Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has become the first casualty of the tumultuous General Election, falling on his sword after saying ‘religion and politics don’t mix’ (who knew).
In a statement delivered in front of well-wishers at Liberal Democrat HQ, Farron said that he was ‘torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.’ His election campaign was dogged with questions about his beliefs and specifically that of gay marriage, which of course is frowned upon by the faith.
“A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.
“To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”
Farron concluded that he should have dealt with those questions ‘more wisely’, reiterated his belief that gay sex is not a sin, and thanked his supporters in a short an impassioned speech on Wednesday (June 16). The full statement video can be viewed here.
After a disastrous General Election campaign in which his party lost nearly 50 seats, including predecessor Nick Clegg, while rival left-wingers Labour made significant gains, the demise of Farron is perhaps no surprise – the bigger surprise is that Theresa May hasn’t joined him in the dole queue.
So now the Liberal Democrats are seeking a new leader, and the leading bookmakers have already priced up the leading candidates to succeed Farron as the leader of the UK’s fourth party.
The bookies don’t always get it right of course – they wrongly predicted the Remain vote during the Brexit referendum and that Hilary Clinton would pip Donald Trump to the US presidency – but this is an excellent starting point in examining who is next to step up to the plate for the Liberals.
So this is the state of play as of June 15, with Jo Swinson the clear and obvious favourite with the sportsbooks. But they’ve been wrong in the recent past, so is she likely to be the next Lib Dem leader?
Jo Swinson has long been touted for a career in politics after standing in her election as a Lib Dem back in 2001 at the tender age of 21. There she took a 6% swing from former Labour deputy leader John Prescott.
She returned to her native Scotland won her constituency of East Dunbartonshire at the 2005 General Election with a 4,000 vote majority. At the tender age of 25, Swinson became the ‘Baby of the House’; a term given to the youngest member of the House of Commons.
She served the constituency for a decade as well as taking on roles such as junior Equalities Minister and spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs as the party lurched into the coalition government.
Swinson was one of the victims of the rise of the Scottish National Party in 2015, losing her seat to John Nicolson, although she regained East Dunbartonshire for the Lib Dems by some 5,000 votes a couple of weeks ago.
A known feminist and proud Scot, Swinson certainly ticks boxes as a potential leader, but will her lack of ‘visibility’ compared to more famous party members count against her? She is yet to really strike out as a forceful politician in her own right, with her greatest success being a campaign to stop a new prison being built in her home constituency. Does she boast enough gravitas on a national scale?
Really, it depends on which direction the Liberal Democrats want to take. After a pair of disastrous election results in 2015 and earlier this term, do they need a safe pair of hands or a radical overhaul?
Wise Old Head?
The second favourite for the position according to the bookmakers is Vince Cable, a wily old campaigner who held office as the Secretary of State for Business and Innovation between 2010-2015.
He is a more recognisable name and face in UK politics, but – and this is no way meant to be an ageist statement, merely a rhetorical question – at the age of 74 will he be taken seriously be the voting public?
Cable has served as both Deputy and Acting Leader of the Liberals over the years, and his extreme left-wing views – he is on record as describing himself as a ‘social democrat’ – tally nciely with those of the seemingly unstoppable Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, Cable was a member of the Labour Party in the 1970s.
He has held the seat in Twickenham for the best part of 20 years barring a blip between 2015-2017, at which point he regained his chair.
His appointment as elader would be a popular one within the party walls, but his far elft views, age and role in the privatisation of the Royal Mail may just count Cable out of the running.
Lamb to the Slaughter?
Back in 2015 the Liberal Democrats again found themselves without a leader following the resignation of Nick Clegg. In a leadership battle, Farron would eventually oust Norman Lamb by just 13% of the vote.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that Lamb is again fancied to go close in any subsequent election, although he is yet to announce whether he intends to stand or not.
He might be considered a safer pair of hands compared to the other candidates listed above, having held his Norfolk consitutency for the past 16 years.