angering vast swathes of their electoral base by reversing their stance on manifesto promises and suffering decimation in local, regional and European elections, everyone had written them off. And here’s the twist. When the exit polls suggested they might have only held on to ten seats people found it impossible to believe they’d done so badly. In the end they were left with just eight and with hindsight that shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. Once the dust had settled, and the recriminations were over with, the party set about choosing one of its remaining MPs to take over as leader, with the results announced later this week. As the party turns tentatively towards the future, let’s look at who these chosen few are and if they’re up to the task of keeping a party together against the odds.
OK, let’s start with an easy one. What hasn’t been written about Nick Clegg in the past couple of months probably isn’t worth saying, but that’s not going to stop me trying. From being an obscure MEP at the beginning of 2005 Clegg rose rapidly to become an MP and then party leader just two years later. The ‘Cleggmania’ that surrounded his appearance in the television debates before the 2010 general election probably helped create the circumstances which led to him becoming Deputy Prime Minister and the most powerful Liberal politician in nearly a century, before ultimately resigning five years later after seeing the Lib Dems almost wiped out in the House of Commons. His website references his family being caught up in the turmoils of the 20th century by saying without any apparent hint of irony “my mother and father always told us that people’s fortunes can turn quickly – that good fortune should never be assumed and misfortune can occur suddenly, without warning.” Prescient words indeed from the elder Cleggs. In job interviews, they often ask you where you see yourself in five years’ time. I’m pretty sure that if 2005 or 2010 Nick Clegg had dared to predict the triumph and carnage that awaited him he’d have become a national laughing stock. Which has sort of happened anyway, so maybe this is just nature correcting itself. This new pariah-flavour Clegg with his tuition fee hikes has sadly overshadowed the earlier, zanier version who set fire to a rare cactus collection as a teenager, was outmanoeuvred into discussing the number of women he’d slept with or who despite being a fluent Dutch speaker somehow didn’t know that the words ‘fans’ was Dutch for ‘fans.’ Although if the recent photo of him partying whilst Five blasts out over the stereo is anything to go by, he could be ready for a comeback.
One of two candidates for the leadership is Norfolk North MP and likely second prize prize winner in the ‘Old man from Up lookalike contest’ Norman Lamb. Lamb has spent a lot of time both in and out of government with the health brief, something which has allowed him to speak about his son’s own mental health issues with compassion and eloquence. He is also one of the more outspoken (and some might say more sensible) MPs when it comes to talking about the liberalisation of drug policies. In his bid to become Lib Dem leader, he’s surpassed the requisite 10% of nominations from fellow MPs by a whole 2.5% in the form of Tom Brake. Bizarrely, his main other notable supporter is professional hat-wearer Dappy of N-Dubz who endorsed Lamb with the rather improbable quote “I’m backing @NormanLamb to become leader of the Liberal Democrats and help put the power back in the hands of individuals.” The link isn’t as surprising as it first appears – Lamb’s son runs the talent agency which manages Dappy – but given that the rapper’s last foray into politics ended when he was found to be texting death threats (“Your gonna die. U sent a very bad msg towards Ndubz on The Chris Moyels show yesterday Morning and for that reason u will never be left alone!!! u say sorry I will leave u alone u ****”) just two months after fronting an anti-bullying campaign, I’d be wary of this new-found backer, and of how far people are willing to believe this new, erudite Dappy is writing all his own tweets.
Tom Brake is currently the longest-serving Lib-Dem MP, having first been elected back in 1997. He held relatively junior positions in the coalition government, moving from backbench committees to deputy leader of the house and assistant whip at the treasury. Instead he appears to concentrate on local issues, campaigning to keep his local A&E department open and filling the spare time visiting a variety of tedious fêtes and school fundraisers. He’s also a keen sportsman and his twitter feed is replete with images of him taking part in a range of sports from tennis to handball to triathlons. He uses his enthusiasm for fitness to help raise money for local charities, although it did also bring him to the attention of Men’s Health who somehow managed to convince three MPs to follow a ‘fit to run’ regime complete with shirtless before-and-after shots. Given that Brake was already reasonably in shape for a man in his mid-50s, the lighting the magazine used in their attempts to make his 1 kg weight loss look impressive left him looking like he’d had a run-in with a trainee taxidermist.
The Liberal Democrats’ sole remaining Scottish MP is former Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael. However, just keeping hold of the seat until the next election is going to be a challenge for him. He recently admitted sanctioning the leaking of a memo falsely suggesting that Nicola Sturgeon would prefer to see David Cameron as Prime Minister than Ed Miliband. The Scottish nationalists, being somewhat of a dab hand at the internet, helped crowdfund the £60,000 needed to start legal proceeding against him. The fallout could see Carmichael suspended from the house and trigger a by-election in the Orkney and Shetland seat he retained by just 817 votes earlier this year. Somewhat ironically, the manner in which the by-election could be triggered will be a test for the new recall bill which passed with varying degrees of Lib Dem support in 2012. The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is currently investigating and the Lib Dems face the prospect of losing 12.5% of their MPs in one by-election, thus consigning themselves to a slew of lazy headlines about the Magnificent Seven or the Secret Seven (depending on how outspoken/anonymous they become in the next five years).
Check back here for part two on Wednesday