Reposted from 15 July 2015
Earlier this week we look at half of the Liberal Democrats’ remaining MPs. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? It’s here, go and do it now.
The man who will in all probability win the leadership contest on Thursday is Tim Farron, MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale. A local councillor in Lancashire for many years, he is seen amongst party activists as having the common touch desperately needed to re-engage voters and rebuild the party. A convert to Christianity at the age of eighteen, he stands in stark contrast to Nick Clegg’s open atheism (apparently still something of a taboo for a party leader in the 21st century). His other party colleagues, many of them atheists themselves seem not to let this difference come between them however, a senior Lib Dem figure once mused “Which bit of the sanctimonious, god-bothering little shit is there not to like?” As party president from 2011-2014, he stayed out of the coalition government and was therefore freer to rebel on bills he didn’t approve of. He voted against secret courts, the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ and the much-hated raising of the tuition fee cap to £9,000. That single bill, in which the Lib Dems didn’t just fail to carry out a manifesto promise but did exactly the opposite on a grand scale badly damaged their reputation for honesty and integrity and turned off swathes of otherwise guaranteed student voters. From that moment on, the party could do nothing to stop the anti-Lib Dem narrative. But Farron emerged relatively unscathed. His critics say that he has been plotting this leadership for five years, staying out of government purposely to keep his powder dry for the eventual challenge. For his part he denies this and states that he was never asked to take a ministerial role. Whatever the truth, he did at least have the good grace to wait several days after Nick Clegg’s resignation before announcing his candidacy for the position.
The Leeds North West MP is running Farron’s leadership campaign and like him was savvy enough to stay out of government during the last parliament and voted against the raising of the tuition fee cap to above £9,000. It should be noted that a similar rebellion failed to save several of their colleagues. He’s a keen rugby league player and in 2014 climbed Mount Cotopaxi to raise money for charity. He campaigned for the release of Leeds man Mirza Tahir Hussain from death row in Pakistan. Closer to home his Roman Catholic faith has led to him disagreeing with party colleagues by voting against euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research bills as well as supporting one to reduce the number of weeks up to which an abortion could be performed. Mulholland also seems to get into trouble more often than most as a result of his potty mouth. He once described a gay rights activist who he felt had misrepresented his voting record on twitter as “a disingenuous, manipulative, illiberal little shit! #truth” (for which he apologised) and a former health minister who wouldn’t let him intervene in a debate as an “arsehole” (for which he didn’t). I’m all for politicians being allowed to swear when they see fit – if we want a parliament representative of the population at large it’s a necessity – but if you want to get the liberal base onside, maybe ease off on the civil rights activists, yeah Greg?
John Pugh, MP for Southport holds a doctorate in logic. I’m not really sure in why this is relevant, but it certainly is going to colour the way I view the rest of his biography. He boasts on his website of being “directly involved in… the building of the sea wall to prevent regular flooding” (highly logical for a man in a coastal constituency) although I imagine this ‘direct involvement’ was less of a moving-bricks-and-mortar kind and more of a writing-a-number-of-strongly-worded-letters kind. He voted against the rise in tuition fees, but is also the only of the current crop of Lib Dem MPs to vote against marriage equality (Greg Mulholland didn’t vote on the second reading if anyone’s keeping count). To me this seems rather illogical for a man who is a member of a party with the word ‘liberal’ in the name, but then again I don’t have a doctorate in logic. My only doctorate is in bullshit and, appropriately enough for a doctorate in bullshit, it isn’t real as I just made that up. His twitter favourites are also something of an enigma. Fifteen eclectic and multi-lingual snapshots of culture from the past two years including one from the account @BanterRumours which states “Rumour has it becca clegg lost her virginity in her hot tub.” Logical.
Finally we come to Mark Williams. Now the Lib Dems’ sole Welsh MP and thus doomed to have any political ambition crushed as necessity will probably dictate he become spokesman for Welsh affairs. Williams seems to have kept his head down during the coalition government, not taking on any ministerial roles and voting against the rise in tuition fees. Nor has he posed awkwardly for fitness mags or become entangled in a twitter row that I’ve noticed (though there’s time yet for either, Mark.) It’s almost like he knew someone would be researching a snarky and irreverent biography on him sometime soon. In fact the most damning thing I could find about him was that he claims to be a keen collector of political biographies (I doubt this one will make the cut.) Other than that he seems to be a genuinely hard-working man, having previously worked as a researcher for Liberal peers whilst travelling back to Ceredigion for half the week and during parliamentary holidays to work for former MP Geraint Howells. A few more like him and maybe the party has a future after all.
In all then, the rump Liberal Democrats appear to be a microcosm of any larger party. A mixture of views and voting records that somehow have to be corralled into coherent party policies. For the next leader a mammoth task lies ahead, not least rebuilding trust in the party, trying to appear representative when 100% of your MPs are white men, possibly turning a blind eye to the fact that your representation in the House of Lords is hugely disproportionate and getting yourself heard now you’re no longer the third party in Westminster. Whichever of the two candidates wins the leadership, the battle scars of 2015 will shape their political future.